May 30, 2010


My crossing into Sudan marked my first step into the Muslim world and it’s associated ‘arabocracy’. (The Arab countries have a tendency to drown themselves in needless paperwork all in the name of keeping their borders secure from the feared ‘West’). The Immigration Section went fairly quickly and I managed to get myself through in about half an hour. The Customs Section, however, was a headache. I went from one official to the next who each had separate forms to fill out which requested the same information – mainly information on the motorbike – all of which is contained on the copy of the carne document which they keep anyway?!? Maybe a computer would have helped? Name, Make, Model, Year of Manufacture, Colour, Engine Number, Chassis Number, Number Plate etc. In the end seven separate documents (with receipts) were filled out before I was allowed to pass to the next section i.e. the Security Section. Here all my motorbike and passport documents were translated into Arabic and re-written into the security log book. I must admit that the border officials, however, were reasonably friendly which was a marked difference to the Ethiopians. Eventually, some two hours later, and with a strict warning to register myself ‘as an alien’ in Khartoum (within three days), I was off on my way …

The road continued to get drier and drier as I entered into the Sahara Desert. Scattered grasslands eventually disintegrated into sparse shrub and shadeless thorn trees. And it started to get HOT! By midday the temperature had already reached 40 degrees C. My initial intention was to stay in the town of Gedaref, but as the border crossing had been more efficient than I had expected (I had heard some horror stories), I arrived at Gedaref at about 13h00. Gedaref is a dirty, dusty town on the outskirts of the Sahara and has very little in the form of decent accommodation to account for. So I decided to stock up on water and head out into the Sahara, towards Khartoum, to do the first of my big desert crossings. Bad mistake!

The 420km stretch from Gedaref to join up with the Nile River at Khartoum is rather desolate. If I had thought that Gedaref was hot, I was in for big shock! I always knew that the Sahara would be hot, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever picture it as hot as this! In hindsight, it was a mistake to plan this section in summer (even though it is very early summer here). The temperature quickly increased to 44 degrees C and then remained between 44 & 48 degrees C for the remainder of the afternoon. The hot air felt like a hair dryer blowing onto my face at full power. Unbearable! To top it off the heat given off my 990cc motorbike, and all the protective gear that I was wearing, were adding to the ridiculous temperature. I managed to stop a few times at various watering points to refill my water supplies. I have never felt so helpless and vulnerable before! I worked out that I drank a massive 15 litres of water on this stretch! … and did not urinate once! I didn’t know that was possible? It felt better when I was on the motorbike as in this way there was at least a breeze using my sweat to cool me down. Towards the end of the trip I had to stop a few times as I was starting to feel sick – really sick – the first signs of heat stroke. I managed to make Khartoum at 21h00 that evening (it was 42 degrees C at 21h00!) and headed straight to the Blue Nile Sailing Club campsite. I spent two hours sitting by the water trough filling myself up with ice cold water and rehydration salts which helped to relieve some of the discomfort. Thankfully they also had an air conditioner in the pool room which felt like an absolute God send!

The next day, I was feeling awful again and just sat in the shade; whilst pumping water through my fragile body. There was also a stall across the road from the campsite that sold ice cold fruit juice which tasted so good – just what I needed – I think I became an instant ice-cold mango juice addict!

Khartoum was built where the White and Blue Nile’s meet. It is one of the more modern cities in Africa and has paved roads, high-rise buildings and the majority of services that are needed (although they do have ATM’s here, they cannot be used by any international bank cards!). The people here are extremely friendly, polite and hospitable. The riverside setting is attractive and Khartoum is very safe! BUT, it is hot!

Sudan is not a particularly rich country, but I am surprised how few beggars / homeless people there are here. Even in the large cities like Khartoum, beggars are seldom seen. The underprivileged seem to be well cared for by the general population. The very strict laws against drugs, alcohol and prostitution, that seem to plague the rest of Africa, also help to prevent people getting sucked into the downward spirals that often finds them living in the streets.

The following day I felt much better and set about registering myself at the Aliens Registration Office in Khartoum. The Sudanese think that anyone from outside of their country must have come from another planet and have thus enforced a rule that all non-Sudanese have to register themselves as ‘aliens’ on arrival in Khartoum – and within three days of entering a border post. Now, if only they had computers at the border posts they would be able to know who was in their country! To be honest, I think it shows arabocracy at its best and is just another money making incentive for the government officials. First I had to find the Alien Registration Office – none of the taxi drivers or policemen had any idea what I was talking about. I eventually got the address on the internet and set off with my GPS to find the place. After about two hours I eventually found the place – the signs to the office were in Sudanese (Arabic) and not in any of the official alien languages. To top it off none of the officials understood the particular brand of alien that I speak and I thus had no idea what I was meant to do to register. Luckily one of my fellow aliens understood Sudanese and I was sent back to the campsite to get an official letter from the Blue Nile Sailing Club to state that I was a guest at their campsite. With letter in hand, I returned to register, paid a whopping £S105 ($US 50), filled out my forms, gave them my photo and after a few hours of queuing I was a fully fledged and legal alien! (My form said that my address was: 1 Moon Rock Place, Mars (only a few light years from Perth) – no-one seemed to care – no-one could speak/read my brand of alien anyway - they had my money which is all that really mattered to them).

Later that day, I hooked up with Riaan (South African), Stephanie (Belgian) and Joel (Canadian) who are travelling together from South Africa to Sudan (and back again). It was great hearing their stories – they came up from Uganda to Sudan through the very dodgy southern Sudan region. Riaan and Stephanie are artists from Calvinia. Joel has been living in South Africa for a few years now and is completing his PhD in archaeology at Wits University (the university I went to). Joel has been rather sick since Livingstone (Zambia) and had apparently lost a lot of weight – he was off to see a doctor in Khartoum to see if he can identify the problem. The next day we went to town and had a huge ice-cream before doing some shopping in a huge (air-conditioned) shopping mall. I am not a big fan of shopping but I would do anything to get out of that heat! Riaan, Stephanie and Joel are all such great friendly people! I hope they make it back south safely.

