Having settled back into City life in Addis Ababa for a few days, it was time to oil the bike and get her set for an adventure into Southern Ethiopia.
However, before I could saddle up I needed to get my paper work sorted. My Ethiopian Visa was set to expire just before I was due at the border…I might get away with it, but after the previous debacle I didn’t want to take the chance. The Kenyan Embassy is also in Addis Ababa, so whilst there, I wanted to get that sorted too.
Ethiopian Immigration (Part Deux)
Last time they sent me to Court; so what would happen this time? My timeframe was tight as I had to get to Mombasa, Kenya, in around 3 weeks so I needed to get out of Addis as quickly as possible.
Thankfully the Kenyan Embassy had rushed through my Kenyan Visa so that was very efficiently sorted (they’re next to the British Embassy, very friendly and a Visa costs $25)…
Dan & I arrived at Ethiopian Immigration on Tuesday afternoon, only to find it was closed. Next day, Wednesday, I went back to start the process, but was told I’d need to come back on Thursday in order to continue my application. I persisted, as having done the process before I knew I just needed to go into room 77, so just got on with it.
I succeeded in doing that but just when I was about to pay for my Visa, it was the end of the day. The computer screens turned off; computer says no. Despite having the $20 in hand and ready to pay, nope, it was home time. The rude folks would help no more; I would have to come back the next day.
The next morning, having paid I was told it wouldn’t be until Tuesday next week that my Visa would be ready; it was Thursday morning and this meant an unacceptable delay. I wasn’t the only one stuck, many where – some had to change flights or worse leave the country; the immensely disorganised and generally unhelpful nexus of incompetence struck again. Oh well, I was lucky, some people found themselves in a much worse predicament.
Thankfully, I was able to speak to the nice chap who hands the Visas back once they’ve been processed. I asked him to sign my receipt so someone could collect my passport on my behalf; he kindly agreed. I then trotted off to DHL and thankfully discovered they could send my passport to Awasa – so I could head off and my passport would catch me up; brilliant.
It’s disappointing that I have to write about Ethiopian Immigration being a shambles, but to be honest it is. Whilst there is a vague system (rigorous in parts), there’s a terrible lack of care to the folks who’s Visa’s they’re trying to renew. Many are tourists, but many are folks volunteering to assist organisations helping people in Ethiopia. The attitudes of most is generally disrespectful; I have no doubt that they’re simply following orders from a hideously mismanaged (dare I say corrupt) system, but still, every time it was a frustrating and tiring experience. That said, not everyone was unhelpful; there were some who were trying their best in difficult circumstances, so I appreciated their efforts whilst I was there.
The Ethiopian Immigration officials I’ve met at borders, entry posts and at the foreign embassy in Khartoum (Sudan) have been very friendly – so in fairness they don’t all deserve to be painted with the same brush. The last time my Visa had expired (my fault) and this time I was in a rush – perhaps if you’re not in those camps you’ll leave smiling – I hope so.
For those needing more detailed advice on the process at Ethiopian Immigration, particularly for those whose Visa has expired, Dan kindly took the time to note the specifics and has shared it on Thorn Tree, The Lonely Planet forum.
The venture South
So, Visa semi-sorted and after an otherwise very relaxing stay at Ann’s wonderful house in Addis Ababa sleeping Kenny style and getting my brain together, it was time to venture South.
Addis Ababa is at an altitude of 2,355m so I was hoping that the first stage at least would be a little downhill. It didn’t disappoint; once I had traversed the city centre, cycled through Meskel Square and onto the Debre Zeit road, I wound my way out of the dusty city.
Flat(ish) to start with, it then dips steadily downhill for quite a few kilometres. The scenery changes quite quickly; high rise to low rise, sun drenched concrete to open dust areas and then greenery; before I knew it I was back out into the country.
