North and Ethiopia!
12 April 2013- Moyale, Ethiopia
We are here, we are in Ethiopia. I’m sitting in the back of landy and I can hear the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque nearby. Olly has gone for a shower, it’s a smelly shower/squat toilet with just enough (cold) water pressure to splash the dirt from the floor onto your legs, but to us its great!
The last few days have been hands down the most tense of our travels. We arrived in Ethiopia an hour ago and have not been stamped in by immigration. The guy wanted to go home early so he told us to come back tomorrow! So we have crossed the border driven into town to find this hotel and parked up in the car park- so happy to see it! We had a ten hour drive today from Marsabit in north Kenya through an area prone to bandits on v v bad roads. Travelling in a remote area is sometimes a little tense at first, then we settle in and love it, with the added security concerns it was nerve racking. There is no reason to believe they target westerners but we could get caught up in it same as everyone else. Anyway we are here safe and sound, although exhausted. Arriving here was manic, after days with nothing but scrub, lots of mud, a few other vehicles and camels suddenly there were people everywhere, coming up to landy, motorbikes, donkeys- busy busy and they drive on the other side here, which we only just found out about! Friday is fasting day here so they only eat vegetarian food- we are wasting that eating in landy and going to bed early but too tired to face everyone staring at us.
We had planned to drive into Ethiopia via Lake Turkana and had been given various suggestions of which route to take. Some said go one way- better roads, others said more bandits on the way with the better roads. We opted for less bandits and the most recent suggestion and headed off. We made it several hours down a perfect paved road and then suddenly it stopped and we bumped onto the dirt. The next roadblock we were stopped at the guy said the road we were going down might not be very good but give it a go, we could always turn around. We asked about the security situation and he said should be fine. So we headed off. This area of Kenya is very exotic and feels far far away from everything. We stopped to let some air out of the tyres and were approached by three tall men, carrying spears and interesting looking, very intriguing for us. They were wearing a colourful piece of material on the bottom, nothing on the top and rubber shoes. They had some ritual scaring on their bare chests that were criss crossed with thin beaded necklaces. Their hair was plastered to their head with something and covered in a hair net looking thing. Each had numerous thick beaded bracelets as well as chains down their faces that tucked under their chins. They must have thought we were interesting looking as well, they watched us curiously for a while, laughed at us and pointed, talking amongst themselves and waved at us as they walked on.
The area started to look more and more arid and we started to see people herding camels, a first for us. The women we went past were a flash of colour, bare chested with massive thick beaded neck pieces that went half way down their chest. It took a little while to get used to seeing herders with machine guns over their shoulders but they all just waved and smiled. Some had a spear and a machine gun (often with an umbrella as well!). Fascinating. The road was ok, although difficult to follow at times and large sections were washed out. We got briefly stuck once and then came upon a very muddy wet spot. Olly got out and had a look ahead, it only got worse. He also met a herder who remarkably spoke English (not many people up there do) who said the road was impassable ahead, no one had been through recently. Being on our own and given if it rained heavily (which is has been most afternoons) it would just get worse, we felt uncomfortable enough to turn around. There was one other road that headed the way we wanted to, near Marsabit so we headed there for the night- thinking the next day we could either go up the dreaded Marsabit to Moyale road (which we have heard much about it being awful and not very safe) or try this other way to Lake Turkana. That evening in Marsabit (the day before yesterday, feels like ages ago though!) we decided to do the first because we could get no other info from anyone about the other route to Lake Tukana and were concerned about spending hours driving and having to turn around again. We decided to push on to Ethiopia and go for it in a long day. We set off right after first light yesterday and off we went on the infamous Marsabit to Moyale road.
