Ride Overland With Kanchan & Nick

  • Ethiopia: It’s time to get out of Africa!January 27, 2013 04:57:55

  • Kenya Part 2: Return to the land of Kalasinghas and what next?January 10, 2013 03:20:39

  • Uganda: A lush, green paradise!December 26, 2012 02:45:22

January 27, 2013

Ethiopia: It’s time to get out of Africa!

It was a big relief to finish the “Road to hell” in one piece. It was mentally and physically challenging, stressful, and just pure survival. Nick was super relieved especially travelling with a wife for obvious reasons of abduction, looting and even murder. 2 days later a British guy was shot dead travelling in a Land Rover and robbed and later 8 people were killed in tribal clashes. Glad we were done with the road!  Border crossing on both Kenya and Ethiopia was easy…you could see a little bit of shady-ness kicking in…what a difference a border makes! On either side of the border, you will get bombarded by money changers, dodgy dudes wasted on khat trying to “help” you amongst other characters.  One guy did help us find our guest house when we got to Moyale but continued to follow us the next day where we had to get rude with him so he would bugger off! After the immigration and customs formalities we were in desperate need of a coffee.  Luckily we found a nice place with beautiful coffee!  Coffee is huge in Ethiopia, especially Arabica beans which originated there.  The coffee is roasted in front of you and comes black served from a clay kettle into tiny cups and saucers on a tray covered with green leaves and accompanied with a small cup of burning frankincense…just wow!


The road was broken tarmac and then turned to gravel again on the way towards Addis Ababa but we noticed the amount of people on the street in Ethiopia…absolutely crazy!  Population is definitely a problem in the country and yes, there is a lot of poverty.  Sometime in the early evening, we saw a couple of big bikes heading towards us from the opposite direction.  Turns out it was Omar and Abdullah…Omar from Egypt on an Africa Twin and Abdullah on a BMW 800GS from the UAE.  They were on their way to Cape Town.  They convinced us to come and camp with them at the Arab Camp! Basically the Arab camp was a bunch of Egyptian engineers that have been contracted to work on the highway.   We were welcomed with open arms and fed till we had no room!  We were served tea like it was water and were given proper rooms to sleep in.  It was great to meet some fellow “brown” riders! We talked till late and exchanged information, sim cards, maps etc and ofcourse discussed the conditions of “the road to hell”.


Our next stop was going to be one of the lakes close to Addis,  we decided on Lake Langano.  We found a beautiful camp along the shores of the lake.  The lake water has a pinkish color, not because it’s dirty but due to the minerals.  It’s really the only lake in Ethiopia that you can swim in because there’s no crocs!  The backdrop of the little inhabited mountains on the other side of the lake created a beautiful backdrop for the sunset.  We followed the edge of the shoreline to get to the only restaurant at a nice hotel, we treated ourselves to Italian food and ice cream! On the way back we found ourselves lost in the pitch dark, desert-like terrain and found some villagers that guided us back to our campsite.  Good thing we had our headlight but if it wasn’t for the villagers we would have been doing circles the whole night!


The next day we go to Addis Ababa and stayed at Wim’s Holland.  We timed it so we would be able to go to the Sudan embassy.  Little did we know what we were in for! We arrived at the embassy and walked up to the counter and again, found a frowning, grumpy man In a suit.  He asked for our passports and before we could explain anything, he literally tossed them back at us and said “No visa for you.  Go online.” Okay….go online and do what? “Get visa from Khartoum!” He was basically yelling at his point. In Nick’s mid sentence he tried to close his window shut and Nick having enough presence of mind caught the window and said “I’m talking to you sir!” The official grabbed Nick’s arm and Nick tried to get him to let go and there began the pushing and shoving.  We couldn’t believe this was happening…in an embassy??? The pushing and yelling went on for a couple of minutes, we were physically pushed out of the embassy, it was surreal.  They slammed the gates behind us and locked the door and basically shut down the embassy.  We weren’t alone though, there were about 40 some Eritreans that were pushed out of the gate but we had noticed before the Sudanese were mistreating them as soon as they walked in.  We figured this was a lost cause.  We tried the Iran embassy which was also a no go and our other option of going to Djibouti then on to Yemen also looked to be an impossibility visa wise.  Now what? We decided to get a few shipping quotes to air freight the bike out.  If we can’t go through Sudan we’re basically locked! After getting some quotes we decided to head out of Addis to see the rest of the country and have a think over our next step.


