Our driver Daniel left at 5am to drive back to Shashemene because our truck has as crack in the exhaust which urgently needs to be repaired. He tried already to get it repaired in Addis Ababa but the mechanics there did just put paint over the crack without really repairing it.
In the morning there were also some optional activities available such as hiking, horse-riding and fishing in the Bale Mountains. About half of the group went hiking and the other half horse-riding. I decided to go on the hike to get some training for my Kilimanjaro climb at the end of this month. We started at 9am and walked for approx. five hours. The hike was pretty easy since there wasn’t much elevation. During the hike we were also able to observe some baboons.
Chris, who’s iPhone got stolen yesterday and as a result of that he was killing his pain with Vodka, didn’t participate in any activities since he was suffering from a hangover.
The two Dutch travellers, who just joined us two days ago in Addis Ababa, didn’t really enjoy travelling with us. The reason was mainly because they had different expectations regarding the style of travel and sleeping in a dorm room and the unavailability of a hot shower was simply too rough for them. In addition they fear to travel through the Moyale region because there are bandits in this area why we will be very careful and pay soldiers to guard us. I can fully understand their concerns. Especially if you travel only for a few weeks like them you might want to enjoy a bit more comfort to recover from work. For long-term travellers like me comfort is less important since giving up luxury is part of the experience and it also helps to save a significant amount of money when travelling for a year or longer. Regarding their fear it’s probably very hard to calm them down since fear is always very personal and not tangible at all. Because of their fear and the uncomfortable style of travelling they are planning to leave us in a couple of days and fly to Zanzibar to relax on the beach.
Dinner was very delicious. Today’s cooking group prepared fried rice with vegetables which is a simple dish but very tasteful.
The evening was again freezing cold. There was still no firewood available to heat up the water of the shower. Actually we couldn’t have a shower at all since there was no running water today.
Since we couldn’t go on a walk yesterday because the truck got stuck for a few hours we did so this morning. Therefore, we had to get up at 6am which was even before sunrise. I really don’t like getting up in the dark and luckily there are only a few days were we have to get up very early.
The hike at Lake Abaya lasted 1.5 hours. We started at the campsite where we had a beautiful overview of the lake and from there we went down to the valley where the lake was situated. At the lake there were a few local women washing clothes. There were also some light weighted stones at the lakefront and when we threw them into the water they didn’t sink but floated on the surface of the lake.
After the hike we drove to Shashemene which turned out to be a quite dodgy place since several local people tried to steal stuff from us. One of them actually managed to steal the iPhone of Chris out of the truck. This happened when the cooking group returned from their shopping and a local guy who sold them some bread was helping them to but the bag with the bread on the front seat of the truck. Usually we don’t leave any local people (with the exception of guides) into our truck but the cooking group might have forgotten this. Right next to the front seat we have a multiple socket outlet where several pieces of equipment including the iPhone were charging. The guy must have taken it from there when putting the bread on the front seat.
Chris was extremely frustrated about the theft of his iPhone especially because it wasn’t his fault. There were also some other local guys trying to steal a wallet out of Norm’s pockets. Luckily we observed the thief and avoided that the wallet got stolen. This resulted in Chris going mad and he grabbed a bottle and wanted to hit the guy who tried to steal the wallet even when this wasn’t the one who had stolen the iPhone. We also managed to get Chris under control otherwise this might have ended-up in a disaster. Instead we reported the theft to the police and they told us that they know the thief and they promised to get the iPhone back. Let’s see how this turns out in the end.
While the theft occurred, Chris, I and a few others were chilling out at a little café where we enjoyed some nice fruit juice, fruit salad and cake. Our driver / mechanic Daniel also used the time in Shashemene to look for some spare parts to repair the exhaust of the truck but didn’t managed to find any.
We continued our drive towards the Bale Mountains where we will be spending the next two days. During the drive we further calmed down Chris by giving him some Vodka. After a short while he was quite drunk and it was very funny talking to him. He even gave Michelle and me a foot massage.
