A Travellerspoint blog


The lazy man's hike.

sunny 28 °C

For the first time we refused to arrive at the bus station on time. We were told to be at the bus at 5 but we knew there was no need. We got up around 4:30 and got ready. After a short walk to Charles De Gaulle Square and a 20 minute wait we found a shared taxi going to the bus station. It was a cold morning and I watched the bags on the roof and laughed with the locals about my inappropriate choice of footwear (Haviannas). The road south to Shasamene was superb and I dare say at times we reached 60 km/h. It was a dream run topped off by the fact that Di decided chocolate was a good choice of breakfast. Despite my protests to her opening it I still joined in. I even got a little sleep which is a rarity for me on buses over here.

The second half of the trip was not so smooth. In fact the road is notoriously bad. It was easy to handle though because we weren't going that far. The bus stopped on queue for us in Dodola and we disembarked into one of the dustiest towns we've visited. So much for the greener south. We found the Bale Mountain Motel and grabbed ourselves an awesome room where we enjoyed, without a doubt, the best shower in Ethiopia. Before it was too late we went to the guides's office and organised the team for our Dodola horse trek.

It wasn't until the morning that we met everyone and even then our guide waited twenty minutes to introduce himself. After loading the pack horse we mounted our own steads and headed out of town, leaving behind us a small crowd of helpers. The morning was long and dusty, it was simply a means of getting away from the town and into the forest. At one stage we had our horses cantering, which was actually quite hard. Horses here are sure footed and climb rocks like goats but they are as slow that old man driving his Volvo down the fast lane.

By lunchtime we had reached what was supposed to be the end point of the first day, or the start point for those with private vehicles. We stopped under the shade of a lone tree in the middle of a large meadow and chowed down on some Vegemite sandwiches. After the horses had recuperated we ascended into the forest. Within minutes we were surrounded by lush greenery, in particular the largest juniper trees in the world. They dominated the landscape, standing up to 15m tall with large weeping branches, a great respite from the beating Ethiopian sun. Regardless of the green above us the floor was still just a thick layer of micro-fine dust.

As we lost ourselves in the motion of the horses walking our guide spoke to us for one of the first times since we'd left, "look monkeys". Sure enough in the tree above us was a large group of Colobus monkeys, hanging rather nonchalantly from the branches. We stood and stared for a while but they were uncharacteristically quiet. Still monkeys are always a pleasure to see and we rode off with smiles on our faces. During the climb to our first night's campsite, Wahoro, we spotted several more Colobus families obviously sapped by the heat. When we arrived it was mid afternoon and we looked around for the so called campsite. It was clear from the lack of flat ground that most people opt to stay in the lodges set up along the way. Determined to save a few birr we put up our tent at the only suitable spot, right in front of the steps to the lodge.

The rest of the afternoon turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to date. As we were setting up our beds for the night the locals all started arriving to check out the faranjis. Whilst none of the women came over, most of the children and men from the nearby village were present. Di pulled out a rubbery, spongy ball from her bag which her mum had given her to give to some kids. A little boy of about 18 months by the name of Hiko was the first recipient. He just stared blankly at it whilst everyone encouraged him to kick it, he had one swing and fell flat on his ass. Another boy and girl jumped on the opportunity to grab the ball and have a play but it wasn't long until the grown ups and adolescents usurped the game and in no time at all we were playing hacky-sack with it. Horses for courses I thought and I grabbed a real hacky-sack from my bag. This caught the adults attention and the kids had their ball back. One by one the fathers returned home to their duties and we continued to play with the kids. Ball kicking, whizzy dizzies and other children's favorites ensued (only these kids had never played them before). As time went by Hiko got his hands back on the ball much to our entertainment. As he honed his skills from always missing to sometimes connecting he took dozens of tumbles. To add to the amusement his only items of clothing were a jumper and gumboots (wellingtons) so whenever he fell, everyone got a glimpse of his gear and he added a new patch of red to his bum. It was a perfect afternoon and both the kids and ourselves retreated at night fall for some recovery time.

Our guide had been sleeping and when he woke he explained to us that he was really sick. Feeling mixed emotions towards him, one of sympathy and one of annoyance at him coming when he was sick we discussed what we should do. He said it was no problem and that we should go on and so it was settled. We cooked our dinner inside the lodge and sat around the enclosed fire eating it. It had been a good day and we thought to ourselves, this must be what Ethiopia was like before the new generation had been spoiled by foreign aid.