After a great morning’s cycle I stopped for lunch in Debre Zeyit. There were a few restaurants nearby, but I opted for the one that had a dead cow hanging inside. This is actually quite a common sight in Ethiopia; it’s of course been slaughtered and skin removed etc, but like in a butchers shop it just hangs in a cubicle of the restaurant. The main reason for this is simply to show that the meat is fresh…and it too doesn’t disappoint as it’s very tasty.
Tibs (essentially meaty bits), are served on a metal burner with hot coals underneath. The meat is already cooked, but the hot coals keep it sizzling and ensure the juices remain tasty. Quite divine; I tucked in (with a side order of enkulal (egg)) to ensure the protein levels were propped up.
I got chatting to a local group of folks; they were really friendly and a little amazed at my cycling journey. We talked for a while; I explained what I was doing, why I was doing it and they told me about themselves and gave a few useful tips for the route ahead. At the end of it, they bought me my lunch – so I was thrilled! A big thank you to the kind group of folks I met in Debre Zeyit (sorry, I forgot your names)…
So full of cow I then set out into the heat. With a relatively flat, occasional downhill road with tailwind conditions, I flew threw the next step before pressing on in a bid to get to Ziway. I eventually made it at around 8PM that night, tired but chuffed at making 170km since Addis in a single day. I found probably the best hotel of the tip so far – 50 Birr (£2) for a clean, modern & new room with hot shower, mosquito net and comfy bed! I can’t remember the name, but it’s just on the left-hand side as you approach Ziway; it’s amazing.
The next day started well before the hills slowly came back. The dry, sandy environment with pockets of lush green surroundings near the lakes makes it an enjoyable cycle. I lunched but quickly pushed on; I wanted to get to Awasa (Hawasa) a day early before my passport arrived – that way I could rest but knowing I had made good progress since Addis.
The Rastafari Capital of Zion
Shashemene, the home of the Rastafari movement in Africa (Zion) approached. This area was granted sacred status by Emperor Haile Selassie I, who subsequently became known as the Messiah and worshipped as Jesus Incarnate by the Rastafari movement.
Cannabis, considered sacred to Rasta is sold here quite freely, but I didn’t partake… Being light headed, wanting to hug a tree and having mega munchies is a feeling I could do without on the bicycle. As I made my way through the outskirts, I could hear the unmistakable rounded sounds of Caribbean English; “God Bless Haile Selassie” one Rasta said to me as I cycled through the colourful shacks. I can’t say I was too taken by the place, but the main town is actually just off the main road so maybe I missed the best bit.
I wanted to get to Awasa; the sun was setting so I pushed forward, but a moment when I wondered whether I had in fact smoked a “Bob Marley” cigarette. Heading up a hill, a little red faced and being steadily charred by the afternoon sun, I was overtaken by a fuel truck; a Tesco fuel truck! I couldn’t believe it. I looked again, and again…T E S C O – for a second I dreamed of there being a Supermarket just around the corner where I could buy a spicy chicken slice, scotch egg and packet of sausage rolls. Sadly not, it was in fact an old Tesco fuel truck that had since retired from service in the UK. But still, an amusingly odd sight and pleasing to reminisce of Ginsters & Scotch eggs, if just for a few moments.
The cycled continued and at sunset I took the final stretch that leads to Lake Awasa, this city of same name just beside it. Awasa (Hawasa) is the capital of the “Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region” region of Ethiopia which is home to one of the most diverse groups of peoples, tribes and cultures anywhere to be found on Earth.
If you’re heading out into the Omo Valley, your journey will probably start here. Awasa had a nice feel to it; if you’re looking for a bite to eat then I recommend Time Café; a very new, modern café with cakes, sandwiches, juices and wonderful, wonderful, Ethiopian Buna (coffee). There’s a cracking Internet place just opposite too (easily the fastest connections I experienced in Ethiopia). Wally in and fill your boots.
