Published: January 6th 2010January 6th 2010
Sorry, again no photos. Thought this connection might be able to handle it but have talked nicely to it and the lady in the internet cafe and nothing doing. Will try to get a connection in Addis that allows me to upload photos for the last 3 posts. In the meantime you will have to make do with the words.
Dragoman trucks have a feature that I understand is unique to this company - roof seats. There are 4 seats at the front and another 4 at the back. You climb out of the cabin and sit - belted in of course - still in the bus, but on top of it. While there you are exposed to the sun, wind, dust, low hanging branches, electrical wires and a lot of amused looks. You also get to see everything. That extra 6 foot makes a world of difference and, of course, there is nothing to obscure the view. And you spend a lot of time waving.
We rode out of Debark in the Simien Mountains towards Axum in the roof seats. Being a little wimpish, Pat and I only spent just the morning in the seats. We kidded ourselves
Rolling Down the Mountain
Spectacular drive down a couple of thousand meters
that we didn't want to hog the seats but, with the truck picking up speed on some sections, it was getting just a bit more windy than was completely comfortable - and, more importantly, I was in grave danger of losing my hat. In the time we were up there Pat took over an hour and half of video footage. I was on the still camera that day and was less profligate just taking a couple of hundred photos. The joy of digital!
The trip that day was special for the roof seats, the mountains, the roads we travelled and the foot race between Sheila and the local kids in the street of the town where we stopped for water. We came down out of the mountains but then climbed almost as high again. It seems that we just don't learn. The views were spectacular. It is not really all that far from Debark to Axum but, while the road is pretty good gravel for most of the way through the mountains, it is very steep with tight hairpins through its length. It was a hard days travel to get within striking distance of Axum.
It is more
Where Do You Come From
A blow up globe is perfect. Wish we had brought one of our own.
difficult to make a bush camp in Ethiopia than it was in Sudan and even in Egypt. Most land is farmed in some way and that which is uncultivated is that way for very good reasons. Reasons which also make it pretty much unsuitable for camping with a large truck and a dozen tents. The leaders/drivers had been told that Ethiopian farmers are not always keen to have such an encampment made on their land and would often throw people off. We eventually found a rocky field on the top of an escarpment where we could move some distance off the road. The apparent land owners seemed to be happy enough for us to be there. Nice people. Not sure how I might react to someone dropping in and popping up tents in the middle of my farm but it is probably unlikely that I would have made the effort to get over there at sparrows in the morning to help the breakfast crew keep the fire going and ensure the water was hot enough for tea.
On to Axum the next day to spend a couple of nights in a hotel. Axum was once the capital of the
There was a lot of interest in us and vice versa
Axumite (or Aksumite) kingdom that was powerful during the late BC's and again around 300 to 400AD. To be honest there is not a lot of evidence of the former glory. There has been some excavation done that serves to indicate what is likely to be there. It seems that there is likely to be a sizable palace under the ground and possibly a series of catacombs. There is a 'Rosetta' type stone that is in 3 languages and that gives some view of the history of the place in its heyday. There are also a number of 'stellae' or obelisks, including one that apparently fell over not long, perhaps immediately, after they obviously went to a lot of trouble to get it upright. What happened to the bloke in charge of that operation can only be imagined.
Axum is also largely a Christian town and churches abound along with souvenir shops selling all things biblical. Paintings, various types of crosses along with all of the normal scarves and what not. Education is clearly important. There seem to be a lot of schools and there is a university close to the centre of town. Plenty of internet cafes -
Main Street Sprint
The running races kept people entertained while the tanks were filled
but with dial up only and pretty slow - some reasonable places to eat and, of course, a market.
From Axum it was a decent drive to Mercale again along some pretty good but winding roads and visiting a couple of rock hewn churches on the way. Mercale is a decent sized place and seemed to be pretty modern. We overnighted there in the Castle Abraha Hotel. This was a reasonable place and, unusually, we scored a room that had hot water which actually did come out of the shower head and at more than a dribble. Surprising what makes you happy sometimes. They could do with some basic plumbing courses in Ethiopia.
New Year's Eve we spent in a bush camp in a cane field near Weldiya. Again we had to go some distance off the main road to find a place. The locals here did not speak any English at all but we were able to communicate that we were travelling through and only wanted to sleep the night. The locals were friendly - which was handy given that they carried AK47s - and left us alone. Plenty of beer and wine had been purchased for
the occasion and it was a good night around the fire. It would have been nice to be with our families and friends but this was a reasonable, and considerably less noisy and drunken alternative.
Climbing again the next day after having broken camp early we moved up and out of a lush tropical valley that was clearly very fertile, eventually coming out on a plateau at a little over 3,300 metres. The road was good tarmac but almost constant hairpins for its entire length. By the time we hit the plateau we had climbed for over 2 hours. Over the other side of what turned out to be a range we moved down into what was clearly a rain shadow. Country that looked a little like the Katherine area at the end of the dry. People were still trying to farm but it was clearly hard work trying to grow barley and millet here. Goats, of course, still did pretty well and there were some cattle but primarily for work and milk.
A lot of people were on foot here heading apparently for Lalibela, as were we. Foot travel is the primary mode of transport in the
mountains. There are buses that go like the clappers and carry all manner of goods but many people possibly can't affort the buses and they walk. More than usual are on the roads at the moment because it is the week before Coptic Christmas and they making their annual pilgrimage to the churches at Lalibela.
Lalibela is one of the major tourist attractions for Ethiopia. It is the place that became the capital for the regime that had faded at Axum. The king, who gave his name to the town, was obviously a devout man and had 22 churches built to honour the deity in its various forms, most of the apostles and some saints. 'Built' though is not the correct term. These churches were carved or dug into the rock. It was a very impressive building feat. To start with a body of rock at ground level and carve down into it to create, along the way, massive churches, some quite intricately carved, must have required considerable skill and, more particularly, considerable imagination on the part of the builders.
I was very imrpressed with the building feat and in the evident faith of the pilgrims who are
flowing into Lalibela at the moment. We visited about half of the churches but I found it very uncomfortable going in and out of churches as a tourist while people were going about their religious activities. We seemed to be welcome and tourists clearly bring considerable income to the town, the region and the country, but I still feel like an intruder walking into a place where people are worshipping. I will henceforth revert to my position of avoidance of active places of religion wherever possible.
In fact, I have avoided a place of religion today. Pat and Janet are currently on their way up a mountain on a mule and walking, respectively, to visit a monastery at the top of one of the hills close by. They should be back in 4 or 5 hours possibly a lot more sore than they left.
We leave tomorrow morning early for a long drive to Bahir Dar which is on the banks of Lake Tana. We will be there a few days, possibly spend Coptic Christmas there, and then on to Addis for a while. After that we get some new people on the truck and travel down into
the south and the Omo Valley. We leave Ethiopia on or about 23 Jan and then into Kenya.
This is a very large country with a lot to see. A lot of the sites of interest have to do with early Judaeo and Christian churches and many of the people are clearly very devout. They are also very poor. While we haven't seen any of the images that Ethiopia might conjure up of lines of starving people trying to walk to a place of food and safety, obesity is definitely not an issue in any part of the country we have visited. There are vehicles but few private cars. Housing is overwhelmingly wattle and daub although the thatched roofs are gradually being replaced by corrugated iron. The main roads are not bad and the secondary roads are often pretty good gravel. Corrugations are not that common, obviously because there is just not that much vehicular traffic.
I will try to load this post this afternoon but probably will not be able to get photos up. They all seem to have dial up here and there is not enough capacity.
There are more photos below