Each day we rode a different horse and had a different horse assistant. This way each area receives some benefit from the tourist dollar, not just the major towns. This meant that each morning we needed to come up with a new name. The first day in true nerd style I named my horse Gandalf because he was grey, the second, no less nerdy I called Wolverine because he was a hairy beast. Each day we just called the pack horse was just called pack horse or packy for short. Pack horse was always the disobedient horse which ran away and farted far too regularly.

So as Wolverine and I took of on a fresh new day I increasingly became aware of my mistake and Wolverine's problem. He always walked sideways; down hills, along sheer drops, everywhere. At points I was sure he was going to fall off the edge and so I dismounted and walked. Peg leg would have been a much better name. I thought he must have had saddle sores or his girth belt (rope) was too tight but there didn't seem to be a problem there.

As the day continued our guide got sicker and he didn't say much at all. At Angafu, our second campsite our guide went straight to bed. We set up camp and had another kick of the hacky-sack. As we were trying to work out how to light the kerosene lanterns and where we could find some firewood another faranji and her crew walked through the door. Her name was Maria, she was a Swedish Phd student studying fire in Ethiopia. Our destination for the night was her home. It was an interesting night as we discussed everything ranging from Australian immigration policy to Swedish television tax. As the night was drawing to a close our guide called me into his room and said that he was too sick to continue. He offered us a few choices, none of which were all that great. In the end it was decided that one of Maria's helpers would call back to base in the morning, our guide would head off for Dodola and we would await a new guide. Then due to time lost we would only be able to travel to the closest lodge. It was particularly annoying because the guide was superfluous as any horse assistants could have shown us the way blindfolded. Still the rules were that the guide is mandatory, so we had to wait.

In the morning we handed over our mobile to Maria's worker and awaited results. Not long after midday our guide came trudging through the lodge gates, said hello and put some tea on to boil. After a quick break he was ready to roll again. We walked the route to Adele in two hours, along the way the guide pointed out many of the surrounding floras and their uses. The most dominant tree, other than the Juniper was the Hygenia, an Ethiopian endemic which the locals laden with bee hives for honey collection. The area surrounding the Adele lodge was picture perfect and the camping was flat. After getting ourselves set up for the night we pulled out the hacky-sack once more but the sun was baking hot so we retreated to the shade of the lodge for the only other form of entertainment, cards. We asked the guide to teach us a new game but it was so overwhelmingly mindless that it made War look like Bridge. A little later two of the local boys came to visit, so by chatting, cooking and eating we passed the time.

For the 2nd time in a row Di had first pick of the horses and I was left with 4-Speed. After Wolverine I had reserved the naming of my horse until I had had the time to judge him. 4-Speed was named due to his capacity to travel at exactly 4 speeds. There was no variation of walking speeds for example, it was always a slow plod. His gear range included: a slow walk, a jog (with very worn synchro), a trot and a canter.

For the fourth day we had our metaphorical compass pointing towards Mololicho, the site which was to be the previous nights stopover in the original plan. The route there was beautiful and diverse as we drifted out of the forest and into wild flower covered open plans before returning back into the cover and coolness of the trees.

As we rode into camp Di and I both noticed the same thing immediately, chickens. Chickens meant eggs and eggs meant a good breakfast. The guide ran off to see if the owner had any to sell, she did but the price was sky high so we only bought two. The lodge itself was similar to the previous ones but it was set aside by its large patio area which was a welcome addition for avoiding the savage Ethiopian sun. Routine was setting in and the night was unremarkable. Our guide asked us if we would hire him a horse for the next day because the trip was long. We offered him his 80 birr tip (4 days of the average Ethiopian income) in advance to spend as he liked. Low and behold when the horses arrived the next day there was only mine, Di's and Packy. All three horses were big and fit which was lucky as the route to Adaba was over 20km.

Ironically we began the ride by walking down the first hill which was too steep for the horses to navigate with us on their backs. After the first descent we basically followed a long straight open valley all the way to town. This afforded us the opportunity to canter as much as we liked. Every time we did so the horse assistant would turn and watch us with a smile on his face. As he did I would often muse to myself that he looked a lot like a dark monkey magic. The pace we set was cracking and I offered the guide to use my horse on an hourly rotation basis. He said thank you but in reality he rode very little. By afternoon Di had irritated thighs and we slowed things down a little. As the valley opened up into a large, sparse, flat dusty plain we saw another tree laden with Colobus monkeys. These ones were far more active than those on the first day and we sat and watched them for a good 15 minutes before dragging ourselves away.

