After the intense heat of Sudan it feels strange to be writing my next blog curled up in the our roof tent, 4,400 metres above sea level, craving a hot chocolate and freezing!
We left Khartoum after an interesting few days, the most memorable experience being a visit to the Whirling Dervishes, a sect of the Muslim culture that partake in dancing and chanting every Friday. It was a great experience to see and even nicer to be made welcome to watch this tradition even through it is not our religion. We joined several locals for tea – unsure what they put in the brew but Wynand ended up creating his own version of the local dance much to the tearooms amusement – even more so when some of the woman joined him for a dance off!
After finally getting the Zeb back with a clean bill of health it was time to head south and cross into Ethiopia. Whilst we both loved Sudan we were looking forward to escaping the dust and heat, however neither of us really anticipated how truly different the two countries are from each other.
Arrival Ethiopia and some much needed Dutch courage
Like many people I’ve spoken to – my initial perception of Ethiopia is about 20 years out of date, starving children and dry, barren land. After a simple border crossing (finally!) these views were quickly proved wrong -. Ethiopia is so surprising lush and green that you will find yourself taking 100’s of photos of hills and mountains within your first few hours of arriving. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when a kiwi says somewhere is green, it’s pretty freaking green!
Our first stop was Tim & Kim’s campsite on the shore of Lake Tana. Tim and Kim are a Dutch couple who founded the site 6 years ago and have since worked at turning the land into a combination of campsite pitches and chalet styled housing. The property employs 19 people form the local village so is beneficial for tourists as well as the local community.
T&K have many things going for them at their property, great views, amazing food, location on the lake….however after over a week in Sudan our initial interest was in one thing and one thing only, a nice cold beer! We spent the afternoon chatting with them over some drinks about both our trip so far and what had brought them to settle on Lake Tana.
We spent 2 nights here relaxing as well as exploring the village and meeting some locals (Wynand upsetting many by beating them in a game of foosball, which they seem to play all day everyday outside the local shop), we also took a tour of the church that was built in the 1300’s and has all the original features and artwork – it was nice to compare this style of Christian structure to what we have seen in Europe. Tim & Kim’s Village is for a great spot to relax and enjoy some local culture for anyone overlanding through this part of Africa.
It’s not always the destination – it’s the journey
Following a few days of chilling it was time to get back on the road, we continued our drive through the Ethiopian Highlands towards Lalibela.
They say its not the destination – it’s the journey and that is absolutely true for driving in the Highlands. On the road to Lalibela we reached heights of 3500m with the most incredible vistas imaginable. Earlier on in our trip we drove through the Swiss Alps, which at a measly 1900m above sea level seems to pale in comparison.
Along the way we had groups of children and families waving and greeting us, as well of hundreds of donkeys, camels, goats and cattle to contend with for road space.
Eventually we arrived in beautiful Lalibela where we met Suzy, the Scottish owner of Ben Abeba restaurant – literally plonked on top of a hill and offering 360 views of the valleys below. We enjoyed an evening of local cuisine while chatting to a lovely British guy and his two Ethiopian friends who all got to know each other via a love of Ethiopian cuisine and Facebook.
Suzy was kind enough to let us camp on her property so we woke in the morning to even more amazing views and fresh mountain air.
After a quick rest in Addis Ababa we headed south The Bale Mountains where we would spend two nights in different locations.
The first day we arrived at the Dinsho Lodge camp site to pouring rain and hail, after searching long and hard and getting absolutely saturated we established that we have misplaced our waterproof ponchos so decided to drive back to the town to wait out the weather.
Finally the weather came right and we could return to camp, I left Wynand to do the manly things like set up the tent and make a fire while I went off to make friends with the local wildlife.
The next morning we were up early to go for a hike, we were lucky enough to see a large group of Nyala, a family of Warthogs (Pumba’s!!), Klipspringer, Eagles and Vultures.
Then it was off to the next campsite, en route we stopped at a local garage where we got chatting to a guy called Milion, an Ethiopian who spends his time between Bale and Addis, he invited us to lunch where we were served beef two ways – raw and cooked. The raw came out first, I’m a huge fan of Carpaccio however seeing beef in huge raw chunks is not something I’m used to – putting all my western ways to one side I ate it along with the accompanying dressing and found it really enjoyable (if a little chewy). I did prefer the second course of cooked meat over coals more – but it was nice to have a local share a traditional meal with us.
Having had our protein fix for the day it was on to our second stop in Bale National Park – the Bale Plateau. The Zeb climbed and climbed until we reached out current height of 4,400m above sea level. The landscape is surreal – wide open veld with tiny white flowers that makes it look like snow has fallen. It feels like we are on top of the world and is an incredible (and incredibly cold) place to camp. In the morning we hope to catch a glimpse of the Ethiopian fox but in the meantime its time for a self heating emergency dinner and a read of my book as I get ready to sleep on top of the middle of nowhere!
What I have learnt so far:
1) Be open to foods – when people from another culture try and explain a dish to you it can be lost in translation leaving you ordering a spag bol ‘on the safe side’. Be brave and simply walk into a restaurant and ask the staff to prepare you a meal. You’re bound to be blown away by the flavours. All the meals we ate we had no idea what was coming, and they were some of the most delicious dishes I have tasted.
2) Always keep the car doors locked – as we were stopped in a village someone opened our rear passenger door and stole a shirt of mine. I didn’t write this in the main body of the blog as it certainly isn’t a reflection on Ethiopia – more an opportunist child. But it taught us a lesson in security going forward.
3) Don’t be fooled by its ‘Africa’ status…parts of Ethiopia are FREEZING (have I mentioned that already?!)