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04 June 2009

Did you know – One of the many bizarre things of Ethiopia include the use of a different calendar and the use of different times.  Sunrise is at 12 o’clock (about 6am our time).  The sun sets again at 12 o’clock(again about 6pm our time).  In our terms, Ethiopia is about 3 hours ahead of GMT.

Our last two days in Sudan were nothing special.  We drove from Khartoum in two days to the Ethiopian border.  This was one of the easiest borders we’ve come across.  It took about 45 minutes in Sudan.  In total, there are 3 ‘offices’ you need to go to.  The first one consists of a guy writing down your passport details in a book.  The second office is where you do the custom procedures.  In our case (I think the guy was very bored on the day), the customs guy wanted to check our chassis number and for the first time ever on our trip wanted to check our engine number too.  After getting our carnet stamped, it was on to the immigration for our passport stamps, and you are free to go.  There are no barriers or anything like that indicating that you are about to cross an international border.  We could’ve walked straight through with no one taking any notice.  The border here at Metema must be open to the local people.

The Ethiopian side was even easier.  It was also the first time we crossed a border without having to pay any fees. There is a small wooden structure/hut which is the immigration office.  We spend about 10 minutes here while the guy was scanning through a book looking for something, presumably relating to our visa or passports.  He eventually gave up and stamped our passports. On the other side of the road was the customs office.  The guy was really nice and we had our papers and Carnet stamped within 20 minutes.

There is such a big difference between Sudan and Ethiopia,and it you can see it as soon as you cross the border.  The relatively good tar road of Sudan disappeared and turned into a bad gravel road, and there are people all over the place.  We decided to drive about 200km to a town called Gorgora.  We had heard from a few people of a nice little place on Lake Tana where a Dutch couple is busy building a lodge and camping ground.  It is called Tim &Kim’s Village and it they are about halfway with the building work.  We ended up staying there for about 6 nights while we recovered from the heat of Sudan.  The other good reason to stay is Kim’s great food.  It was really nice to be in a place where no one bugged you. We underestimated the road and how long it will take us to get there.  It was only about 200km from the border, but the road wasn’t that good and they were working on the road too.  The other thing we forgot was that it won’t be the flat desert landscape anymore, but very mountainous areas.  We ended up having to drive at night, which is really a bad idea in Ethiopia.  To make things worse we ran into a bit of electrical trouble about 5km or so from Tim and Kim.  The lights started to flash and the voltmeter on the dash was going a bit nuts.  Being dark already, we didn’t really want to stop, but we didn’t really have a choice. I had a quick look at the battery terminals and everything looked ok, so we decided to carry on slowly, crossing fingers that we’ll get there with the lights in tact.  We eventually got there(not the easiest place to find in the dark, and our GPS point wasn’t that accurate either) after some careful driving. Not really in the mood to find the problem, we decided to leave it forthe following day and instead had some of Kim’s good pancakes and a nice cold beer after being in Sudan, which is a ‘dry’ country.  After a lazy start the next morning and doing nothing for most of it, it was time to find the problem.  I spent an hour or so checking most of the earth connection and got a bit fed up after not finding anything.  It was time for another break to clear the head and for a spot of lunch.  Round two was a lot more successful.  One of the connections to the battery (a thin wire hiding under all the others) was a bit eroded and old and broke off somehow.  A quick cleanup job and all was well again.  I still need to find a permanent connector though, because the spare connectors I have is not big enough.  I’ll have to find some new ones when we get to Addis.

We will be heading north a bit before we go to Addis to bethere in time to watch the Springboks against the British Lions.  So, until next time…
 
21 June 2009

Did you know – Berbere is the famous red spice used in most of Ethiopia’s traditional and national dishes. It is made from around 16 different spices and herbs.  The recipes are often passed down from mother to daughter for generations.  Another key part to every meal is Injera, which is served with every meal.  It is like a large flat pancake, made from the indigenous tef flour.  It is definitely an acquired taste due to its sourness – sometimes tasting like its been fermented for a few days.