We arrived in Adaba in the peak of the weekly market fever. It was possibly one of the most horrible experiences in Ethiopia. We felt like freaks being paraded around at a circus. As we sat high on the horses, visible to everyone, some people in the crowd began calling out and jeering as those around them laughed. Keen to get down from the horses we did so as soon as possible. We paid for the assistant and I said goodbye to Stucky who I had named after his four black socks. We found a nice hotel but they were asking too much and to be honest we'd had enough of Adaba and its inhabitants. So we had two options, go to Dinsho for the Bale trekking or head back to Dodola. Transport to Dinsho was hard to find and with depleting levels of Birr, Dodola was the only nearby town with a bank to change our US. Dodola it was.

Keen to get back to the best shower in Ethiopia after 5 days of dust we jumped off the bus and headed straight for the motel. The double rooms were taken so we shelled out the extra for a twin. I eagerly plugged in the hot water and had a beer while it heated up. With great disappointment I noted that the cold tap was broken. Oh well, the manager had the perfect solution, a cold bucket shower. It was not what I had in mind so I used it in combination with the stinking hot shower water to make something bearable of it. As the hot water level dropped the shower water cooled and I got a good minute of rinsing time. It wasn't a dream come true but it was far better than nothing. Happy to let someone else do the cooking we ate in the restaurant and went to bed without an alarm. Bliss.

Posted by jaredlking 07:03 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Addis Ababa (2)

Take Two

sunny 30 °C

We were back in Addis, this time with experience and confidence on our side. The first lesson we had learnt from our previous visit was not to stay were we did. This time around we opted to stay in the Piazza area, close to the bus station and restaurants. The first two hotels we tried were full and the third had vacancies (with reason). Still the room was sufferable and we took it.

Desperate to get our full of decent food we underwent an eating freny consisting of three cooked meals a day and it began with the first dinner.

Hoping to get in and out of Addis losing only one day we had a few things to take care of. Most importantly, we wanted some easy meals to cook for our camping in the south. With this in mind we used a mini-van/foot combination to access Bole road, a sort of expat hang out. With such territory comes supermarkets selling western foods like noodles and pesto. So after loading up our bags with food supplies (including a block of smarties chocolate) we went in search of a replacement stove. None too easy to find on a Sunday and so we finished empty handed. We dropped everything off at our hotel and caught a van to the bus station where we pre purchased our tickets to Robe with the intention of jumping off early in Dodola.

That night we made a reluctant decision to meet with the guy who had helped us out at our first bus station visit. I say reluctant because at some stage he turned from nice guy to stalker. Calling us every second day, asking when we'd be back in Addis and then abruptly saying good bye. Regardless he had helped us out and done nothing wrong so we said we'd meet him for a pizza dinner. The food was good and it was good to converse with Sisay. Everything was normal and we felt bad for thinking of screening him. Then just as we were about to say good bye there came an awkward period where he kind of asked for money and we kind of said no. He looked like he was going to cry and we walked away. You get nothing for nothing in Ethiopia and if anyone is particuarly nice to you then you can be sure they want something.

Posted by jaredlking 06:44 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The road to Addis Ababa

Completing the loop.

sunny 28 °C

Having pre purchased our tickets to Addis all we had to do was show up at 6 the next morning. If it wasn't for the free ride we got from the hotel owners friend that would've meant close to a one hour walk with the packs. Fortunately it didn't come to that as I woke up with a tummy bug. With hesitation I boarded the bus, praying I could hold out for the never missed brunch break. For the second time in Ethiopia we shared the bus with farenjis; two girls who were volunteering at a school in the capital. Fortunately I arrived at Woldia with clean pants, despaerately wantinga european toilet to make an unpleasant experience as bearable as possible but nothings that easy in africa and beggars can't be choosers so I settled for a squat.

For fear of repercussions I skipped the food options and reboarded the bus. An uneventful bus ride landed us for the night in a town called Dessie. The bags were supposed to be left on the bus all night and we begrudgingly agreed to leave them there. So toothbrushless we souight out a room. Despite having no endearing features and many hotels vacancies were scarce so we wound up in a relatively overpriced yet affordable room.

We arrived at 5am the next morning as instructed and left after 6 as expected. The day passed smoothly and we arrived in Addis with time to spare.

Posted by jaredlking 06:26 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


The Real Deal.

sunny 26 °C

The cheapest listed, descent hotel in Lalibela was 100 birr. An acceptable price for one night but we didn't want to pay that 3 nights in a row so after dropping our bags off we went in search of something cheaper. The more budget options were pretty horrible and considering that Lalibela has a flea problem we opted to camp. We found a hotel called Tukul village who would let us pitch our tent on their front lawn. They would also keep a room free for us so we could store our bags and use the bathroom. The rooms were usually $35 US and we were paying 50 birr. Needless to say it was a steal and we snatched it up.