The next day I decided to head off. There were two choices – firstly the loop road to see the Meroe Pyramids which was about a 300km detour - or secondly, the direct route to Abri Dom, straight across the desert to meet up again with the Nile River that had looped itself around. Because of my scary desert experience a few days before, I decided to take the shorter280km trip directly across the desert therefore minimizing my exposure to the desert elements. Besides, I would have more opportunities to see the much bigger Egyptian pyramids further up north. Also, I only had a two week visa for Sudan so I had to get going.

I set off early that morning. To be honest the 280km stretch across the desert was great and I had nothing to worry about. The heat only really starts to pick up at about mid-morning in these parts and by this time I had already managed to cross the majority of this stretch. The roads in Sudan are of excellent quality, some of the best I have seen in Africa! The only problem is that every now and again there are sand piles formed as sand blows onto the road, which are not fun riding over at 120km/h.

This part of the Sahara is known as the Nubian Desert and is renowned for its orange coloured desert sand. The rocky outcrops and occasional dunes make the scenery very picturesque. It was great meeting up with the Nile River again. The desolate desert suddenly erupts into an abundance of colour, as the fertile banks are harvested for their life supporting crops. After a long desert crossing with no water around, it is also quite a relief to have a huge river flowing next to you that has an emergency abundance of the necessary H2O.

Most of the Sudanese (and Egyptian) landmass consists of deserts, with the lifeblood of the Nile River being a green band flowing through them, drawing to it human settlements. Charismatic rivers flow through many countries but few govern the ebb and flow of a country’s fortunes quite as much as the Nile River has done for Sudan and Egypt. From at least 4000BC small settlements have clung together in loose affiliations along the Nile.

I stopped north of Abri Dom to have look at a bridge that was in construction across the Nile. There were some children swimming in the water close to the bridge, so I decided to join them. It felt so refreshing to be in the cold Nile water! I have been surprised at how fast the Nile River flows – from its sources at Lake Victoria and Lake Tana, both streams are fast flowing and even at this point the Nile is very strong with some strong side currents. It is also a huge river, a lot bigger and wider than I thought it would be. From Abri Dom the road winds its way along the banks of the Nile. The swim had been so refreshing that I decided to stop every now and again for a dip in the lovely cold water. It was great riding along with wet clothes on, keeping my body cool in the intense desert heat.

At the villages along the way are small shady stalls that have been set up by the locals which house amphora’s (big jars) of cold water. The locals keep the amphorae full of water, which is done out of kindness to the travelers – they are not paid to do so! These stands are found along the roadsides throughout Sudan. It doesn’t take long after you have stopped at a village for a young local to run across to you carrying a cup of cold water – and they want nothing in return. This is Nubian kindness and hospitality at its best!

That night I decided I was going to camp somewhere along the Nile River rather than spend the night at another dodgy lokanda (guesthouse). I found a great camping spot near a pump station, and in his very broken English, the local pump attendant said that I could sleep the night in the new pump house store room that was still empty and had a great view overlooking the river. I spent the rest of the afternoon swimming with his three young sons in the river and teaching them how to skip stones across the water. That evening the pump attendant invited me to share dinner with him and his sons (I have no idea where the mom was?). I am totally humbled by the opportunity to have had dinner with this family - they have so little yet they give of themselves so freely. The pump attendant wanted nothing in return and seemed annoyed when I offered him some money. He also brought me a bed down to the pump house as he said that because I was a guest I should not sleep on my mattress on the floor! What a great day! I am humbled by these friendly people. The next morning I had tea with the pump attendant and his sons before heading on further up the Nile. I have never met such kind and caring people!

I continued my journey up the Nile and stopped every so often for a refreshing swim. This is the way desert riding should be! That morning I stopped in Dongola to get my motorbike boots fixed again. The intense heat seems to have melted the glue between the leather and the rubber part of the soles, so I had to get them re-glued! I managed to find a shoe repair guy in town who knew of just the glue to fix it – apparently this happens quite often here to western made shoes ha ha.

Along the Nile are a number of temples, built in the 14th Century, which I stopped to view. Unfortunately they are all on the opposite bank so I couldn’t view them up close. The temples were very difficult to find – none of them were sign-posted in English and very few locals that I asked even new that they existed. The old temples don’t seem to play any role in modern Sudanese life. What this means, however, is that very few people visit the temples which makes them great sites to visit as a tourist – they are not like the Egyptian sites that are packed with hundreds of tourists and tour-guides hassling you.

Early that afternoon I stopped at a water-stand and took some photos of the surrounds. A young guy at the stand asked me if I would take a photo of him and his brothers and sisters. I said I would. He ran inside and hauled out his brothers and sisters and I took the photo. He then asked me to take the camera inside his house to surprise his mom with the photo. I followed him inside and met his mom. She loved the photo and asked me for a copy. Unfortunately I do not carry around a printer, and she does not have an address or email or anything (the mud hut they stayed in was in the middle of nowhere). I felt quite bad because she desperately wanted a copy – I don’t think she had ever seen all of her kids in a photo. She did however invite me to tea and asked me if I wanted food – she even offered me accommodation for the night. I unfortunately had to decline as I needed to push on.

Later that afternoon I stopped for fuel at a busy little town north of Delgo. They have recently discovered gold in the area and there are a number of local fortune seekers walking around with metal detectors trying to find their early retirement plan in the desert sand. I got chatting to a young student whose English was pretty good. He was studying to be an electronics engineer in Khartoum and was fixing metal detectors as part of his vacation work program. I went with him and some friends down to the river for another refreshing swim. Before I left, I was again offered water, food and accommodation for the evening, but much to their disappointment, I again decided to head on …

That evening I found an amazing camping spot. The spot was on a cliff overlooking the Nile. There was a path down to the water with a great rock pool, which was fed by a constant stream of ice cold Nile water. There was also a fishing boat rowing up and down the river and some beautiful eagles floating above the water. The sunset that evening was amazing and the night opened up into a spectacular display of coloured skies and desert stars. I was waiting for a big star to appear but I don’t think God could find another two wise men in the area ha ha … maybe next time. I had a great evening on my own (oh sorry, with my motorbike – Big Ken) under the desert stars ... truly an experience I will never forget!

