More Ethiopia to Nairobi

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
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29
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Trip End Aug 08, 2005


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Flag of Kenya  ,
Monday, May 26, 2003

From Axum we spent three days travelling South on rough roads through more awe-inspiring scenery to reach Lalibela. The last 100km were the roughest yet. Rocky, steep and narrow it was slow going and bitterly cold when the sun went behind the mountains and we had to stop for the night. As always we amused the locals that had gathered round the truck and we really did fear they might catch pneumonia or something as they watched us for hours wearing the flimsiest bits of cloth. John made one of the elders literally jump for joy when he gave him his old jacket, it was so funny as his face changed from one of disbelief to delight whereupon he danced a little jig!
Lalibela was really quite incredible. Home of 11 churches that are completely hewn and carved out of the mountain rock, both inside and out, complete with ornate windows, decorated pillars, walls and doorways and most interconnected by a network of tunnels that we explored by candlelight. The whole place is just magical, filled with treasures and too much to take in. They are still in use and in the surrounding walls we encountered priests curled up in small holes studying the bible closely. There were also ancient tombs, some of which were open and contained the bodies of priests hundreds of years old, preserved well and looking quite gruesome! Well it's not every day you get to inspect ancient bodies close up is it? We also met Thomas and Roselea again and enjoyed an excellent barbeque with them on our last night.
Two days later the road to Bahir Dar was better and we reached the city easily within a day. It is an open and friendly city and our hotel had an excellent location at the bottom of Lake Tana (source of the Blue Nile), surrounded by beautiful gardens and full of exotic birds. The next morning we arranged a boat to visit the ancient island monasteries hidden away among coffee and lemon trees. The monasteries are elaborately decorated with the stories of the bible and contain ancient crowns and crosses but some are only open to men. At the end of the day while the men visited one such monastery, Sian and the other girls in our boat sat by the lake watching the sunset with some local workers. They showed us how they made their traditional boats from papyrus leaves and we listened to them playing the flute, which they had made from bamboo stalks.
Leaving Bahir Dar, we set off for the Blue Nile falls. The pictures we had seen were spectacular however, due to the construction of a hydro electric dam and it being dry season, there was little more than a trickling stream but we trekked to the base of the falls for a paddle, past the stick and mud huts of the local children that followed us. Wandering back alone, Sian was invited into a mud hut where charcoal coals glowed hot on the floor and old bottles and rusty cans hung from a pole in the middle of the hut. Coffee was served in another small square mud building where animal skins hung from the walls. A skin was taken down for her to sit on and she was served salty coffee and some bread type stuff covered in chilli or hot sauce. It was bizarre sitting there in the dark and gloomy room being studied closely by the family but the food easily beat the Ethiopian staple of Injera, a spongy, fermented bread substitute that acts like a table cloth and plate in one. It's an unappetising cement grey in colour and tastes really bitter. Kev also got invited into the village during his walk back and the little girl showed him her family home and how her mother was teaching her to make calabashes to earn a living. The whole experience was excellent for both of us.

Arriving back in Bahir Dar for the night we found three new passengers. Annabelle, a French Canadian girl we met on the monastery boat trip and a Dutch couple, Karin and Peter, who are cycling round the world. Karin and Peter had encountered a lot of hostility among the Ethiopian villages. They had been threatened, stoned and even whipped whilst cycling. We had heard of this from some travellers tales but had not witnessed much at all and most of the people we have met have all been very friendly.
Ethiopian people are however significantly different from the other Africans we have met. They are distinctly lighter skinned and more Eastern (India and Nepal) looking. Some speak a little English and all that do seem to be students of some sort who constantly ask for anything and everything. This gets wearing after a while but Kev entertains them with his use of Amharic. Others even run barefoot along side the truck for kilometres at a time and in some villages it was really bizarre like that scene in Forrest Gump where he suddenly starts running and doesn't stop! Adults and children alike, saw the truck and seemed to look around and then just run after it. For miles up and down valleys and hills, sometimes alone and other times others joined in. They rarely asked for anything and didn't seem too worried when they didn't get anything and then just as suddenly as they had started, they stop. Truly bizarre.

On the 17th, with bikes strapped to the truck roof we all set off for Addis Ababa, stopped for a bush camp at the bottom of a steep and dramatic gorge and arrived in Addis on the 18th. We headed for a hotel where we had heard some more potential passengers were awaiting (more cyclists who had had an even worse time). Simon and Leah, an English couple and "BumBum" a strange German man who had even had his arm badly broken during one attack. Addis was a nice enough city, colourful and mostly modern but with its fair share of large stately buildings (The British Embassy has its own golf course) and run-down shanty-town areas, but we stayed only one night as we had a deadline to get to Nairobi to meet Paul's parents. We left Annabelle behind and with 5 cyclists, cycles and kit we ventured south. It was all pretty much constant driving and we took 2 days to reach the border. Immigration was straightforward and at last we were in Kenya where the people are just so happy and friendly. We took a convoy from the border town of Moyale to the next major town of Marsabit. It's supposed to reduce the high risk posed by the bandits operating in the area but in reality the convoy was some distance ahead of us and we travelled mainly alone with the South African biker, Geoff whom we met in Khartoum. We encountered no problems except for the incredibly rough road and uncomfortable journey but we saw Dik Diks (small antelope 30cms high) and Zebra along the way. The rocky, volcanic landscape, rather than bleak and grey, was lush and green but the weather turned overcast with rain as we have hit the rainy season. From Marsabit we travelled the next stretch to Isiolo with 2 armed guards on board the truck as the risk of bandits was very real. Again we had no problems, we crossed the Equator which had three different signs marking the line in different places and glimpsed views of Mount Kenya obscured by clouds. We continued the remainder of our journey to Nairobi over the next day arriving here on 23rd.

Since we have been here we have met Paul's family and yesterday we went to the various animal orphanages in town. Watching baby elephants, some only 3 weeks old, hand feeding giraffes and then stroking and playing with cheetahs was all very special but at the same time incredibly sad as they are all victims of poaching, habitat loss and human settlements disturbing their homes. Last night we splashed out on a meal including various game meats and today we are heading to Mombasa for some relaxation where Kev's Dad is joining us for 2 weeks. Our cyclists have left us but we have another passenger, a fellow Aberdonian who may be staying until Cape Town.

Well that brings you all up to date for now, hope all is well with everyone.

K & S.
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