The next day I needed to find out where DHL was; an easy task you’d think but the DHL website simply says “Teshale Gizaw Building”. I walked around almost the entire town, speaking with hotel owners, taxi/tuk tuk drivers and locals – nobody knew! It was odd; DHL is a pretty well recognised international brand…but seemingly not in Awasa. Even using the name of the building and drawing the logo on a piece of paper, nobody knew – but many stopped to ask if they could help, so I was grateful for the efforts.
I kept phoning them, only to be answered by the fax machine; I tried and tried but could not get through. Where are they!? Eventually I found them – and if you’re looking for DHL in Awasa, rather than mapping the town like I did, I’m pleased to say it’s just on the bend of the road after the Ministry of Agriculture. On Google Maps, enter 7.046826,38.490794 for the precise location.
The friendly staff gave me my passport without any problem and soon I was on my way. For reference, I stayed at the Beshu Hotel which wasn’t too bad – not amazing, but budget and they have decent beds. Just remember to ask them to turn the water on before taking your clothes off and staring longingly at the shower head. No matter hot long you stare or creatively twiddle the taps, nothing will happen.
So out of Awasa I headed; it was actually mid afternoon by the time everything was sorted so I knew I wouldn’t be able to cycle too far before resting the night.
The road swooped downhill before climbing the other side; the route was lined with children, adults and donkey carts. It was hot, the sun was baking but onwards I peddled and through the sheer wonder that is Ethiopia.
I overtook a boy carrying a cattle whip; he looked angrily at me. As almost every child does (after Awasa the persistent asking returned), he expected me to give him something. He kept asking; I politely denied but after a while I was getting a little annoyed – the child, very annoyed. I cycled on before he cracked his whip at the back of my bike – thankfully it didn’t hit me, but it was very close; I was very, very angry.
The kid ran off into what he thought was the safety of his village. However, this time I was not letting the incident go; I turned the bike and raged off road picking up speed as I headed towards him. He ran, but I got close and fumed into a clearing to where others locals and family members were sanding wood. They were a little surprised to see an enraged ferenji come through atop a bike, but before I stopped to care I berated the kid to make it clear that what he had done was totally unacceptable. I then shouted at the family before making my way; blood pressure slowly returned and I felt all the better for it. No doubt I gave the locals mild amusement, but I’m pretty sure that child won’t be cracking whips any time soon!
I peddled on; the sun set and soon it became dark. Cycling Ethiopia at night I found to be reasonably safe, but you need to take care on the road as pot holes are as common as they are on a sponge. It soon became pitch black, but I wanted to find a town where I could find a small, cheap hotel for the night. As I wound uphill the heavens opened and a thunderstorm raged. As the lighting flashed, I could see locals huddled under tin roofs. The pitch black returned but as I cycled, the bright light from the lightening almost always outlined someone, or something, sheltering from the rain. There are a lot of people in Ethiopia.
I eventually made it to Chi’ko where I met a really friendly student, Emmanuel, who made it his mission to show me the two basic hotels so I could compare and get the best price. After experiencing a fairly general theme of unhelpfulness since leaving Awasa, Emmanuel changed the mode completely and soon I had found somewhere dry to sleep the night.
Early the next morning I headed off. After this point the much steeper hills returned; cycling become quite tough so I had to scale down how far I’d realistically be able to cycle. I lunched rather wearily in Dila before getting back on the bike to follow the slick of tarmac that weaved ever southwards.
The road is in reasonably good condition; the traffic respectful – but it’s lined with children and gets quite busy in places. Eyes are everywhere; you’re a celebrity, so if you like the feeling of being the centre of attention, you’ll be in heaven here. The children are just curious of course, they don’t know what to make of you. If you stop for a break, expect an audience; they’ll whisper amongst themselves trying to remember the English words for money, give, book, pen, trouser; it’s often amusing but when you’re exhausted you just want to peaceful afternoon nap.
I made it to the next big (ish) town of Yirga Chefe where I managed to find a cracking hotel. After talking with the owner, I was able to get it at “locals” rate which is 100 Birr (£4) per night; ferenji price is 200 Birr (£8). A hot shower; marvellous.
