Day 28 - Weekend Trip to Harar

Trip Start Aug 07, 2007
Trip End Nov 07, 2007

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Monday, September 3, 2007

Hair: Grey
Beard: Getting in the way of eating
Distance Travelled: 4200km
Frame of Mind: Satisfied

As I had to wait till Monday for my Sudanese visa and couldn't hack any more Addis Ababa weather I decided to take a weekend mini-break to The Ancient Walled City of  Harar (Harer).  Ethiopian Orthodox Xnty meets Islam.  It sounded pretty chilled and definitely a bit hotter.  It is a 1100km round trip but what the hey.

Day 25 - Journey to The Ancient Walled City of Harar
I had to hang around all morning for the rain to abate but as it was still going at 11am I decided to brave it and set off.  Soaked (my waterproofs not living up to their billing) and 20km down the filthy road out from Addis towards Debre Zeit (and then Harer) it was sunny and warm and I broke into a broad grin which would stay with me all the way to Awash.  At one point I had to stop to remove clothing...what a wonderful feeling!

I lunched in Nazret (Nazaret/Nazareth) in the blazing sunshine and, as it was Friday fast day, had my favourite Ethiopian dish: 'bayanyet' (various spellings), which is an injera with 8/10 different veggie samplers.  Grand.  Got chatting to an American/Ethiopian lady who was over for a wedding.  She was impressed with my four words of Amharic and even more impressed by my eating the lettuce and tomato.  "Even I don't eat those", she informed me, "what with all the malaria and everything".  I did not probe any further. Perhaps she was expecting an anopheles mosquito to be hiding under the leaf in ambush?

On the way I saw plenty of roadkill.  One in particular caught my eye.  It was the size of a cow but had the face of a large cat.  I whizzed past at 100kmph so didn't have time to slow down and take a closer look but I am fairly sure I left a newly discovered (and probably newly extinct) species lying in rigor mortis.  Bang goes fame and fortune. I could have been that little Scottish girl on a beach with an icthyosaur.

I was making v good time but was a little apprehensive about the dotted red-white road on the map.  179km of Michelin rated 'partially improved'.  Gulp.  Aside from around 50m in total it was perfect.  What a civilised country.  Still, I only made it to Mieso because of what happened in Awash....

Awash is a soulless town of reasonable size about half way to the second city of Ethiopia, Dire Dawa.  It is a useful stopover point, boasts a national park with some fabulous scenery, and is the centre of the Ehiopian winemaking industy (which is pretty reasonable and dirt cheap, if a little sweet but you hardly notice it after the second bottle).  I filled up, had a cold water and a very forgettable little coffee cake, and set off in v good spririts to see how far I could go in the remaining 3/4 hours of sunlight.  I thought all the way to TAWCOH.  How wrong was I?

Very.  2km down the road my clutch cable snapped.  No problemo.  Despite never being in the scouts I was prepared and never knowingly undersold.  I'd not changed my clutch cable before  but assumed it was a fairly straight forward task.  Upon opening the packet with the words "Honda XLR 250 Clutch Cable" on the front and coming face to face with a "Honda XLR 250 THROTTLE cable" the job looked a little more challenging.  Oops.  However if I can shoot a monkey using only a marble, a spring and a piece of tin foil then I could figure something out.  An hour, and a dose of heat exhaustion, later I had cobbled togther a reasonable fix.  Off I go.  

No you don't Clark, because 3km outside Awash is a bridge that is closed to 2-wheeled vehicles.  The reason is because the bridge is an important strategic site and the terrorist threat due to motorcycles and pedal cycles is just too great.  I've just been flicking through the BBC online news site for Baghdad and right enough, motorbikes count for a disproportionately high percentage of all suicide bomb vehicles: 99.6%.  Amazing.  The solution: put the bike on the back of a pickup truck (after removing all explosive devices) and get a piggy-back over the bridge.

A lot of haggling "one biiiillion dollars.  No?  Ok, one miiilion dollars" and exasperation I got a lift for free from a really nice chap.  Twasn't the safest trip ever and the bridge was a disappointment (expecting the Golden Gate I actually got the Pig Iron Gate.  A 20m span over a trickle of a river - I don't know what the Ethiopian definition of 'strategic' is.) but made it across the other side no probs.  By now I had about 30 mins of light to get 77km to the next town.  More night driving...camels are very well camouflaged.

A stopover in the newly painted (VERY newly) only hotel in Mieso was reasonable.  Woke up with a headache.

Day 26 - The Ancient Walled City of Harar
The last 200km to TAWCOH is a simply stunning journey over two mountain ranges and throught three very different valleys.  The winding mountain roads are great fun to drive on. I practised my superbike turns - knee 2cm from the ground at 80kmph on a hairpin with a 2,000 metre precipice on the outside of the bend - and felt like that bloke who won all those titles. In reality I was probably 5 degrees from the vertical at 40kmph with a 2 metre furrow on the outside, but fun is much more to do with perception than reality I feel.  