I am amazed by the beauty of the Sahara desert. The colours and windswept sights that are created make for some fantastic scenery. Although the desert has a harsh and very brutal side to it, it also manages to draw you in by its mesmerizing beauty. The colours displayed at sunrise and sunsets are spectacular and there is nothing that can compare to a night out under a desert sky! This desert has a beauty that I have never before experienced and something that is really fascinating me.

The following day I headed on to Wadi Halfa. The desert from Abri to Wadi Halfa was some of the most beautiful desert that I have experienced. The desert remains fairly sandy but is scattered with large peach coloured dunes which are glazed with a black rocky cover. It reminded me of peach ice-cream covered with chocolate sprinkles. Along the way the wind started to pick up and it was not too long before a sand storm had started to develop. Riding the motorbike through a sandstorm is challenging to say the least! The windblown sand stings your skin while the wind throws the motorbike all over the road. I managed to get to Wadi Halfa safely though and was relieved to get out of the wind.

Wadi Halfa was founded by a handful of Nubian families from the original Halfa (now buried under Lake Nasser) who resisted the governments forced relocation. The ferry to Egypt now docks here and leaves Wadi Halfa every Wednesday to Luxor. This means that I have a four day wait, in Wadi Halfa, for the ferry to arrive.

I booked into a place called Deffintood which is a very rough lokanda (room with a number of beds in it). I was surprised to find that it had electricity and a fan, but no other services were user friendly (showers, toilets etc). I made quite good friends with the local flies and bedbugs that seem to infest this place. To my surprise the owner insisted I park my motorbike in the small reception area at the front of the lokanda! He said that the motorbike may attract other guests ha ha. So I have pimped Big Ken out to the reception area in hope that by flashing his gearbox to unsuspecting customers he may attract them into this bug infested lair :-)

As very few tourists visit Sudan, the Sudanese have very little in the form of decent accommodation. Facilities are generally poor throughout the country, with the exception of a few hotels in Khartoum. This makes comfortable travel in Sudan virtually non-existent. Travel here is rough and ready and if this is not your style, then Sudan is not for you. A tent is about as close to “first class accommodation” as you will get whilst traveling here.

The following day (28/5) I decided to head out into the desert to take some more photos as there had been a sand storm the day before and I hadn’t managed to get any photos of this section of desert. It was great riding my bike on the dusty desert tracks. At one stage I saw a great look-out point just off the track and thought it would be easy enough to get to on my motorbike. Big mistake. As soon as I ventured off the track the motorbike sunk deep into the desert sand. Nothing I did seemed to help. I even tried digging the motorbike out but because the sand was so soft it just sunk deeper under its own weight. At this stage I was about 15km into the desert from Wadi Halfa and had no water with me. So I started to worry. Luckily, I was not too far from the Wadi Halfa – Dongola road so I managed to walk to the road. About twenty minutes later a taxi passed and I managed to flag it down. There were three men in the taxi and they walked with me back to the motorbike and within about ten minutes we had managed to lift the motorbike out of the sand and back onto the desert track. What a relief! I had visions of loosing Big Ken to the sandy desert. I continued to venture off into the desert but this time I was very careful not to leave the ‘tried and tested’ desert tracks. I managed to take some good pictures before heading back into Wadi Halfa.

There is a restaurant in Wadi Halfa that sells the most amazing mango juice!! (Have I told you that I have become a mango juice addict?) The mango is liquidized into a thin pulp and then frozen into an icy liquid that tastes absolutely amazing. I have never tasted anything as refreshing as this! A great thirst quencher for the hot sun and at only £S 1 (US 40c) for 500ml, it is an absolute God send.

The next day I bumped into Andraes Habek and family. Andraes is a great young (German) bloke that I had met in Nairobi (at Jungle Junction). He is 13 years old and has been travelling around the world with his parents (Hans and Carola) and his cute 2 year old brother Thomas. At only 13 years of age, Andraes has been fortunate enough to see most of the world in his travels with his parents – 5 out of his 13 years have been spent travelling the world by boat, car, bus, train and even walking. Hans (Andraes’ dad) has written a book (in German) about their shoestring travels around the world. Carola is a teacher and keeps Andraes up to speed with his schooling – in fact he manages to do very well at school and achieves well above average for his school year. It was interesting chatting to young Andraes. Being well travelled, he has a maturity well beyond his age and his worldly view on things makes the young man very interesting to chat to. He is also a dedicated KTM fan after I took him for a ride on Big Ken. That afternoon I climbed the mountain behind Wadi Halfa, with Andraes, and managed to take some good photos of Wadi Halfa, Lake Nasser and the surrounding desert.

The following day (2/6), the ferry was set to leave for Aswan (Egypt). The ferry is currently the only way of entering Egypt from Sudan – there are no land crossings between the two countries. Apparently a road is currently being built between Egypt and Sudan and it should be ready in the next five years.

That morning I met up with Alf and Anders, two guys from Norway, who have been travelling up from South Africa in their Land Rover and are heading back to Norway. The vehicles unfortunately could not travel with us on the ferry and had to travel on a separate barge. The barge was meant to leave before the ferry which was great because that meant that we could manage the loading of the vehicles ourselves. We spent the whole morning going through the Sudan (exit) Immigration and Customs and if it had not been for our assistant Mazar Mahir, it would have taken much longer. He seemed to know all the customs officials and we managed to skip all the queues – but, it still took us the whole morning to get through. I cannot get over all this arabocracy!! By 3pm we still had not managed to put our vehicles on the barge as they were still unloading goods off the barge. Eventually, much to my displeasure, I had to leave my motorbike for Mazar Mahir to load onto the barge while I boarded the ferry. I was really annoyed as I had wanted to manage the loading to ensure it was not damaged in any way.