Without a doubt this is the worst road we have been on since we left Sydney. The rains had come to northern Kenya and the road soon became a sloppy mess, we were splashing and slithering along, Olly working hard to keep us pointed down the road. We felt good that we were making our way and although the road was wet the mud wasn’t deep and we thought to ourselves that this wasn’t going to be too bad, just a long day. That was until we came upon patches of thick, deeply rutted wet mud, with trucks littering the road and poking out of the mud at different jaunty angles, all stuck fast. We stopped and thought the worst, we may be stuck here for a while, Olly got out and walked up to the trucks and chatted to the drivers and discovered that many of them had been there for days, including a bus full of passengers (including children) that had been stuck for a week! Glad we’re not taking the bus, we left the passengers with our fresh food (they had nothing to cook with) and headed on, can’t help a stuck bus, they have to wait for it to dry out. Another 4wd had been through that day so we decided to give it a go, and with the engine revving and Olly trying to guide Landy around the trucks without sliding too close to the edge of the track and into the surrounding mire, we made it past. After a few hundred metres of thick mud and hearts pounding we were glad to make it to dry land on the other side. We came across similar sections three or four more times, most with stranded trucks littering the way, it was a battle to keep up enough momentum to carry on, but not going too quick when crunching over rocks or through dips and bumps. At one bad point we skirted around the righthand side of a truck only to miss a better track bypassing this bad section off on the left, by the time we realised it we couldn’t turn around or stop as we would be bogged, we carried on another 100 metres past another truck, just managing to plough ourselves through the thick mud. A section of the mud with big rocks came up and Olly momentarily slowed down as we grimaced and ground over them, that was it, with our momentum lost we struggled on a few more metres and came to an agonising halt. Jumping out it didn’t look that bad, the wheels weren’t bogged in that much, then we looked underneath and realised we were sitting on the chassis and pushing a mound of mud in-front of us. Out came the spade, but the mud was sticky and solid like potters clay. This didn’t look good, we had at least 100 metres of thick deep mud behind us and 100’s of metres in front and no way to get our momentum going again. We were no longer concerned in this section about bandits as there were enough people around with the stuck trucks but we didn’t want to spend a night or two out here, at least there was a couple of trucks nearby for company. Just as all this was sinking in a Red Cross vehicle came up in the other direction along the side road and slowed as they past. I could tell they wanted to keep going but their goodness got the better of them. They stopped and Olly ran up to them and asked if they could pull us out, to our great relief they said yes. After hooking up three tow ropes the marsh between the two roads was bridged. They pulled but Landy stayed still, after what seemed like an age, the mud let go and Landy crept forward, then lurched through the ditch and onto the good road. Olly had asked me to stand some way away in case the rope broke so I was standing in deep mud, Olly jumped out and said, “Thank you, can I hug you?” and without waiting for an answer gave the big Kenyan bloke a crunching hug! Another vehicle a way behind us who were also stuck were helped out by an army 4×4. We were happy to see the army and stuck to their vehicle like glue the rest of the way to Moyale, felt much more secure with it in sight! There are few vehicles on the road and seemingly no other private ones. We saw buses, trucks and land cruises, which are public transport of sorts and packed to the brim with people as well as a few aid agencies vehicles and one UN with an army escort. By the time we hit the bad mud we were no longer concerned about bandits there were plenty of people around, all stuck, by then the road became the main concern.
We pulled one vehicle out, bursting at the seams with people, limbs hanging out here and there. And finally bumped our way into Moyale and were met with lots of waves and smiles and people asking us how the road was. We were told a few days ago no one got through for four days. So happy to be there, landy unbelievably caked in mud, plenty on the inside as well, both of us filthy and tired. We decided to go ahead and cross the border. We arrived at (Kenyan) immigration and the guy asked where we were going (I’m amazed how common of a question that is- where else would we be going, we are at the Kenyan/Ethiopian border!) He said we close at 6 (it was 5) and we asked what time do they close the other border ( we have learned to ask this), his response was “Oh its closed already”. Ok then, we wont go (DUH!) then he rang them and said “No they stay open until 6 as well”. Ok then, we will go. No worries getting through, although we had to explain why our passport and carnet was already stamped in Nairobi (because we expected to cross where there was no border). No troubles, they laughed at our muddy clothes and said see you next time in the dry! Off we went, crossed over and met with someone telling us immigration was closed, its Friday and he wants to go home early. He made sure we had visas (they are not issued at the borer) and said come back tomorrow, we open at 8. Shit…. we thought we were in no mans land- the space between borders but nope all was fine. This border has no no mans land, you leave Kenya and are in Ethiopian. So off we went- in Ethiopian for a night without officially being there. We are stamped out of Kenya on the 12th and into Ethiopian on the 13th, never had that happen before.
13 April 2013- Konso, Ethiopia
The showers and toilets were less great/exciting today. I gagged a little this morning. Today was another long drive, or it felt it anyway. We need to stop for a few days and recoup a bit- clean landy up. Our tolerance felt less today bouncing and bumping. But we are in Ethiopia! Exciting!
We went back to immigration and customs this morning and it was an easy with the staff friendly and professional. Customs asked us what electronics we have with us (we told them, nothing to hide after all) and noted it on a sheet we have already been asked for at road blocks. He also came out to landy with us and compared the VIN number to the one on the carnet, something that has not been done since landy was in the container in South Africa. We left the chaotic border town today after officially entering Ethiopia this morning.
