22 Feb 2003
We have finally made it through to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and it has been an interesting time. I should start by apologising for the abrupt nature of the previous bulletin - I had to finish it in a hurry at the time.
From Abuja we drove to Jos where we had a look around the Nigerian museum of architecture. There are replicas of some of the important building styles, and also a piece of the old Kiruna city wall. We didn't stay there long before moving on to the Yankari national park. The mornings have now turned very cold, so people sit in the truck wearing all their clothes, or even sleeping bags. Not what we expected from this part of the world.
The Wikki Warm Springs in the Yankari park were warm and we were greeted by a family of baboons. The largest hopped on to the truck to check us out - Richy, the driver, chased it out so it hopped in the cab instead and grabbed a bag of money. Richy chased it out of the cab and it then turned on him - he threw is sunglasses at it and then jumped into the cab and wound the windows up in a hurry. We all stood around laughing, and Steve got it on video.
We did two game drives in the Yankari, one the afternoon we arrived and the other at dawn the next day. The afternoon one was fantastic - not everyone from the truck did it as it was in one of the park's trucks - and we saw our first elephants. We have some great footage of a small bull elephant challenging the truck to a fight! We also saw water bucks and bush bucks and a warthog. We had to get up at 4.30am for the second game drive which we did in Priscilla (our truck). Unfortunately not all the tracks through the forest that our guide took us down were wide enough for us, so we did a little involuntary deforestation.
While we were in the park, Debs painted Priscilla's name on the drivers side door to match the one on the other door.
From the Yankari park we ran for the Cameroon border. We stopped in a little village called Rhumsiki which is nestled in the most spectacular volcanic scenery. We visited a witch doctor who told us our future by putting a crab in a pot with sand, water & sticks, and then watching where it went. Very strange.
In order to get some Cameroon cash we stopped at the town of Maroua. We went to the bank to change, but the teller didn't want to know and we ended up changing on the black market inside the bank, with the assistance of the bank manager. All this after they locked us in. There was also a supposedly very good market there, but by this time we have seen enough markets.
We then went to another game reserve, this one called Waza in Cameroon. While Yankari was all forested, this was savanna and had a very different feel. We saw our first giraffes here and a huge herd of elephants. There were also some amazing birds which "swarm" about and look like animated smoke from a distance. We had lunch at a water hole in the park while being watched by an antelope.
The border with Chad (Tchad) was overrun with beggars in hand-peddled wheelchairs. There seem to be a lot of deformaties, probably caused by disease. We stopped in Ndjamena which is the capital of Chad, but you would not believe it is a capital city. It is the size of a small town with virtually no facilities. We did manage to find a Chinese restaurant run by genuine Chinese people and had a really good lunch though. Several of us tried to go to the post office, but even the locals didn't seem to know when it was open. There also seemed to be a significant military presence there. There are also lots of reminders of previous wars, with the cinema still riddled with bullet holes.
The drive across Chad, on a "transcontinental earth road" was generally uninteresting though the scenery was nice. The desert changed from red to white then back to red again, and we saw some Dik-Diks.
The 31st January was a memorable day. We got up at 6am, did a quick tyre change and set off. By 8.40am we were on our 3rd sandmatting session. By 10am we had broken a suspension spring - this was a good opportunity for us to communicate with the locals. We managed to take some pictures and give out some "cadeaux" (presents) and in return they brought us a bowl of goat's milk. In a few hours we were back on the road with a replaced spring, but only for an hour before a spring on the other side broke. It took us until 4pm to fix this one.
We got to the Chad/Sudan border and it was the week-end; the Chad border officers told us to wait until the next morning. We said "fine" and put up our tents all around them. Half an hour later they said they would go and get the man with the required stamp, and process us through. It still took a "gift" of a pair of hiking boots, a calendar and some cash to get us through. Just as we were leaving they decided they needed more money from us so we shot off out of there rather rapidly.
In our haste we managed to get stuck in the dry bed of the river that marks the border between Chad and Sudan. We spent a good few hours hacking away at the bedrock with steel bars in no-man's-land. At one point a local truck turned up and we flagged them down and asked them to pull us out. The wanted and extortionate amount of money for their help, so we "politely" declined and finished the job ourselves. It was evening (not quite sure of the time because one of our guide books said it was 3 hours ahead of GMT and one said 2 hours - the locals had no idea) by the time we reached the Sudanese immigration compound. Once again we were told to wait until morning, and this time they meant it. We camped up inside the compound, still not officially in the country.
We spent the whole of the next day in the compound waiting for the documentation to be processed. By the end of the day our passports had been stamped, but not the carnet which is required for the truck. By this point we were playing the waiting game (and rounders) with some style. Washing lines went up and we turned the compound into a chinese laundry. We eventually left at 11am the following morning, a full 48 hours after we first arrived at the Chad side of the border.