The ferry left at 5pm. Alf, Anders and I managed to get a place on the top deck underneath the lifeboats which gave us some shelter from the sun. Andraes soon joined us, and we made ourselves comfortable for a night of sleeping under the stars.

Lake Nasser is absolutely massive. The original dam was built by the British at the beginning of the 20th Century; however, it was insufficient to keep the Nile in check during its annual spate. The Egyptian government was joined by several nations in building a new dam in the 1960’s. It was opened in 1971 and came to be seen as a symbol of Egypt’s independence. As the full environmental impact of the dam began to be understood, however, it became the source of much international controversy, not least on account of the ancient sites and the Nubian communities that were swallowed up by the creation of Lake Nasser.

That evening I was privileged to witness a gathering of Muslim men on the deck of the ferry all praying to Mecca in the east. I have been quite impressed by the devotion shown by these people to their religion. I am also very surprised by the gentle, kind and friendly nature shown by these people – very different to the impression that I have been given by the western press!

Sudan is the largest country in Africa and is one of the least visited countries on earth due to its various ongoing conflicts which are predominantly in the southern and western (Dafur) regions. However, the northeast Nubian region is one of the safest places in the world and with some of the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth (and with a natural generosity that far belies their poverty), it make for one of the most enjoyable countries I have ever visited.

Jaag maar aan.

May 14, 2010


The Kenyan border had opened at 7am and I had managed to get through in about 5 minutes. However, when I got to the Ethiopian side I was told that they only opened at 8am?!? This is Africa. I managed to get some good Ethiopian coffee and took the time to have my ‘new’ motorcycle boots repaired – the sole was starting to come off one of my boots already?!? Ethiopians pride themselves with having introduced coffee to the rest of the world and I must admit that the coffee was really good – just what I needed to start the day off.

At about 8am I was at immigration section at the Ethiopian border, but was told that they couldn’t start the process until the building had been swept – under instruction from the border manager – so I had to wait another 30 minutes for the building to be swept!! This is Africa. I eventually managed to get my passport stamped and then waited in the customs queue to get my bike’s carne stamped. There was no-one in the customs office but I was told to wait because he is on his way. By 10am he had still not arrived – so one of the border officials was sent to wake him up. He eventually arrived looking really hung-over. It took him a further 40 minutes to fill out the form (in triplicate) before I could eventually be on my way.

North of the border post (Moyale) things start to change quite dramatically. The countryside is covered by massive termite mounds, some of which rise about five meters into the air. The road then winds its way high up into luscious green mountains - not quite how I pictured Ethiopia to be! Many people remember the Ethiopia from the 80’s when there was a huge famine and millions of people died – but that is a far cry from the modern day Ethiopia. Ethiopia is surprisingly green, as green as Scotland in parts, and is rewarded by daily rains, especially at this time of the year. Unfortunately the majority of the country still relies on subsistence farming which leaves it in a vulnerable position, relying on a steady yearly rainfall to support its massive 85 million population. (The population in Ethiopia has grown from 55 million in the mid 1980’s to 85 million today!)

I also drove passed a camel market with hundreds of camels been bartered for – I thought camels were only used in desert areas?

Ethiopia is very different to the rest of Africa that I have seen. The roads are in fairly good condition, but very few people can afford personal vehicles. The majority of vehicles on the road are trucks, buses and taxis. My motorbike is therefore quite a phenomenon and as a result I am constantly hounded by whistles, screams and shouting as I pass. Every time I stop the motorbike I am surrounded by hundreds of people wanting to have a look at (and touch) the bike which can get quite annoying – there seems to be no concept of personal space here!

The fact that there are few vehicles on the roads does not mean that the roads are empty. Cars are replaced by donkey carts and roads are generally used for walking, riding donkeys or for herding livestock from one town to the next. There seems to be an explosion of people which can be quite mind-blowing, and who all flock to the main roads for transport. This obviously makes travel in Ethiopia very dangerous. Also, in Ethiopia, pedestrians have the right-of-way on roads and any accidents involving motor vehicles are always the motor vehicles fault! This means that pedestrians take very little care and walk in the middle of the road and / or refuse to get out of the way of faster moving traffic. Because few people have personal vehicles there is also very little general road / driving sense and it often happens that fully grown adults will even cross a street without so much as a glance to check whether there is any oncoming traffic! As one Ethiopian driver puts it, “the people are worse than the donkey’s”. Quite scary!

As there are relatively few vehicles in Ethiopia, fuel is scarce and of poor quality. Maybe one out of every four petrol stations that I have visited has fuel which is quite a concern.

Most modern motorbikes these days are legally obliged to travel with their headlights on – even during the day. In fact most modern motorbikes do not have an off-button for the headlights i.e. as soon as the bike is started the headlight is automatically switched on. My bike is one of these. As there are very few (modern) motorbikes in Ethiopia very few people are aware of this. As a result every person and vehicle I pass feels that it is their duty to inform me that I am riding with my lights on. Very annoying! I suppose that the mere fact that they are trying to tell me that my lights are on, shows that they have seen me – which is the whole idea, isn’t it?

I am not sure how to describe Ethiopia. The best description that I can think of is that it is a country that is stuck in the 10th century. Rural Ethiopia is very primitive – traditional small hamlets are formed that makes the green countryside look like a scene from a hobbit village in the ‘Lord of the Rings’. There is no commercial farming and all fields are ploughed with oxen and wooden implements. Cattle, goats and donkeys are herded by shepherds looking after their flock. There are no boundary fences and most farmers look like they have walked the rough road through life.

