The road from the border to the town of Eldoret was in bad state and we kept on hoping for it to get better, but the " speed bumps" just got bigger and closer to each other with potholes the size of craters in between.
We hit Eldoret at peak hour traffic as everybody finished the day’s work and managed to buy bread and fruit at the local grocery store after drawing some Kenyan money and were ready to head towards the Naiberi campsite before
dark. Our first camping in Kenya, and we soon realised camping standards in Kenya are of a lesser standard than what we had so far. The next morning we headed back to Eldoret to get internet, but after about an hour and a
simcard registered to Rui’s name we gave up on it and left to Nakuru in the hope of bigger success.
The road conditions did not improve, but the scenery through the Rift valley made up for it and the farms alongside the road were big, properly fenced and well worked and the implements were of standards we haven't seen in
East Africa for a long time.
Alongside the road were almost no stalls and vendors and as we came closer to towns the most beautiful potatoes, carrots, beetroot, cabbage, pumpkins and fruit were sold.
As we entered Nakuru there were large dealerships with farming implements and tractors. The Kivu resort was the
only campsite in town as the lake Nakuru NP had been closed due to the flooding of the lake. We camped for the
second night with the group of motorcycle riders from Germany, this time on the soccer field and once again without any electricity.
However we managed to negotiate with management to open up a room for a hot shower.
We attempted the internet once again and tried Orange this time, Rui got another sim registered to his name without any internet connection, but a pathetic explanation on how the service dips and we must just be patient. Not good enough! We set off to try a 3rd supplier, also here it did not go smooth as we were quoted one price but due to the staff members mishap were required to pay more, but at least we got a connection.
Early the next morning we headed further north to Isiolo. We crossed the Equator several times on the winding passes and some of the landscape scenery gave one the feeling of you having been here before, so much it resembles SA.
We drove pass huge rose farms and through fertile valleys with show quality fresh produce. The road conditions were slightly better and just before sunset we reached Isiolo after a coffee break at Nanyuki. At a police checkpoint outside Isiolo a police officer welcomed us with: "Welcome to the safest place on earth, 30 kms from here on your way to Marsabit you will have to get an armed escort". We were stunned. We got to Gaddisa campsite to find it even more rundown than described in the guides, but with a room opened to us for ablutions we stayed quite comfortably.
We left the sights of Mount Kenia behind and headed for Marsabit.
The first 125 km’s were easy going on a new Chinese tarred road and then the corrugation started. We took it
slowly and soon came across the first herds of camels. We spotted giraffe, ostrich and the Gerenuck (giraffe neck gazelle) along the way as well as a big group of vultures at a giraffe carcass alongside the road and Rui could try out his brand new camera. We came across the colourfully dressed and beaded Samburu, Gabra and Boran people alongside the road with their herds of short horned cattle, sheep goats and camels. As we drove through the Chalbi
desert landscape we saw the colourful pink flowers of the desert roses growing on the rocky outcrops and the Doum palms, the only member of the palm family with a divided trunk along dry riverbeds.
After a drive of about 6 hours we pulled into Henry's campsite on a working farm on the outskirts of Marsabit. We were surprised by the two huge wind turbines generating electricity for the town as it just seemed so out of place in the desert, but use technology to your advantage if you can. With the promise of a warm shower, starry sky and the sound of the birds and bells on the cattle all seemed so peacefully, but then you spotted the herdsman with an AK 47
and once again realise the dangers of Africa, all be it only amongst the tribes about grazing rights.
After watching the full moon rising and the best starry sky we have seen in Africa we went to bed. The next morning with the sun rising and the famous mist of Marsabit rolling in we left to the border post of Moyale to Ethiopia. The
notorious Marsabit Moyale road did justice to its reputation as it is corrugation and potholes all the way.
The countryside was harsh and rugged and only the far and few in between vehicles from the front and the far apart villages were a change to the nothingness.
As we drove through the last 3villages before the border post of Moyale we got an eerie feeling as they were completely abandoned. Schools empty, huts closed and no cattle or camels to be seen anywhere. As we came to police checkpoint we were informed that there were very recent tribal clashes and the locals had moved to Ethiopia.
