Monday, 24 November 2008

21st November 08

Date: 21st November 08
Location: Chenek Camp, Simien National Park, Ethiopia
Weather: Cold to start then the sun came out and hot again, 28°c
Status: Relaxed finally after the worst day of the trip so far….

It all started off ok, I woke up after the epic effort that put I yesterday in order to complete the ninth of the Afritrex challenges feeling very happy, not sore at all and desperate to get back to Gonder in time to meet Kees and the rest of the Watkins who’d hopefully be there so we can start the rush across Sudan.

Lowered myself down the ladder with no ills effects being felt, grabbed my washbag and trotted across the campsite to the gurgling mountain stream which was at the far side….frost and ice were all along the banks so I woke myself up with a good old fashioned ice-cream-headache dunking of the head and shave…brrr!

Cooked up a storm of an English breakfast which I’d pictured in my head whilst ascending the last part of the climb…the full works, eggs, toast, beans and bacon talk about needed after everything Ras Dashen had taken.

The Colonel developed a leaking shock absorber on the drive up here so finally I had a chance to sort out replacing it with the spare I was carrying…all went well and within an hour we were all packed up and on the road. We gave Nana, my scout from the past few days, a lift back to Debark 56kms down the stony, broken but totally stunning track passing shepherd boys who gracefully waved, then threw stones. Vast mountain ranges and drops and more Gelada Baboons at the edge of the road with their wavy long blond hair…..quite like me Bre told me!

We dropped off Nana and collected my certificate of completion and started on the even worse rocky, stony, dangerous road of 120kms to Gonder…all was going well for the first 60kms then the Colonel started to swerve from left to right. Was it my suspension repair that had gone wrong? No instead the first puncture since having the new tyres fitted in South Africa (I do think I’m due one when you look at the state of the tyres after the last few thousand kms!). I stopped and started to change it and within 5 minutes had a crowd of 15 women and children all around looking and laughing amongst themselves! A old man joined us an tried to help but was pretty useless and within 15 minutes after a round of handshakes and photos we were on our way again…with me very unhappy at the failure of the tyre!

So we potter along and 10kms later a loud bang and hiss…..yep another tyre has blown, balls what a shocking road it was proving to be! We stop again and again a crowd forms this time a young lad whose good at gymnastics and stretching decides to have a stretch-off with Bre and the two of them go through more and more intricate twists, cartwheels and turns all to the amusement of those gathered. In the meantime I change the second tyre of the day and my frustration growing immensely. We receive a text message from the Watkins that they haven’t made it to Gonder as planned instead to Gorgora on Lake Tana some 60kms away down an equally as bad dirt road….why couldn’t they just keep to the plan and meet at Gonder…..ARGHHHHHHHHHHH!! Sometime I think I shouldn’t wait for Kees as it may well hinder my challenge to get home for Xmas Eve…..

We finally arrive on Gonder as the sun is setting and drive straight to the nearest tyre depot where the run down little place and its two guys set about trying to fix the problem. Instead of simply inserting rubber plugs as they would in most of Africa they instead take the entire tyre off and affix a patch to the inside of the tyre…yeah great one guys as your compressor has absolutely no power and can’t get the tyre back on the rim…muppets. I try a few tricks I’ve learnt but nothing works so I have two tyres sitting there and no air in them.

I hate using inner tubes if not necessary but the situation calls for it and I dig two out of the truck and they proceed to stick them in….now I should have watched them as they failed to put the essential plastic collars around the valves to prevent chaffing, but I didn’t and they didn’t!

So I drive off thanking them, get to the run down old Fawlty Towers style hotel, stuff a crap dinner down watched in the room and pestered continually by the four cast there, and return to the truck to hear a hissing noise from the front tyre! ARGHHHHHHHH AGAIN!!!

Bre heads off to bed and I decide I can do this better myself so dig out all the tyre changing kit, proceed to fit new inner tubes (the last I have) and an hour later have the tyres back on and ready to go.

A day of frustration, I changed 6 tyres in all and now feel more knackered than yesterday….no one said this was going to be easy. I sincerely hope that tomorrow when we arrive at Gorgora to meet Kees, he and the family are ready to drive to the border or I feel I will have to leave them in order to make the boat across from Wadi Halfa which leaves on the 1st….it really is all about this boat now.

Fingers crossed for better things tomorrow….

End of day location: Gonder, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 168kms

Ras Dashen ascent

Ras Dashen ascent

Let me give you a quick background to the reasons behind my particularly tough and exhausting last few days which saw me complete the ninth and last of the ten challenges on African soil.

In order to complete the Afritrex expedition as I planned it and arrive back in the UK to complete the tenth and final challenge of the final marathon back into my home town of Petersfield, I have to be at Lake Nasser on December 1st to catch the boat across from Sudan into Egypt. This will give me ‘just’ enough time to make it across the remaining countries and back to England. If I fail to get to that boat I would have to wait another week and my dream would be extinguished…..

To climb Ras Dashen takes a minimum of three days but I don’t have that long as every day is essential in order to reach my goal so I have to make time somehow and the simplest of ways is to cut down the ascent time by a day and try to do the entire climb in two.

So that’s exactly what I tried to do! I left Bre looking after the Colonel at the Chenneck base camp at 3600m above sea level on a cold a frosty morning with the sun just warming the cold rocky ground, I’d decided that I’d really put myself through it by carrying all of my own it including tent, backpack and water for the three days which gave me a combined weight of nearly 18kgs…it all felt god for the first hour!

My scout for the trip was called Nana and spoke two words of English, “good” and “ok”….as with many Africans these are standard answers to everything and have no bearing on what the question is! He came equipped with a funny furry hat and open toed sandals, not the most practical clothing to take on such a challenge but he set the pace anyway as we started up the steep slope to the first pass we’d have to cross.

I hadn’t really grasped quite how taxing this climb would be and based it on the fact that all of the others had been straight up and down climbs which involved the first few days ascending and a final hard push to summit and get back to the base camp by simply dropping down in altitude to the exit.