I managed to get to a place called Wondo Genet Resort and Hot Springs on the first day in Ethiopia, which is about 200km south of Addis Ababa. The springs are great and I spent a few hours in the therapeutic hot water springs helping my body recover from the previous few days of hard travelling. The resort is situated in the Bole Mountain range, overlooking the Great Rift Valley, and is surrounded by dense forest that is populated by playful colobus and vervet monkeys. There are also hundreds of different bird species here as well as massive vultures that seem totally out of place here. That evening I had my first taste of the local food injera which is a sour tasting pancake on which spicy tasting foods are heaped – the injera is used for wrapping around small pieces of food and for soaking up the spicy juices. Injera is eaten with the right hand only – as the left hand is used for toiletry duties here!

The next day 11/5 I rode to Addis Ababa. Addis is s dirty, dusty city located in the centre of Ethiopia. It is also the place that the poor Ethiopians flock to in search of jobs and better opportunity. As a result the streets are full of beggars and cripples trying their best to make a living and stay alive. Money is very scarce in these parts and unfortunately faranji (white people) are seen to be the money carriers – as a result I was constantly hounded by people offering to be my tour guide through Addis. Even when I said that I didn’t need their services they still continued to follow me around from one place to the next in hope that I would change my mind. Now I know how celebrities feel with the paparazzi constantly following them around!

The first night I stayed at Wims Holland House which had been recommended to me in Nairobi. As it was full, the only room they had was a tiny room in the servants quarters. In the room next door, a dog had just had 5 puppies which kept me up all night, so the next day I moved to the Taitu Hotel which was built in 1898 and hadn’t had any maintenance done to it since. The hotel was awful, but by Ethiopian standards it was one of the better ones.

That day I decided to do a tour of the numerous museums in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia has a fascinating history and much of the evidence is housed within the Addis museums. As the museums only opened at 9am, I first went to the Piazza for some coffee at Tomoca, a world famous coffee house in Addis. The coffee was amazing and I ended up on quite a buzz after treating myself to four different local coffees.

On my way to the National Museum I stopped to ask for directions. I got directions from a young , decent looking guy called Solomon, who claimed to be a university student studying tourism. He said that the museum was close to the university so I could walk with him there. He showed me to the museum and after I had finished, he was waiting for me outside the museum, asking me where I wanted to go to next. I asked why he had not gone to university and he told me that he did not have to go to university that day??? So, Solomon became my tour guide. It was interesting chatting to him – he was apparently from northern Ethiopia and had 9 brothers and 1 sister. His dad had 3 wives, one of which was his mother. At an early age he had been taken from his parents and had gone to a missionary school as his parents could not afford to keep him. He knows who his parents are, but does not wish to keep in contact with them because they want him to become a farmer – instead he has moved to Addis for a ‘better life’. He now lives with his male friend in a small single bed apartment in Addis somewhere. I am not sure how he affords university or if he even attends university – to be honest, I have my doubts! However, he seemed trustworthy and friendly enough and never asked for any money for his guiding services.

The National Museum houses some of the most important exhibits in sub-saharan Africa. The paleontology exhibit contains fossilized evidence of some amazing extinct creatures, like the sabre toothed feline and the gargantuan savannah pig. The exhibit also has the skeleton of Homo Rhodesiensis which was one of the earliest skeletons of man, found in Southern Rhodesia in the 1920’s. Homo Rhodesiensis is thought to be 0.6 - 0.2 million years old (pic on left). Note how big the brain of the Rhodesian species is! The star of the exhibit, however, is the skeleton of ‘Lucy’ (named after the Beatles song “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” - pic on right). Lucy was found in the Afar Depression of Ethiopia and is estimated to be 3.2 million years old. Her brain is no larger than a chimpanzee’s but she walked on two legs which (unfortunately) places her on the same family tree as man. She was only 3.5 feet tall! The rest of the museum shows exhibits of the pre-Aksumite, Aksumite, Solomonic and Gonder periods of Ethiopian history which are equally fascinating. It also houses collections of Ethiopian royal paraphernalia, including those of Emperor Haille Selassie. Also interesting was the display on ancient musical instruments.

Next stop was the St George Cathedral that was commissioned by Emperor Menelik in 1896 to commemorate the defeat of the Italians in Adwa. The most important thing about the cathedral is that it houses the tomb of Emperor Haile Silassie. Outside the cathedral is a museum which houses one of the best collections of ecclesiastical equipment including orthodox crowns, prayer sticks, ancient holy scrolls, ceremonial umbrella’s and coronation clothing of Zewditu and Haille Selassie. I am not too sure the tour guide had his facts straight though – he claimed that Haille Selassie was a descendant of the biblical Solomon himself. I asked how they knew that since there is no scientific evidence of this - the guide told me that Haille Selassie was the son of Emperor Menelik who was the son of Solomon?? I think he is missing a couple of hundreds of generations in between! Does he really think Solomon lived in the 19th century?

I decided I had enough of the museums for the day. I told my self-appointed tour guide, Solomon that I would be keen to go to an Azmari restaurant that evening. He said that he knew of just the place, about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

Azmari is an ancient form of entertainment provided by the Azmari (singing minstrel) and his masenko (single-stringed fiddle). He is also accompanied by a drummer and traditional Ethiopian dancers. Azmari’s prance around the restaurant / bars, singing witty songs about anything, which they make up on the spot. Quite an art.