We moved on to Bahir Dar which is a town situated close to a lake and is full of Christian monasteries.  I would say the country is about half Muslim and have Christian.  In the early mornings you are awakened to the chanting and drums from the church and shortly thereafter Namaz is blaring over the loudspeaker. It’s not that bad though as others claim it is! We ended up staying a couple of days along the lake and took an overpriced boat ride to the overpriced monasteries.  Basically the monasteries are more like churches.  The churches were built between the 1200s-1300s.  There’s tons of colorful murals inside. But the maintenance was terrible.  Obviously the priests are eating the money!  We happened to be there during the Epiphany or Timkat which celebrates the baptism of Jesus.  The main streets (even highways) were closed down because people had laid out red carpets and were dusting the ground before the big priests feet.  People were lined up along the carpets singing, playing drums, dancing, and sounding horns.  The ladies all had their hair done in traditional braids and both men and women were wearing the traditional white cotton dress.  It was a really great time to be there but it was horrible on the roads.  Ethiopians love to walk and congregate on the roads…seems like everyone is out with not a damn thing to do! Kids throw rocks, jump in the middle of the road demanding money and dancing until you almost hit them….and sorry…at one point we really wanted to.  Water and simple hygiene are both limited and poverty is staggering.  There’s tons of farming going on, especially wheat.  People live in houses made of long wooden sticks or planks then covered with dung.  I’ve never seen such large dung and stick structures! Some people had mansions! But from what I understand nobody owns anything…the government owns all the land! The plight of the farmer continues in the world…


We decided to head to Gondar which was the “Camelot” of Ethiopia.  There are ruins of castles and forts from the 1300s!  But before we got there we had to dodge more stones and….shit. Yes, shit.  A crazy man prancing around singing and obviously reaching his own state of epiphany, lobbed a softball size glob of dung which conveniently plopped on The top of Nick’s helmet 🙂 Awesome.  I saw a couple of ladies with eyes open wide and mouth agape watching the dung flying in the air and headed for Nick’s ill-fated head.  Immediately they yelled at the man probably worried that this faranj was going to go crazy.  I have to give Nick props as he was totally unphased. (Nick says this is everyday life in India, you never know what you’re going to get)  I would be screaming if I knew there was shit on my helmet.  But being the dutiful wife( I couldn’t stop laughing) I took out my tissues and wet wipes and attempted to scrape off the already sunbaked dung off the helmet and some residue on the windshield.  We ended up meeting the Germans on Enfields and we had full on venting sessions, especially on the rock throwing which actually caused them injury.  We went for some food and oh! Forgot to tell you about Ethiopian food! So it’s a lot like Indian food…you have injera which is made out of fermented wheat and is soft and a bit spongy, like the underside of a dosa.  It has a slightly sour taste and can be a little gray in color which one of our South African biker friends suggested, it look like a washcloth! But we were fine with it.  With injera you get different kinds of lentils or shiro, which is a thick kind of curry made out of ground chickpeas I think.  Shiro can also have meat, usually beef.  Their meat dishes are also great but many times I took the fasting platter ( call it a thali because it is literally that!) which was usually all veg! They usually have berbere powder which is a red pepper mixture which can give up some heat! I am in love with that stuff! It tastes amazing on anything…even lasagna! And that’s another thing! Ethiopia was not colonized but for about 5 years during WW2, the Italians came in.  Anywhere you go you can usually find a decently done spaghetti bolognese and a macchiato!   The food is important to mention because it’s the first African country we hit with a distinct culinary scene. But sorry no pic, we were too busy eating 🙂


Our next stop was Lalibela where the 12th-13th century stone-hewn churches are.   All along the way we had really amazing scenery…golden wheat covered hills, water-carved canyons, mountains..and more rock-wielding kids.  Early in the morning we were minding our business when a couple of kids had rocks ready, took aim and hit the bike.  Immediately something happened to where the bike stopped and the electrics that were supplying charge to our GPS and cell phone was immediately cut.  Nick having had enough chased after the kids, the kids ran off.  I guess that’s what they want, a reaction, so I’m pretty sure they’ll do it over and over again.  Unfortunately people have really marred our image of Ethiopia.  There are good ones and then there are all these kids and adults that crowd around no matter where you stop and say “Give me money…give me pen…GIVE ME GIVE ME!!!” You could be grabbing a sip of water…looking at a map…taking a piss in the bushes….somebody will pop out of somewhere! And the kids come screaming towards you and touch everything.  And I mean everything…you can feel little hands digging into your pant’s pockets!  I used to think it was all curiosity…until they start throwing rocks at you for not giving them money.  There’s no shame, no pride…maybe in the older generation.  We noticed a few grandmothers and grandfathers scolding the kids for even approaching us.  I guess generations living with aid tend to have little sense of nationality or pride in providing for yourself and family.  Some people say all of Africa is like this, I’d say out of the countries we travelled, Ethiopia takes the cake.