Ras Dashen involves three separate ascents the first of which takes you over the second highest mountain in Ethiopia at 4200m asl, it’s a hard trek as the air is thin and the backpack is full at this stage and as you break the summit you then drop down sharply in altitude over rocks and down dusty mule tracks until you reach the valley floor at 2800m, having lost 1400m in altitude but the day isn’t finished there as the camp for the night is another 500m up in a small village. By the time I got here is was shattered, the days exertions had taken their toll and my thighs were starting to cramp up, something I’ve never had before! Eek not good for the next day.

I set up camp in the afternoon sun and fell asleep in the warmth of my tent before waking an hour later and scoffing down three of the army ration packs I’ve carried all the way around Africa just for this moment! And delightful they were too…not! Lamb hot pot, chicken and herb dumplings and fruit dumplings with custard!

In the late afternoon I’d conceded to myself that in order to make it back to the starting camp by the end of the next day I would have to employ some local help or I’d never make it and organised a mule and boy to carry my backpack up the last of the slopes and through the pass.

Nana and I arranged to wake at 3am and to leave just after in able to make the challenge in one day. When the alarm went off the next morning Nana was nowhere to be seen and after a search of the living quarters where the scouts stayed failed to come up with anything and had no option but to head back to bed….damn him! I woke again at 4am and tried once more but the idiot was fast asleep still until I spotted him under his shawl and wriggled him with my foot to wake him from his slumber…

We finally left on the dot of 5am, two hours late! Our ascent in the darkness was lit by only my headtorch as Nana had nothing with him, and we wound our way up through the fields and villages which amazingly appear all they way up to 3800m, the very fertile soil and warm daytime temperatures providing good growing conditions. We arrived at the rocky slope leading up to the peak with the sun just breaking to horizon after a three hour ascent and made our way to the final hand-over-hand climb of the wall to the summit.

I took Nana’s rifle from him as he scrambled up and he took my trekking pole in return, then we were there at 4543m asl and at the top of the final one of Afritrex’s five summits which the expedition consisted of! Success indeed and after taking the obligatory photos of our achievement we gathered our things and started the descent passing others on the way.

We arrived back in camp at 11am, I found my boy and mule and tried to confirm that we’d be off in a few minutes time once I’d collapsed the tent, however there was no mule! Arse, all that planning the day before and it had fallen apart!

Instead a local boy offered to carry my bag for me, I packed up tent and bag, loaded my new ‘mule’ with my load and we set off down the slope to the valley floor below. We arrived at the river an hour later and ate the last of my ration packs to give me enough energy to take on the greater of the two climbs for the day, a massive 1400m!

We passed through the village with the local children following me and the guide saying “salaam” and “hello” over and over until I replied, very touching but also very annoying when your knackered!

It took a huge effort to get over that final 200m to the top of the pass for all of us and when we finally broke the summit we all stopped and congratulated each other before heading down the final 800m descent past Gelada Baboons and Mountain Ibix. Bre rushed to greet me and the efforts of the last two days hit home as the legs collapsed and I threw down food and water to replace the lost energy.

This was the hardest of the lot, the effort required was more than the Comrades, or it seemed so at the time, but two days later the legs feel back to normal and I now can’t wait to find an excuse to get to another slope sometime soon!

18th November 08

Date: 18th November 08
Location: Debre Tabor
Weather: Great driving weather with sunshine all the way. 32°c down to 4°c at night
Status: Preparing for the next of the challenges, and the cold!

Up at 5.30am with the sun still hidden behind the horizon so packed the tent away in the dark, had a quick bite of breakfast and hit the road….the unbuilt road again!

A short 75kms drive brought us to the junction with the tarmac again which we were all pleased to see after the last few days driving. This Africa trip has hardened me to the delights of African roads and made me want an appreciate the good smooth black stuff even more than before and the UK’s roads will never give me anything to complain about….EVER AGAIN!

Drove the relatively easy 120kms towards Gonder, stopping briefly on the way to visit the ruins of an castle built in the early 1500’s which took us up an overgrown 4x4 track which added to the air of mystery surrounding the place, however the gang of 20 odd locals who unofficially escorted us around the place took this away straight away! We paid one of them for taking us around, far too little according to him of course…so we turned the Colonel around a left much to his disgust!

Arriving in Gonder we stopped off at a recommendation in the guide for a fruit juice of mango, strawberry, papaya and avocado all served in a single glass but separated from each other…..tasted awesome! Gathered some extra cash for the ascent of Ras Dashen as I’d no idea how much it was likely to cost and took the road north out of the city.

After the pleasure of the tarmac it was back to the painful ungraded rocky road for another 2hr drive to Debark, the base town for the Simien National Park, and this time the road had taken its toll on the Colonel. I noticed under one of the back wheels a pool of oil ad finally after 33,000 miles one of the rear shock absorbers had given up and burst. Not too bad a performance really! A change will be needed as I have a replacement sometime in the next few days but getting to the mountain is the most important thing now.

I arrived at the park office and made the relevant arrangements for the climb, they told me that I’d need to take three days for the ascent but if the guide agreed then we could try and do it in two. I really need to do it in as little time as possible as the days between here and the likely ferry date of December 3rd are too few, so making them up here is essential if I’m to make it back to the UK in time for Xmas as planned!

Bre will be staying with the truck during the climb but the park regulations state that she’ll need an armed scout with her at all times in case of problems in the park, typical but good insurance I suppose. He jumped in the truck with us complete with his trusty antique looking musket, and we drove along an incredible scenic mountain pass for 56kms passing groups of Gelada Baboons, Mountain Ibix and unique birds to this area. The Colonel hadn’t been above 3500m before yesterday and now today he’s quite happily driving along at 3700m, a first for him!

The campsite at Chennak is at 3660m above sea level and has the most spectacular views all around, as the sun set we put the camp together and cooked the most terrible dinner of pancakes and cheese/bacon sauce….everything seemed to go wrong!

Noticed in the evening that some shit had stolen one of my water containers from the roofrack whilst the truck had been parked up, must have been while we slept in the room at Lal Hotel, Lalibela. The idiot forced the retaining bar and broke it but is suppose they must have needed it for something more than I did. Oh well.