We soon realised the country is going to be completely different to what we have experienced up to now by the way the border crossing went as at noon the offices were closed and they said it would re-open at 8. For a moment we forgot they were working on a different calendar (8 years and 8 months behind) 13months and a different time. At 14h00 our time the offices open and without too much trouble we cleared and officially entered Ethiopia our 8th country. We set off north through harsh dry land on a very bad road with huge termite towers dotted all over the landscape.
The Chinese road builders still have a lot of work to be done in this country as the roads are very bad.
We decided not to change money at the border so for the exception of our well saved USD we had no money and the first ATM was 530km or two days ahead. We headed for Yabello and camped at the Yabello hotel with the worst facilities so far.
Our first stay of lots to come in this country, the parking lots of hotels. I had the spectacular view of the filthiest toilet in the world from my bedside window. Early morning we left, still with mixed feelings about this country and headed for Awasa.
One of the challenges being the spelling of towns as the map, Gps and guidebooks all differ and the local writing is hieroglyphic characters. After a challenging trip and well exhausted we made it to Awassa to find fairly decent accommodation at the Abessinian pension and spend the afternoon trying to sort out an internet connection and drawing money. No luck so we ended up tearing up our personal info, taking back the photo supplied and left the shop.
After a good rest we moved on to Addis, this stretch of road seemed to be slightly better and as we drove through the villages one could see the different building styles, donkey carts definitely being the most common form of transport and the changes in landscape as we drove through the rift valley once again. We stopped at an upmarket resort on the shore of Lake Langano and used the free Wi-Fi to make contact home for the first time since Marsabit.
We entered Addis and the traffic being a bit easier than Kampala we made it to the Trinity church and took a drive to the hill viewpoint over the city. We set off to Wim’s Holland house where we camped with fellow overlanders and exchanged information. The facilities left a lot to be desired and after a buffet lunch at Rus hotel and only a promise of internet we left early the following morning to Lalibella.
So we thought as it took us almost two hours to get out of Addis due to the whole city been changed into a construction site for the sky train, and the directions by T4A left lots to be desired. Eventually we were on our way and soon we were snaking up the escarpment.
Breath taking views and heights of up to 3253m took us through villages, through tunnels and through some serious agricultural activities. Almost sunset we got to the little town of Dessie, but could not find any suitable accommodation in spite of dozens of hotels, so we headed for a campsite on the lake Hayak. The facilities were still appalling, but with the sun setting and an AK47 armed guard that came to introduce himself, we decided to sleep the night and move on the next day. Early morning we took a hot shower from our portable shower that we have been tagging along since home, but have never needed to use and then after refuelling headed to Woldia where we witnessed the biggest market since from a distance.
At the height of 3300m we took a gravel road turnoff to Lalibella. We dropped into the valley several times just to climb back up to cross another mountain. It was serious off-roading on the potholed gravel passes and we were just
relieved to reach the town of Lallibella.
The town was all hustle and bustle with busses and hotels full of tourists for the Timket festival celebrations.
Timket is one of the most prominent events in the Ethiopian calendar as it celebrates Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River.
The holiday comprises of three days of celebrations of which the highlight is the procession of the "tabot" Ark of the Covenant to a big open park in the city. Just after booking in at our accommodation at Tukul village the procession with music, singing and dancing and priests clothed in white robes and colourful umbrellas came pass and we joined in the celebrations as it made for some wonderful photo opportunities and a great experience.
That evening we enjoyed a buffet dinner at the Lal hotel and we went to bed exhausted but happy as this was another tick on the bucket list.
We met our guide to the underground churches early on Sunday morning and made it to the ten monolithic churches where we were just in time to
catch the last bit of the ceremonies.
We were stunned as by this time we got used to photos of Unesca sites, and what you actually get to see once there being two worlds apart.
Here, we were touched by the realness of the expectations, architecture and the actual happening of the whole experience.
We wandered through what is called the northern cluster, and our guide did an excellent job in explaining and pointing out and we were in absolute disbelief on how they managed to build these awesome buildings in what
is reckoned 24 years and by carving it so precisely from inside to outside. At lunchtime the Timket procession and festival proceeded and after lunch we tackled what is known as the southern cluster or heavenly Jerusalem.