Anyways… Lalibela! We got there in the afternoon and made the effort to see two of the three church sites.  In hindsight I would recommend getting a guide so they can point out the smaller details!  The outside of the churches are impressive in their size and the fact that they were chiseled out of the rock…pretty amazing feat!  You have to take your shoes off to go inside the church and the steps can be pretty slippery since the rock has been worn down.  There were many elderly that were having problems because of the steps, it almost felt like climbing at some points! The inside of the churches have inner sanctums where the “holiest of holy” is kept and of course you don’t get to see that! Other than that, there’s old murals on hides or canvas and some painting and carving on the roofs etc.  To be honest, they charge foreigners $50 per person and it’s obvious the priests are eating the money.  No care has been taken to keep the place fresh or clean.  Although the churches are active, I was hoping to see candles, incense, beautiful relics and all things gorgeously Ethiopian Orthdox but that was not the case.  But Lalibela is great to see in terms of human feat.  There are no tar roads getting into and out of Lalibela and the road we ended up choosing to get out was Raid-de-Himalaya worthy! Rocky, uphill and narrow hairpins were difficult to maneuver but the scenery was just wow! There was a considerable drop in rock-throwing kids and it was replaced by more waving and smiling 🙂  After 65kms, the road was nice and windy and greatly enjoyable! We didn’t get back to Addis in one go, but once we did, we knew we had a situation on our hands!


We were landlocked.  What now? Sudan..a no go…that blocks off Egypt.  What about shipping to Egypt? But once you get to Egypt, take ferry to Turkey.  But weather is cold and wet and the whole ordeal is super expensive.  Ship to Italy? Again, weather and cost.  Djibouti then on to Yemen? No visa! UAE? But then what? Mumbai? ……..weather is decent, get to make use of Pakistani visa, see the parents, see friends, tour the south….cheaper….!  We were in the need of a morale boost and some TLC.  All the negativity from the rejection of visas and just traveling for the past year and a half made us long for something familiar and we felt the need to quell our blah vibe with the love and comfort of friends, family, lassi, pav bhaji, dosas, samosas, ladoos, chaat, and vadas.  (No we are not stress eaters 😉 )


We got an extremely good rate for air freighting the bike with Ethiopian Airlines to Mumbai.  We couldn’t believe our ears and we checked with them multiple times…you sure for a motorcycle? And you’re sure it’s the dangerous goods rate? With all answers positive we moved on to figuring out the crate situation.  We had to build it ourself.  Freight forwarders like Packtra (the most popular) charge close to $1000 to make a flimsy palate (learned we don’t have to do a full crate!).  We decided we could do better and cheaper.  Our friend Omar, the Egyptian biker, got us in touch with a carpenter that could help us.  All the wood, material etc and labor came out to $110.  Rachet straps to compress the bike down (since it usually flies on volume rather than weight) were impossible to find.  There are big truck straps you can get but not for the bike.  We were able to buy two off of Flavio who works on KTMs.  After packing the bike on the pallet, wrapping the windscreen etc in newspapers (no bubble wrap in Ethiopia!), we had to get a dangerous goods certificate.  And the Packtra bastards were the only people who could do it.  Two hundred f***ing dollars for a paper basically saying  we disconnected the battery, took the air out of the tires, and drained the petrol….ugh.  Once we did all the chasing around of customs and all the necessary clearance…the bike was stamped out of Ethiopia, had the dangerous goods certificate etc only then did the airlines issue us the airway bill.  And guess what they did? Increased the cost of shipping. . After two days of living at the cargo terminal and after the bike was completely stamped out…WTF?  We managed to negotiate the cost after raising hell.  We literally had to whoop ass and take names.  After all the bullshit, the bike actually made it on to the booked flight and made it to India.  Our friend Harsh in Mumbai actually got a call from Ethiopian Airlines that the cargo had arrived.  We hate been jerks but unfortunately things don’t get down sometimes.


People say a lot of things about Africa, I guess I have too in these blogs…but I encourage everyone to go there and make your own opinion.  People in Africa, whether black, brown, white, are all really great people with an amazing sense of humor.  In many countries in Africa, if I accidentally tipped over my cup of coffee, if we fell off the bike…people would come to our rescue exclaiming, “Sorry sorry sorry!!!”, as if they were apologetic you encountered a mishap in their country.  Where else do you see that?  As a woman, I felt safe traveling. Africans have a great sense of humor and a smile, laugh transcends any border.   People also would ask, “How do you like my country? How does it compare?”  Mature Africans do have a sense of pride about their country.  If only this could be the case for the younger generations growing up surrounded by aid flowing in.  I want them to know that the Western world or the Faranj (foreigner) is not going to be your salvation, you got to do it on your own.  And we as foreigners have to understand that these are not poor, helpless Africans.  I think if you have a skill that you would to share with others it’s great to teach others to fish for themselves or to open minds…but please whatever you do, don’t bring pens and stickers to handout.  The continent needs thinkers AND doers not to be incapacitated due to our ignorance.


Thank you Africa for being extremely good to us!  And a huge thanks to all our friends we met along the way! Africa, we miss you already! But as our friend Chenthil said….on we move from the frying pan to the fire.” Incredible India” awaits…Let the chootness begin. Yes, we said it… apologies, but this word will be used very freely and frequently in the next few blogs, as we travel through India!

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