Its damn cold now the suns gone down, from 30°c when we arrived down to 0°c now….eek and a harsh reminder of what the UK holds for me when I get back to England!

End of day location: Simien Mountains NP, Ethiopia.
Distance covered: 280kms

16th November 08

Date: 16th November 08
Location: Woldia, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine…again! Awesome day for driving. 30°c
Status: Loving being off on our own again….the world is a good place today!

Awoke from a deep sleep in the luxury surrounds of the Lal Hotel, Woldiya’s car park! Was another cold night as we’re at altitude so we packed the tent away quickly, got the engine running and the heaters on to warm our cockpit. As we left the fuel station in the town we were stopped by a guy selling the local Ethiopian scarves, of which I bought two, one for me and one for a friend who’ll really appreciate it when I get home!

The road ahead for the day I knew to be a testing one, called the China Road as it was originally built by them in the 70’s and its condition ranges from decent graded gravel to messy muddy surface in the rainy season so we were unsure how we’d find it!

This was one of the best and most scenic drives of the entire trip, similar in the quality of scenery that we’d seen in Rwanda but the whole scale of things has been racked up ten notches. The farming is more colourful, the altitude makes the air clearer, the drops from the side of the road are more frightening and the enormity of the mountain ranges are difficult to take in…not for the first time we have overused the word ‘wow’ all day long.

We stopped for breakfast half way up one of the passes, probably one of the only places we’d be able to get half an hour free of people as this is such a populated country and time by yourself is literally unheard of! Once we’d had the usual I tried to start the Colonel and nothing….no starter motor at all, it had happened once before in Malawi and that time we’d luckily been facing downhill, this time we were facing up a mountain pass with a 300m drop behind us!

Bre and I tried to push the Colonel up the hill and got a few metres before the gradient hit us, we jammed a rock under the wheel and waited for the next vehicle to pass, five minutes later it arrived and three guys jumped out to help us. We all pushed and I bump started it and we were on our way again. Fingers crossed it was another rare occurrence…..

We continued to climb up in altitude until we were at the highest point the Colonel has ever been to a chilly 3547m, he puffed a little more than usual but made it along the freshly graded road surface with no problems, we even had a few stretches of fresh tarmac to up the average speed. We eventually hit the village of Dilba and turned right down a bumpy track, after 10 mins we decided we taken the wrong turn and headed back to the junction to take the longer but correct road to the town of Lalibela.

We dropped off the high escarpment and down into the valley below passing groups of children and the occasional farmer tending his fields, an hour later we’d arrived at the tarmac road which led into the town of Lalibela, famous for its rock-hewn churches built in the 12th century.

We made our way through the narrow streets to the Lal Hotel…again, this time a collection of local style tafel double storey roundhouses rather than a standard hotel. Camping was damn expensive so it worked out cheaper to take a room which was different!

Our priority was to have a tour of the churches as soon as possible and spoke to the reception who organised a guide to come an hour later to meet us. There are 11 churches in total and the tour is usually split over 2 four hour tours of each location, but in traditional Afritrex style efficientness we managed to cramp it all into one afternoon!

A short taxi ride took us to the first and largest of the churches which was an amazing sight. Originally built by King Lalibela in response to divine intervention when he saw a shining light in the sky when staying there in the 1100’s…apparently it was Haley’s Comet. It is then believed that all of the 11 churches were excavated from the surrounding hillside in 25 years by one of two ways (1) with the assistance of angels or by (2) a team of some 40,000 people. Being a sceptic I believe the second!

There are two collections of churches all of which are all linked to each other by a series of underground channels and tunnels and are truly incredible works of architectural magnificence. The largest of the churches is 37m x 50m long and contains 12 rooms, they al have intricate carvings on the walls and ceilings and have now been protected from the elements with a permanent modern looking roof to divert the rains and damaging sunlight.

We visited all of them taking loads of photos as we went and then as the afternoon drew to a close walked back down the hill with our guide through the streets of the town passing villagers and the locals who were as interested in us as we were in them!

Dinner at the hotel then bed.

End of day location: Lalibela, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 180kms

15th November 08

Date: 15th November 08
Location: Debre Birhan, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and cold overnight, scattered clouds in the day. 32°c
Status: Happy Ethiopia has come up with the goods and is awesome….

Up at first light to get a full days drive in, yesterday was a pretty hard short drive on roads which I didn’t enjoy! We packed up the tent and said goodbye to Johann the biker from South Africa and turned north out of the village passing the early morning traffic of horse drawn carts and donkeys.

The road was the same as yesterday for the first 50kms and rose in altitude again until we were sitting right up in the clouds at 3100m, the Colonel not particularly liking the thin air which has exacerbated his wheezy chest and resulted in more unsightly smoke being produced….a bit of a worry as we have now left the relatively mechanic-safe environment of Addis and entered the much more rural countryside.

As we entered a tunnel which had ben drilled through the mountain range the road suddenly improved and the smooth tarmac of the south was back with us, much better for the average speed as we’d only been running at just over 40kph for the last hour.

At the side of the road we spotted a group of Gelada Baboons picking away at the mountain grasses, they’re pretty rare and the subject of a few nature documentaries I’ve seen so we were really chuffed to have seen them and been able to photograph them from the comfort of the Colonel. They have a strange red/pink marking on their chests which looks like a conventional baboon’s ass!

The scenery was incredible and the wow factor is back in the truck as Bre and I struggle to photograph all of the amazing sights were experiencing. The green, fertile, mountainous terrain is punctuated by vast flood plains with rocky, dry river beds which in the rains you could imagine look like aqua battlefields not the serene grazing lands we’ve driven through today.

As the road stayed the good tarmac we’ve come to love we managed to cover a good few kms in the latter part of the day and managed to get all of the way through to Weliyda around 380kms from our starting point. It’s a pretty non descript sort of town but gives us the ideal stepping stone to get into Lalibela early tomorrow to visit the famous rock-hewn churches which make up one of the official eight wonders of the world.