After a super buffet dinner we went to bed with a feeling of achievement. The next day we stuck to our plan and after getting Tiny'sEthiopian tattoo done by a local artist we enjoyed a coffee ceremony and soaked in the different atmosphere in the same town after the festival and celebrations.
Early the next morning we headed to Bahir Dar or the Ethiopian Riviera on lake Tana through a gruelling gravel road The pass took us through the mountains with spectacular views and one could easily imagine biblical scenes with donkeys and the way the people were dressed.
We entered Bahir Dar with great expectations, but were quite disillusioned by the descriptions in the travel guides and reality.
We tried to book a tour at a travel agency in what seemed to be the most upmarket hotel but to no avail, as the lady could not speak a word of English. So we set off on our own in search of the source of the Blue Nile. Guided by the gps but blocked by armed guards we reached what we think to be the source, but could just take a quick snap before the guard waved his hand with his AK over his shoulder and clearly indicated "No Photo no Photo".
Where from there?
We headed through the countryside to the Zege peninsula in search of the monastery but here the GPS took us to a dead end and we had to make a u turn in the coffee plantations and headed back to town.
We slept at the Ghion hotel and left to Gonder the next morning.
Gonder is known as the Camelot of Ethiopia, but after our previous experience at the "riviera" we had no expectations. We drove through the countryside with big herds of cattle, goats, sheep, pedestrians and the animals were all over the road in villages and around bends.
Eventually we arrived at Gonder after passing a few burnt out military tanks left behind after the 1993 war.
In town we arrived the same time as the travellers we had met the previous night and we all went to the Belegez pension where we got a comfortable parking space. We crossed the street for the best minestrone soup at the
Masterchef restaurant before we went exploring the royal enclosure.
One could not help envisaging a banquet being held in the big dining room with the guests being dressed up to fit the period.
We visited the Selassie church which is famous for its mural paintings representing some of the best artwork of the period, with the rows of angels smiling down on you from the ceiling. We had a very informative monk
explaining the art and church ritual.
We loved our time in Gonder, with its midlevel feel, the castle visible from all over, donkeys being loaded through the streets and the white cladded pedestrians walking the streets shoulder to shoulder with tourists, priests and monks. The sidewalk cafes delivered with the pastries, cookies and best fresh fruit juices next to freshly grounded roasted and brewed coffees being served at the roadside coffee stalls. Here we had to replace the battery for the solar system and all too soon it was time to move on.
We made the decision to turn back south as it became all the more impossible to cross over to Europe with the current situation in Libya, Egypt, Central Africa Republic and no right hand drives allowed on the roads in Saudi
After a great dinner and traditional dancing with newly made friends at the famous Four Sisters Restaurant we headed for Debre Marcos the following day.
Being Sunday the next day, it seemed to be the day to get married as we saw several wedding processions with horses, busses, taxis and the road being blocked by wedding guests.
Driving south from Debre Marcos through the rift valley we realised how fertile the valley is as there were heaps upon heaps of grain as far as the eye could see and all were working, packing, transporting or harvesting.
All too soon we came to the Abea pass to take us down to the Blue Nile River Gorge which is regarded to be in the same league as the Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon. As we were one third down the pass on a road climbing down from level to level on the road in poor road conditions, Tiny decided to lose its brakes. We quickly realised this was going to be a troublesome pass and changed to low range and used the gears to bring us safely down to the
bottom. After a short stop and with little words we headed up the other side up to heights of 3325m above sea-level.
Very relieved about arriving safely in Addis we slept once again at the dirty and run down Wim's Holland House. With all the roadwork’s going on in the capital and the idea of no passes we decided to push through to Awassa to have the brakes repaired the following day.
Alongside the road we took a turnoff to watch thousands of flamingos at the Lake Shalia. This was another sight never to forget, although the light was too harsh for good photos.
Alongside the road the previous frenzy was still going on as the rainy season was about to start and herds of thousands of cattle were in the mealie lands grazing while people were loading the donkey carts with mealies and forming caravans of donkey carts heavily overloaded to the cities of Shashemene en Awassa in preparation for the new season to start. This posed its own challenge of dodging through donkeys carts, pedestrians, herds of cattle crossing and oncoming and overtaking motor vehicles.
