Firstly I want to apologise for not keeping up to date with the blog. On leaving Kenya we found it very difficult to access decent enough wifi to be able to publish the blog (mainly the photos). So I kept up with the writing of the blog on my laptop thinking that as soon as I could get good wifi I would catch up! Well that didn’t happen did it.😟 Anyway I will be working hard to catch up over the next few weeks. At the moment our Land Cruiser is in Bournemouth, England at my cousins place while Pauline and I are back in Australia for the Australian Summer.
So we continue………We left Nairobi and headed out to Lake Naivasha where an overlanding Swiss couple Marian and Albert were staying in a little AirBnB on a farm on the shore of Lake Naivasha.
We had met Marian and Albert before went home at Christmas time and then again when we back in Nairobi to have the new roof top tent fitted and they had asked us to come and stay with them for a night on our way North.
We had a really fabulous night with them and were fed a typical Swiss meal of boiled potatoes with butter and a sauce that Marian had made up, with about eight different cheeses and a simple tossed salad and it was all sorts of delicious. We then proceeded to question them about their time in Ethiopia and picked up a lot of useful information, tips on where to stay and some tips on what and what not to do. After talking to them we feel a lot happier about our journey north through Ethiopia and are now ready to take it on! The next morning Albert prepared his typical Swiss muesli with loads of grated apple, oats and nuts which was washed down with beautiful coffee, I must say it was the most delicious breakfast we had had for a long time.
After breakfast we set off for the Ol Pajeta Conservancy that we had visited for a day back in December and absolutely loved. This time however we had decided to camp in the conservancy for two nights and were very excited by the prospect.
When we arrived we were given a campsite right on the river in complete privacy because each campsite is only allocated to one party. We set up camp and within ten minutes we had a family of elephants come to visit us and then a herd of buffalo and we were also amazed by the number of birds including Pied Kingfishers, Malakite Kingfishers, Fish Eagles and Hornbills to name a few. In Nairobi we had bought two very nice looking Rib Eye Fillets and on our first night we cooked them with some spuds and salad but East African meat had let us down again and we found ourselves giving our jaws a really good workout, oh how we miss good Australian beef! The next morning which was Mothers Day we spent the day searching the conservancy for all sorts of animals and were lucky enough to see Black and White Rhino, Giraffe, zebra and lots of other species as well. At lunch time we went to the restaurant that they have on the conservancy and had Tilapia and chips which was delicious. It was a hot day and Pauline a coffee milkshake with a double shot of Kaluha in it which was to die for, Marcus settled for a mango milkshake! That night we had another visit from the elephants and we counted 17 in total so we were kept right on our toes keeping an eye on them all!
Then the next morning we set off for Camp Henry in Marsabit where we were to meet Bridget and Topher the next morning. It is an easy drive up on perfect tar road with lots to look at including herds of camels, goats and cattle all being looked after by their young herders.
Just short of Marsabit we saw the Hula Hula Primary School so swung in to donate two more soccer balls and as usual we were made so incredibly welcome. The children are just so happy with life and something as simple as a soccer ball can cause amazing excitement.
We heard from Bridget the next morning that they were running a bit late so we stopped at a hotel in Marsabit and had a leisurely breakfast after we had filled the land cruiser and both jerry cans to the brim. Still a bit behind us we set off for the Ethiopian border 260 kilometres away on again a perfect tar road with no traffic to speak of, however we set the cruise control at 70 kph knowing that they would be sitting on 110 kph! When we thought they were getting close we stopped on the side of the road to make a coffee and wait for them to catch up which they did.
The Kenya side was nice and quick and the concern I had with the Foreign Vehicle road tax that we were not charged when we crossed the border between Uganda and Kenya was all for nothing because they didn’t ask about it! On the Ethiopian side it was a bit more involved with the first stage we had our Yellow Fever vaccination certificates checked and then had our temperature taken.
