Wednesday 18 May 2005, Dila

Last night we heard chanted religious services being broadcast from churches. At first we thought it was a slightly different Muslim call to prayer, but later realised it came from the Ethiopian Coptic churches. The local religion was also noticeable in the occasional, highly decorated graves near some houses.

Today, with renewed vigor we started the first lap of two days to Addis Abeba on good tar with no mishaps. After climbing an escarpment yesterday, the landscape changed into one of hills and valleys. The colour of the termite hills reflected the colour of the soil from red to grey to white.

One or two curious things we noticed though: The population in the south of Ethiopia is spread rather thin. Maybe it is for this reason that the men we passed carried either a stave, a spear (rather business-like looking) or a rifle. Further to the north that changed. A second thing we had to get used to very fast is that animals are allowed to wander unattended on the streets, in villages as well on the main road. Some rather intricate turning and swaying was required at times to get past the horse, just miss the goats and allow the donkey to move over before we could proceed!


We spent the night in the Lalibela Pension as recommended in Cape to Cairo by Mike Copeland. It was luxury! Hot showers, decent bed (hard pillows though) and a TV, very clean and well maintained. We had very little food left and decided to eat out at a local restaurant. We ordered a meal each, one fried meat and one scrambled meat, and did not really understand why the waiter kept on asking if we really meant 2. When it came we understood. Each meal came on a round tray covered in njera with the meat on this. Njera is a local bread made of the indigenous local cereal tef. It is soft and spongy with a slightly sour taste. The fried meat came with a sauce. The scrambled meat was cooked in a sauce with njera. Both were spicy, delicious and cost very little.



One of many large termite hills  Italian Fort from 1930s just outside Mega  Family graves

Thursday 19 May to Friday 27 May 2005, Addis Abeba

Pieter writes

Taitu hotel, close to the centre of town, was the first hotel in Addis and looks back over a hundred years since its establishment in 1898. Don't make a mistake: it looks its age. If it was situated in Johannesburg it would stand empty, waiting for a demolisher. If it was situated in The Hague, Holland, it would have been replaced by a modern multi-story building long ago. And then the world would have missed a little of the warmth and friendliness that comes with old buildings, notwithstanding its shortcomings. Because they are there: the wiring is an electricians' nightmare, the wooden floors creak terribly and the plumbing is so elementary its pathetic. But there is light, power for our laptop and the balcony that runs along our side of the 2-story building is wide and dry under the overlapping roof and offers a view over some of the city, more old buildings and a new one under construction.

The town is built on hills and misses any form of planning. Yet, to say this would be cause for a chaotic traffic situation would be a mistake. Notwithstanding its 4 million plus people and over 10.000 taxis. Not like Kampala where traffic is an orderly chaos, Addis has traffic rules and traffic lights that work, alert cops and a far less aggressive driver core. In addition: no thousands of passenger-carrying mopeds and push-bikes, no meter wide potholes in crumbling tar and no traffic circles where you can choose to go clockwise or counter clockwise, and where cows keep the grass short. Although nothing to do with traffic, there are also no hundreds of marabou storks silently sailing in endless circles over the town. Here we have proper vultures which, although the name may suggest otherwise, are a lot more pleasant to watch than their big, doom-spelling carrion eating colleges. The people are friendly, show a lot less interest in tourists and allow you to wander almost as if you were one of them. We like it here. We have coffee, strong stuff with brown sugar you can choose to stir in or leave at the bottom of your cup and spoon out later as a sort of desert, with little cakes for breakfast, traditional food for lunch and something else again for supper. We meet or see quite a few overlanders, mainly backpackers here from all over the world. We had supper the other night in a pizza restaurant where the pizza was better than I have ever eaten in SA! We shared the table with a French couple, a cute girl from Japan, and an American. Irish guys, a Canadian and some others from far away are staying here as well. Information is given and received. Its pretty lively here! But the waiting for officialdom to turn a wheel wears us down. We still want to see so much and it just has to be done a little later!