I got an early night and after watching the ridiculousness that is the Ethiopian Lottery, I soon found myself fast asleep.
The next day I was greeted with some fairly hefty uphill’s, before being rewarded with a magnificent downhill. The road was quiet so I entered imaginary Grand Prix mode; I took the racing line and swooshed down the hills nearing 60 kmph. With my beard excitedly wafting in the wind like a tree mid-hurricane, I soon got to the bottom of the valley before a brief uphill brought me to Hagere Maryam. There’s a motel just before the main town on the right-hand side. It’s cheap (50 Birr); there’s only a bucket shower but its clean and the bed comfy.
I cleaned up and still smiling from my euphoric downhill, I went to sit out on the grass and quaff a coke. A young man by the name of Tklu approached me and invited me to sit with his friend at the table. We got talking, he was curious. Before I knew it, he had paid for my drinks and I was sat on the back of his motorbike heading into town, where he wanted to buy me dinner. It got better; he gave me an Ethiopian SIM card to replace the one that gone stolen in Nefas Mewcha. I couldn’t believe it; I tried to pay but he was having none of it. He introduced me to his family; we talked a little longer before we headed back in a Tuk Tuk. The next morning he invited me for breakfast of raw meat & coffee (bliss) before I made my way.
What amazing, selfless & beautify generosity. Ethiopia continues to amaze in this way; it get’s difficult but then, out of nowhere, something so wonderful happens it’s soon swept under the carpet and you feel, yet again, amongst great people. Thank you Tklu :)
The final furlong of Ethiopia
As I left I was getting increasingly excited. The road flattened out and the border with Kenya was soon approaching. I stayed the following night in Yabelo (note you don’t actually go into Yabelo – but all the motels are by the junction). After Yabelo, the terrain becomes sandier – the bush tougher and ridden with Acacia bushes, not to mention enormous termite mounds.
There are ups and downs, but much more gradual; the road is relatively quite but it’s hot. The winding tarmac snake continues through the bush. I stopped for lunch in Dubuluk, pretty much the only place to stop on the route. I soon pressed on, fuelled with spaghetti and egg.
Just after the junction for Wachele there’s a steep(ish) uphill before a slow descent brings you to into Mega. I rested in the hotel (off down a side road on the right-hand side); the wind had picked up so I knew tomorrow much be a bit harder…but I was buoyed; I only had one more days cycle until the border with Kenya.
The next morning I headed through the undulations; there were mountains to my right but I knew just beyond them was the vast, desolate, Northern Plains of Kenya. Excitement built, the wind increased to diminish the smile a little, but as I pressed forward. In the distance I soon saw the collection of mobile phone masts that, almost always, marks a border town.
Moyale is, admittedly, a bit of hole. The only reason you’d end up here is to go to Kenya. Sadly it’s laden with prostitutes; there are heaps of bars and the noise runs into the early hours, so if you’re a light sleeper, sleeping plugs would be well advised.
To assist my sleeping, I topped up on hops by drinking my last St George (Ethiopian Beer). It was an odd feeling; after so long and so much, my time in Ethiopia was coming to a close. As I scooped up the enkulal (egg) with my Injera, I reflected on my time in Ethiopia. My UK mobile phone had switched elegancies from ETH-MTN to Safaricom – so part of me was in already in Kenya.
In a buoyed mood, I retired to my room for a snooze. I woke early the next morning and tucked into my last portion of Tibs (meaty bits served on metal dish with burning charcoal underneath).
I met a helpful chap who assisted me getting a Kenyan SIM Card on the Ethiopian Side. He changed my remaining Birr (he made a small profit of course) and I visited Ethiopian Immigration one last time.
They were really friendly and wished me a safe journey; the process on the Kenyan side was even easier and again, very friendly. A painless crossing and once through, I was greeted with an array of cattle trucks, one of which I was to choose for my onward journey to Nairobi.
