"To me, Mother Nature isn't nearly as scary as human nature".
Luckily we could hole up in relative comfort in the Hilltop Hotel in Mekele. Mine was a minor illness responding rapidly to treatment for Giardia. For those not in the know the characteristics of this very common tropical parasitic disease are foamy and offensive, sulphurous, diarrhoeal bowel motions. As in my case it responds rapidly to the antibiotic metronidazole. If this had begun a few days earlier in Danakil I would have been in trouble. I kept myself hydrated with dilute Coca Cola with a teaspoon of salt per 500ml. All it cost was an extra night in Mekele in the relatively comfortable Hilltop Hotel. I ate nothing for 48hours but actually recovered very rapidly, cheap at the price!
COST: A room with 2 single beds cost a reasonable 350 Birr (US$17) for the 2 of us.
We wanted to make it all the way to Lalibela on the Monday we left. As is inevitable time was marching on and we did not want to short change ourselves in Kenya. We left at 6H45 but as luck would have it the electricity was off in Mekele. We had quite a time of it finding firstly an ATM functioning off a generator and then likewise for a fuel station. We finally left the town 1hr 30min later. We elected to take the scenic route via Abergale and Sekota as recommended and were not sorry. This dirt road is very scenic passing through deeply rural Ethiopia and multiple mountain passes. The road in fact steadily improves as one proceeds south. Once again we entered an area just before Abergale where there were scattered stands of Baobab trees; strange that we found 2 areas in Ethiopia where these archetypical African trees appear to occur in relative isolation. The countryside has a rugged beauty but was very dry in keeping with reports that the rains had failed in north-eastern Ethiopia. One more season like this and Ethiopia could be revisiting scenes of mass starvation that much of the world associates with this country. About 60km from Lalibela there are Chinese working crews on the road. I suspect that this entire route is going to be reconstructed and surfaced. If you enjoy multiple, steep, scenic mountain passes then this is the route for you. The mountains on this route have more frequent and sharper peaks with a more scalloped appearance than elsewhere in Ethiopia. In many areas one feels one could easily be in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa. Here in the central highlands one begins to see traditional huts again, instead of the stone homes of Tigrai.
What was a pleasant day’s drive considering my convalescence, was utterly spoilt when 2 teenage youths rolled a large boulder at the front of my vehicle as we were climbing a steep pass on the final approach to Lalibela. Luckily we had been pre-warned about the high prevalence of stone throwing around Lalibela. I think that until this dangerous incident we had largely avoided problems by waving vigorously to all and sundry along the road. The theory being that they are too busy waving back to pick up stones. This all too prevalent blight on Ethiopian travel is difficult to understand but when one notices how frequently and accurately herd boys stone their animals to control them, one begins to understand. I suspect that it is an expression of frustration when the expected handouts do not materialize. Some international aid agencies and NGOs need to examine their modus operandi and not repeat the mistakes of yesteryear. Reducing a people to a nation of beggars is no small matter. I wish I could dish out a sharp smack to those tourists perpetuating these expectations by handing out goodies willy nilly along the roadside. It is very misguided to steal a nation’s pride. Enough proselytizing, but this boulder could have seriously damaged the front of my vehicle and worse as it came bouncing down the steep incline straight for us. Luckily I was on high alert and anticipated the suspicious activities of the 2 youths and was able to brake early and sharply enough for a near miss. When I screeched to a halt they took off like scalded cats. It took quite some minutes for my hands to relax from a rigor-like strangle grip!
Lalibela is notoriously overpriced and has a severe shortage of camping accommodation. Fortunately we had been advised to head for the Hotel Tukul Village and this is an excellent choice for campers and self-drivers.
COSTS: Birr300 pppn (US$15), not the cheapest but almost unique in Ethiopia in that you are not camping in a car park.
There is a clean male and female flush toilet and a HOT shower in the female toilet. One camps in the garden well away from the Tukul hut styled rooms and it is relatively private. There is reasonable free wi-fi. For the first time in a while there were lovely birds in the garden and not just the black kites, crows, vultures and maribou storks of the densely populated and waste strewn towns of Ethiopia. The restaurant at the hotel was not great and quite expensive. We enjoyed our meal at the restaurant attached to the next door Lalibela Hotel far more. The camping area is not custom made as such and with 3 other groups was a little crowded. We were delighted at the company of other self-drivers for a change particularly as we were renewing friendships with some. Firstly there were Emil and Liliana Schmidt from Switzerland originally, who had been travelling the world in their Land Cruiser since 1988 and are in the Guinness Book of Records for this extraordinary feat. We had spent almost 3 weeks together at Jungle Junction in Nairobi on our way north. Eccentric they are but it was great to see them well after some minor health problems in Nairobi. They had visited Djibouti since but wisely had laughed off Somaliland despite having obtained a visa. Incidentally they were not so enamored of Djibouti. Then Hans-Peter and Suzann Schlumpf (also Swiss) were also there, we had last met them in Sudan at the German Guest House and we are expecting to host them when they reach South Africa. Then there was also a Dutch couple (Peter and Els) in their large fitted truck, quite a formidable array of overlanding experience. On the Monday the Dutch left and we were joined by Stefanus from Namibia and his South African travelling companion. They had entered the ruins at Naqa Sudan, a couple of hours before us, but we now could finally meet. All felt that the Ethiopian people had proved to be the least hospitable of the many, many countries collectively visited.