Our lodge in the Bale Mountains was a beautiful and remote place. There were only dorm rooms with bump beds available and so I shared the room with six other women of my group. After sunset it became cold very quickly since the lodge was situated at an altitude of 3,100m. There were also showers and a sauna but the water and the sauna required to be heated up by a fire and there wasn’t any firewood available. We only managed to purchase some firewood for the fireplace and I was heating up in front of the fire before I went into my freezing cold bed.
We left Addis Ababa at 8am. With us are our new travellers which are two Dutch guys in my age and two Norwegian twins in the age of nineteen. We drove towards Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo. Swimming in both lakes is not advisable since there is a high concentration of Hydroxide ions (OH-) which damage the skin.
We arrived at the gate of the Nechisar National Park at 12pm. Here we were supposed to meet our local Ethiopian guide which will accompany us during our whole stay in Ethiopia. Unfortunately he was delayed and so we just picked up a scout. Actually we don’t really need a scout but it’s a requirement to have one while being in the national park. This will also ensure employment in the region.
To kill time until the arrival of our Ethiopian guide we decided to drive closer to the lake and have lunch while waiting. As we drove towards the lake the ground suddenly became very soft and our truck got stuck. Our drivers Tom and Daniel were leading the initiative to dig out our truck and some local guys and three boys of our group were helping them. It actually took a total of three attempts and four hours to dig out the truck. During the first two attempts the back wheels went even deeper in the sand. We also tried to organize another truck or tractor to pull us out but there was none available since we were in a remote area of the National Park. The final strategy which got us out in the end was to lift both back wheels with a jack and put sand mats under both wheels.
Since our group is quite large it made no sense that everybody participated in the digging. Therefore, we first had lunch next to the truck and then played with the locals kids which showed up after a while. Some of us also took the opportunity to walk to the lake and watch the flamingos.
In the evening my cooking group was up for preparing dinner. We cooked some non-spicy chili since some people complained about the spicy food during the last days.
In the morning some people went to the National Museum of Ethiopia to see Lucy a skeleton which is over 3 million years old. Since I’m not very much interested in skeletons I decided not to go and have a relaxing day in the hotel instead following up on my blog for the past two weeks.
We are also leaving Addis Ababa tomorrow morning and my cooking group will be on duty for preparing lunch and dinner. Luckily, one of our two new Dutch travellers joint my cooking group and it turned out that he is a very skilled and passionate cook who is experienced in preparing meals for large amounts of people. These facts sounds like a lottery win to me. I therefore dropped my lead in cooking and gave him the responsibility for planning tomorrow’s lunch and dinner. He was also very much excited about food shopping and so there was no need for me to go to the food market today :-)
In the evening we went out for a group dinner to an Indian restaurant called “Jevel of India” which served very nice food. Unfortunately only seven of us came since most of the other people were either too exhausted or sick. I’m still full of energy and the only little pain I have is a runner’s toe I caught when walking downhill on a hike in the Semien Mountains a couple of weeks ago. My big toes look kind of funny and the blue colour could also be fancy nail polish.
During the next three weeks we will be mainly camping meaning I will not have access to the internet and updates to my blog might take a while…
After breakfast some of us went for a walk to the Ethiopian Ethnological Museum. On the way to the museum Michelle spotted a traditional Ethiopian dress which she really liked and purchased. Ellen also made a purchase of a colourful umbrella as we seen people using them in Ethiopian churches.
The museum is situated at the beautiful campus of the Addis Ababa university and we were positively surprised by the cheap entrance fee of 50 Birr (2.90 USD) and the high quality of the museum. It basically explains the different tribes living in Ethiopia and their life cycle from birth to death. Since the building of the museum used to be home of a monarch the exhibit also showed his bedroom and bathroom.
After lunch I had Skype conversations with some of my friends including Michael who just arrived back to Germany from a business school residency and a vacation in China.
In the evening we received a refund from the kitty for our journey from Gondar to Addis Ababa amounting 65 USD and 200 Birr (11.8 USD) per person. The principle of the kitty is simple to explain. For each piece of the journey every traveller puts in the same amount of money into a joint fund of money. For example the kitty payment for the 21 day travel between Gondar and Addis Ababa amounted to 400 USD. The kitty is then used to pay for hotels, camping fees, entrance fees, local guides and shopping for food done by the cocking groups. The amount of kitty to be paid is strongly related to local prices at the time of travel, e.g. if the price of a hotel rises more money is consumed. The money which wasn’t used doesn’t flow into the pockets of the tour operator but directly back to the travellers. Therefore, the system is very transparent and fair.
