1 January 2011
Total Distance: 9986 km
Distance covered today: 247 km
Start: Bush Camp, Samburu National Park, Kenya
Finish: Henry's Camp, Marsabit, Kenya
Last night was filled with more surprises. As I was talking to my parents on the cell phone (not by typical African Bush Drums I must admit), a porcupine walked through our camp! I have not seen one for more than a decade! In the evening as we were lying in our tents, we watched the elephant grazing a mere 10meters away.
This morning we woke up starving as we have had nothing to eat since last year! We watched the sunrise over the African bush and still we consider this to be one of our highlight places so far. We went for a leisurely game drive and saw more beautiful creatures including the vulturine guinea-fowl with its magnificent blue plumage and long tail. Gerenuks, elephant, more grevy zebra, dik-diks and oryx to no end. At about 9am in the morning we had to leave this beautiful park, as we knew there was a tough section ahead. We exited through the Archer's Post gate and saw some Samburu villages. The houses are big and round but not very high - only about 1.5m. The roof is flattish with sticks and mud to make it waterproof. Traditionally it is built in a kraal shape with the cattle staying in the middle of the circle of houses at nighttime.
We drove north with the first 100km on perfect tar road and we went by some amazing monolithic dome-shape mountains rising from the relatively flat landscape. The area is covered by typical savannah acacia woodland as far as the eye can see. The tar road was well enjoyed as we have heard many stories of the road after it runs out and awaiting us. The population density dropped to the bare minimum and villages were few and far in between. We started to see camels wondering around and the odd wild antelope dashing across the road. And then we saw the gravel road and we were dreading what was coming. 126km of gravel road took us some just under 4 hours. The first section was ok as the corrugation was some 30cm from crest to crest and reaching speeds of 70 - 80km/h one can skip them, but the last 40km was hard with corrugation crests some half a meter apart and does not matter what speed you do, you hit each and everyone with full speed and every hair on your head falls out of its roots with all the shaking. Often there are roads through the bush, somewhat slower but certainly smoother. The altitude dropped to about 450m and not since we left Cape Town did we drop to such low altitudes. Air condition, thank you. Then came a big surprise. As we got closer to the only major town between Isiolo and the border called Marsabit, the landscape started to change drastically from savannah acacia to thick montane forests. Marsabit is a series of volcanoes, one inside and on each other's side and the complete mountain complex rises to a height of 1400m above the planes below thus creating basically its own weather system. And in this thick jungle creatures like antelope, leopard and elephant roam. We were relieved to crawl into town and stayed at the famous Henry's Camp. He is Swiss origin, worked here and fell in love with a local woman and decided Swiss precision is not for him and settled here in Marsabit, where the one horse died many years ago. He built a popular bakery from where he supplies the whole town and the missionaries. The wind is constantly sweeping across the mountains and we put up camp behind a wall which he cleverly constructed. A lack of electricity meant nearly no water for a shower. The wind was pumping the whole night.
2 January 2011
Total Distance: 9986 km
Distance covered today: 247 km
Start: Henry's Camp, Marsabit, Kenya
Finish: Wild Camping north of Mega, Ethiopia
We had an early start in anticipation of what was coming but soon realised that the going was going to be even slower when thick fog rolling over the mountain and we could not see 30m ahead. After a quick fuel stop we headed down the mountain towards the north and bad lands of the Chalbi Desert where foreigners drive very cautiously due to stories of bandit attacks and locals eek out an existence from dust and rock. 250km of road which we were told are the worst in Africa did not deter us from pushing north. The road started better than it finished yesterday with tighter corrugation and soon we were underneath the blanket of fog and cold. Slowly but surely the acacia trees started to thin out until eventually nothing was left but rocks. Pitch black boulders as far as the horizon stretched. Sometimes sand would appear between them and then water-filled mirages would shimmer only to stay at the same distance away from us. Temperatures climbed high and only the odd truck with at least 30 people would be seated cramped on top and holding on as the vehicle would sway from side to side. In this hard and unforgiving landscape we would pass the odd camel caravan and a herd of cattle. What the cattle eat, I don't know but the only thing the herders asked for was water. Tough people, very tough. Some 70km into the journey we came across 3 Germans in an old beaten Vauxhall (Izuzu Frontier specifications). Not sure what look worse - the car or the young people. They rolled their car somewhere in Chad as they crossed the Sahara from the west to the east and the back and side windows were replaced with card board and planks. The body was knocked back into shape as much as they could and it took them 2 days to cross this 250km stretch. Brave souls.
