13 January 2011
Total Distance: 13 035 km
Distance covered today:377km
Start: Alief Paradise Hotel, Lalibela, Ethiopia
Finish: Lammergeier Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia
What a bad luck that we had to traverse on the same way with such boring views and landscapes! No complaints from this end! We left Lalibela shortly after 7pm and headed back to the main east-west tar road and soaked in the wonderful landscapes once more. From the south-north Bahir Dar - Gonder t-junction, we turned north and a relatively easy day's drive brought us to Gonder.
The guide book describe Gonder as the 'Camelot of Africa'. During the 16th Century this region saw immense wealth due to trading and according to historians direct descendants of Solomon ruled the land. They built incredible castles inside a walled area of more than 17 000 square meters. No less than 6 castles stand within the perimeter and a few more outside and we could be anywhere amongst the best castles Europe has to offer. As in Europe these castles not only saw pomp and splendour but also brutality of unknown measures where enemies where killed in unspeakable fashion and even the queen who tried to poison a king was hung outside from a tree. Today, only the ghosts of yesteryear roam the perimeter and if one strain one's hear one can still hear the banqueting halls filled with laughter, music and festivities. I am not sure of any other place in Africa like Gonder's castles and it what a stark contrast to the life of the average Ethiopian today.
As mentioned as far as we drive, the land is cultivated from the lowest valley to the tip of the mountains and mainly wheat. It is their staple diet and they make a thing called Injiera which is a doughy flat bread. The other farming is mainly cattle, sheep and goats. Surprisingly one does not see as many chickens as countries further south.
14 January 2011
Total Distance: 13 199 km
Distance covered today:164km
Start: Lammergeier Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia
Finish: Chennek Camp Site, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
After a relaxing start, we headed with a hard surface gravel road of 100km to a town called Debark which is the gateway town to one of the world's most spectacular mountain ranges. Over millions of years lava fields have been deposited one on top of each other until it reached thousands of meters above sea level. Over time, nature took again what nature gave and erosion occurred creating a landscape of million razor sharp ravines, gorges, valleys and mountains reaching into the seemingly endless world. The 100km of gravel certainly is not in the best of conditions but we still made it in some 2.5 hours with plenty of road works going on. The dust is just incredible and everywhere inside the vehicle is a layer of dust enough to send a bulldozer through to clear. In Debark we registered at the Parks Authorities and the manager was very helpful as normally one must take an armed ranger along but as we have had no space and I told him he can keep my passport as guarantee that we will return in order for them to search the vehicle. They are concerned people will take fauna and flora illegally and that is understandable that they take these precautions. The manager quickly told me I don't have to leave me passport as he trust us but we still need to report on our way back.
The drive to the actual campsite is only 58km but it took us nearly 3 hours. Not because of a bad road. In fact the road is actually better than the one from Gonder to Debark. What took us so long was that we stopped around every corner for a picture and to roll up our tongues into our mouths as it dropped out at the sights we were presented with. Imagine driving on the edge of the Natal Drakensberg with the exception that it is constantly above 3000m and the drop is nearly vertical and on the valley floor there is one mountain range behind the next. The road is actually a continuous mountain pass as we went up and up and up to the heavens and beyond and then spiralling down again in order to zigzag across the plateau level. Even at these altitudes people are still cultivating the land with wheat. But here, far worse than elsewhere, the people are even poorer. They wear rags for clothes and when Arina gave bread to the kids they were wolfing it down as if it was the only food they had for days. At the same time they are very friendly and although we were constantly told about kids throwing stones at car,s we still have to come across a serious attempt.
I have not seen so many switchbacks and hairpin bends in my entire life and what we drove will make Sani's Pass in Natal look a flat road in the Karoo. When you look at the photos, we took a picture of one section of switchbacks with 10 hairpin bends one after the other. And that is only a portion of the road!
We got to our campsite 2 hours before sunset and this must be together with the spot in Samburu National Park way up there as top favourite. It is some 150m from the plateau edge and located at 3700m above sea level. Apart from the few huts of the rangers, it is just nature, mountains and a few trees that can survive at this altitude. We immediately set up camp and changed our summer gear into all the winter gear we packed - long johns, jeans, woollen socks, thermal long sleeve shirt, 2 jackets, scarf, gloves and beanie. As the sun disappeared behind the mountain, the temperature started to drop like a stone on a mission. It went from a mild 20 degrees to close to freezing within a matter of an hour. Arina prepared yet another winning dish and immediately after we dived into our sleeping bags for cover against the cold.
15 January 2011
Total Distance: 13 376 km
Distance covered today:178km
Start: Chennek Camp Site, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
Finish: Quara Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia
This morning as the sun peaked lazily over the mountains and in no mood to warm us up, we walked onto a very narrow jutting spit of mountain dropping away into the abyss below. Not for vertigo sufferers! Afterwards we continued up the mountains until we reached 4250m! For all three of us, Arina, myself and the Landie off course this is the ultimate record of altitude. Arina was huffing and puffing, I was breathing even harder and the Landie was dragging itself up in low range. Afterwards we stopped at a viewpoint where a ranger we met last night waved us down and he pointed an Ibex out to us! What a cherry on the cake. It was not fully grown and the horns will still short but to see where it was grazing was just madness. It was nearly vertical straight down and these creatures are certainly the king of hills.
We drove back to Debark once again spoiled with views that one cannot describe. These mountains are very popular with hikers and they rent mules and then trek for up to 5 days in the mountains.
As we entered Debark, we drove into market day. The whole road was blocked by people, sheep, goats, trucks, donkeys, mules, cows and every different size of the previous creatures. It took us some 10 minutes to gain 500m through all the hubbub. Fascinating to see all these people coming to town from the mountains and valleys which we would think is completely inhospitable. Stopped again to have the vehicle inspected by Parks Authorities but the friendly manager said again he trust us and we could go. Back on the same 100km of gravel and this time it felt like 1000km!
So we are back in Gonder and tomorrow we are heading to Sudan. According to all the information and we spoke to people living in Khartoum just this morning, that the situation is calm. We are very much looking forward to the deserts again and to be able to drive 10 meters without seeing someone. We have enjoyed Ethiopia and the landscapes must be some of the best Africa has on offer. We thought Rwanda is mountainous but it is not a patch to Ethiopia.