At 7pm, we met up. After walking for about 100 meters to the venue, one of Solomons ‘best friends’ miraculously appeared and decided to join us. Solomon said that there was a slight change in plan and that he would take me to a ‘better’ azmari place about a 10 minute taxi ride away. After the taxi ride (yes, I had to pay for all three of us) I was taken to some dingy house. I was led into the lounge which had been cleared as a dance floor. The next thing about 10 women came out and asked me if I wanted a drink. Judging by the way these women were dressed and their flirtatious ways, I could see that they were hookers. They said that they were just student azmari dancers trying to make a living – I could see this had all been rigged. To humor them, I asked how much it would cost for them to dance but got no response – eventually they said it was free if I buy drinks. I asked for a beer and ordered Solomon and his friend (who seemed to have organized all of this because he knew the women) a glass of wine each. The women then asked me to buy them some wine too – I thought this was strange, so I asked how much wine was only to be told it was 75 birr a glass!! – almost ten times the cost of a beer!!! So I told them that they can have wine but I am not paying!! I was starting to lose my temper as I could see I was being ripped-off so I paid 160 birr (1 beer and 2 glasses of wine for my two ‘friends’) and left. To put this into perspective the average monthly salary for an Ethiopian is 150 birr!!! When I left, some of the hookers thought that I may be persuaded to stay by taking some of their clothes off which got me even more annoyed. I left feeling annoyed and ripped off!

Solomon apologized and said that it was all a big misunderstanding. After ditching his scaly friend at my request, Solomon then took me to a proper Azmari restaurant. Azmari is great fun! Although I didn’t understand a word, the laughter from the locals is contagious. It was also great having Solomon there to translate what the azmari was saying. The azmari singer also sang a song about me which everyone thought was hilarious (He thought that I was “Gerry” from “Austria”?? and was singing about mountains (the Alps?) and goats- which even I thought was funny – he had obviously heard Solomon wrong when he asked Solomon who I was). The traditional dancers are also quite a laugh – they dance with their hands on their hips and shake their shoulders and their heads about, whilst glaring eye-to-eye at their partner with no expressions on their faces – I thought it was hilarious as it reminded me of chickens squaring each other up before fighting with each other. It was all great fun though and I ended up having a great laugh and a good time.

I decided to stay an extra day in Addis as there was a KTM dealer (Flavio Bonuiti) who I wanted to have a look at my bike. There was an intermittent warning light that appeared and I had no idea what it was. Flavio plugged the bike into his computer only to find that it was a warning light telling me that the bikes exhaust emissions were bad because of the poor quality petrol in Ethiopia – nothing serious. I must say at this stage that I am extremely impressed with the KTM (named Kenneth Thomas Motorcycle (KTM) or ‘Big Ken’ by his close mates) – since South Africa it has not even missed a beat and I have taken it down some terrible roads!! To be honest I have not even had to stop to fix a puncture yet, which is probably more a testament to my lack of riding skills than anything else. Let’s hold thumbs that Big Ken keeps up the good work.

The next day (15/5) I headed north towards Woldia. I would need to overnight in Woldia before my final destination of Lalibela. The map shows the road to Woldia as a straight road, but it is far from straight. The road rises to the town of Dessie at a height of 2470m before plummeting down again and back up to Woldia at 2112m. The trip from Addis to Woldia is 570km but it took me almost 12 hours.Along the way I past numerous abandoned army tanks, remnants of Ethiopia’s violent history.

Woldia is not a great place to stay, but provides a springboard to Lalibela which is a further 172km away. That night I stayed at the Arsama Hotel in Woldia. What a dump! I was given a room on the ground floor facing the courtyard – little did I know that the courtyard became the local tavern in the evenings, so I was kept up until 1am with drunken debauchery. At 05h30 I was woken by the hotel manager, banging on the door and asking me: “Mister, are you leaving today? Where are you going?” I responded by hurling my riding boot at the door and telling him to F-off!” About 15 minutes after my rude awakening, I had another knock on the door – this time it was the parking guard to ask me for his “tip” as he was finished his duty for the evening. He got the same treatment. And to top it off at 06h00 I had another knock on the door from a porter asking me if I needed help carrying my bags to the motorbike?? Well, by then I had had enough and went and let the manager know what I thought of his ‘hotel’. By 06h30 I was out of there with a very grumpy staff that had been given a start to the morning with a strongly-worded piece of my mind. The porter seemed to be the most grumpy as I had refused to let him carry my bags the 20m to the motorbike, and he had thus missed out on his opportunity to earn 5 birr.

The road to Lalibela was great.

Again it wound its way through the very dramatic landscape before hitting the 64km gravel section to Lalibela.

The Ethiopians believe that 1000 years ago, King Lalibela was poisoned by his half-brother and was taken by angels to the first, second and third heavens. Here God showed him a city of rock-hewn churches and then commanded him to return to earth and to recreate what he had seen. No matter what you have heard about Lalibela, no matter how many pictures you have seen of its breathtaking rock-hewn churches, its dimly lit passageways or its hidden crypts and grottoes, nothing on earth can prepare you for the reality of seeing it for yourself. It is truly a wonder of Africa and is often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world.

Lalibela has 11 rock-hewn churches and it was believed that they were built in the late 12th century over a period of only 21 years – the Ethiopians believe that during the day a workforce of 40,000 carved out the churches, while at night the work force was replaced by angels who toiled away during the hours of darkness?!? Mmmmm. The churches, however, were truly spectacular and have been immaculately preserved through time. Each church still houses their original cross, which is carried and protected by the high priest of the church who has passed it down from century to century. These crosses were given to each church by King Lalibela himself.

Some of the churches still house the original 12th century paintings that were used to decorate them. These paintings are important historical depictions of early Christian understandings. There are also a number of mummified corpses that litter the church surroundings – these are mainly of earlier high priests who requested to be laid to rest near their beloved churches. I was really impressed with the churches and they are a must visit for anyone planning a trip to Ethiopia!!

That evening I stayed in the Seven Olives Hotel, which is reportedly owned by Haille Selassie’s daughter. The hotel is high up overlooking Lalibela and has gardens populated by a large variety of different bird species. Sunsets from the restaurant balcony are amazing!

The following day (17/5) I headed to Bahir Dar on the shores of Lake Tana. Along the way I passed the following Elementary School. I must admit that on some occasions I felt the same way about my elementary school :-)

Ethiopians like to describe Bahir Dar as their Riviera, with its shaded palm trees and its sweeping views across Lake Tana. I found Lake Tana to be rather mystical. The misty fog that covers the lake in the mornings gives Lake Tana and eerie appearance. Lounging around the lakeside with a few beers at hand and watching the pelicans skirt the surface is a great way to pass the time. I also spotted the ‘unsinkable’ tankwa canoe that is made from woven papyrus and used to carry heavy loads – even oxen – across the lake. Lake Tana, however, is more well renowned for its 16th century island monasteries though most were founded much earlier and may even have been the site of early Christian shrines.