We’re staying in the car park of the Lal Hotel in the town, it was our first choice but was then also recommended to us by a little Italian overlanding lady we met on the drive here today. I thought I was doing something pretty extreme with this travelling thing but she’s doing Rome to Cape Town all by herself in a Toyota Land cruiser….mad.

End of day location: Wolida, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 380kms

14th November 08

Date: 14th November 08
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Weather: A few clouds today but the sun was still out and shining, 32°c
Status: Wahoo, we’re moving again!!

Up good and early to get the list of jobs done before leaving the capital for the last time, the visas are in the bag, the truck is prepared and we now need to haul ass to get home in time for Christmas!

Bre and I have decided to leave the others again for a few days, they wanted to stay in the capital for a few days longer and we need to get ahead in order to climb Ras Dashen and be back in Gonder by the time they arrive in around a weeks time.

It felt great to be off on our again, the road our destiny and the spirit of adventure truly coursing through our veins once more. Lets see if the people of the north are as friendly as those in the south….

We stocked up on supplies in the supermarket, filled with fuel and took the road out of the city, it wound up the hillside through small towns with the usual cattle and donkey slowing our progress occasionally. The landscape becoming more farmed and arable based as we went which gave us amazing views into the distance forming patchwork on the hills around.

Another road under repair though I’m afraid with long sections of rocky diversions, dusty times following construction trucks and worryingly the occasional puff of white smoke from the Colonel, hopefully a sign of the terrible quality Ethiopian fuel rather than the Colonel developing lung problems this late in the expedition!

We drove for a few hours until we reached the town of Debre Birhan and made our way to the Adaklu Hotel in the centre of town as it offered a secure courtyard for the night. We haggled over the cost for a while then made the tent and enjoyed some dinner with some overlanders on their motorbikes who had left Europe a couple of months ago and were heading to South Africa. The usual exchanging of route info, latest maps and stories until I decided it was time for a movie and bed.

A cold one though as we’re up to 3000m above sea level so a good chance of frost in the morning, yuk.

End of day location: Debre Birhan, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 130kms

12th November 08

Date: 12th November 08
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine…this is the rainy season in africa, what’s happening! 33°c
Status: Still on the visa mission….

Up early again, packed away the tent and cooked Bre and I a full English breakfast, yum indeed.

Hit the roads of the capital to the Sudanese embassy to hand in the forms required to start our applications. The same unfriendly guy met us at the gate; I’d make it my job today to get him to smile whatever happened!

We queued to hand in the forms and have them checked, were then told to wait for our turn to be called back to the window, this took half an hour until we got them back with a load of red scribble on them to say they’d been accepted, first job done. Mr Oh-So-Unfriendly then ushered us around to the accounts window where we’d have to pay the admin fee of $61 each except the US visa which is $150! This completed the next stage was to return to the first window to hand them back in where we were told to come back tomorrow at 3pm to collect them!! What a palaver!

So ack to the camp again to start the next line of enquiry which will enable me to get home as planned…the ferry across the Aswan from Wadi Halfa. There are many different stories on quite how difficult it is to book a place for the vehicles here and with Kees’s huge truck in tow its essential that we get the particulars right early on. I take a few numbers in Egypt and Sudan, try to call them and get nowhere….typical Africa again. Will try tomorrow.

Kees, Savannah, Bre and I headed off to the pool to cool down and use the internet, there’s only one place to go in the city and that’s the opulent luxury of the Sheraton Hotel again, full of businessmen and official looking people we traipse in straight off the street with our towels under our arms in shorts…the reaction of the doorman wa brilliant, and I think he actually had a great time joking with us as we out our towels and laptops through the security scanner!

Had a bite to eat in the town and went to bed.

End of day location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 10kms

11th November 08

Date: 11th November 08
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine. 32°c
Status: Awaiting the visa process again…

Up early, a bite of breakfast then headed out with Amo and Bre to get to the Egyptian embassy to drop off the receipts which they require as proof of where we’d acquired our Ethiopian currency from, they accepted them and told us to return at 4pm to collect our passports.

We all went along to the Sudanese embassy next to start the line of enquiry as to what we’d need for this visa, its renowned as being a really tough one to get with the grumpiest staff in their embassies, a fact which I can pay testament to after our experience with the unfriendly lady in Nairobi!

We queued outside for a few minutes with some other people until the door was swiftly pulled backwards and the grim faced smoking man allowed us to enter, we joined the next queue and after 10 minutes got to the front to be greeted by a smiling decent gentleman who issued us with the forms, told us what we’d need and happily said goodbye….quite a turn up!

Back at the camp Kees’s truck was now fixed and we spent the afternoon making an awesome lunch, catching up on emails etc and when it was time to leave did so with the Egyptian embassy being our destination.

Collected our visas and photocopied the relevant pages for the Sudanese application tomorrow and decided to head up into the hills to find the Washa Mikael rock church which overlooks the city. We pulled into the car park of the church which signalled the starting point of the drive and found a guide who would take us through the narrow villages to our goal, he sat on the bonnet and we drove for half an hour up a steep rocky road before grassy area we arrived at signalled our destination had been reached.

The church itself was bombed by Italian extremists a number of years ago which collapsed the roof and since then the church is only used twice a year which means it’s a little run down and overgrown but still leaves you amazed at how the excavation was done. The church has around 12 rooms and some amazing arches all of which have been hewn out of the bedrock. The entrance to the church is the most impressive of all with a 10 metre long tunnel leading to it.

We walked from here to the hill which looks over the city and the views were stupendous, the sprawling mass of Addis captured by the mountains around with patchworks of green and brown fields surrounding the obvious civilisation within.

The sun was setting so we made our way to the truck and started the descent back down the hill and through the evening chaos of the village streets, donkeys pulling their loads, the local running club meeting up and the hustle and bustle which makes Africa so amazing to me.

We had dinner and went to bed.

End of day location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 20kms

10th November 08

Date: 10th November 08
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 32°c
Status: Awaiting our visas for the next few countries……

We awoke this morning feeling cold, really cold. The city is the third highest capital city in the world at 2400m above sea level and boy did it feel I this morning, it’s the coldest we’ve been since winter in Namibia!