I think that ‘The West’ is definitely to blame for a lot of what is going on here in Ethiopia.  To be a bit more specific, a lot of the people here, especially in the villages,are so use to getting handouts that it’s really becoming a problem.  Don’t get me wrong, the country is very poor and there are a lot of very poor people who perhaps can’t afford essentials like flour or oil.  I’m sure they deserve some help, but the kind of help they are getting is turning the place into a country relying on handouts.  I kid you not, it happens more than 50 times a day when we drive through the villages that people stand with their hands out as soon as they see you are white, waiting for a little hand out. It is almost like one of those cartoon scenes where you see the dollar signs in their eyes.  I’m not saying aid is wrong, but it is definitely not always right either.  The people are relying on aid, and a lot of them are doing nothing to try and help themselves.  We’ve seen a few shops selling aid like flour or oil, and it clearly says on the tin or bag “US Aid – Not for Resale’.  It makes you wonder where your donations go.  We’ve also, on numerous occasions,seen cars from organizations like the UN coming out of the posh hotels like the Sheraton where rooms are $300 or $400 per night…tax payers money well spent.  I’m sure there are a lot of places that do good work, but I seriously have my doubts.  You will probably think I sounds very harsh,but when you constantly hear them say you, you, you, faranji (foreigner), give me money or give me pen or give me bottle you soon realise what we have turned this place into.

On a brighter note, Ethiopia is a very nice country, with beautiful scenery.  We traveled north to the Simien National park and Aksum and Mekela before we turned south again to Addis Ababa.  The country has so many mountains and you are almost always around 2000 meters above sea level.  I was really surprised by the roads too.  There are some dreadful roads, but then they (the Chinese) are doing a lot of road works. I don’t think it will be too long before most of the country will be connected with sealed roads.  We got to Addis sooner than expected.

We stayed at Wim’s Holland House in Addis, a ‘campsite’ for overlanders in the center of Addis.  The place isn’t too bad.  You have nice secure parking, its quiet and the food is good (a bit more expensive than other places – saying that, a big meal costs around US $3 and beers are less than a $).  Our main reason for staying there as well is the promise of DSTV (SA satellite TV).  The first rugby test between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions is on Saturday.

One of the big frustrations of this place is the lack of electricity and water.  Of the total time we’ve been here, more than half of it is spent in the dark and with no water.  Everyone we’ve spoken to about it says that it is because of the government’s bad management and because they sell the little electricity they have to the neighboring countries.

We had another small incident with the car.  We were very fortunate actually.  Our main battery packed up.  I suppose you can’t expect too much from a battery.  It is almost 2 years old,survived –20 degrees and +50 degrees and it’s been through 50,000 km of good and bad roads.  We were close to Addis when we had a ‘pitstop’, and I noticed a bit of bubbling and hissing comingfrom the battery.  It turned out that the battery was cooked; the plates inside were not up to scratch anymore and it didn’t hold charge anymore.  It dropped from 12.5V to 8.5V overnight.  Very lucky we were in Addis, we managed to find a good Swedish battery which cost us a small fortune.  Nevermind…I’d rather pay more for a good battery instead of paying half the price for a cheap Chinese one.

We left Addis on the Sunday after watching the Springboks beat the British Lions (GO BOKKE!!!!)  A bit close for comfort, but a win is a win.
 
02 July 2009
 
Did you know: Special Edition – We have been on the road for 365 days now.    A bit of information of what we’ve used and had to repair.  We have traveled more than 52,000km and visited 30 countries (including countries we only drove through like Lithuania and Austria in Europe). We changed the oil and oil filters 10 times, using 105 liters of oil.  We’ve rotated our set of 6 tyres 7 times, used 1 set of brake pads and changed our 2 inline fuel filters 3 times.  We’ve used 3 air filters and had to clean them many times.  We had one puncture (I think we originally got it in Tajikistan, but I finally fixed it in Nairobi after it started to loose air a bit quicker).  We’ve had to replace both our batteries due to extreme cold and hot weather and a lot of vibration due to all the bad roads.  Bad roads also forced us to do a bit of welding on our front shock absorbers struts after showing some small hair line cracks – I also decided to replace the shock absorber bushes seeing that I had an extra set.  Finally, we’ve used about 6,800 liters of diesel and our fuel consumption is about 13 liters /100 km (or 7.6 km / 1 liter).
 
