Published: March 24th 2012March 24th 2012
We leave Addis in a landcruiser GX. I am surprised by how uncomfortable it is. Henok, our driver is a cross between a beach boy and tour guide. He is a 30 year old freelance driver who hires his boss’ car and drives tourists around. On the outskirts of addis he removes his shirt and drives in a sleeveless red top. Luckily the Ethiopian tourism licensing board are a bit wishy washy on what is allowed and not. The price for our car has mysteriously gone up from $145 to $155 per day. We are presented with a fait acomopli.
Ethiopia’s land locked status is immediately apparent upon leaving addis. This is the road to Djibouti and it has not been widened or improved in 13 years. We are stuck between the empty lorries going back to the port. Against us are a constant flow of heavily loaded good vehicles. The trucks the diesel exhaust is vile. I ask Henok to put the air conditioning on and he reluctantly agrees. After some time, he turns it off without being asked. We are still in a dust bowl, and so I ask him to put it on again. He does so
even more reluctantly. Then when he is clearly fed up, he just opens his window. I decide not to argue with him. The fuel obviously comes out of his money.
Henok swerves from left to right all over the road when he overtakes. As the land cruiser enters the ruts, he leans back and keeps his hands firmly inside the centre of the wheel, thereby minimising his control of the vehicle. Mike has had a beer for lunch and sleeps through the whole thing. I put my earphones on, and listen to the band of HM Royal Marines to while away the journey. Eventually we manage to find a space between the lorries and we pass by tukuls and villagers. The scenery outside looks like the sahel with its herders and hamlets.
I never thought a landcruiser GX could be so uncomfortable. True it has soft cloth seats, but the floor is so close to the seat that after a time my knees hurt. I am so seriously thinking of blowing $166 on the dash 8 to come back.
Awash is at 900m altitude. We are in a hot concrete hotel on the edge of town. The
facilities are clean and pleasant enough, but the hotel is badly designed. We are in the Sahel, almost a desert. The rooms are hotter than the cool night air. We had fan rooms.
Apparently the hotel is owned by a fat lady who we are told, mysteriously ended up with land allocation. Whatever her provenance, she is fat, and she wanders around telling her staff what to do. Regrettably she is ineffectual, and when I ask for milk with my coffee, everyone ignores me. Finally using Henok to translate, they send someone to buy some milk on my birr. Henok wants to keep the milk and drink it. I want to make a point and tell him to give the milk to the waitress.
It is supremely dusty here. But after Awash the road climbs up into the highlands, and we spend most of our time above 2200m. The air is cool, but the road winds around mountain ridges, down through valleys and over passes. The road is narrow, and while there are fewer trucks, it passes along the old caravan route. A Danakil tribesman herds a number of camels over the road. His enforced receding hairline, orange
hair and grimace are complimented by the AK47 assualt rifle perched on his shoulders. His presence reminds me that Awash is in the afar region, or in the old language, South Danakil. The famous British Explorer Wilfred Thesiger started all of his journeys to the Danakil depression from here.
“I’d like to take his picture one day.” I say to no one in particular.
“ No no, they do not even speak our language” says Henok “they are very dangerous. . Henok is actually scared. He drives on.
Further on we stop at a ridge. I look down on miles of brown fields with hayricks scattered all over them . Just underneath a donkey caravan passes below me. Each one of the beasts is heavily laden down with goods. They work their way up to the road and carry on along it.
Many hours of winding later we arrive at Harar, check into the government ras hotel. The food is great, the rooms small and very run down. The sheets are clean, the walls are dirty and there is a TV. Mike and I go out. We walk to the gates of the city that has
been in existence for hundreds of years, and yet changed little.
Harar is strangely extremely peaceful. There are a few druggie kids but no touts. We enter the old walled city and stroll downhill on the main street. We dive down into a side street with a series of shops. Thursday must be market day as every inch of space is taken up by women selling something. Eastern flat bread, kerosene, vegetables, and chillies by the hundred are sold. The women are all very friendly. We wander off down a cobbled path between adobe houses that have not changed in 500 years. The sun sets and it is time to wander back to the hotel. We do this in darkness, muching on excellent flat bread.
The Ras hotel has no wifi, but the internet cafe in the porch is reasonable enough. I am looking at the Ethiopian airlines website, deciding whether the Dash 8 is worth it or not, when a young man walks in. He looks exactly like my friend Beatrice de Montigny, except he is not a girl and sports a beard.
“which one of you is Raf”. He asks.
“me “ I reply.
“I am François” he says rather pointlessly. Who else would be looking for me in Harar. He has come from Somaliland and tells us stories of cave paintings, beaches and Kalashnikov toting drivers.
“He will be dying for a beer” His sister message as me “as- he has been without alcohol forages. Well- 3 days or so, but that is a long time for him” she continues.
We have a couple of Harar draft beers before mike pulls out a bottle of south African red. I avoid it, and find myself becoming more and more sleepy. I have a green salad and injera with vegetables. At this stage, I need sleep. I stagger upstairs, and fall asleep with the lights on.
There are more photos below