The following day I took a boat trip out to visit three of the monasteries. My fellow tourists were Jesus (a guy from Spain) and two nuns (from Italy) … so, I knew I was in good hands :-) I must admit that I was totally amazed with the monasteries. Some of the monasteries are covered in painting’s, some dating back to the 12th century of early bible depictions. Jesus (the Spanish toursit) had a degree in ancient art and it was interesting spending time with him getting his views on the art!

The one monastery that we visited (Kebran Gabriel) had a tour guide that was wearing a St. Kilda Football Club t-shirt (an Aussie Rules Football Club)?? He had no idea who St. Kilda are – he probably just thought that he was being quite ‘saintly’ by wearing a shirt with a cross on it. The latin words at the bottom probably mean something like: “Lets kill our opponents.”

I am amazed by some of the Bible stories that I have heard here. Apparently Jesus’s mother Mary did not die but lived forever. Anyone seen her around? Also one of Jesus’ miracles was that he turned mud into doves? Now I am no expert on the Bible but I have never heard these stories? (There is a good possibility though that I missed those Sunday School lessons – sorry Aunty June - my aunt was my Sunday School teacher). I am also not too sure what Bible scenes these two pictures (below) represent, but I could have missed these Sunday School lessons too!

Kebran Gabriel houses some of the oldest copies of some of the original Christian manuscripts. It also houses one of the oldest versions of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) which is written in five parts – the first being an illustrated version of the gospels, followed by the full-Amharic translations of the original books. To be honest I was a bit shocked by the lack of security for these manuscripts. The guide was using his hands to finger his way through these manuscripts showing us the different pages. All the manuscripts were also freely available for anyone to hold and view. These documents are hundreds of years old!! … and are probably some of the most important pieces of evidence to our Christian heritage. Shouldn’t these things be locked away and carefully guarded for future Christian generations? I was also surprised that the guide was allowed to touch the original 12th century paintings whilst telling us what the paintings depicted? I am no expert in art (or religion), but I seriously think that some authority should intervene before these historical treasures are damaged or lost forever!

That afternoon I had a few beers with Jesus :-) whilst watching a contest to see how many people could squeeze onto a boat.

The next day I headed off to Gonder which was about a 2 hour ride north. The landscape is starting to get a bit dryer now, but still very mountainous. It is not what Gonder is, but what Gonder was that is so enthralling. Often called the Camelot of Africa, this description does the royal city a disservice: Camelot is legend, whereas Gonder is reality. In the 17th century, Gonder was the capital of Ethiopia as it lay at the crossroads of three major caravan routes: to the southwest lay rich sources of gold, ivory and slaves; to the northeast lay Massawa and the Red Sea; and to the northwest lay Sudan and Egypt.

In the early afternoon I took my bike into a tyre repair shop to have the back tyre changed for a new ‘second-hand’ one that I had purchased in Nairobi and have been carrying around since. At the tyre place I met David, an Australian guy from Brisbane, who was travelling south through Africa on his BMW 650GS. When David left the tyre repair place, he realized someone had stolen his wheel spanner. So I told them that I would not pay for my tyre fitment until it was ‘found’ – sure enough about 20 minutes later the spanner miraculously reappeared. Good to see that miracles still happen in Ethiopia.

Later that afternoon I visited the Royal Enclosure which houses the various palaces of the kings that reigned in this period. This enclosure was made a World Heritage Site in 1979. These palaces include Fasiladas Palace, Dawit’s Palace (1716-1721); Bakaffa’s Palace (1721-1730), Mentewab’s castle and Iyasu I’s / Yohannes I Palace (1667 – 1682; 1682-1706). Included in the enclosure are also kitchens, banquet halls, horse stables, turkish bath’s, libraries and two lion houses (where, until recently, Abyssinian lions were kept). Very interesting visit!

That evening I met up with David and his travelling mates that he had met up with along the way (Alexis and Adam – from Sweden – both on KTM Adventure’s – see The week before Adam had had an accident and hit a young kid (who turned out to be 28 years old), who had run out into the road. Adam had spent a few hours in jail – in the jail he was told that the ‘kid’ had died and that he would have to pay 3000birr ($US 220) to the family (this just shows how cheap life is around these parts). Luckily Alex went to the hospital only to find that the 28 year old ‘kid’ was still alive – in fact, not only was he alive but he had also been discharged and had walked home! African corruption at its best – anything to get a quick buck out of the faranji! Anyway, Adam was let out of prison, very relieved! He only had to pay the ‘kid’s’ medical bill which was a few dollars. I later found out that the cost for killing a cow on the road is 6000birr; double that of a human being!?!

The next day I planned to visit the Simien National Park, but unfortunately they have recently decided that motorbikes are not allowed into the park. So I would have to pay $US 200 for a one day park excursion (Park Fee + transport + guide). A guide facilitator (called Bewkt) told me that I could take a one-day trip for $US 50 to the southern part of the park which was 1 hour away and where I was guaranteed to see the renowned Gilada Baboons. I paid him the money.

The next day I was picked up. As it happened, Jesus was also on the trip. Following a discussion, I found out that he had only paid $US 15 for the trip and that it was not into the Simien National Park. To top it off, there were few Gelada Baboons where we were going and chances of seeing them were slim! It was also not a full-day trip but a morning only trip! I was furious!

I must admit, the trip was quite scenic and the mountain views were awesome.

There was a little kid who followed us around on the mountain walk. I don’t think he had ever had a bath and the flies just flocked to the poor guy. I will never forget the sight of the poor guy with flies on his face – the locals here have got so used to the flies that they don’t even blink when the flies go into their eyes! I felt sorry for the poor kid – I wonder what the future holds for the poor guy?