Had a shower to warm up and packed the tent away then headed to the bar for a scrambled egg breakfast and strong Ethiopian coffee…its mad stuff and looks like thick liquid liquorice when its poured, it also leaves a sludge in the bottom of the cup when your done!

Headed out to the Egyptian embassy in convoy to apply for the next-but-one visa we’ll need in order to apply for our Sudanese visa in a few days time. The Sudanese insist that to grant a transit visa they need to see evidence that we actually intend to leave their country. The unusually stern doorman allowed us entry and we filled in the usual forms, the British are charged more than usual here for some reason and I out of
the group have to pay the most!

Next problem is they won’t allow us to pay for the visa with dollars instead we need local currency…of which the family don’t have enough, so the mad chase around the city starts in order to be back in time for the closing of the application office at midday. We try to get to the centre as we know there’s an ATM at the Sheraton Hotel but Kees is stopped in his tracks by the police as they have a restriction on all vehicles over four tonnes in the centre to reduce the likelihood of terrorist activity around the main important buildings of the city. This of course however doesn’t really help us!

Kees instead heads off back to the Belair Hotel and Ammo, Bre and I start the mad trek around the city to collect money and return to the embassy in time to pay for the visas… usual I am the high-speed truck which has to do all of the work, can you believe it a Land Rover being the quickest vehicle!

We get to the Sheraton, grab the money and return to the embassy with half an hour to spare but the lady there throws another spanner in the works….we will all need evidence of our money changing transaction in the form of a photocopy of the card used and the receipt….great, none of us have it! We’re told that if we have it back to her by first thing in the morning then it shouldn’t be a problem, at least that gives us some leeway.

As we leave the embassy another overlander in his Toyota pulls up, I start chatting to him, an American called Eric whose basically travelled the same route we have for the past few months…we’ve just never met him! he’s been staying at a place in the city called Wim’s Holland House, setup by a Dutch guy called Wim funnily enough!

We follow him to the little oasis in the city centre and find a great place where we can stay for the next few days for free with a bar, restaurant and secure parking right in the centre. Superb! We return to Kees and the others and drive down to let them see the awesome place we’ve discovered. Perfect.
Spent the afternoon setting up camp and relaxing in our new found base then went for a drive around town to see some of the sights.

Had a meal with the family in the bar and then watched a couple of movies before heading to bed early.

End of day location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Distance covered: 20kms

9th November 08

Date: 9th November 08
Location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Weather: Lots of sunshine and the odd cloud, 30°c
Status: Hating the delays more than ever….

Bre and I were the first one’s up again…I think actually she got up first of all as she’s so intent on bringing the photo album up to date she couldn’t even sleep last night, its not so much as an obsession, more a job!

Spoke to Dad and my sister, Becky on the sat phone briefly to wish them both happy birthdays. I couldn’t get to a phone on time so had to resort to using the on board technology to wish them well.

After breakfast the local engineers arrived on time to finish off the work on Kee’s truck and I sat down and read a book, had breakfast, watched a movie…in fact loads of things before we had the message that everything was finished and we’d be on the road soon, finally.

We had the warning call that we’d be leaving by 1pm from Kees and that he just had to wash the truck and we’d be on the road…then eventually at 2.30pm he rolled up leaving us all fuming that again we’d be driving in the dark and I’d be navigating another new African city with the tortoise in tow. Hmmmmm

The road to the capital was particularly empty as it was a Sunday, we stopped on the side of the road to buy some strawberries and as the sun went down we still had a good few km’s to go. We made our way to the Baro Hotel but had problems getting Kee’s truck under the electricity wires so had to move onto our second choice. Can you see a theme running through the last few days yet!!?

Made our way to the Belair Hotel and made our camp in the car park, a light bite of dinner then bed. Up early tomorrow for the next visas…

End of day location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 270kms

7th November 08

Date: 7th November 08
Location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Weather: Patchy blue skies and clouds, rain on the drive. 24°c
Status: Off on a mission….and running over someone too!

The job for the day….to get the replacement parts we need to get Kees’s truck on the move again! We woke up as the sun came up and the rain was chucking down outside, it appeared that the storm which was flashing away in the distance overnight had deposited most of its contents on out campsite as the place was awash with the wet stuff.

Still packed up and had a quick bowl of cereal waiting around for Abiy, our new found English-speaking friend who Kees had befriended the evening previous, to arrive. The three of us got in the car and turned out of the campsite towards the capital 250kms away. The road was excellent, in fact one of the best in east Africa, and smooth tarmac took was through the lake filled lands of southern Ethiopia and towards the city.

We arrived at the outskirts and with Abiy’s help headed into the centre navigating our way towards his brother who was already searching out the required part for us on his day off!

We hit a section of new unsurfaced road and were crawling along in the traffic when all of a sudden the totally unavoidable happened. Now let me explain first, Ethiopia is THE country I have feared the most in terms of problems on the roads. Kids throw stones at you, adults play the shadow-chasing game and try to get out of the way the last minute, smiling at you once they’ve done it….and a Canadian couple we met a few years ago – Tom & Janet actually hit and killed a young boy here with horrible consequences and a long time trying to calm the baying mob!

I was in first gear following a minibus when a young lady stepped out in front of the Colonel looking totally the other way only a metre in front of the truck….I had nowhere to go at all, the wheels skidded for the two metres it took to bring the truck to a halt, the bull bar hit the lady and with her shopping in both hands she fell to the ground. I was totally shocked and in no way guilty but jumped out of the car to see she was ok. This all happened in near stand still traffic in the middle of a market area so instantly it was spotted and people came running, now I mean lots of people. Within seconds we had a group of maybe 40 individuals all shouting, gesturing and pushing us with no understanding of the language all we could think of was to get out of there as soon as possible and both Kees and I grabbed Abiy and got him into the car….we wanted to drive to the nearest police station as quickly as we could.