I thought it would be a good idea to give you all an idea of our daily routines and what we get up to. Generally speaking, we drag ourselves out of bed between 7 and 8am these days.  It can change drastically though, for example, we use to get up when the sun comes up, which was great in the winter.  Sometimes we got up as late as almost 10am.  This only happened midwinter in the northern part of Russia. You wake up at around 8, and it is still pitch dark outside and sooo cold.  You then convince yourself (very easy to do) that it is still so early because there is no sign of any light yet.  The next step is very easy; you just roll onto your other side and cuddle up again under the warm blankets.  This changed very quickly when we got to warmer areas like Egypt and Sudan. We couldn’t really sleep, so that meant that we were up a lot earlier in the day.  We can be up and ready to go in as little as 10 min, but it normally takes us about an hour or so to sort ourselves out.  If we are in a nice spot,the day will normally start with some tea and coffee and a spot of breakfast –if the spot is not so great and we want to get a move on, we normally get something to eat from a local eatery.
 
We spent a few in the Arba Minch area in southern Ethiopia.  The Nechisar National Park is here and it is located between Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo.  The Park is really very nice and it is here where we saw our first real wildlife.  We saw massive crocs, and few hippos in the distance, kudu, zebra, gazelles and also some warthogs.  We even saw one mad local fisherman standing in the water (the water at least up to his hips) fishing with the monster crocs no more than about 100 meters away in the next bay.  We didn’t hang around to see if anything got caught…the road into the park is a bit rough in places too.  This was fine for us, but it was the first real bit of 4-wheel drive challenge Alex and Katie and the Land Rover.  They coped well with everything and managed some steep river banks (luckily the rivers were dry) and also steep rocky roads.
 
I’ve been trying to replace the hand brake cable for sometime now, because ours is knackered.  As luck would have it, we drove past a big Toyota dealer in Awasa.  After a bit of convincing, I got the guys to look at the cable and confirmed that it needs replacing.  The only thing was that the Landcruiser here in Africa have drum brakes in the back and not disc brakes like ours.  This means it is a different handbrake cable, which they haven’t got.  While Pumbaa was suspended mid air, we had a quick look underneath and we noticed some very small hairline cracks on the front struts for the shocks.  Knowing that the roads to come are in a very bad shape, we delayed our departure from Awasa and got them to do a spot of welding on the struts.  I also decided it was probably a good thing to use my spares shock absorber bushes to replace the old ones which have done more than 50k kms. This was all done at the very reasonable rate of less than $10/hour…not bad for a Toyota main dealer.  All in all a good day seeing that we potentially avoided some big problems in the future by spotting the small cracks.
 
Ethiopia is definitely a love hate experience.  The place beautiful, but the people can really ruin your day.  The ‘street sense’ or rather road awareness is non-existent. You really have to be alert all the time while driving here.  There’s always people and animals around and it happens so many times a day where you drive along the road and the people walk in the middle of the road.  You start hooting about 500 meters away and stay on your hooter until you are right behind them.  Only then do they all of a sudden “think” that the hooting is in fact aimed at them.  They get such a big fright (you would swear that it’s the first time in their lives they’ve come across a car) and run from one side of the road (where they would’ve been perfectly safe) to the other side for no apparent reason.  This all happens on a so called main road with trucks racing pass, Mad Max bus drivers and also other random hazards.  When you get to a village, it gets worse.  People are everywhere and they are so oblivious to traffic that it’s scary – I’m really surprised that we have not come across someone who has been knocked down.  We have seen loads of accidents though, and loads of overturned trucks, drivers who think they are competing in some sort of rally.  This might sound harsh, but I’ve never in my whole life come across people who are SOOOOO stupid.  This was definitely a different driving experience for us.  Luckily for us, we managed to get through the country without any accidents.  We did come close to knocking some people down though.
 
We crossed the border at Moyale.  This was again one of the easiest crossings we’ve experienced.  It probably took us about an hour from start to finish.  It would’ve been quicker if it was only the 2 of us instead of 4.  We got our Carnets stamped at Ethiopian customs (about 5 or 10 min) and immigration was about 15 minutes.  First, the guy wrote our details in a book and then it all went into the computer to see if we were ‘blacklisted’.  Once cleared, you are free to cross the border.  Kenya is also very easy.  You need to complete a immigration card (for SA passport holders, other passport holders need to complete another form too) and then stamp you passport with you entry stamp.  After that, it is on to customs where they stamp you carnet.  In and out in about 10 minutes.  Kenya, here we come…bring on the wildlife!!!!!!