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Published: February 23rd 2009
Firstly, apologies for the rather poor ratio of pictures to words in this entry, but this leg of the journey has been spent either on the road or in large African cities, which from our experience are neither the most photogenic places nor the safest to carry cameras round. In any case this can hopefully make up for any jealously that our photos of Zanzibar may have caused!
It was high time we started heading in the right direction and north towards Ethiopia. The first leg of this journey was a return trip to Nairobi, via the same means that we had arrived by.
Our first objective for our third and final stay in Nairobi was to obtain visas for Ethiopia. This was achieved with far greater ease than we could ever have imagined and without even as much as a queue, we were able to collect our visas the same morning as applying.
We also wanted to take advantage of the modern shopping facilities in Nairobi and stock up on supplies that we hadn‘t been able to obtain elsewhere. On our first day back we set off to visit the downtown branch of Nakumatt, that we had
visited a number of times on our previous stays in the city. However, on our way we noticed another branch closer to our hotel and went there instead. We revelled in finding everything we needed under one roof with similar ease to we would have done at home in Tesco.
On returning to the hotel we noticed a large amount of smoke in the air. From our hotel window we could see huge plumes billowing into the air and giant flames emanating from a site only a few hundred metres away. We had no idea what it was and were further alarmed by the sounds of explosions periodically ringing through the air. Try as we might, with the incessant sound of sirens wailing and a helicopter circling above, we struggled to remain rational and couldn’t help but fear that this was a terrorist attack unfolding before us. For the first time on this trip we were glad to be staying in a cheap hotel frequented by Kenyans rather than the Hilton.
It later transpired that it was “only” a large fire at a local supermarket with the subsequent explosions coming from the many large gas cylinders they stocked.
It tastes better than it looks!
However, our relief soon became even greater when we realised that it was the Nakumatt store had originally planned to visit and the fire had broken out exactly when we would have been there. It was truly an emotional rollercoaster of a day and we felt lucky to be alive, considerably luckier than the 40 or so people who didn't make it out.
For our remaining few days in Nairobi, as planned we revisited the orphanage. We were pleased to be greeted like old friends and impressed that the meal we cooked all those weeks ago, is still talked about! Although we had clearly brought some happiness into their lives during our stay, we were once again paralysed by a feeling of helplessness when it came to making a lasting difference. We came to the conclusion that this could be better achieved from home and therefore despite the temptation to stay longer, we only spent a couple of days there. Saying good bye was particularly heart-wrenching, as we may never see any of them again.
The next leg of our journey, north to Ethiopia, always seemed likely to be one of the toughest of our trip and it could easily take five days to get from Nairobi to Addis Ababa. Our guide book and various on-line travel forums, suggested that no buses ply this route and that it can only be done on trucks. This combined with a history of unrest and banditry in northern Kenya, led us to contemplate flying. However, having met a few people who reassured us it is perfectly safe and armed with a sense of adventure (and a reluctance to spend money!) we decided to take the plunge and travel overland.
From talking to people at our hotel we learned that there was in fact a bus that goes to Moyale (the Kenyan-Ethiopian boarder). However, it doesn’t leave from central Nairobi, but from a considerably less than salubrious area, called Eastleigh. We had no trouble booking our tickets for the bus, but had we not paid someone to guide/escort us, it would have been impossible and probably fairly unsafe.
The bus journey itself was a stop-start affair, in which we broke down twice. However, one time some banging and the other a piece of string seemed to have us patched up and back on our way! We also had to stop no less than six times to have our passports checked by policemen, who hoped in vain that our visas had expired and we would be willing to bribe them to turn a blind eye. Another delay was caused by the armed escorts who demanded payment to board the bus in order to provide protection from bandits. We reluctantly coughed up when one of the passengers had a whip-round. However, not everyone was willing to pay and we seemed to reach a stalemate in negotiations. The general consensus of opinion seemed to be that as the only “rich” white people on the bus, we should pay for everyone, needless to say we didn’t and after an hour or so some kind of agreement was reached and three armed policemen joined us for the next leg of our journey. Despite these various problems and the tarmac running out after 400km it only took around twenty five hours to cover the 1000km to Moyale. Sadly, the seemingly endless desert provided little in the way of visual stimulation, save for the odd herd of camels.
Moyale seemed to appear out of nowhere and is a small town, split down the middle by the border. Irritatingly we arrived after the border had closed and therefore had to spend the night on the Kenyan side. Hopefully, Kenyan Moyale will maintain its position as the worst place we have visited so far, it truly did feel like the wild-west. Next morning we walked across the border and fairly painlessly completed formalities. However, again irritatingly, the border opens after all the buses have left and we were left with no choice but to spend a day and night on the Ethiopian side of Moyale. Fortunately, this side of town was a breathe of fresh air in comparison to its Kenyan counterpart and after a day on a bus and a half-day minibus ride we arrived in Addis Ababa.
Never before has the transition from one country to another felt so apparent. On first impressions Ethiopia seems to be a fantastic country and like nowhere we have been before. It is probably best described as idiosyncratic. Take for instance their calendar, here they run on system different to anywhere else in the world, which has today as 16/06/2001! Fortunately this hasn’t posed any problems and we generally have to trust that bus tickets are correct, but that said we can‘t understand tickets anyway, as they use their own alphabet! Time in Ethiopia is also expressed in a unique manner, with 12 o’clock being sunrise and sunset (6:00am/pm to you or me) and 1 o’clock representing 1 hour of either daylight or darkness etc. It’s fairly easy to see how this leaves plenty of scope for confusion!
As for the food in Ethiopia, that really has been a revelation. It’s not to say that we haven’t had some good meals on our trip so far, but things have tended to be on the bland side. The staple food in Ethiopia is injera, It is probably best described as a 2 foot diameter cold, slightly bitter, clammy, grey pancake, with a texture similar to a rubbery crumpet. Ok, so that description won’t get us jobs with the Injera Marketing Board, but believe it or not it is really nice. Injera is generally served with a selection of spicy meat stews on it and it plays the role of both plate and utensils. That is except on Wednesdays and Fridays which are fasting days, when no meat is eaten. Another great discovery in Ethiopia has been the coffee, which is some of the best and cheapest in the world and what you get for 12p is far superior to what you might pay 20 times that for back home. In fact Ethiopia seems to be generally cheap, with our first night’s accommodation costing just over £2 and a meal for two setting you back around 50p!
All in all Ethiopia really seems to be a unique part of the world and sure to provide us with an interesting few weeks.
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