Saturday, 24 December 2011

Little Fluffy Clouds

The passage through the Sudanese and Ethiopian borders was pretty quick (only an hour), after about 2 hours of Ethiopian driving the last very hot days in Sudan (40c) were soothed by the cooler temperatures of beautiful Ethiopia. The road to Gonder takes you up over the most stunning mountain landscapes. We saw clouds for the first time since we left home and I have to say I felt a sense of relief that it would not be so bollocking hot.

The landscape is lush too, the farmland reaches right up to the road. It was a bit of a surprise to see so much crops.  The villages we passed through had huts made from wood and thatch (Sudanese were mud and thatch)  these changed to small stone and mud houses.  Navigating the road through the villages was interesting, not only are there potential collisions  with donkeys rolling in the dust, cows standing and refusing to budge, sheep and goats darting about like tw**s,  camels loping about like bored teenagers; on one occasion  James weaved his way through fighting bulls. Not bad for an Essex boy. All of these however pale in comparison to the Ethiopian pedestrian.  Responses to there being a car on the road coming towards
them vary from 'well I aint gonna move any quicker', to what looks like a scene from the keystone cops  (old black and white movies) where they all shriek and run about then in to each other to total surprise, or sour disapproval that you should be there at all when they obviously need all of the road.
Our first stop over in Ethiopia was at Tim and Kim's village at Gorgora near lake Tana. This is a top venue set up and run as a project with the local community by Danish couple Tim and Kim. Tell you what i never thought i would be so pleased to see a clean working toilet with toilet paper . . . And after sudan we had the joy of a fully stocked bar from which we quaffed beer (for james) and red wine (for me). We spent two days here just faffing about and catching up with traveling chores (James finally having a shower and me doing the washing).

We had a trip though the village to the local church (oldest in area)  accompanied by tim and kim's dogs.   Don't think that impressed the locals too much.

 We then headed up north to Gonder. While our purpose was to see the castles in the royal enclosure in the first hour there James had treated me to a visit to the back of a shop to change money on the black market and to a brothel to get lunch (this last was a mistake but the food was good anyway).

The castles are rather fab and are steeped in truly gory history that you will have look up on Wikipedia.  The royal enclosure houses 11 castles which have a bloody history that includes the hanging of one of the queens from the battlements as  punishment for murdering the king's brother.  All quiet there now except for tourists and would be Rastas.
We liked Gonder. The folk were friendly and even the staff in the government owned
telecommunications  joined in the hilarity that james' passport photo induces (you have to produce this to buy a sim card).  The joke was on me though because I went back to the building the next day to return the sim card as it didn't work.  Instead of producing the receipt for the card I handed over the receipt for the pension we had stayed in telling the man that it wasn't good enough as it didn't work.  He looked relieved when James pitched up and gave him the proper receipt for the sim (which I had in my bag but didn't see through not wearing my specs). Ah that little episode made James laugh and smug for ages. Deep joy. The pension we stayed in not only had water but it was hot and I stumbled onto an unusual ceremony with the local church bloke who finished his blessing by literally throwing water into the faces of the devoted really hard.  I tried to not let them see me looking but it was well funny.
Leaving Gonder behind we went north to Debark which is where you access the massive Simieon mountains. James has been here before and he was keen for me to see the staggering beauty of the 4543 metre high peaks.  Well he is still waiting because our vehicle didn't have room for the compulsory scout you have to take with you so on we drove. . . . That night we found something rarer than hens teeth which was a bush camp with no visits from the inquisitive locals. The drive the next day through to Axsum  was er... character building. It started off through the  pass which had more hair pin bends than the Grimsel Pass x 100 and steep steeeeeeeep drops that within minutes had me a gibbering wreck. Sorry Jean my vertigo monster consumed any sense I was borne with, however my bravery genes kicked in when i was needed to film the drive for James. I look back with a mixture of pride, horror and amusement at the state of me trying to hold the video camera  and film the twists and turns over sheer drops for James while trying not to cry and throw up.