We had decided to take the northern route through western Sudan, but the border guards told us it was too dangerous. We were halfway along the southern route, heading for Jebel Mara, when were were stopped and informed that Jebel Mara was off limits due to bandits. The police provided us with an armed escort for the next stage of the trip, complete with truck mounted machine gun and about half a dozen guards with assault rifles, a grenade launcher and a bazooker.
Once past this area we hit the Sudanese desert and our progress slowed dramatically. We managed 51 sandmatting sessions in one three day period before we hit tarmac. We were all very sore in the arms and fingers from carrying the mats by the end of it. When we did meet the road again we all cheered, and some of the group even kissed the road.
We crossed the White Nile at Kosti and made straight for Khartoum, which was shut. We parked up at the Blue Nile Sailing Club on the banks of the Blue Nile - an idillic setting. We found out that there was a serious language barrier when we went out that evening to celebrate the birthday of one of the girls. The taxi driver kept nodding and saying "yes" when we told him where we wanted to go, but then took us way out of town in the wrong direction. We ended up circumnavigating the city for a couple of hours before we finally made him stop and we all jumped out. We ended up at a fast food burger joint called McLucky's - the food was great and the evening memorable.
Three of the group, Andy, Clair and Lucy, left the truck in Khartoum to continue on their own.
From Khartoum we dashed up to the royal city of Meroe with it's ancient pyramids. They are fantastic, although some idiot had dynamited the tops off them all while looking for treasure, and had proper heirglyphics and everything. The pyramids are in the middle of the desert, surrounded by sand dunes. There is nothing else there and it made for some fantastic photo opportunities. When we got back to the truck the locals had set up their little souvenier stalls, and there were also a few domesticated camels hanging around. Steve had a short camel ride and then called Debs over from the souveniers to have a go as well. A 5 minute camel ride costs about 60p.
We only spent a few hours at Meroe before driving back to Khartoum which was still pretty much closed. We did manage to visit the national museum which was fantastic, if a little underfunded. Debs has found a new favourite drink - Hibiscus tea. They drink it very strong and very sweet in a small glass and it tastes a little like mulled wine.
The crossing into Ethiopia was uneventful, and we soon started climbing into the hills towards the historic capital, Gondar (at 2200m altitude). This used to be the capital of Ethiopia and has a fine collection of royal castles, churches and the royal baths. We visited pretty much everything and it was all spectacular. Debs took the braids out of her hair here as the roots were starting to turn to dreadlocks - this took a few hours in itself, and she looked like Diana Ross afterwards.
About half of the group arranged to leave the truck and visit the monolithic churches at Lalibella, but we opted to stay with the truck which headed down around lake Tana to Bahir Dar. This was our base for visiting the Blue Nile Falls and the Lake Tana monestaries. The falls are impressive, but 75 percent of the water is now diverted for hydro electric power, and we are long past the rainy season when they are at their best.
We spent a whole day on Lake Tana visiting some spectacular monestaries. They decorate them inside with illustrations of bible stories in brilliant colours. Debs has fallen in love with the heads of the angels that appear everywhere. One one of the islands there is a museum that houses some 14th-16th century crowns, crosses and books. Touching a 400 year old goatskin book was a wonderful feeling. It was a fantastic day out - we just hope that the pictures come out.
In Bahir Dar we opted to take a cheap hotel room as we saw that they had a bath tub and water heater. Unfotunately the heater didn't work and so they moved us to another room which had a working heater but no water pressure. In all they moved us three times. We finally had a room with water and electricity but it was getting late so we left the bath for the morning and went to bed. We woke up to find that there was a power cut throughout the town, and so no hot water!
From Bahir Dar we headed south towards Addis Ababa with only 14 of us on the truck, including the 3 crew. We passed through the spectacular Blue Nile Gorge which is up there with the grand canyon in terms of scale. We arrived there fairly late in the day and as we were heading down we realised that we would not have time to get out again before dark so we started looking around for a camp site. We left the road and headed up a track towards a promising site but as we were going round a bend the drivers side drive wheel slipped off the road and we were stuck on the edge of a gully. We built up the road underneath it with a sandmat and some rocks but still couldn't move, so we left it for the morning and pitched the tents along the road. The next morning we built up stones underneath the other wheel as well and we were off straight away (after transferring some diesel from the reserve tanks). The bridge at the bottom of the gorge was at 1077m and then climbed up to a maximum height of over 3100m. Quite a day.
That brings us to Addis Ababa where we arrived yesterday. We collected our post this morning, although we haven't had time to read it all yet, and have visited the National Museum where Lucy, a 2.5 million year old human ancestor, lives. Tomorrow we head south to Kenya, but we will leave that for the next bulletin.
Ethiopia is definately one of the most spectacular countries we have ever been to.
We hope this email sees everyone in good health, and look forward to hearing from you all.
Debs & Steve