Then it was in to Immigration and that went quite smoothly, so on to Customs which took a bit longer with a form needing to be completed for us to to produce at police or customs road blocks and also they wanted to check the vehicles which doesn’t happen to often at border crossings. We were both complete by 3.30pm and we had a choice of stay in very ordinary accommodation in Moyale or push on the 200 kilometres to Yabelo and stay in half reasonable accommodation! We went on and were pleasantly surprised to see that the good road continued in Ethiopia so arrived in Yabelo at around 6.30pm. The Yasbelo Hotel is quite old and quite run down and after looking at the rooms with Bridget and Topher we opted to sleep in our roof top tent in the motel carpark! When Pauline asked where the toilets and shower were she was shown some quite filthy amenities and we turned and said to each other “this is going to interesting “!
Anyway Bridget and Topher were going to leave early the next morning so when they left they gave us the key to their room to use the bathroom. We had dinner in the restaurant of the motel but struck our first language barrier in Ethiopia due to them not speaking English and us not speaking Amharic. So we ended up going for a lucky dip and we ended up with something that looked like a chicken schnitzel but was a tough nasty thing served with a really salty boiled rice, not pleasant at all. For breakfast the next morning we had an omelette with two huge baskets of bread and jam served with good Ethiopian black coffee before setting off for Arba Minch which is in between Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya but doesn’t have a whole lot going for it so was to be just an overnight stopover on the way north. Bridget and Topher left early and we followed some time later.
However when we arrived at Arba Minch we spotted Bridget and Topher in a service station with a crowd of people around them so we called in to see if everything was alright to which Topher exclaimed that he was very happy to see us! As it was there was a real shortage of petrol in Area Minch and the only service station that did have it had a very long queue and so Topher had been approached by a man who was offering to sell him black market petrol at three times the pump price. Topher however was concerned about going to this mans house to get the fuel so we offered to go with them but in the end it was worked out that the petrol would be bought to a hotel were Bridget and Topher had just had lunch and the transaction would be done there.
This worked out well and while waiting for them Pauline and I made a sandwich for ourselves and discussed going on to the next main city of Shashamene with Bridget and Topher which we decided to do. It was a fairly busy road not so much with cars and trucks but with farm animals being driven down the road, why they couldn’t use the road sides we had no idea but it made it quite a slow trip. At one stage we saw a group of women on the side of the road selling bananas and having just run out we stopped. Now what normally happens is that the first one to get to the car gets the sale and the rest back off but in this case all the women continued to try and shove their bunches of bananas in my drivers side window and at one stage I had four bunches in my face and as I pushed them out another four bunches would be pushed in. I managed to get the money to the first women and then just started slowly moving forward and only then did they start withdrawing their bunches from the car window! We arrived in Shashamene in what seemed peak hour traffic but I’m sure it’s always that hectic but it took a long time to get the last two and a half kilometres to the hotel as we negotiated our way around hundreds of Tuk Tuks and donkey/horse and carts not to mention the huge crowds of people. Already we are getting used to the people calling out to us as we go past “Faranji you, you, you, money, money, money” to which I have started replying “me, me, me, no, no, no” with a big smile and I usually get a big grin in return. We have continued with our policy of giving big waves with big smiles and we have noticed that we are receiving the same in return which is great. In Ethiopia there are very few camp sites and if you want to camp sometimes you can set up in hotel carparks but of course there is very little privacy, can be quite noisy and this was one of those hotels so we chose to take a room for $550 Birr or $27.80 including breakfast. We had dinner with Bridget and Topher and Pauline and I chose a local dish which had a base of Injera (a sort of savoury pancake) and on top was a mix of different meat and vegetarian stews which was outstanding.
The beer of choice for me here in Ethiopia is going to be St George and the food was washed down with a couple of those!