As we desperately tried to get away and drive through the traffic, which was impossible, all I could see were maybe 20 people chasing us down the street….there was whistling, the front runners easily caught the Colonel and were banging on the sides and we couldn’t get away, and then all of a sudden it was there, the Saris Police Station. We screeched to a halt, locked the doors and ran inside explaining the situation to the women police officer who was the first to greet us.

She tried to calm us down, sat me in her office and explained that we were safe with her and the Colonel was now being looked after by her truncheon and rifle holding colleagues!

Wow how it all exploded in such a short time!! After 10 minutes the I-didn’t-look-before-i-crossed-the-road lady arrived looking shocked herself. The last time I’d seen her she was being man-handled by the massed gang and didn’t show any signs of pain or problems, but now suddenly she started crying and clutched her arm….the white man has money, if I fake this I can get some of it!

Procedure here is to get the injured to the nearest doctor to see what the problem is and then deal with the financial side of things accordingly. So off Aviy and her trotted across the road to the hospital – sometimes there is one when you need one! I sat with the very kind police lady and we set about improving our language skills and understanding of each others countries, families, cultures, calendars, time system, working hours, etc etc! all very pleasant in the situation.

An hour an a half later Aviy, the lady and now her immediate family of 7 people returned to the station clutching an x-ray, prescription and the answer I was looking for….nothing was broken of even bruised! The doctor has said she had no problems and gave her a paracetamol for her headache, this meant I was in the clear both for the situation and for her medical bills. I offered to cover the cost of the x-ray and gave her a little sum of money for her clothes to be cleaned and for the shopping she’d lost…we all signed a very unofficial back of an envelope and went our own way. It was an awful mess to start off with but ended very amicably and thankfully peacefully and we were all in one piece!

With the little episode behind us and half the day gone we drove off to meet Aviy’s brother who’d managed to locate a replacement clutch for us….well the outside was ok but the centre was totally wrong with 4 teeth not 28, no matter at all. In Europe they have to order another complete unit and you’d have to come back a week later to collect it….not in africa, they took it to the local engineering shop, removed the heavy duty rivets and centre and replaced it with the one from the original…simple then!

While we were waiting Aviy took us on a tour of the capital, a very clean, well laid out place it is too. We stopped off at his recommendation for a coffee and bite of lunch….the Sheraton no less!! An immensely opulent English-style hotel with full bomb squad vehicle search, red BT phone boxes and security guards wearing London bobby style helmets, amazing!

We had a bite to eat, sampled the local coffee and headed back out to take to on the rush hour traffic and find our way home. Once we had got to the right exit on the ring road the darkness was total making driving interesting as we tried to make our way past the convoys of trucks all making the long 3 day haul to Djibouti and the port there, Ethiopia’s life line.

The road back was pretty uneventful until suddenly I spotted a pair of eyes on the side of the road…it was a full grown hyena, then there was another and this was only 5kms out of the city outskirts. They scavenge here and Aviy said they commonly are seen in town too, totally amazing.
Our road south took us through several large towns and by each one we spotted more of them until we hit Shashemene, 40kms from Awassa where we were aiming for and right in the centre of the nearly deserted town there was another down a side street.

This was enough to get our hearts racing so we took off after it keeping it in our lights only a few metres in front of the truck and followed it right up to a garden fence where it disappeared off into the darkness! What a superb end to the otherwise hectic day!

We arrived back at the camp around 11.30pm and set up camp finally for the night. An eventful but interesting day all the same.

End of day location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 570kms

6th November 08

Date: 6th November 08
Location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Weather: Scattered showers and thunder, 34°c in the sun, cold at night
Status: Trying desperately to get Kee’s truck running again…

Up at 7am to the sound of rain on the tent, never a good sound but within a few minutes it had stopped and the sun came out to dry the tent out. Had a bite of breakfast including Ammon’s pancakes which was a turn up for the books once we’d got around the rotten eggs in the fresh box.

Spent the morning changing one of the rear shock absorber top mounts which had disintegrated on the road through the north of Kenya, then took the Colonel to the local car wash and had all of the mud pressure washed off from the underneath so I could give him a good check over after the mental corrugations of the last few days.

Kees had headed off to fid a local garage who could rectify the problems he was having with his truck, a little self-diagnosis seems to point to the clutch and a major problem with the friction plate. He returned on his bike with Marconi who runs the camp and who has helped him out with the language problem, the mechanic arrived later in the afternoon to remove the old one and try to locate a replacement somewhere in this town, failing that a trip to the capital Addis Ababa would be in the order of the day to collect one ourselves.

Bre, Savannah, Kees and I headed out in the evening to the city centre to the National Hotel where we decided to try the local cuisine. Not being able to read the menu even we consulted the Bradt guide and ordered wat, a mixture of boiled meat usually ox or mutton with onions or peppers served with a hot sauce and all neatly piled in the centre of injera – a traditional large pancake shaped substance made from tef, a nutty tasting grain unique to Ethiopia. The dough is fermented for up to three days before it is cooked giving it a foam rubber texture and a slightly sour taste! Everything tastes ok with chilli sauce on it though!

We ventured further up the street for pastry and strong Ethiopian coffee for dessert and then back to the camp for bed as I have to drive Kees to the capital tomorrow if we hear nothing back from the garage first thing.

End of day location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 10kms

5th November 08

Date: 5th November 08
Location: Yabello, Ethiopia
Weather: Scattered clouds and the occasional shower, 26°c
Status: Waiting for a prognosis on the state of Kees’s truck…..time is ticking on!

Woke up at 6.30am and immediately were up and packing away the tent, Savannah of all people suggested that we get on the road early so that we weren’t driving in the dark at the end of the day….I secretly think its because she couldn’t use the Turkish style toilets and wanted to get to the next stop asap!

We passed swollen rivers and huge puddles and were glad not to have taken the option of going off road to the Omo valley, which although it has amazing local tribes with lip plates and all would be too much for the trucks in the rainy season!

