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Saturday, 20 August 2011

From Lalibela off the beaten track to Addis Ababa and on to Kenya…

Beautiful view from road out of Lalibela

We left Lalibela on Sunday night with the hopes of making a quick dash to Addis Ababa but we were being overly ambitious as it is seriously slow riding in Ethiopia. On the densely populated roads,vehicle’s are secondary to the unpredictable movements of people and their livestock. This requires you to constantly be aware of a flock of sheep that might change course in front of you, a child who may run into the street boldly out of nowhere or a stubborn herd of donkeys who don’t seem at all perturbed by your growling engine hurtling towards them… this is all not accounting for a bridge that may break… by Murphy’s Law!Despite what can all seem a bit manic and nerve-racking after a long days drive…. The scenery is exceptionally rewarding!
Sand roads that stretch on forever...

So after leaving Lalibela we realized what all the Lalibela dirt-road war stories were about! The overnight downpour had turned the road into a thick, muddy slide, which proved quite a challenge but one we overcame thanks to our pre-journey off-road riding courses. Chuffed that neither of us had dropped our bikes in the thick mud we headed on to Waldiya where we were to make the turn off to Addis but the universe had other plans for us… “ A day of over 400kms of seriously challenging dirt-road.” We were flagged down on the road and warned by two UN officials that the bridge ahead had collapsed and they offered to show us an alternative route albeit off the beaten track!
Riding through rivers!

Very interesting character we met on our detour road with his camels and an imposing rifle ;)

400 kms of it....

The road seemed promising until after about 20kms it disappeared all together and gave way to dry river beds, thick mud and sand sections, detours down embankments and across small rivers and lots and lots of loose rocks that make your bike dance feverishly across the road. Anyone who rides off-road would know that 400kms of this could be rather challenging! What was great about the road was that it took us through a seriously remote area of Ethiopia where the terrain and people changed dramatically. All of a sudden the landscape morphed from lush, green abundance to dry, barrenplains of red-scorched earth. The people too changed just as dramatically as the landscape… woman bare-breasted with bright sarong type skirts and men dressed in only a loincloth.

Camels crossing the road!

Me and our two UN friends Haimanot and Wubetewho!

It took us the whole day to get through this trying terrain, which lead us to Kembolcha that evening. We were so grateful for the kindness of the two UN officials, Haimanot and Wubetewho besides loading our luggage in their vehicle, really went out of their way to ensure we found our way…. despite the bikes being a great deal slower than their Land Cruiser. They even took it upon themselves to organise a room for us in Kembolcha. After washing away the days mud, sand and general dirtiness with a cold (but much appreciated) bucket-shower we celebrated our off-road adventure with our new friends and enjoyed hearing about the great work they are doing in their home, Ethiopia.
Tunnels carved out the mountain.... some go on forever and you drive through in pitch darkness!

Some scenes along the road...

The next morning we headed off to Addis Ababa… through tunnels that cut through the mountain and seemed to go on for ages… driving through pitch-dark with nothing but the light of a bus coming towards you… quite frightening! But as usual the Ethiopian scenery was well worth the challenging roads.
Addis Ababa food markets

Shoe shine?

Typical scene of contrast of wealth in Addis Ababa ... corrugated tin meets imposing modern facade! 

Addis Ababa, Africa’s fourth biggest city and the pronounced ‘capital of Africa,’ is a bustling metropolis where ancient Ethiopia lives side by side with its modern counterpart. It is quite a stark contrast to see the scenes of rural life nestled right next to a massive modern skyscraper. As South Africans we are no strangers to massive contrasts of wealth but our history of Apartheid has left a permanent mark of segregation on the spacial character of our cities, so seeing these extreme contrasts was quite remarkable for us. 
Recurring sand road detours....

Our next drive took us through the stunning setting of the Rift Valley lakes. After once again underestimating how slow the going would be, we were forced off the road at a place called Ziway by the rain and dark. We had not anticipated that the place could possibly be full during the week but every hotel we drove into was filled to the rafters with youth who had come to the picturesque lake district for a regional meeting. After being assisted by a few really helpful people who called around for us and even offered us their homes should we be unsuccessful, we eventually found the very last room in town. With the knowledge that we had somewhere to sleep for the night we relaxed with a glass of wine and some dinner and listened to the rain pouring down while we felt thankful for how everything always seems to work out in the end… with the help of kind people and I guess a bit of luck!
Cute kids we met during a bum-break from riding the long road down South towards Moyale!

And all of a sudden... the whole town arrives to see whats going on!

We awoke to more rain but resolved to ride rain or no rain! From Ziway the road deteriorated with potholes you could cradle a large child in quite comfortably and of course the regular human and livestock obstacles. This next section of road… around 500kms took us 8 hours to complete of almost constant riding except for a few stops to check whether we were ACTUALLY on the main road to the South. This road is quite a shocker after the generally good roads in the North. We eventually stopped for some lunch/dinner in Yabelo where we discovered that there were no more beds left in the town as the place was absolutely flooded with NGO workers. But once again we were lucky to find some space at a really lovely place called Borena Lodge just 6kms outside the town and around 3kms off road into the glorious silence of nature!
Splendid isolation in nature! Yes please!

It was so wonderful to be surrounded by bush and the relaxing sounds of birds and insects. Ethiopia is so densely populated and no matter whether you think you may be in the middle of nowhere, all of a sudden there will be hundreds of people gathered around you chanting “you, you, you!!!” after which they will proceed to stare and poke at you until you leave… which makes bush-camping a little problematic. So as wonderful and interesting as the whole experience has been… the beautiful silence of nature was just what the doctor ordered.
We thought this was a remote place where we could stop for a quick and peaceful rest... we were wrong... 'you, you , you... faranjis!'

We left Ethiopia with brilliant memories and having been charmed by both its people and the magnificent landscape but we are also looking forward to exploring Kenya and enveloping ourselves a bit more in the quietness of nature and the brilliance of this country’s wealth of wildlife!
Dusty Moyale... border towns... not the most pleasant of places!

We are currently in Moyale after successfully crossing the border and off to begin the road to Marsabit and Isiola tomorrow.Dubbed Africa’s worst road, we are expecting quite the adventure! Despite most overlander’s focus on the state of the road, this stretch of land also offers some beautiful sights … We shall share with you soon!

1 comment:

  1. Dearest Britty and Ri,thinking of you every day and counting the days till you get back home. The pictures are so beautiful. Wishing we were there with you to see such beauty.Travel safe! Love you and missing you madly.Ves,Milla and Bella