My wonderfully supportive friends Veronica & Eve were flying out to Mombasa in just 2 days, so there was no way I’d be able to cycle the distance in time. There was also no way that I’d let them down; I was determined to get there in time to meet them at the airport, so there was nothing for it. I did feel I was cheating a bit, but I’ll be cycling all the way back up to Uganda/Rwanda after Dar es Salaam- so I’d make up the distance. Chigger Yellum (no problem in Amharic); or, as I should now be saying, Hamna Shida (no problem in Swahili).
I had arranged with a Guy on the Ethiopian Side to take a cattle truck for 2,000 KSH (£15), so after using the ATM (KCB) on the Kenyan side of Moyale, he re-appeared and showed me to the truck. Once I was clear the ride was all sorted, I handed over the money (be very careful of scams in Moyale).
I nervously watched as my bike was hoisted up onto a Cattle truck. I find myself getting quite anxious at these moments; de-strapping the bike and offloading all my belongings in a busy, hot & dusty street, not to mention when just in a new country. But it was all fine; my belongings were put in a sack and I climbed into the cab. Unbelievably, people also climbed into the cattle truck and sat on the roof, but that was way too crazy and dangerous for me.
I enjoyed my seat up front with the driver as we bounced around in the cab like shoes in a washing machine. We hurtled at horrifically terrifying speeds through a battered & corrugated road. The driver clearly knew the route well so used all parts of the road. He was addicted to the accelerator; often letting go of the steering wheel when the truck slide over sandy patches.
I had faith; I’m not sure in whom or what, but I dug into my bag, pulled out my iPod and tried to mellow into a calmer place. We stopped at the villages/towns along the way to stretch our legs, grab a coke or eat some food.
Injera was no longer the staple; instead it changed into rice & chapatti – very welcome and great to try something new. We continued the truck ride. All the trucks were placed into a convoy just after Marsabit and we headed off with a police escort. Banditry used to be very common in this area, hence the convoy. It’s much safer now, but the convoys are still used occasionally when tensions surface. The volcanic Bongole Crater lies just after Marsabit and the enormous divot in the earths crust is amazing to see. I was unable to take a snap as I was continuing my washing machine cycle in the cab, but I was able to get a sample of what must be a magnificent view.
About 100km before Isiolo we stopped for dinner. By this time it was dark, but the restaurant was bustling with truckers & passengers eager for their evening chapatti and cup of tea. From this point onwards, the road is tarmac – if you were cycling you’d be in utter euphoria at this point; I was ecstatic. I had reached the end of the spin cycle and could relax back into my chair as the smooth ride took us into the distance.
At this point I soon realised were travelling on the Left-hand side of the road. The road-signs in Kenya are just like they are in the UK; we were travelling along the A2 – it felt very odd, but ultimately wonderful. Isiolo was next up; we weaved around the side of Mount Kenya and into the darkness towards Nairobi.
Nearing Nairobi we stopped to offload the cattle. These poor animals had been stuck in the truck for 24 hours. The relief for them getting out of the truck must have been immense; some sadly had to be pulled out, utterly exhausted and injured after the dirt road ride from Moyale.
The sun had risen and once the truck was offloaded, we headed back into the cab before travelling the final kilometres into Nairobi – the driver at this point having been driving for about 26 hours.
As we entered a suburb or Nairobi where the truck’s depot was located, we stopped where I offloaded the bike. Unfortunately, an Acacia tree had ravaged my front tyre so it had more punctures than a colander. Standing by the truck I helped as my remaining items were offloaded. I was about to start the repairs on my bike when the driver moved me on a few meters to a petrol station – advising me that people working at the original stop had guns. Excellent. Welcome to Nairobbery.
After inspecting the tyre in the petrol station, I repaired over 8 punctures before re-strapping everything and cycling into downtown Nairobi, towards the River Road area where I could catch a bus to Mombasa.