At 6pm we went out for a group dinner to a Mexican restaurant. We used the dinner to say goodbye to three travellers and welcome to two new ones from The Netherlands. Tomorrow we’re expecting two more travellers from Scandinavia joining us on our journey to Nairobi. In total the number of traveller is now rising from 18 to 19 people.
We started driving at 8am and arrived at 3pm in our hotel in Addis Ababa. Compared what we usually spent for accommodation the hotel was quite pricy charging us 100 USD per room and night. Therefore, we were promised some fancy features such as a sauna and a gym. After arrival four of us went to check them out. The gym was actually a completely empty room. At least you have enough space to use your body weight to work out. The sauna was really existing but very small. We switched it on and an hour later the four of us were sweating. Since we are in Ethiopia every service has an additional cost and so we needed to pay 80 Birr (4.70 USD) per person for using the sauna for up to two hours.
In the evening six of us wanted to go out and have Sushi which was said to be very good in Addis Ababa. However, all restaurant guides were only listing one Japanese restaurant without supplying any address data and the staff of our hotel didn’t know the restaurant. Therefore, we changed our plans and went to another recommended place serving all kinds of chicken. When calling for a taxi we were shocked how expensive Addis Ababa is compared to the rural areas. The taxi driver requested 300 Birr (17.6 USD) for a 10 minutes taxi ride to the restaurant. We therefore stopped multiple taxis and negotiated prices. Finally, we ended up with six people squeezed into one taxi, two at the front next to the driver and four in the back for a fare of 100 Birr.
The food at the chicken place was very delicious. Only ordering food was a little pain. The menu had maybe 50 different items but it turned out that only two of the dishes were actually available. The waiter didn’t communicate this fact straight away but let us order what we want and came back ten minutes later that the food we ordered was actually not available. We repeated this order process three times until we figured out which dishes were actually available.
For the drive back to the hotel we used the same procedure of six people in one taxi. Since there were no fancy bars or nightclubs in the area of our hotel we purchased some beer and wine (for 40 Birr / 2.40 USD a bottle) and started a party in one of our hotel rooms. During the party we jointly were filling out one copy of the end of trip questionnaire for our journey from Gondar to Addis Ababa. This ended up in a very entertaining activity since we were making up funny facts to mess up the whole questionnaire and submitted it anonymously by slipping it under the door of our leader.
Everybody met at 10am for a truck clean. This means that all the cooking equipment, the boxes with the bulk food and the inside of the truck required a proper cleaning. Since we are 18 people and everybody contributed the whole cleaning procedure took us only one hour.
We started driving after an early lunch at 12:30pm and spent the remaining day on the road towards Dejen and Addis Ababa. Driving days are always somewhat eventless since we do only sit in the truck and watch the outside world drive by. Therefore, there is not much to write about today.
In the evening we put up our bush camp on a meadow and only a few minutes later we were surrounded by local farmers and their cows watching us and our cooking. After dinner Norms and Liv invited Michelle and me to their tent where we watched two episodes of the TV show “24”.
Today we went for a short hike in the area of Bahir Dar leading us to the Blue Nile Falls. It felt really good to move again after sitting in the truck for multiple days. During the hike we also crossed a rope bridge which wasn’t scary at all since the construction was out of metal and very stable.
We were back at the hotel at noon and went for another lunch to the pizza / pasta place we discovered the day before. In the afternoon not much was going on. Only a few girls went to the spa next door to get a full body wax, a massage, manicure and pedicure. I don’t need these fancy things on an overland truck and so I was relaxing at our hotel.
It was also very entertaining to watch my fellow traveller Chris trying to get his camera back which was stolen from him in Axum. While I would have given up on my camera already Chris demonstrated lots of enthusiasm to get it back. He had approx. twenty phone calls every day since we left Axum. Also today, ten days after his camera got stolen, Chris spent half of his day with activities to get his camera back, e.g. sending fax messages to the police in Axum and talking to two kids in Axum supporting him on site.
