“Travelers never think that they are the foreigners”.
“Become comfortable with the uncomfortable”.
WE TRIED SO VERY HARD!
This day was hard work as we travelled a long way. We had both had enough exposure to Ethiopia and were greatly anticipating Kenya again. We were to spend 33 days altogether in the vast country that is Ethiopia. This was more than enough time but we were determined to give Ethiopia and more specifically the Ethiopian people, the benefit of the doubt and extract as much enjoyment out of what was after all a holiday. Unfortunately we were only partly successful. As I have commented earlier, great country, lousy people (with a few remarkable exceptions).
We in fact enjoyed the second half of our stay more than the first, mainly due to a concerted effort from ourselves. We thoroughly enjoyed the mountains such as Bale and the Simiens, the Omo Valley, Danakil and Erte Ale and many of the historical aspects. The fact remains that self-driving in Ethiopia is hard work as they really do not cater for our type of traveler and decent camping facilities are scarce. Pedestrians and herdmen with their animals on the road have an extremely selfish attitude. It is as if they are unable to envisage the logical link between cause and effect. True, hotel accommodation is reasonably priced, but we prefer our own bed linen in our own tent than that found in most of the hotels. The Ethiopian food soon became a monotonous bore, except for the fantastic coffee and fresh juices. Locals are hell bent on separating tourists from their money throughout the world, but nowhere are the efforts more thick-skinned than in Ethiopia. The people show you little respect and have no regard for privacy and personal space. The continual begging is unashamed and the selfish behavior by drivers and pedestrians on the roads was without precedent during our travels. We were seldom comfortable here and it was not just that we were out of our comfort zone in a foreign environment, as Sudan which was even more different, had no such effect on us. Apologies to the Ethiophiles but this is the way we saw Ethiopia and I can assure you that we are far from alone in this regard. I gather that the country has not always been like this.
We were determined to bypass Addis Ababa which we had not enjoyed and in this we succeeded on a reasonable route south. We had heard from fellow travelers that Wimm’s Holland House had recently closed down, perhaps temporarily. A couple of vehicles stored there had expired carnets and were in the country illegally and the shutdown was due to some heavy-handed police action. As we were in a bit of a rush we decided to omit our planned visit to the Hyena Man at Harrar as we had no stomach for the almost 1,000km round trip detour. Our route involved a short cut from Lalibela to the main truck highway from Addis to the port at Djibouti. This proceeds south to Nazret, parallel but to the east of the traditional Great North Road. We succeeded in reaching the Awash National Park just after nightfall after a marathon drive of 12hr for the 580km.
I was beginning to have problems with my battery management system and had to jump start from the auxiliary deep cycle battery. The strange thing is that the crank battery indicator remains green and the battery gives a good voltage reading. I do not think it is as simple as a jammed split charging solenoid but am not happy to let anyone in Ethiopia touch my complex battery charging system, what with a solar panel and all. There is much to be said for keeping things absolutely basic but then we would have been able to have but few of the fantastic meals that a freezer affords. I later was informed that the built-in battery indicator can stay green even if only one of the multiple cells are functional.
We took the short cut from Lalibela towards Dese and joined the west-east tarred link road to Mille. Here as mentioned the truck highway from Addis to Djibouti via Awash is joined. This is a great road and for the most part the truck traffic is no problem as there are plenty of places to overtake and the truckers drive very considerately. I would certainly recommend this road to any wanting to bypass Addis. One also avoids the main stone throwing area on the northern part of the direct Lalibela – Addis road.
For the early part of the trip the mountains are lovely and amazingly reminiscent of the Drakensberg in South Africa. There was very little traffic on this slightly bumpy dirt road but the going was initially quite slow. As elsewhere in much of rural Africa the women were hard at work carrying incredibly heavy loads. It shocked me to the core to see the old crones hobbling along the roads with a posture crippled by the heavy loads carried over their lifetimes. Their arthritic spines forced them to walk with their backs flexed to 90 degrees, parallel to the ground.
“Hewers of wood and bearers of water”;
“If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work, then every African woman would be a millionaire”.
After 65km, the rest of the trip is on good tar, but with clusters of potholes in areas. We filled up and changed money in Woldiya (ATM not functioning as electricity down). We initially head east but after Mile turn south and we can feel our leaving of Ethiopia and the true route south taking shape as we gather momentum. This north-south road is the one with the trucks but for the most part we make good progress, I certainly would not avoid this road. We had left the mountains and are entering areas of acacia scrub and flat dusty plains. About 120km from Awash, sadly the road deteriorates with many large potholes presumably from the many trucks. Just outside Awash town, there is a large bottle-neck of a customs check for the trucks. Fortunately we were fairly soon just waved through.
When we came to the entrance gate to Awash National Park belatedly at about 19H30 and last light the gate was closed and the office unmanned. This gate is only some 200m from the truck highway. Fortunately someone from the nearby staff quarters saw us and came to our assistance. After prolonged negotiations and the arrival of more senior staff the song and dance act began. The campsite is within the park which had a few implications. We needed an armed guard and a guide to accompany us but as we had no spare seating space an impasse was reached. The long and short is that we slept next to the staff quarters at the gate, with an armed guard but had to pay full park fees for which I received a receipt. We were too weary to argue any further about this unreasonable payment and quite frankly slept better knowing that we were safely gaurded within easy reach of the busy highway.
COSTS were, park entrance fee (although we did not do so) Birr90 pp, camping Birr20 per tent, daily foreign vehicle entry fee Birr20, guard Birr200. They agreed not to charge us for a scout. Total Birr440 (US$20).
Worth remembering this stayover if in as much of a pickle as we were and you can go into the park the following morning at no extra charge, although we elected not to do so. We slept well despite the heavy truck traffic 200-300m away and were grateful for the guard and the proximity of the staff housing. Our ablutions were done bush style early the next morning whilst still dark. Oh the things I put Anne through!
Main. A fringe-eared oryx at Awassa NP.