Ethiopia, Part 3
Day 18 – 14/12/12
We had an effortless crossing into Ethiopia, so the customs person at the Djibouti crossing may have been the exception.
We stopped off at Harar to have a look around and drove through the main gate to the central square. At that point we were mobbed by “guides”, vendors and every person who thought old white people may be an easy touch for the day. We were not in the mood for the whole situation, so decided to just drive around a bit.
We met a couple of younger Aussies and other folks travelling around and stopped to have a natter and lunch with them.
Then, we drove back to the African Village in Dire Dawa and a had wonderful pizza dinner, while chatting to the Swiss owner.
Avril driving; 320 km; We must have made an error in transcribing the mileage. 209 out and 320 back does not seem right. Maybe the average of both would be near the mark
Day 19 – 15/12/12
After a very lazy start to the day we made drove to the Awash National Park. Boring though it may sound, we again had spectacular scenery through the Ahmar Mountains. We then descended to the Awash River valley, a drop of ~ 1,500 m. The valley is a lot drier/arid and hotter than the mountains. The road was generally reasonable tar, but with a number of degraded sections.
We picked up some fruit and veg at the market in Awash and drove to the national Park. The park has plenty of domestic animals grazing (camels & cattle), but we did manage to see a few Dik Dik. We were pleasantly surprised by the Awash falls. They have a similar layout to Victoria Falls, a broad fall into a long chasm that then flows through a narrow valley to reform the river.
We camped beside the River.
Avril driving; 318 km; 6 hrs; N 080 50’ 415.8’’ E 0400 00’ 24.9’’
Day 20 – 16/12/12
After a very relaxing night away from all noise we took a game drive through the park. We were fortunate to see a female kudu, a lot of beisa oryx (similar to gemsbok), some Soemmering’s gazelles, rabbit/hare and more dik dik. Not a bad morning’s effort.
The truck route from Djibouti joins the road at Awash, so the drive into Addis was slow and difficult. The road is generally OK tar, but with a lot of road works, detours and some “train tracks” where the large trucks have made tracks into the tar.
The highlight of the day were the ice creams we managed to buy at Debre Zeit. The low light was discovering that the track for Djibouti had disappeared from the computer. The only part of our journey missing.
We got to Wim Holland House at around 15:00
Avril driving; 216 km; 5 hrs; N 90 00’ 36.0’’ E 0380 45’ 19.0’’
Day 21 – 17/12/12
We were at the Kenya embassy 1st thing in the morning. And the wonderful people there issued our visa on the same day.
We went to a local German beer garden for the best beer, wifi and bratwurst in town.
We did some vehicle chores to prepare for our trip to Lake Turkana.
Day 22 – 18/12/12
We were up at sparrows to get a fast break to Arba Minch. Wim had suggested the route via Butajira and it was a fairly easy run, for Ethiopia. Still lots of livestock and pedestrians on the road! The herders clearly believe that the whole road belongs to them – they do not bother to herd their livestock to the side of the road and make a path for vehicles.
The road is OK tar to Sodo, after that it is a mixture of poor gravel and remnant tar.
We camped at the Bekele Molla hotel, with a magnificent view over Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo and the Bridge of God that separates them.
Avril driving; 458 km; 8 hrs; N 060 00’ 18.3’’ E 0370 33’ 06.6’’
Day 23 – 19/12/12
Overnight there was a fierce thunder storm. The Lonely Planet guide said that the rains finished in October (we later found out that apparently the rain in the south are from October to December). We selected the route via Lake Turkana on the basis that the rain had finished, so the road would not be full of mud/bog zones. The alternative route is the main Ethiopia – Kenya road via Moyale and the Kenyan side is supposed to be terrible. Folks at Wims place in Addis said the Moyale route was now almost impassable, with vehicles stuck for days – but that could be blogger exaggeration/urban myth. However, rain could make the Lake Turkana route impassable. All this added to Ray’s stress level.
Ray was up early to take some pics of the stunning sunrise followed by coffee from the hotel. The blogs read that the road to Turmi was bad and we should allow extra time. As luck would have it, the road from Arba Minch to Konso was ~ 50% tar and 50% gravel. The gravel badly deteriorated in places. We filled the fuel tanks to the brim at Konso, as this is the last of the reliable fuel.
Then the delight of the day, there is a new asphalt road from Konso to Jinka – we turned off at Key Afar. Then an even bigger delight, there is a new high standard gravel road from Key Afar to Turmi. This latter section was 83 km. We arrived at the Kense Mango campsite early in the afternoon and Avril berated Ray for his lack of up to date research which had deprived her of sleep-in!
