Sudan to Ethiopia

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Sunday, May 18, 2003

Hi guys, this is going to be a long one so go get yourself a coffee first!

Well, on our last night in Khartoum we were all invited for dinner by a couple of English teachers, Geegee and Jaylee, that we had met (and who had offered us jobs!). The food, underground alcohol in the form of date wine, and satellite TV all served up in their open coutyard living room, was excellent. The next day we said goodbye to the burger, shwarma bars and family parks of Khartoum and for the third time, got lost in the streets trying to leave the city. Eventually we found the right road and were heading for the Ethiopian border, passing a range of mosques from massive new complexes with single minorets to large white beehive shaped structures. As sunset neared we spotted the 4x4 Unimog of a couple we had met in Khartoum. Thomas (Dutch) and Roselea (Ethiopian) had broken down the day before and had been stuck in a field ever since. We stopped to help, make dinner and set up camp for the night. The next morning with the Unimog fixed and the local shepherds, complete with camel, fed, we all set off again and made a few hundred Kms before it was our turn to break down with a major oil leak. We brewed tea and entertained the locals whilst Paul went off in search of parts but ended up just fashioning a repair. We passed the last couple of towns before the Ethiopian border and as ever everyone was friendly and at the last police checkpoint the officials wanted us to join them for dinner. We politely declined as we were in a hurry and spent the night in the bush where we again fed the locals who had gathered to watch us. The next morning on the way to the border, another minor disaster struck, we had a puncture and by the time we noticed it the tyre had been ripped to shreds by the rocky road, bits of rubber flying past the truck as Paul came to a stop. Luckliy it was just outside a coffee place which helped the task of changing the wheel. After a traditional lunch at the border town, we were politely welcomed into Ethiopia with little fuss, despite it being a national holiday (a common occurence in Ethiopia as we have now found out!). From the border we started a long climb, high into the Ethiopian mountains, full of dramatic scenery and earth rich in minerals. Whilst passing an army camp town, we again ran into Thomas and Roselea, recovering from another breakdown. Once fixed we were finally on our way to the city of Gondar, famous for it's castles and rich royal history.

We camped in the nice gardens of a once grand hotel overlooking the royal enclosure, which proved to be a mistake as their easter holiday celebrations started at 5.30 am the next morning by loud speaker. Honestly, Kev was ready to find that speaker and shoot at it on sight he was so unimpressed! After breakfast we set off to discover Gonder's history of Kings, castles and legends. First we visited Debre Selassie church, famed for it's colouful paintings depicting the bible stories. Unfortunately the priest had gone to lunch so we stopped at the local cafe and amused the family that ran it by learning Amharic from the guidebook and then practising it on them. Afterwards we visited the Royal Enclosure and the ancient castles and ruins within. Our self appointed young guide, then took us to the downtown market (full of 'street cows') where Sian bought a local style shawl and loads of incredibly poor, ailing and cripled street kids begged us for money. It was quite distressing and everywhere you turned they were circling you and tugging at your clothes. It was definitely one of the poorest parts of Africa we have seen so far.

At night we celebrated Jeff's (South African biker we met in Khartoum) 30th birthday with a meal and several fine Ethiopian beers on the top floor of a local hotel overlooking the city. The next morning as we set off for more Royal sightseeing, Paul was running around looking for a fuel filter to combat the dirty Sudanese diesel he had inadvertantly purchased. Unfortunately, there were none to be had so we wandered around town and fed some of the local street kids with meal tickets that we bought and which we gone in seconds. We dined that night and watched sunset over the town at the most expensive hotel in town and our 3 course meal was 3 dollars each. The next morning after a stand off with the hotel staff about the bill -they refused to believe we were only 7 people, even when we lined up for them! - we headed into the Simien mountains.

The road cut deep into the mountains, twisting and turning up and down all day long to well over 3000m altitude. We travelled through some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery we had ever seen passing high over mountain ridges, the road dropping away on both sides into thousands of green, terraced fields. The land is so fertile and dramatic, not at all what you would expect from Ethiopia and most people carry umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun. In some places, the ground seemed to have been ripped open to create canyons thousands of metres deep, exposing the colourful cliff faces with tiny pockets of huts and small villages clinging to the sides of the mountains, it was more what we expected from Nepal rather than Ethiopia. Men with whips drove ox drawn plows through the incredibly rocky earth while the women climbed the high roads with large clay vessels full of water on their backs. The occasional monkey or baboon swung from the trees around us. The road was rough and slow going so we bush camped the first night and arrived in Axum the next afternnon after passing countless wrecks of tanks and military vehicles.

Axum was well worth the 2 days we spent there, it's history dates back over 4000 years and it was once the most important city in sub-saharan Africa. There are palaces of Emperors, the infamous Queen of Sheba and hundreds of unexplored tombs marked with a variety of stone stelae ranging from your standard (Asterix type) to the largest stone carved structure in the world cut from granite, it resembles a modern day sky scraper with carved windows high up and stands 23m tall, weighing over 300 tons. How they transported it and raised it is still a big mystery. Even the metal 'staples' on the tombs are made from something which to this day is also a mystery. Some sites have been excavated but over 95% is still untouched and the whole sleepy town is littered with undiscovered historical wealth. Local farmers often dig up Axumite coins (the first coins in Africa) which the countless guides and touts try to sell on to the tourists. Axum also has a lot of religious significance as one of the first centres of Christianity and the said resting place of the Arc of the Covenant. Why the whole place isnt crawling with archeologists and historians is also a mystery.

From Axum we spent 3 days travelling south on very rough roads through more awe inspiring scenery to reach Lalibela, home of 11 churches hewn from the mountain rock both inside and out. Hundreds of years old, many are below ground level, complete with ornate windows, decorated pillars, walls and doorways, interconected by a network of tunnels that we explored by candlelight. The whole place was magical and too much to take in.

Well as this is already far too long and not nearly finished, we have ran out of time so we'll finish it in our next update from Nairobi in a couple of weeks!
Take care all,

Love Kev and Sian.
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