So after a dry night (the hotel ran out of water) we trundled down the rather long road to our new residence and set up camp before heading into our room for a shower. I think that the owner suspected we were using the room for more than just the bathroom. We weren't but to us it was an oasis so the slightest need of water and we were back inside. We were probably a little to rash for a country with a water shortage.

It was time to check out Lalibela's prime attractions, the rock-hewn churches and if Tigray was a taster then Lalibela was the main and dessert. Lalibela has 11 churches, all in close proximity, carved clean out of rock such that they are only attached to the floor. Am impressive engineering feat, especially seeing as they were built hundreds of years ago.

We spent the morning exploring the Northwestern group of churches which contained my second favourite; Bet Medhane Alem which was slightly spoiled by the surrounding scaffolding. Check out the pictures but in short it is huge, and over the top, like a house in the suburbs. The experience was made more surreal by the fact that the churches are all joined by tunnels, channels (up to 8m deep) and bridges. With only a simple map it is an enjoyable adventure.

Even the churches close down from 12-2 here so we went out for lunch to a more expensive place but only got the salad (12 birr). The food was good but I'm not sure about the other patrons. During parts of the trip we have gone three days without seeing another white soul and sometimes they are all around us. Lalibela was one of the latter occasions. It's not a good thing or a bad thing but hearing posh accents on the horn of africa saying "He just wasn't brought up right, that's the problem" can be a little too much.

We resumed churching by visiting what is supposed to be the most beautiful site in Lalibela: Bet St George. Whilst it was beautiful and did make my top three it didn't have the same feel as the others, maybe because it was removed from the rest. For the remainder of the day we explored the Southwestern cluster. It was exploring in every sense of the word. We would find one church and after appreciating it, try to find the next, easier said than done. Sometimes we would find ourselves walking along a path or tunnel only to hit a dead end, elevated 15m from the church we were trying to get to. We were grateful for our head torches when we entered one tunnel which was at least 20 metres long. It was a long day and we were tired from the walking and blazing sun so we were glad to be rewardewd at the end of it by my favourite church Bet Amanuel. Maybe not the biggest or most creative but the attention to detail was second to none. The churches closed for the day and we resigned ourselves to a feed and a few beers.

When we both woke the second day we were acutely aware that despite the impressive nature of the churches we had nearly had enough so in the morning we went over a few things we had rushed passed the previous day and in the afternoon I got myself buzzing on five macchiatos which cost me a grand total of 1 aussie dollar. That night we took full advantage of the pristine facilities at our "campsite" expecting to never see the same quality again in Ethiopia.

Posted by jaredlking 05:29 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The road to Lalibela

A packed day

sunny 30 °C

Whilst going through the usual, "I can put my own bags on the roof", "I'll tie the luggage down", "I'm not paying for the backpacks" procedure that we endure every bus ride Di realised we had left our stove in the hotel. Clear thought prevailed and we left it there, an extra day in Mekele to recover an 80 birr stove didn't make sense. So at 8am when the 6am bus departed our load was unwelcomely lighter.

The bus ride was a standard affair and we thought silently to ourselves, we've got this whole bus thing dialled. The hours rolled by as did the seemingly endless mountains. For much of the time I was thinking to myselfy, I don't remember it being this mountainess around Addis but enough time had passed that I couldn't really remember, and I thought maybe the entirety of Ethiopia was mountainous, in stark contrast to the general perception in the west.

We rolled into Woldia in the early afternoon and found ourselves a good value hotel for the night. We hit up the restaurant twice, once I had pasta and once I had local food. With a quick cash exchange between bites we were prepared for Lalibela.

The lonely planet prepared us for a late departure the next day but to play it safe we headed to the bus station at the usual time. The mini bus was half full and we thought we'd be gone in no time. Four hours later we departed with no spare seats for Lalibela. By lunch time we had picked up another 20 odd people in a 30 person capacity bus (apparently there were no traffic officers bewtween Woldia and Lalibela) so we were glad for the leg stretch. After lunch the situation only got worse; stopping every 200 metres to pick up more and more people. By the time we approached our destination we were bursting at the seams. We had travelled about 70km as the crow flies and the 6am bus rolled into town at 4pm.

Posted by jaredlking 04:55 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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