Luckily, all efforts Chris has put into the situation paid out in the end. The police was able to identify the thief, get hold of the camera and send it via plane to Addis Ababa were Chris could pick it up in the next days. I also strongly recommend that you read the full story on the Blog of Chris providing you further interesting insides into the Police system in Ethiopia.
For this morning we had booked a boat trip on Lake Tana leading us to four monasteries / churches on the lakes islands and peninsulas. To our understanding the following was included in the tour: a speedboat ride, a local guide showing us around, the entry fee to one of the monasteries and the visit of the source of the Blue Nile. What we actually received was: a ride in an extremely slow boat (15 HP for carrying 19 people), a guide who spoke two sentences and then disappeared, no entrance fee included and a brief drive by at the source of the Blue Nile without even announcing the site. We were not surprised by the situation since we experienced this kind of rip-off in many places in Ethiopia and our leader Tom is continuously managing our expectations that this might happen and we should take care to not be charged twice for the same service.
Due to the slow boat the drive to the first monastery took us 1.5 hours. When we arrived there and found out that the entry fee is not included in the tour we called our leader Tom and the hotel manager with whom Tom has booked the tour and complained about the situation. It turned out that the hotel manager kept our money for the entrance fee in his pocket (approx. 5.90 USD per person) probably hoping that it doesn’t turn out and we simply pay twice.
Due to our slow boat we also decided to skip two of the monasteries / churches and only visit one more church. Actually the churches at Lake Tana look different than the rock churches we seen before in the area of Mekele and Lalibela. They are round buildings and some of them have very colourful paintings inside.
After we returned at 2:30pm we went for a late lunch to a local pizza place in Bahir Dar which was recommended to us by the travellers of another overland truck from African Trails we ran into at the hotel ground. African Trails is running similar trips than Dragoman but a bit more on the rough side, e.g. camping only.
I spent the remaining day relaxing on the beautiful garden terrace of the hotel and following up on my emails.
We were supposed to leave Lalibela at 8am. However, the truck didn’t start so that we needed to push it until the engine started. The whole procedure was pretty quick (four minutes) but it took another 25 minutes before the truck was ready for driving. Due to the delayed start of 29 minutes I claimed that I have won my bet against Daniel that the truck will break down for at least five minutes until we arrive in Nairobi (see blog entry from Oct 19 for details). Daniel obviously didn’t share my opinion and claimed when he wanted to start the truck at 7:30am my fellow traveller Pierre had asked him to not do so before 8am so that people don’t need to inhale the exhaust of the truck when loading their luggage into the truck.
We spent the majority of the day on the road and arrived around 4pm in Bahir Dar. The town is situated at Lake Tana the largest lake in Ethiopia. Unfortunately it’s not advisable to go swimming in the lake since there is a high risk of getting infected with Bilharzia. So I only went for a walk along the lakefront.
Speaking about diseases, our driver Daniel actually got infected with Malaria. After suffering from it during the past two days he saw a doctor in Bahir Dar who confirmed his infection. Probably Daniel got infected in Sudan since he didn’t take any Malaria prophylaxis. He simply doesn’t care since he got already infected with a different type of Malaria at an earlier stage. There are also a few other people on our truck who didn’t take Malaria prophylaxis since they either wanted to save the money for the tablets, they experienced side effects when taking the tablets and then stopped taking them or they thought because there is only low to medium risk to get infected with Malaria in Sudan they will not get infected. But luckily despite from Daniel nobody else got infected so far.
Other diseases include an upset stomach so that basically every day somebody else is sick. Luckily, I’m absolutely fine so far but I also take care of me as good as I can, meaning not drinking tab water and taking my Malaria prophylaxis. Smaller pains are bedbugs which some of us caught in dirty hotel beds. This time it was up to my fellow traveller Norms having bedbugs in his trousers and he needed to wash them with boiling water to make sure that all bugs are gone.
In Bahir Dar we were planning to camp for three nights on the ground of a nice hotel near the waterfront. Since the camping space was not very scenic many of us used the option to upgrade to a room which was just an additional 2 USD per night and person in a triple-share.
We were also happy to have WiFi connection which we didn’t have for the past two weeks. So I took the opportunity of a Skype video call with my parents.