It wasn’t too far, only 5km or so where I met a few chaps who helped me get a bus and, in reward for a few shillings, offloaded my belongings onto the bus. I climbed onto the top of the bus (much to the amusement of the locals) and ensured my bike was strapped down. The bus to Mombasa was another 2,000 KSh (£15) so all loaded up, I sat back in my seat as a smile started to grow.
I was getting closer, still not there but I had got over the hurdle of the cattle truck and strapping everything to the bus. I get very anxious at these movements so once I know the bike any my belongings are safe, I can relax. I stocked up on cake & coke before the bus set off for Mombasa.
Arrival in Mombasa
The journey is quite lengthy, it’s about 10 hours but the bus does its best at hurtling down the smooth tarmac. After a tiring journey we pulled into Mombasa. I let everyone off before offloading the bike, re-strapping everything yet again and heading downtown to find a hotel. It was late so I didn’t want to be on the streets too long, but on advice of locals I found a cheap(ish) hotel just in time to order a few beers.
I stowed my bike in the room, took a shower then popped the top off a beer to unbelievable relief. I had finally made it; Mombasa – hurray!
I had a day to get things together before Veronica & Eve arrived; I was childishly excited so I tucked into more beers before retiring to bed.
The next day I caught up on emails and visited Pandya hospital to rectify burst blood vessels on one of my fingers and knee. The treatment was electrocution; rather interesting, but after injecting my finger before zapping a crater into my confused flesh, I was strapped up and given pain killers to begin the recovery.
Early the next morning I was off to the airport with my new taxi driver, Harold. We commandeered the assistance of a tuk tuk driver to carry the girls bikes back from the airport – so in convoy style we wound our way through the traffic to Moi International Airport.
I was jangling with excitement; their flight was delayed but after only a short while the doors opened. Through the gates Veronica & Eve pushed their trolleys; weary and tired after a long flight, but bikes and bags in attendance and ready to take on Africa.
I was so happy to see them. I know they were equally so, but the beard clearly caught their attention as they homed in for cautious hugs.
We loaded up the car & tuk tuk then headed off for our luxury hotel, just up the coast on Bamburi beach for some well earned rest and acclimatisation.
Air conditioning, buffet food, evening beers and no stress – it was fantastic. We assembled the bikes and mentally prepared ourselves for the next leg, a huge adventure for the girls.
Having spent so long roughing it, I was a little out of sorts eating at a posh table; wasn’t quite sure what to do! Veronica & Eve who had just offloaded enough cosmetic products to open a salon, soon found themselves looking very glam at the table with a hobo they could well have pulled off the streets earlier that day.
I thought I was rocking the wild hair and long bearded look. But “The Traaats”, as I was soon to affectionately call them (you silly trout), weren’t partying on the same theme. Amusement aside, we had a great few days; catching up and getting used to the humidity. I also got my first taste of Nakumatt, a supermarket with shelves upon shelves of items (I had forgotten what that was like). We traversed the aisles and Veronica bought yet more shampoo; enriching roots with pro-vitamin X, Y, Z clearly a priority. I, on the other hand, located the Cadbury’s Chocolate shelf and loaded my basket with sheer wonderfulness.
After a trip around town courtesy of our very friendly taxi driver, Harold, we located the missing part for Eve’s bike and retired to the hotel for final preparations.
It is time…
The next morning the understandably apprehensive Eve & Veronica woke to pack the bikes before breakfast. After checkout it was time for early morning, pre-adventure photographs. We held the bikes, cycled out of the reception area and towards the hotel gates. They opened; we said goodbye and thank you to the staff before heading through the dust towards the tarmac 100 meters ahead.
This was it; this is where for Eve & Veronica Traaat the adventure began. Our ultimate destination was Dar es Salaam where we’d get a ferry to meet our great friend Robby in Zanzibar.
The tarmac and vibration of fast moving African traffic was soon upon us. The sun beaming; humidity rising and excitement building.
So how would it go? What’s it like to cycle from Mombasa across the border into Tanzania and Dar es Salaam?
Thank you for reading; to be continued…