And I really glad we didn’t take that option as 150kms down the road Kees disappeared from my rear view mirror coming down a steep slope and after 20mins of waiting Ammon and I decided to turn around and find out what the problem was….and there it was stranded by the edge of the road halfway down the slope. The constant braking and sudden gear change down to loose speed had resulted in Kees losing his clutch totally and he was now stuck fast…..with a group of at least 50 people around him already!

Ammon, Bre and I drove back into the tow to try and find a tow truck for him and after pulling into a couple of garages found an English speaking manager who returned to the scene of the problem with us on his motorbike.

Once he’d surveyed the situation and agreed a price with Kees the rescue truck came to the scene, connected a tow pole and they started the slow painful trip of 150kms to Awassa the nearest big town where we’d be able to get help….hopefully!

Ammon, Bre and I continued at a quicker pace to scope out the camping options in the town and arrived half an hour before sundown in Awassa on the shores of the lake with the same name, we made our way to the campsite listed on a few other Overlanders webpage’s and T4A to find that the lady owner had returned to Germany a few months previously!!! The guy who was looking after the place did allow us to stay however and we set up camp and waited for the tow truck and the others to arrive.

Finally around 10pm the sound of Kee’s voice greeted us as we walked down the road to find them and with some careful reversing manoeuvred the lame tortoise into its resting place for the night and probably the next few days!

End of day location: Awassa, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 294kms

4th November 08

Date: 4th November 08
Location: Moyale, Kenya
Weather: Scattered clouds, intermittent showers and colder, 24°c
Status: Into another country so very happy!

Up nice and early and managed to get the tent packed away before the rain started to fall again, but it wasn’t even enough to wash the truck off! Had the usual breakfast goodness and then we all drove off back through the town to the border ready to sign ourselves out of Kenya.

The usual formalities were passed off easily enough, the customs didn’t ask for any additional road tax even though I’d only paid for about 5% of the distance I’d been and the passport guy made Kees and I laugh as he told us he was re-inking his pad for the stamp to allow other people to see that Kenyans are advanced and clinical with everything they do…although not as up to date as us Europeans!

We drove the short distance through no-mans-land and switched sides of the road as Ethiopians drive on the wrong side – take note Bre – and to the officials for our entry stamp. We had a good laugh with the officer who jokingly told us off for talking in his office. Then it was over the road for the carnet stamp, we waited for 5 minutes before the official turned up and then strangely he actually wanted to match up the engine and chassis numbers with our vehicles…the first time this has happened in Africa! All very efficient.

No problems with anything so we did the usual money changing and readied ourselves for the supposed hell ahead – unfriendly people and stone throwing! Hmmmm.

As we left the border town I started the usual waving at the locals and surprisingly the vast majority of them waved back, in fact nearly all of them and the girls are so pretty too and noticeably lighter in their skin complexion than the darker Kenyans. The road was good tarmac, the first we’d seen in around 3 days which was a welcome relief to the Colonel and its occupants. We slowly gained height and left the drier desert conditions and entered the greener, more fertile landscape of the Mega Escarpment which runs along the southern edge of the country and as we went the locals kept on smiling and kept on waving back….awesome and I was loving this part of africe immensely.

The rain clouds were massing in the distance and to both sides but we managed to get away with a few drops on the windscreen but did see some amazing rainbows too! We pulled into the first major settlement of Yabello and the luxury, hmmm, of the Yabello Motel. We were given the gorgeous surroundings of the puddle filled Total fuel station car park but had the security of knowing that the 60 year old guard complete with navy style jacket and AK47 would be there looking after us that night!

Bre and I had tomato, mozzarella and onion salad for dinner, we all discussed the options for the next few days and went to bed. Early start tomorrow.

End of day location: Yabello, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 210kms

3rd November 08

Date: 3rd November 08
Location: Marsabit, Kenya
Weather: Heavy rain overnight, then sunny with scattered showers in the afternoon, 32°c
Status: Delighted to have made it through the day!

I awoke to the sound of heavy continual rain and driving wind hitting the outside of the tent which kept Bre and I in there for a good hour longer than we should have done, but by the time we clambered down the ladder the sun had just about shown its face enough to venture out. It was one of those mornings in which you had around 15 minutes to do everything you could before running for cover again as the next wall of rain hit you….the tent suffice to say was packed away wet, but the inside remained beautifully dry as ever!

Henry’s Place where we’d stayed was sited right next to the bakery and although we were too early to get fresh bread the group of funny ladies there did sell me some fresh muffins which were just as good! The torrential downpours overnight has caused the red mud to turn into a slippery quagmire and Kees had a few problems reversing out of the camp site, worse was to follow however as when we drove out to the main road for some reason he took the right hand turn rather than the left and ended up stuck fast trying to get up the slope to the main road. To make matters worse the 4WD system isn’t working properly and the once-superb-tyres are now much less so and offered very little grip.

Great, the first 2kms of the day and the tortoise gets stuck! After a session moving some large volcanic rocks from its path, Kees managed to reverse the truck all the way back down to the junction and take the correct turn so we could start on the second half, a reputedly the worse half according to our fellow German campers, of the road of hell!

We fuelled up and hit the road which instantly was hard and rocky causing our speed to drop significantly as care had to be taken to protect the vehicles if they were to make it to the end of the day….let alone back to Europe! We dropped down in altitude again until we were passing through a really vast dry desert, well its called a desert but there are numerous trees everywhere and the rain had evidently fallen very recently leaving us with thousands of puddles and lakes to blast our way through as we tried to keep the vehicles speed up in order not to get stuck!

There was very little sign of life out here apart from the group of tribesman herders walking their camels, goats and cattle through the arid landscape and the mind boggles as to how on earth they can exist out here in this extremely difficult environment. We stopped for lunch by a water hole with the temperature hitting the 37°c mark, fed and watered and started on the remaining 160kms which would take most of the day.

As we neared the end of the straight desert road a mountain range came into view, the Mega Escarpment in Ethiopia, green and lush in the distance with heavy dark rain clouds dropping their load over the area, the roads in front of us showing what had been happening less than an hour ago with evidence of a downpour which had filled the drainage channels next to the road and was sending torrents of racing chocolate brown water foaming through the undergrowth and across the road in places giving us huge splash-throughs for the trucks! Kees bore the brunt of the spray as I was leading and he was somewhere in the mess behind according to my mirrors!