Our impressions of Ethiopia so far- with all the people and animals on the road and the concentration it takes its much harder to drive on the other side of the road, the only other place we have met this was Rwanda where the roads are must less chaotic. We have heard Ethiopia is full on, with somewhat aggressive begging and people in your face. We have had lots of stares and waves but nothing out of the ordinary. The road has been ok, some bits paved and ok and other bits bumpy and rough. The landscape has gone from pretty flat and green to rolling hills and green and finally to a cultivated patchwork. We have seen plenty of people on the road, lots of donkeys, goats, chickens, the usual and also camels which is not something we normally see padding down the road with their gangly legs and massive feet. The houses have all been sticks and mud so far except a few bits of tin in the two small towns we went through. Lots of children, the population here is very young, tIny little half-dressed kids herding animals so much bigger than they are.
We are now in Konso near the Omo Valley. Just as we arrived it started pouring rain so we are tucked away in landy. We are high up on a ridge and view of hills into the distance is nice, we think, we only saw it for a minute before the weather closed in. Assuming its dry tomorrow we will stay a few days to tidy landy and Olly will have a look under and make sure all is well after our rough treatment of her! Today we met Tom, a South African/English guy who is cycling from Cape Town to the UK. I actually wanted to cry for him when he told us about his last few weeks. We pulled up next to him on the road and said G’day and offered to fill his water bottles and have a chat. He had cycled up the v difficult road we just drove up, it was not too muddy but of course a challenging time, only to be told he could not get a visa at the border (he had thought you could) and no amount of pleading worked so he cycled 8 (!!) days back to Nairobi to get a visa, caught a truck back up and took the road again in a land cruiser with 19 other people in it, which got stuck numerous times, “The worst experience of my life.” He admitted he is feeling very worn and defeated at the moment. He needs to stop somewhere for a few days and take a break but has used half of his 30 day visa for Ethiopia to get about 50 km in (the visa started ticking in Nairobi). So he feels he has to keep going. We didn’t keep him long as he had a further 70 km to ride for the day. Wow. We were both sort of silent in thought after that! Cant imagine! We will think of Tom anytime we hit rough roads the rest of the trip!
A back track and small catch up- The day we left Nairobi we didn’t get on the road until afternoon but we were determined to get out of the city, even if not far. We ended up getting a little lost trying to find our intended camp for the night, a guesthouse near Nyeri, in central Kenya. We finally found the place and it was so worth it! It’s a beautiful guesthouse that has a very basic area to camp, a bucket shower and pit toilet but beautiful- we woke each morning to clear views of Mt Kenya and it was so peaceful. We could only hear the odd buffalo in the bush. The guesthouse feels very much like you are in someones house, but not in a weird way so we really enjoyed a few days there. We stayed longer than we would have except we arrived on Saturday and needed to do a few things before heading to the remote areas of northern Kenya. The next day being Sunday and Tuesday being a public holiday (the swearing in of the new president- happy to not be in Nairobi for that) things took a bit longer to get done, everything closed. So we stayed four nights and really enjoyed the company of the owner, Petra and the other guests. One night we had dinner in the house, a communal family style meal and as we set off to walk the few hundred metres back to the camp area the night watchman insisted on accompanying us, which I though was overkill but figured we should just let him do his job. We were glad he did, as we approached landy we heard a noise in the bush which turned out to be a buffalo- buffalo are massive animals and running into one in the dark would not be wise. He said, “back up and don’t run”. We did as told as the watchman shined the torch on the animal, apparently they don’t like that, and we heard him run off. We spent our days pottering on landy, reading, chatting to the people there and also went to a local game reserve for a day and enjoyed the beautiful plains and forest of the area as well as saw animals- heaps of rhino!
In Nanukyi, only a few hours up the road we stopped for more landy parts and a women came up and offered us a place to stay in her garden, as it was afternoon we took her up on the offer. She texted us directions (she had to leave and go somewhere) and came home a few hours later. We ate our left overs with her in front of a roaring fire in her very colonial house- she is a white Kenyan born and raised. With a lion skin on the floor and incredible pictures on the walls from Kenya years ago. We had a nice shower and retired to landy for an early start. So kind of her! People with kids always seem to think of their kids when they meet us, she has children our age who have also travelled. And she herself drove through Afghanistan in the 70’s!
L and O