The road in the morning was full of livestock, and this continued for most of the day. The herders were driving stock to pasture or to a watering point or just grazing them at the side of the road. As is the custom in Ethiopia, the livestock had possession of the road and vehicles need to negotiate passage with them. We were surprised by the vegetation. In our minds, this was to be almost desert, however, there is some intense agriculture; bananas, corn and a large cotton project near Weito (Woyto). The steep, high hills beside the road were terraced to take full advantage of the conditions.
It almost goes without saying, the scenery was spectacular. Great vistas over wide valleys and some very rugged hills/mountains.
The begging was really intense at the start of the day. Apparently the local bottled water is/was called Highland. So, the chant here (for the empty bottle) in “highland, highland....” Often this chant is accompanied by a little jig the beggar has developed to attract attention. Some of the jigs are amusing, others border on the bizarre.
The Omo valley is “famous” for its “primitive” tribal people and there are lots of tour groups visiting the area. The biggest draw card are the Mursi people – the women are the folks who put plates/discs in their lower lip. We decided against going to see the Mursi. Other overlanders had not recommended it and said it was like a human zoo, with the local women pestering tourists (and there are large numbers of tourists bussed in) to pay to take pictures. In such an environment, any “natural” photo would be difficult and contrived. It would not be a memory, but a “tick the box” side trip.
Turmi, where we decided to stay the night, is known for its bull jumping. An initiation rite of sorts. This is accompanied by the violent flagellation of female relations or friends of the person to be initiated. This event occurs on a Monday, so we fortunately did not need to make a decision whether or not to attend – we like to think the answer would have been no.
As we drove, we noticed more indications of recent rain – Ray’s stress level was now at fever pitch!
We stopped at a local market in Aldaba. Stopping at a market it “the thing to do” in the Omo valley. We wandered for a bit. The market seemed to have very few vegetables but lots of cheap clothes, lengths of cloth and plastic basins etc. The local lads here wear mini dresses and have tiara of colourful beads. Some also have the beads on their arms and calves.
Ray made the mistake of giving a pen away t a school child; soon there were a large number of frenetic kids demanding pens. Fortunately we had brought a some pens for such an occasion, not enough for the insatiable demand, but we gave away what we had.
After the market we stopped at the side of the road for lunch. A few local boys came and stood a respectable distance away. We had more than enough, so shared our bread, sardines and bananas with them. They were appreciative. There did seem to be marginally less begging in the Omo and we even had some smiles and waves.
Avril driving; 279 km; 6 hrs; N 040 58’ 33.0’’ E 0360 30’ 55.8’’
Day 24 –20/12/12
We made an efficient start to the day and were at the Immigration and Customs post in Omorate at 09:00, just as it opened. We completed the formalities in 30 min and spend another 20 min changing our residual Birr into Kenya Shillings (at a horrible exchange rate).
The bird life around Omorate was great with brightly coloured small birds and lots of larger ground birds. We also saw a few Dik Dik.
The road from Turmi to Omorate is passable gravel. The route from this gravel to the border is a dirt track. We were stopped a number of times for passport checks. The final check being just before the border and the last Ethiopian we met, the border official, asked for goods etc.
The distance to the border from the Mango camp was 132 km and took 4 hours.
I guess you can tell from the blogs, Ethiopia was not one of our favourite countries. On the positive side, the scenery is absolutely fantastic; probably no other country in Africa can equal it. Also, there is very little litter.
The big negative is the people. We found them to be sullen and morose. The incessant begging is very wearing – to the point where you avoid going out. You tend not to ask an Ethiopian for directions or anything else as you know a demand for money will result.
The driving is intense, with the bus and mini bus drivers acting like they are the only people on the road. The endless procession of villages, livestock and people makes it very stressful and exhausting. Ethiopia is probably the least developed country we have passed through.
For us an added negative was the lack of sleep. Really seriously over religions that seem to think sleep deprivation is a way to salvation.
For most overlanders, Ethiopia is a “hardship” post. Everyone we spoke to had had stoned thrown at them and been spat at – often with parents or older people watching.
The Lonely Planet guide (2009) is already severely dated. It’s helpful hints for those trying to travel on an ultra low budget of no use to us (or we suspect most travellers). We especially loved the budget for those who want fleas and those who do not. 3/10. Merked down because it could not get the rain patterns correct
As always, the Riese Know How map was very inaccurate. Often mileages were > 20% out, typically on the low side. 3/10.