There are internet cafe's nearby and the Land Rover dealer we visited was quick to suggest we needed our engine calibrated when I told the workshop manager it had started to run rough after our trip through Tanzania and Kenya. Plug in the computer and a few minutes later the problems were solved!


Here a quick word of appreciation for Mike and his team in Bedfordview who were so determined to get my car sorted out until I was really happy with it. I think few dealers would have been as patient as they were to get to the bottom of problems and as polite to the last time I had to come back for the last question, the last adjustment and the last "goodbye now!" To them I say: Thanks a lot! That car is fantastic. Everything works fine. The fuel pump is still noisy but performs without fail; the handbrake is firm and dependable, the gearbox is, "yah well, no fine" or as good as a Land Rover gearbox can be. Its our home and as dependable as only a well looked-after vehicle can be. Thanks again!


Another thing that needs mentioning (I'm a little bit ashamed about it!) is the problem we had with our international roaming facility. After more than a month sending polite e-mails to MTN-SA to get this facility in order, firmly believing THEY had to do something about it, I finally sent a dark-worded e-mail to shake them up. And that it did, resulting in us finally learning that the fault lie in our handset. MTN's service is fine, no problem, especially Kooky Pillay. Big egg on my face! After this I found a shop to repair the phone. They said they had repaired it, but there was no improvement. Next step was to check the sim card. All they could advise was to buy an Ethiopian sim card! Last step was to buy a new phone. Success at last!

Sudanese visas are one of the official wheels that need turning. We had been told that visas would be difficult and should be applied for in Dar es Salaam. However, at that stage we were not sure how to sort out the Egyptian customs requirements for Grom. Once we arrived in Addis we heard many horror stories about 3 to 6 weeks wait for visas. The first thing we did was check with the embassy. They informed us that we had to contact a travel agent in Khartoum who would facilitate the visa and it would take 2 to 3 weeks. We did so. The agent we e-mailed was prepared to help us for a fee payable in a European bank account. But he could not take it from our credit card because of US sanctions, we could not send it via the internet, SA required an invoice before overseas payments could be made and Ethiopia would not allow us to send a wire transfer! Rather disheartened as we still have not paid for the carnet for Egypt and the middle east from ANWB in Holland, we were considering our next step when Dave and Lelane drove into town. They are also from SA on a 4 month tour of Africa and parts of Europe. Dave was not about to accept the situation with the Sudanese visas and he had checked in Dar and in Kampala and been told it would be best to obtain the visas in Addis. We went with them back to the Sudanese embassy to be told we could obtain a 7 day transit visa if we returned the next morning (Wednesday) to apply and it would be ready Friday afternoon. The visa would be valid from date of entry. What more could we want!

Front of Itegue Taitu Hotel  View of Addis from our balcony  Buzzard in a tree in the yard. The tree was cut down a few days later.  Dave and Lelani, blurred but the only photo we have

We have been trying to pay for our carnet from ANWB for weeks. David needed an invoice before ABSA would allow him to send the money; we could not pay for it through a bank or any other way in Kampala; we even asked ANWB if they could not deduct the money from our credit card, all without success. We were considering putting US dollars into an envelope and sending it by DHL. Then David came to the rescue and said less than R10,000 could be sent as a gift even if it is to a registered company. The money has been sent at last and we are now waiting for confirmation that it has been received by ANWB.

During our stay in Addis we did do some sightseeing. We went to the National Museum and saw 'Lucy' (Australopithecus afarensis). Lucy was found in the Ethiopian section of the rift valley (Afar Depression) and walked upright but still had curved feet to allow her to climb trees easily. It seems that humans first came into existence in the rift valley as throughout Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania ancient remains of humans and human like creatures have been found.

We also visited one of the churches on a Sunday. It was too late for the service and the church was closed. However, it was very interesting to watch the people go around the church, stopping in front of each of the 8 faces, bowing, crossing themselves, prostrating and rubbing various parts of the building and then themselves.

Ethiopians love to wear all shades of green, it is the predominant colour for clothing.

Ethiopian scenery

What can I say about the scenery north of Addis Abeba?