The next morning we both went our seperate ways again and Pauline and I headed off for the Bale National Park which has the second highest mountain in Ethiopia at 4377 metres and is home to the Ethiopian Wolf. The Ethiopian Wolf is teetering on the verge of extinction and is the rarest of the canid dog family in the world. There are only around 300 left in the world and the Bale Mountains hold approximately 150 of those. As we entered the park there were a lot of baboons on the side of the road so we stopped to have a look at them and for the first time since we have been in Africa a big alpha male jumped up on to the bonnet of the land cruiser. We were shocked at first but then quickly got our cameras out to take photos but in all the excitement Marcus had forgotten about having his window down and quick as a flash the baboon came around and tried to come in through the window. At first Marcus tried by pushing him back and winding the window back up but he got quite aggressive forcing Marcus to unload a solid punch right on his jaw which was enough to knock him to the ground and time to get the window up. We last saw him rubbing his jaw and looking very dazed, it was a good lesson learnt for us to make sure the vehicle is secure before stopping for animals like baboons.
The Bale Mountains National Park is a spectacular park and is set between 1500 metres and the park of 4377. Across the top of the park is the Sanetti Plateau and is covered with a layer of heath not much more than 30 centimetres tall interspersed by small ponds of water that were popular with a few different duck species.
We were very lucky to sight single Ethiopian Wolves on three separate occasions and apparently that is because they forage alone but live in packs of around 13. Their main threat is from Canine distemper and rabies caught from domestic dogs, a number of which we saw on the plateau. These days any of the wolves that are caught are vaccinated for these diseases. It is a difficult situation but the traditional herdsmen of the area are still allowed to graze their cattle and goats on the plateau and they use the domestic dogs to help with this.
We had hoped to camp at a camp site on the plateau but it is closed in the wet season which was a shame. It would have been very cold however as the daytime temperature up there was 8 celsius and the wind chill factor made it feel much colder. We returned down the mountain to the park headquarters where they have a camp area with no facilities at all but made up for with a fantastic view over the valley and lots of wild animals coming and going. As we raised the roof on our new Bundutop roof top tent we noticed that only one side was going up and on further investigation Marcus found the reason was that two turnbuckles had unscrewed and dropped out of the lifting mechanism on one side. Not a major issue but one that we did not have time enough to fix straight away especially with a big thunderstorm looming. So we returned down the mountain and we again took a hotel room for 300 birr or $15. We had a lucky dip meal again tonight and ended up with a dish called Ruz Beatiklt which was like a vegetarian fried rice with loads of chilli and was delicious. The next day was friday so we were up at 5.30am and on the road by 6am so that we could get to Addis Ababa with enough time to get our Sudan Visas applications in knowing that they take two business days to approve. The first hours drive was incredible with no cars, trucks, animals or humans on the road so we made great time and it was the least stressful drive we had had since being in Africa, maybe we should get up early more often! At around 9am we stopped at one of the road side coffee stops and while we waited for our coffee we watched a young man change two wheels on a semi trailer all by himself. The two tyres he took off had chunks out of them and the two he put on were totally bald. We have witnessed so many crashes in Ethiopia already and there is just vehicle carnage laying around everywhere, vehicle maintenance is only done minimally and only to keep the vehicle moving. Stopping for coffee on the side of the road is a bit like attending a ceremony, firstly you order the coffee, then the woman making the coffee roasts the green beans over the fire which crackles and pops and emits the most beautiful smell, crushes the roasted beans with a mortar and pestle, pours the coffee grindings into a coffee pot and puts it on the fire to heat up. Then she rinses the saucers and cups in clean water and places them on a tray that has a lining of grass before then adding sugar to the cups, pouring the coffee and presenting the cups to us. After she has done this she takes a couple of coals out of the fire puts them in a dish and puts some incense on top which lets off a lovely smell. Covering the floor of the area she works in is fresh grass put down each day and is very tempting for the goats to nibble on! It is a great experience and there may be anywhere between 3 to 15 of these coffee stops in each town all doing a brisk trade.
Next we continue north to Addis Ababa.