 The road became even more interesting when it turned into miles and miles and miles of construction.  The Ethiopian goverment is investing massively in road construction which means long delays for some, I have to say we were lucky and only had to stop for short periods . The delays were highly enjoyable for James who got to see some of his favourite machinery in action. CAT D8 bulldozers woo hoo!

We got to Axum and found our hotel without getting lost, playing tourists the next day we went to see the stellae and the queen of Sheba's bath and the following day peered over the church wall to look at the building which is supposed to house the Ark of the Covenant. oooooh.

We left Axum and I even did some of the driving but not on the hairpin bends that James is pretty damned good at, we bushcamped again this time in a baobab forest just north of a place called Sekota, it was a beautiful place if a little odd because of the trees.

We weren't alone for long though as the locals had spotted us and we became a good spectator sport. It was good fun though, we must have looked bloody odd to these people. Well we probably look odd to most people come to think of it. The next day we headed off to Lalibella........
 The churches at lalibella are magnificent. Lalibella is set high up in the maintains. They were built by king Lalibella who was also a priest. He is buried in a tomb in Golgotha church. Females are not allowed to go in only men and apparently by going in you are guaranteed a place in heaven.  Quite right too women have far too easy a life of it. Especially this one here.............
The amount of dedicated work that went into making the churches is impressive that and the very real devotion  the Ethiopians have in their christianity.

The rock hewn churches (yes they are carved out of solid granite) are beautiful inside too as they are decorated with the most stunning artwork.
We were super super lucky while wandering about as in one church we were allowed to sit inside while the priests held a service that included gregorian chanting. I have to say james and I came over all misty eyed.

After the spiritual beauty of Lalibella we set off the following morning for Addis Ababa. The drive was stunning and rose up to an escarpment of over 3000 metres. 

 At the top we were met by young lads selling hats who took us further up to where the baboons and the ibex hang out. James went right to the edge of the cliff I of course didn't.
 The young hat sellers were nice, all students  and all thought james was super cool which of course he is.   We arrived in Addis on James' birthday. The occasion was duly celebrated with beer then meatballs then lots of red wine with Igor and Johannes who are also staying in Wim's Holland House' primo camping spot in Addis. 
Amazingly since we last saw these two they have only had 2 accidents, Igor burnt the back of his leg on his bike exhaust and Johannes managed to ' ride into the ass of a horse'.  James would like to say a big thank  you for all his happy birthday  wishes, he had exactly the sort of birthday he likes....X

Today is christmas eve. The first one I have ever had  that has not been the usual traditional tinsel and turkey. I have to say that despite the lack of shopping stress I do miss Christmas back home. James is of course happy as a sand boy.  So all that I have time left for on this hot and sunny ethiopian afternoon is to say Happy Christmas to you all hope you have a fabulous time and especially my lovely Kate who I miss very very much.

Cheers everyone !!!!!


  1. As it is now after midnight I can officially wish you both a very Happy Ethiopian Christmas! I do hope you bought that lovely hat for James as a Christmas present Dee. What a beautiful country to spend Christmas in. Thinking of you often and sending you both all our love from Fi and the Cubs xxxx

  2. Another amazing instalment from Africa. I love the sound of Ethiopia.
    We agree with those hat selling boys that James is very cool! We think you are too Dee, and supersonic!
    James, you should definitely have one of the hats!
    Dee is that a pinny you are wearing or a frock?
    We made a toast to you both at Christmas dinner, and I couldn't help it, but I lit a candle for you both at Mass on Christmas morning!
    Rick arrived last night just in time to attend a murder mystery dinner at Kate and Sean's which was hilarious! We are now all running around like maniacs trying to get the house ready for the New Year party. We will of course be having a drink to you two whoever you will be!

    We are missing you terribly, but are so happy that you are having such an amazing time.

    Lots of love to you both, and Happy New Year!!!!!! Soo and Chris xxxxxxx

  3. Now THIS is an adventure! This will surely 'shape' you all for the rest of your lives! Good travels to you.