It is awesome, magnificent, inspiring, out of this world, stupendous, wonderful, marvelous, changing every few seconds,  mostly dry but areas of magnificent green. I had read that Ethiopia had mountain passes that would be named and talked about in any other country, but in Ethiopia they are normal. I now know this to be absolutely true.

The roads are mainly gravel with steep up and downs, continually twisting and turning, views of valleys falling away on both sides of the road, to go up 2 kilometer as the crow flies can takes 53 kilometers and one and a half hours. The roads are used by the locals as a footpath for themselves and their livestock. Part of driving is to avoid everything else on the road! We also realized somewhere along the road that the reason we could not capture a full days worth of traveling on the GPS track log table was because the GPS records a log when ever the direction changes significantly, so on the map above I have had to add parts of the route. Our average speed per day was between 22kph and 70kph with an overall average of about 40kph. These are very rough estimates, but fast driving is definitely out.

Below is a graph showing the altitude for the parts of the route that we captured based on each GPS track log recorded. You can imagine the twists and turns going up and down the mountains. Addis Abeba is the first peak over 3000 meters.
















                                                Magnificent scenery          If you look carefully you can see sections of the road right down there

Saturday 28 May 2005, Kombolcha

What a disastrous day it turned out to be!!!

First we came to a 300 meter tunnel which although straight had no lights AND Grom's headlights did not turn on. The reason was that the relay switch had come unstuck, but Pieter only discovered this much later. In the meantime Pieter could not see where he was going properly and ended up scraping the left side wall.

Once out of the tunnel we stopped to examine the damage and found a flat tyre! The tyres were almost new when we left Johannesburg but have been well used by now and some are starting to reach the end of their life. The tent cover now has a large tear along one side and the zipper teeth are irreversibly damaged in one section. This means we will not only have to order a new cover when we get to Europe, but the zip on the actual tent will have to be replaced. Other than that there are a few scrapes and the bull bar in front is bent slightly.

Further on we bought some fruit and some time later stopped for lunch. But where was the cell phone? This new working cell phone! We searched the cabin where it had last been and could not find it. We assumed it had been removed when we bought the bananas and left Grom unlocked. We stopped at the next town and tried to phone David, the Behrmanns, an ex MTN colleague and finally the Woods, our former neighbors. Luckily Theresa was at home and promised to stop the sim card.

And we had another puncture!

When we arrived in Kombolcha, the Tekele Hotel (as recommended by Mike Copeland in Cape to Cairo) was full, however they allowed us to camp on the only flat spot on the property. What a pleasure to sleep in our own bed!

Damage to front of canopy  A herd of camels walking along the road.   Vulture at a cow presumably killed by a car  Priest. Locals would ask his blessing. There were many of them throughout the country.


Sunday 29 May to Tuesday 31 May 2005, Lalibela

This morning Pieter searched again for the phone and wedged right under the seats where it was impossible to find except by taking the whole cabin apart, he found the cell phone. Not that it mattered for the moment as there was no coverage anyway.

With great relief we headed for Lalibela. The GPS had it marked on the map and as the mark came closer we thought we were in for a short drive. Then we continued west but south of the mark, and continued and continued. We kept on assuring ourselves that there was no other road. Finally, just after 6pm we found a sign saying 64k to Lalibela. We turned north but only arrived just after dark, still without headlights.

We had hardly gotten out of the car when a local approached us and told us that our friends were in another hotel and were waiting for us. There is no cell phone coverage so Dave had used the bush telegraph. We were happy to see them again. They had driven from Addis Abeba to Lalibela in one day! Leaving Addis as 6am and arriving in Lalibela and 10:30pm. Crazy! They intended to leave the next morning so we will definitely not be traveling with them which is a pity because they are great people.