The last 80kms from Sofolo to the border town of Moyale is a well known danger spot and as we exited the town came to the usual police stop where they asked us if we would be using a military escort for safety, we declined as hopefully the two trucks now offered a degree more protection than just the one….and also as we liked the feeling of adventure in this dangerous part of Africa. Stupid maybe but out judgement of such situations is so much better than it was six months ago, so we just decided to go ahead alone, fingers crossed all round!

As the sun dropped out of the sky it became increasingly difficult to see the wildlife darting across the track at the last minute, little Dik-Diks, Kudu and local livestock all making the drive that much more exciting as we so so almost hit things on occasion, racing through the African bush!

We finally rolled into Moyale around an hour after sunset, drove to the Kenya Wildlife Services campsite along another terrible road and setup for the night, tired, sore in the back but happy to have made it along one of the most renowned roads in east Africa. We are now officially entering North Africa for the first time since back in February, bring on tomorrow and the delights of stone throwing children and apparently antisocial miserable people!

Ethiopia now is the time to prove yourself otherwise…..

Movie and then bed.

End of day location: Moyale, Kenya
Distance covered: 250kms

2nd November 08

Date: 2nd November 08
Location: Isiolo, Kenya
Weather: Great start to the day, drove through a dust storm, then cold windy evening. 37°c
Status: Shaken to pieces after today’s drive….

Up at 6.30am which brought back memories of the trip down the west coast, Patrick and I were first up and knocked on the big tortoise to wake its inhabitants and slowly the group rolled out of their prospective lairs from their sleep.

After a bite of breakfast we pulled out of the camp site and said our goodbyes to Patrick and Sarah who from here would be driving back south down to SA, the niggling problems they’ve had with the engine overheating still appears to be causing problems and their funds are low so they have to head home unfortunately.

Kees and I filled the trucks with fuel and we all started on the road north out of Isiolo preparing for the worst, the first few kms confirmed that the tarmac surface was gone and replaced by a freshly graded dirt road…ok for a few kms and then it turned into a building site with several tracks all going in the same direction, none of the offering more than the standard corrugations, rocks and dust to our dismay.

The landscape changed from the greener slopes of Mt Kenya into more arid, dusty conditions with green spiky acacia trees everywhere to add to the harsh environment…..although they do look amazing and oh so African! The road however didn’t change that much at all and our average speed didn’t rise above 40kmh the entire day, its so hard when driving to decide whether or not to so slowly over the bumps lessening the impact on the suspension and inhabitants or to drive at 60+ so as to ride the crests of the corrugations and lessen the impact all around….at the expense of grip, steering and braking power!

After the first half, around 140kms, of the journey gone, the villages were becoming fewer with more distance between them and the locals more and more, well local! The tribal groups this far north in Kenya are very striking in their appearance with hugely traditional clothing supported by spears and hunting rifles which give them a frightening appearance and they hate to be photographed…so we didn’t!

The problems of the past with north Kenya have been amongst the tribes in this part of the country and only a few days ago they ignited again to the east of here, it’s common to take a military escort on this road in case of banditry action but we didn’t. In fact thinking about it Bre and I were out on our own pretty much, Kees had left before us in the morning as we had to go and sort out a refund from the camp site and we didn’t catch them until late in the afternoon meaning we spent the entire day by ourselves driving past military posts and the odd vehicle, very exciting!

As we entered the last part of the journey and the area known as the Kaisut Desert it almost appeared to be raining to our east but with an orange tinge, and then it dawned on me that it was actually a dust storm coming our way – the first of the trip! We kept driving along its front edge until it had just about caught us and at its front a number of dust devils were spinning furiously, we stopped just in its path as it swirled around the truck, then the wall of dust hit us darkening the sunshine to twilight and adding a new smell to the air and increasing the temperature inside the truck as we had to close all the windows and vents!

Once out of the other side the sun returned and we continued on our way to Marsabit around 50kms down the track. We turned off the main drag and into Henry’s Place the halfway stop off to the border where the others were waiting for us. Set up camp, cooked a thai green curry, watched a movie then went to bed. Another big day tomorrow then the unknown delights of the people of Ethiopia…..

End of day location: Marsabit, Kenya
Distance covered: 280kms

1st November 08

Date: 1st November 08
Location: Nanyuki, Kenya
Weather: Clear skies to start, then thundery clouds with light rain. 32°c
Status: We’re off again, moving north slowly

Up at 8am and went straight to the pool at the Sportsman’s Arms Hotel where were staying to refresh myself….well freeze my head actually, the night tie temperature meaning the water was actually frikkin freezing! Sat and read a book for a while in the sun the headed back to the truck for breakfast.

I had a problem on the way out of Nairobi yesterday with the indicators on the Colonel, they suddenly stopped working so I set about trying to fix them…checked the relay, nothing there, checked the flasher unit…faulty so went into the town to find a replacement.

Easier said than done, there are probably 20 different auto spares places in Nanyuki and after checking all of them found none of them actually stock a simple component like I needed. Balls, no indicators until the next town then….

Hit the road north once Patrick and Sarah had arrived from Nairobi, they’ve been having their Nissan fixed and wanted to do a final drive with us before they turn and head south back home to South Africa, so the good old convoy was together again!

We tracked around the base of Mount Kenya, just staying in front of a huge storm and got 80kms before the sun set and we found a campsite just short of Isiolo…..around 50kms short of the road from hell!

The brakes on the Colonel had an overhaul in Nairobi and this being the first long run since fitting new pads etc, they decided to lock on after a constant downhill section so when we arrived I had to strip them down, lubricate the necessary parts and refit them. We’ll just see if it’s done the trick tomorrow morning!

Had a final meal with everyone and discussed the next few days and weeks ahead, seems Kees and I want to be home in time for Xmas its just working out what we can do on the way home. Bed early as we start the early days and long drives tomorrow…

End of day location: Isiolo, Kenya
Distance covered: 80kms