At two o'clock Ethiopian time (08h00) we were at Moenco Toyota and with Rui supervising the job we were as good as new again by noon and ready to head to Kenya the next day.
Staying at the same pension we were contemplating adopting the ugliest cat we have ever seen. We called him Yunnes, but the owner called him Brrrrrr. He loved the viennas we fed him and the pros and cons of taking him with us were weighed. She was quite prepared to let him go, but sanity prevailed and we left without him, convincing ourselves it would be unfair to the kitten.
After a six hour drive on the worst roads we arrived to what will be our last night on Ethiopian soil as we are watching the sun set and the rainclouds building up for our Moyale Marsabit leg.
Ethiopia lived up to our expectations. The poorest country visited up till now, but with huge wealth in cattle. Lalibela and Gonder being the highlights of the vast distances we have covered and making it all worth it.
The kids forever shouting "you, you, you nonstop and the forever referral to you as firanjee. Some of the best fruit juices and coffee we have ever had and their calendar and timekeeping completely different from the rest of the world.
Second only to India they also have the most donkeys in the world, they are well looked after but surely worked hard.
Kenya second time around.
As we entered Kenya for the second time we were well aware of what to expect and with clouds building on the horizon we knew we needed to cross the Moyale - Marsabit section before the annual long rains started.
We drove through the abandoned villages and police roadblocks with some heavy armed officers and even the odd helicopter flying over.
One could sense the tense atmosphere and the road conditions have seriously deteriorated since we last travelled it. It was just corrugation and super fine dust. Every so often it was a better drive off the road than on
it. It took us 7 hours in scorching heat to do 250 kms to Marsabit and just before sunset we arrived at
Henry's camp and had the most appreciated hot shower before we made supper. With the thought of another day of
similar road conditions waiting the next day we went for an early departure the next morning trying to beat the heat.
We drove off in heavy overcast conditions with the threat of rain coming down any time soon.
As we drove through the desert the waterholes and dams were by now all dried up and the camels were walking up clouds of dust through the vast dry emptiness. By noon we cleared the last police checkpoint, just in time for the first drops of rain, and with some spare time gained we headed south to Nanyuki with the set idea of chocolate cake and tea. We found a gem of a campsite with great facilities outside time at Batians view and spent a whole day cleaning up the superfine powder dust and the eight days of constant driving washing. The well deserved rest day and facilities went down well and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery of woods, lawnsand water stream at the foothills of Mount Kenya.
We watched the East African Colobus monkeys swinging in the tree tops and after visiting the cheese farm once more we set sails for Nairobi. Only to be distracted to the southern foothills once again by diverting to Castle Forest Lodge with intentions of a quick cup of coffee, but we enjoyed the greenery so much after the long time of drought and desert that we decided to stay over once more. We hiked to the Twin Falls and just enjoyed the view of luscious green tree ferns and banana trees and the water tumbling down the falls, just to repeat it only a few metres further on.
We attempted Nairobi once again the next morning and all too soon we were on a dual carriage highway with fly over’s and stuck in full blown Nairobi traffic for a few hours to reach Hartebeest Campsite that is indicated as Wildebeest on T4A.
Upon arrival we realised something is not right but on all blogs we read fellow travellers were ranting and raving about the campsite and facilities at Wildebeest. After two days of exploring the local area we took the road to look for the real Wildebeest. After lunch at the Karin Bliksen garden restaurant we managed to find the right camping spot and decided to move there where we enjoyed a few days with fellow overlanders from Germany, Australia and the Czech Republic. On Sunday we went on invitation of a local lady, Maria, on a hike with a group to Lake Alamentaita and there we visited the hot springs with a very pleasant group. The local people believe the springs, believed by the locals to be a cure for Aids and as we visited there were quite a few locals bathing and washing in dugged " baths" of volcanic rocks in the pleasant hot waters ciphering through. It was a tough hike for us after spending so long on the road with almost no exercise and upon returning to the campsite after supper we were ready for a hot shower and the bed. It has been raining all weekend on and off and once again relieved to have made the Moyale Marsabit stretch just in time before the dreaded long rains we had to reconsider our next destination from here.