scenery  scenery  scenery  and yet more scenery

Priest and cross of the main eastern group of churches.Monday morning we decided to see the churches first and then work in the afternoon (on Grom and the inevitable washing). We walked down to the eastern set of churches with a young man who said he would guide us. However as he was not an official guide he was not allowed into the site. Dave had said he had organised a guide for us, but this arrangement was not honored (or perhaps misunderstood) by the guide involved. Eventually Muchaw Derebe convinced us to allow him to guide us. He is a Deacon of the church and very knowledgeable. He explained the significance of the various carvings and what the various aspects of the churches were. The ones at Lalibela were all built by King Lalibela in the 7th century (if I remember the dates correctly). The rock in which they have been dug is volcanic tuff rock and relatively soft. Even so it must have been quite a task and the detail carved out inside is amazing. The churches are quite dark inside, so some of the churches had electric lights others used candles on a long stick to show the carvings.  The priests and guides are very proud of the churches and the atmosphere is imbued with peace as they are still used regularly on Sundays and holy days. Each church has its own specifically carved bronze or gold cross.

windows in the largest church  Bell tower  Monk praying in an old grave hollowed from the rock. 

After visiting the churches we were presented with a coffee ceremony. The coffee is made from Ethiopian coffee beans called bunia. After setting the scene with fresh grass on the floor the beans are roasted over a small charcoal fire until ready. They are then ground for later use. Ground beans are placed in a coffee pot with water and boiled for a while. It is then poured and drunk with or without sugar. It is very strong coffee, but delicious. It was nice to have the choice of how much sugar as usually two heaped spoons are placed in a small cup.

Coffee ritual - pouring the coffee 

The afternoon was spent fixing the cone which had come loose from the cabin roof,   fixing the headlights and washing clothes.



The first task on Tuesday morning was to phone Kookie from a tele center to reinstate our sim card. We will only be able to check it works again in Gondor, days from now. Then it was on to see churches further from Lalibela. Belbala Gorgies was crowded as there was a ceremony for St Georges day. The ceremony itself was held out of doors as there were too many people to fit inside. Bees have made hives inside the church for centuries and the honey from these bees is considered to have healing qualities. Muchaw obtained some honey for us. It tasted good but contained wax and other parts of the hive. Then onto the marble (marvel?) church. This one is different in that it was built inside a cave of Lebanon cedar and plastered stone. There was also a palace in the cave and a graveyard. Monks and nuns would visit the church and decide they would like to die there. They then starved themselves to death and were placed at the back of the cave with the other skeletons. 1600 have gone to dust in this place.

The churches also had books telling various stories. They are hand written in Geez, the old Ethiopian script using cedar wood covers and goatskin pages.

Congregation at Belbala Gorgies Church  Outside the marble church Monks and nuns gone to dust  Muchaw reading holy books

St Georges Church from the top


St Georges Church is the most famous of the Lalibela churches. It was the last one built by King Lalibela and it was built in the shape of a cross, to a plan. It is the church that is always filmed for documentaries etc.

Muchaw still owes us an explanation as to why the churches were dug out of the rock and not built on top.


 This is an attempt to show the depth to which the church was dug out.  The main entrance to the church  Drums used in ceremonies  St Georges has 2 crosses, one brass and one gold

 Every one wanted in on the picture Muchaw and I drinking honey wine



Then it was onto to a bar selling honey wine. This stuff is quite potent!


Wednesday 1 June 2005, on road to Maychew

scenery  scenery  scenery  scenery Our campsite for the nightAudience watching Pieter fix the third flat tyre

What can I say? The scenery is out of this world. The pictures can only tell part of the story

The journey was a disaster though. We had three flat tyres. In the end Pieter had to fix a tyre as the spares were now flat. We had an audience for the last one which took ages to fix properly. It was dusk by the time Pieter finished so we reversed down into a section cleared during road building and spent the night in our own bed. The only sour note was trucks hooting a greeting in the early morning. But perhaps they wanted to see if someone needed help as generally the trucks that passed us while Pieter was busy with the tyres checked if we needed help before continuing.

Thursday 2 June 2005, Mekele

The road we are on is the main road through to Eritrea. It is being improved and there are many places where road works Road crews working hardare in progress. This crew were standing about watching a few colleagues work until they saw Pieter with the camera, they then scurried about to look very busy. It is difficult work because each section of road has to be supported by walls underneath or protected from rock falls by walls above.Coptic christian shrineTypical coptic church on a hill

Throughout Ethiopia there are coptic churches often within site of each other, and like other religions, the churches are on the top of hills. There are also many shrines by the road usually with a priest in attendance to provide a blessing  and receive alms.