The first 125km took us 4.5 hours and sometimes the rocks all over the road became so bad that I was afraid it would knock the sump and the diffs to smithereens. After a small village called Turbi, the road improved tremendously and we could reach speeds of 70 again and the acacia forests returned once more. After leaving 7am from Marsabit, we reached the border relieved and happy at just after 2pm. I am sure I saw a grin of pride on the Landy's grill when I walked around to see if all the pieces were still in place. Was the road hell? Yes, but we expected worse. Was the landscape great? It was heaven. Stark, barren, empty - beautiful. Most probably the local people think different but for them it is home.
We climbed a small mountain to a plateau on top to reach the border town of Moyale. Exiting took us no more than 15minutes and then we were into Ethiopia. We were stopped by an official looking person telling us to first go to Immigration and then come for the Customs. The latter we were dreading because of the infamous letter from the Embassy they require. First the Immigration. This took some 20 minutes and then across to Customs. Closed. Sorry, but it is Sunday and they can only help tomorrow. But the friendly official looking chap tells me he will call the official for me. Sadly the latter is 2 hours away from the office so there is no way we could be assisted. No problem I told the man, I will go to Addis Ababa, get my Carnet (vehicle papers) stamped there and tell them that the Customs at Moyale do not open on the weekend while Immigration has told me 'confidentially' that they told him many times to be on duty as the border post is open 7 days a week. So off I took. 10km outside the town, a police roadblock brought us to a stand-still. A young smug-looking man came to the window to tell us he got a call from the Customs Officer who told him not to allow us through and we must return to the town and the officer will help me tomorrow. I showed the young man the GPS and told him that this system is connected to the satellites and records the conversation and I am going to report them at Addis. Suddenly his attitude changed to become a lot more friendly and telling me his 'boss' has decided to help us immediately but I must please return to town. So back we go and the Customs Officer is only too happy to take me straight away to his office, complete the forms for me, stamp my carnet and off we go again. Did he ask for the Embassy Letter? No! Did I offer it to him? Not a chance.
As darkness hit us, we realised the next town is too far to get to, so we took a gravel road and drove into a blue gum forest thinking we are far away from people. We just unpacked when we heard voices in the pitch darkness. Unbeknown we stopped no more than 150m from a village. The elders came to check who invaded their land, but soon friendship was established with a pineapple and 4 mangoes as no common language could be found. We were told by their sons that it is safe to sleep there. Soon after a hearty dinner, we were fast asleep after a tough day and happy to be in Ethiopia.
3 January 2011
Total Distance: 10 250 km
Distance covered today: 247 km
Start: Wild Camping north of Mega, Ethiopia
Finish: Beleka Hotel, Arba Minch, Ethiopia
We woke up and soon the young people of the village surrounded us looking at each movement we made from closing tents to drinking tea. They were really happy when we offered them a ride on the vehicle back to the road. They showed us only hospitality and even if not much sense could be spoken we left knowing we are loving this country already. The first part to the town of Yabelo was red soil with plenty of massive termite mounds and umbrella acacias and a landscape that reminded us of the area between Windhoek and Kalkrand in Namibia. After Yabelo we turned north-west for a short section on good gravel. As we climbed higher, we entered a valley where people built terraces all the way from the bottom to the top of the hills. Not from soil, but with rocks. The amount of work it must have taken! The landscape and the people are breathtaking. The women are truly beautiful with their almond complexion, high cheekbones and brilliantly white teeth. And hard working - they carry bundles of wood which must weigh at least 40kg straight up hills.Everywhere they wave at us and we feel like royalty. We passed through villages which are so typically Africa - round stick and mud rondavels with pointy thatched roofs. Everywhere acacias were in yellow blossom and their sweet scent was hanging in the air. Corn/Mielies were suddenly planted all around as well as mangoes and bananas as we entered the valley towards Arba Minch where there are two lakes - Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya. We climbed to the hills beside them and from the first fancy hotel we went to, we were served a view to behold. Below us a thick forest hugging the first mountains and the lakes and behind the layers of mountains continued into infinity.
Lunch was Talapia Fish and it was divine. We soon discovered that prices are silly in Ethiopia. Fuel is about R6 per liter and the food at the best restaurant will set you back no more than R40 for a main course. 1 hour massage, not that we took it, was R70. Sadly the accommodation was charged in US$ and way outside our budget, so after lunch we went to our current hotel. The rooms are bearable, the cooldrink is R2.50 for a Coke and R3.50 for a beer, and the views from the terrace is out of this world across the lakes and the mountains. The water in the shower is nearly non-existent. We leave a bucket under the shower tap with it open. Every hour or more a burst of drops would come and then we rush to wash and fill the empty water containers. But at less than R50pp it is still cheap for the area.
Tomorrow we are heading further south-west to an area called Omo country with some very old cultures and hope to see weird and wonderful people including those with those plates in their lips. We are sure the landscapes will be as impressive as we have seen so far. We know there is no internet so we will be outside communicado for at least 2 nights.
Everyone we met told us Ethiopia is amazing. They are wrong - it is mind boggling beautiful!