However it got less fun when driving through a cloud and the road is wet, or a 20 tonne truck appears round a bend.  At one point the road takes you along the ridge of the mountain - more hairy than a 26-day adventurer as fierce winds buffet you like so much cheese and pineapple.

The Awash valley is a massively wide flood plain (or it may be the extension of the Rift Valley) of scrub then near-tropical forest with 'paramount' style mountains off in the distance.  The Deder valley is verdant and much narrower, with terraced interlocking spurs and a deep and very narrow canyon running through the centre etched by the surprisingly small river that lives there.  Finally the Harar valley is much more desert-like and barren.  The river is dry - this is more like Bob Geldof's Ethiopia.  All this in 200km.

My botched clutch fix was not proving so effective so I took a detour to Dire Dawa where I hoped to pickup some parts.  No such luck but I got some spaghetti.  I also botched a more professional botch from some tuktuk parts.  Very hot and very bothered (prob still a little dehydrated from the day before) I pootered into TAWCOH at about 4pm.

TAWCOH is supposedly the jewel in the crown of eastern Ehtiopia. A must see apparently.  My reading of the guides along with its description in the book 'The God Who Begat A Jackal" had built it up slightly.  I was expecting Marrakech in miniature (it is 1 square km in size) and as the kilometres ticked down I wasn't seeing anything impressively walled...or anything impressive...or indeed anything walled.  But after the fairly extensive and typically well laid out Ethiopian-tree-lined-boulevarded-in-a-surprisingly-colonial- style new town there she was: TAWCOH.  

Driving through the main gate (emblazoned with anachronistic blue plastic signs declaring that TAWCOH was a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and into the cobbled, narrow streets I was pleasantly surprised.  It is what you would imagine the love child of Lamu and Marrakech to be like.  It was very different to the rest of Ethiopia.  A nice change.  My bike also makes a wonderfully macho sound echoing between the white-washed adobe buildings.

The big attraction of TAWCOH is the hyena feeding.  It is NOT a tourist thing.  IT just so happens that tourists can feed the hyenas themselves from a stick in their mouths for a mere 6 USD.  This is the way it has been for hundreds of years.  It was quite cool though.  About a  dozen hyenas hiding in the shadows after sunset and a guy with a big container of raw meat.  The hyenas were clearly still wild (despite having names and respondin to whistles) and quite scared of the whole thing.  Just not scared enough to forgo 20kg of meat.

Day 27 - Heading Back
The two main exports of the region are Quat and Harar beer.  The former tastes just as bitter and minging as in Addis and I sampled a little with the great Ethiopian invention that is half-and-half - half tea, half coffee, all taste.  The latter is v pleasant and has the main gate of TAWCOH on the label.  I sampled one on a balcony overlooking said gate.  A nice little bit of symmetry.  They also do samosas, which I have been missing since Kenya.

As I was (qu)(ch)atting away to the owner of the hotel his elderly father inquired as to my age.  "Haya sedist", I replied (look at me!) to which he replied that I had many grey hairs for a 28 year-old and that they must be caused by all my latent anger.  Two more sprouted.

After whiling away the morning wandering the alleys of TAWCOH I set off around half ten back to Addis.  I wasn't going to try the whole 550km, just get to Nazret.  This time I managed it. I nearly ran out of petrol coming up to Mieso mainly because I refused to buy from a garage with massively inflated prices. I was about 30km from Mieso and the guy looked at my bike and shook his head.  "You'll never make it", he proclaimed, "50 Birr".  I nearly bought it but then realised he was looking at my rev-ometer, which whilst stationary unsurprisingly read 0.

The return bridge journey was as annoying as the first but a little more surreal as for some reason all negotiations were conducted in French.  More bickering, ridiculous prices, waiting, emploring etc.  And then another very nice chap gave me a lift for free.  I come to the conclusion that there are two types of people in Ethiopia: The Nice and The Greedy.  The nice ones are the ones who don't forget the traditional Ethiopian hospitality that I've heard so much about and treat you like one of their own.  The greedy ones take one look at you and want to make a quick buck.  Or a million.  Cartoon dollar signs in the eyes.  I rather smugly left half a dozen of the second sort at the bridge.  I had offered them enough to feed four at a local restaurant for the fare.  They declined with derision.  I got a lift for free.  Smuggery will be the end of you Clark.

Day 28 - Return to Addis
After spending the night in the bustling city of Nazret I headed off to Addis at 7am.  I should easily cover the last 100km in time to get to the Sudanese embassy for opening.  I would have if I hadn't run out of petrol a few km down the road.  I am nearly positive my tank was siphoned by someone in that weird, nasty little hovel in which I stayed in Nazret.  Not in a good mood. Met several of The Greedy and one of The Nice during my trip to get more petrol.

Looked in vain for my missing-link big cat but some other amateur zoologist must have got there first.  Peruse the press carefully people.

Got to embassy at 10.  Just as it was opening at 8:30.  Perfect.  Will be sorted to head north after lunch tomorrow.  Good stuff.
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