Pieter looked for 16" tubeless tyres when we arrived in Mekele, but without success

Friday 3 June 2005, Axum

Entrance to foyer of church Foyer of churchThe Medhane Alem Adi Kesho church in the Teka Tesfai cluster is only 5 kilometers from the road just north of Mekele. I wanted to see it but Pieter decided he would use the time to fix a tyre so we at least had a spare. We picked up a "guide" to show us the right track to the church. The young man had little english and knew even less about the church, but for 1 Birr it was fine. We parked under a shady tree and while Pieter went about fixing the tyre I went up to the church. It was built in 300AD (if the guide translated correctly from the priest) and is carved into the mountain with an entrance then a foyer then the actual church. Inside had the same type of carvings as other churches. Pieter was still busy when I returned and our 'guide' pointed out that we had a flat rear tyre. To say Pieter was not happy is truly understating his feelings. Eventually he fixed that tyre as well and we went on our way back to the road. This is when our "guide" turned nasty. When we arrived at the spot where we picked him up, he asked for 20Birr and refused to get out of the car. I offered 10Birr as that was all I had on me, which he refused. At this stage Pieter climbed out of the car. The young man had already seen Pieter's reaction to seeing the flat rear tyre, so he quickly jumped out, Pieter closed my door, got in and sped off. Even so, our "guide" threw quite a large rock at us. At least he didn't do any damage


                     Pieter fixing a tyre    View from church    Dust from the road

The scenery as always was awesome. These inselburgs are near Adwa.

                    scenery    Inselbergs    Inselbergs

Saturday 4 June 2005, road to Debark

Stelae - built by the rulers of Axum in its heydayFirst thing Pieter went out and bought 3 new tyres, 16" with tubes, manufactured in Ethiopia. That done, we drove around to at least see some of the sites from the outside as by this time Pieter wanted to be off dirt roads. We finally left at lunch time for Debark, a 7 hour drive away. Of course we ended up camping wild again, but it is always so nice to sleep in our own bed. We even had a local fetch his gun and offer to protect us over night. We refused as we feel quite safe in Ethiopia. Once again the scenery is wonderful.

  Enthusuastic youngsters talking to Pieter outside the Tsion Maryam Church  Camels resting in Axum  more scenery


Road twisting and turning  scenery  View from our camp site  View from our campsite

Relaxing outside our roomSunday 5 June to Tuesday 7 June 2005, Gondor

Debark owes its existence (from a tourist perspective) to the Simien Mountains National Park. It is the town where hiking trips start, although there are also roads in the Park. We had decided to drive through the park as the mountains are apparently spectacular. However, we had to take a scout with us and it would take about 3 hours. A third person in the cabin is quite awkward and we were getting tired of the constant driving so we gave it a miss. Maybe next time. We had moved fast because our Ethiopian visas ran out on Friday 10th June and we had to enter Sudan on a Thursday to catch the ferry to Aswan the following Wednesday, 7 days later . We spent our days in Gondar relaxing and doing chores and gave sightseeing a complete miss. The Belegez Pension had rooms on three sides of a courtyard with a stoep (verandah) running around. We were able to park right outside our room. It was almost like camping as we prepared food in Grom and ate it on the stoep.

Wednesday 8 June 2005, Shehedi

The start of our 7 days hard driving to be in and out of the Sudan within 7 days.

We camped within 10 kilometers of the border in a small clearing. It was very peaceful. The meat in the pot had been bought from a butcher in Gondor. Ethiopian butchers tile the walls and floor and try to keep the flies to a minimum. They also cook the meat for you. It does need some extra cooking though to soften it properly.

                               Relaxing by the fire     Camp site in the clearing

Averages Rand Dollar Birr   BACK to Kenya NEXT to Sudan
Cost per litre diesel 3.28 0.53 4.40      
Kilometers per litre 7.34          
Hotel per night 36.60 5.86 49.04  

NB: Diesel can be dirty


Kilometers traveled 3,070
Days in country 23