I had been cheated. I got back at lunchtime and sent a few scouts out to find Bewkt, the dodgy guide facilitator. By mid-afternoon none of the scouts had managed to locate him, so I decided to go to the police station and report him. I hate been swindled! It didn’t take the cop (with an AK47 strapped around his shoulder) long to locate him and it didn’t take much persuading for him to refund me the rest of the money – he also apologized. Later that evening he was back at my hotel trying to persuade me to take another of his dodgy tours – I obviously told him where to go and stick it.

The next day (21/5) I headed to the Sudanese border. Sunday is the Election Day in Ethiopia and I wanted to get out. Besides, I had had enough of the Ethiopians. The ride west to the border town of Metema was hot and dry. The greenery had disappeared and the harsh Sahara Desert environment was beginning to show it face.

I managed to get through the Ethiopian border in about 30 minutes with no problems – except for a money exchanger who called me an ‘apartheid’ because I had a South African passport??
Jaag maar aan.

My thoughts on the Ethiopian People:

Ethiopian’s have a strongly religious history and are one of the first cultures to have adopted Christianity as their primary religion. This is truly evident by the hundreds of ancient and spectacular monasteries and churches that can be found throughout Ethiopia. Some of these date back to the times of King Solomon and Queen Sheba (who was thought to have lived in the Aksum area of Ethiopia). Even the “Ark of the Covenant’ is thought to be held in Aksum’s St Mary of Zion church.

However, I am failing to see modern Christianity in the Ethiopian way and particularly in the behavior of the modern Ethiopian (rural) population.

The city dwelling Ethiopians are predominantly poor and as a result beggars and chancers flock towards any ‘faranji’s’ (white people) in hope that they can relieve them of their foreign earned cash. As a result I was usually followed around town (Addis Ababa) by an entourage of both beggars and young men who had hopes of becoming my chosen ‘tour guide’. Sometimes they would wait for me for hours outside my hotel. Although this is highly annoying, it is understandable. The people here are poor and they are trying to make a living. Most of the time, they do it in a friendly way and I never felt threatened.

But, it is not the city dwellers that I have a problem with. It is the large rural population. For some reason, rural Ethiopians display a serious hate and anger towards any faranji. Whilst riding past rural groups of people I was often shouted at, often with animated fists raging. Although I had no idea what they were saying, I could see by the intense hatred and anger in their eyes that they were definitely not terms of endearment. In some instances, shouts would be accompanied by stones being thrown at me, cattle whips being cracked in my direction, rocks or branches thrown ahead of the motorbike’s path, or people trying to hit me with a stick as I drove past.

In one instance a young man tried to throw a stick into the spokes of my front wheel as I drove past - at about 100km/h! Luckily he missed and the stick bounced off the front tyre – in this instance I stopped the bike and turned back to confront him. He had long since disappeared as only a coward would. I did find the stick though and it was made of very hard and strong wood – I couldn’t break it. Had he succeeded there is no doubt that I would have been seriously injured, or possibly worse. What concerns me more though is: ‘Why does this young man have so much built-up aggression towards me (purely based on my skin colour), that he would make an attempt at my life’?

In the majority of cases, these acts were carried out by young children and teenagers. However, in a few instances these acts were carried out in front of elders who did nothing about it. In a few instances, I even saw the elders laughing at the children’s misbehavior. In one instance a policeman was even present with the elders. I am a strong believer that children are not born evil – they have learnt this from somewhere. It is their parents and elders that have installed this hatred in them. So, in my opinion, the parents and elders are to blame for idly standing by and in some cases condoning or supporting their violent actions!

I am interested to find out where this intense hatred of the faranji comes from. Following recent Ethiopian history it makes little sense. It was predominantly the faranji countries (the Commonwealth and Western Europe countries) that contributed millions of dollars in the 1980’s to try and help Ethiopia in its time of need, whilst millions of its people died of starvation. If it wasn’t for projects such as Band Aid, started by Sir Bob Geldoff, and his Feed the World efforts, millions of more Ethiopians would have died. It was the faranji’s who stood up and helped when Ethiopia needed it most.

There are apparently about 15 million people in Ethiopia that still rely on foreign food aid. When the Ethiopian Prime Minister was recently asked why it is that some 20 years after the famine, Ethiopia still cannot provide for itself, his response was to blame the food charities. He said that if it wasn’t for the food charities there would not have been a population problem in Ethiopia! I thought governments were meant to work for the people? (I can just imagine Australia's response if K-Rudd had have said that!)

I am really disappointed in the Ethiopian people. In future I will not be contributing to any Ethiopian Famine Relief coffers and I will not be an advocate to tourism in Ethiopia! Instead I would rather silently watch as the current Ethiopian generation rots in their own hatred. I will rather use my energy praying to my God and asking Him to please provide Ethiopia with a new generation of the ‘Kind’ and ‘Caring” people that their tourism posters claim them to be. What happened to “Love thy neighbour”?

(Although I am disappointed with the general behavior of the Ethiopian people, I did meet some nice people (like young Solomon). I am also amazed with the beauty of the Ethiopian countryside.It is truly spectacular and makes up for all the nonsense. Views are breathtaking and the scenery is dramatic. I am very happy that I have seen Ethiopia but, unless there are some serious attitude changes, I would not do so again. Well, not on a motorbike anyway. I am not the only person who has had these bad experiences – they are widely reported on other travel sites and blogs. However, I am led to believe that the current Ethiopian Minister for Tourism has recently made repeated television and media requests for the Ethiopians to treat tourists with the respect they deserve as visitors to the country. A step in the right direction, I suppose.)

Please note that the above is my opinion only – some other travelers that I have spoken to did not have the same experiences as me and in some cases found the people to be genuinely friendly and accommodating. I suppose it depends on when and where you are travelling in Ethiopia.