De Addis Abeba a Ciudad del Cabo (From Addis Ababa to Cape Town)


Cruzando el ecuador
December 27, 2011, 2:28 pm
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Tras dos dias de descanso en un camping de Nanyuki, donde estabamos practicamente solos, hemos viajado hacia el oeste a Nyahururu. Nada especial que contar todavia, excepto que hemos cruzado el ecuador dos veces para llega aqui, nuestro matatu ha cogido una ruta que se desviaba un poco al sur y asi hemos hecho una corta visita al hemisferio sur, al que nos desplazaremos definitivamente mas tarde en Uganda.



Surviving the road to Hell
December 26, 2011, 12:50 pm
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Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas wherever in the world you are.

We’re in Kenya, 4km from a little town called Nanyuki which is at the eastern foot of Mount Kenya. We’re camping along the river in a place called Nanyuki River Camel Camp and are just going to chill for the next few days before we plan our next stop. Our Christmas was quiet but nice – cooked rice and beans on the fire for Christmas lunch, relaxed in the afternoon with the resident dog and tried to avoid getting chased by the geese and then had dinner, also cooked on the fire, with camel milk tea and a game of backgammon before bed.

We’ve had a few days of travelling hell to get here so here’s an update:

Dilla to Moyale
Another long day which started with a walk to the bus station at 3.25am (we were told the day before by the bus steward that the bus would leave at 4.00am and we foolishly believed him). The bus left at 6am and 10 hours later we were in the charmless border town of Moyale. We stayed on the Ethiopian side as it’s apparently better than Kenyan Moyale. Hmmm. Accommodation options on the Ethiopian side seem to be limited to brothels or pee-smelling hovels with cold water bucket showers so I won’t even contemplate the Kenyan options. We opted for a pee-smelling bucket shower room close to the border so we could make a quick getaway in the morning. After getting our Ethiopian exit stamp on the afternoon we arrived, we walked down the road and into Kenya to get our Kenyan entry stamps before walking back to Ethiopia as illegal visitors (when enquiring at Kenya immigration whether it was ok to go back to the Ethiopian side to spend the night, the officer said he didn’t care as it wasn’t his country. Fair enough).

Moyale to Marsabit – start of the road to Hell and possibly one of the worst days of my travelling life
By 6.00am we had walked across the border into Kenya.  Although I was quite relieved to leave Ethiopia behind me (the last three weeks have been tough), there are a few things I am starting to miss already such as the choice of food (we’ve had beef stew and chapatis for our last five meals in Kenya), early morning buses so you have more chance of arriving at your destination with a bit of daylight left and most importantly tarmac!

Our 6.00am bus (thankfully we were spared the cattle truck) left at 8.00am and soon after departure, our nightmare began. With over 526km to cover (400km of which is on a corrugated dirt road), the road from Moyale to Isiolo in central Kenya is considered to be one of the worst in Africa. It’s called the ‘road to Hell’ and now I know why. Your bones rattle, your cellulite shakes and grown men are reduced to tears (it was close, I tell you) – you think it’s never going to end. Lucky for us, after 17 hours, 5 punctures and just half of the distance covered, we arrived exhausted and caked in dust at Marsabit (even as I write this and read it back, I still can’t put it all into words just how horrible the bus trip was. How I wished I was on a plane to Cape Town instead of a battered old bus in the middle of the desert). I suppose that if there was anything positive about the whole experience, at least We didn’t come across any shiftas (bandits) – the route is historically notorious for banditry – along the way.

Our bus was due to carry straight on to Nairobi but with no spare tyres left, they decided to spend the night and start again in the morning. We couldn’t face getting back on the bus so stayed in Marsabit for the day. There’s not much in Marsabit (the surrounding hills are pretty though and there is a national park only 2km from town but you need your own transport to explore), however, we still had quite a productive day and got some more Kenyan shillings and a new SIM card. I was also quite excited to discover tins of Milo and slabs of Dairy Milk chocolate in one of the little grocery stalls which alone seemed to stock so much more than any of the stalls we came across in Ethiopia (that was probably the only time it felt like Christmas for me :-) For a small dusty little town you can’t help but like it just a little bit – the people were all really friendly and helpful and no-one hassled us or stared at us (except for the toddler who ran off crying to hide behind his mother at the sight of us ‘wazungu’ (white people)), which makes us like Kenya already despite not having seen very much of it.

Marsabit to Isiolo – part 2 of the road to Hell
Anxious and impatient for the day to begin so the bus journey would end, we left Marsabit two hours later than scheduled (as expected) and set off for round two. Thankfully, there wasn’t much bone rattling or cellulite shaking and a lot more smiles than tears. The road (if you can call it that) was still pretty hairy at times though but our driver was brilliant – at one point he even went off-road off the dirt track and was driving in the sand to avoid the corrugations and ruts in the road. I think it was then that I had to laugh at our situation and remind myself of the reason for travelling – there we were bundu-bashing in the northen Kenyan desert in a rickety old bus loaded with Kenyans on their way home to see family for Christmas, members of the Rendille tribe who’d joined us along the way (I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the headdresses of the tribesmen. The tops of them were colourfully adorned with a row of buttons and attached to each button were some beads with an individual artificial rose with feather insert sticking out of the rose) and us two wazungu causing dust swirls as we sped by.

And then just when you thought you would never experience it again, we spotted it in the distance – TARMAC! So the last 125km to Isiolo were heavenly – we even managed to do a bit of wildlife spotting (apart from the usual sightings of goats, sheep, camels and donkeys) and first passed an ostrich and then later an elephant on the side of the road.

So after just 8 hours, no punctures, still no bandits and not as much dust, we arrived in Isiolo as survivors and had an ice-cold Tusker beer to celebrate!



Avoiding reality and ‘you, you, you!’ in Awassa
December 20, 2011, 5:56 am
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Lee este artículo en español.

From Lalibela, it was time to head back to Addis to begin our trip down south. Instead of subjecting ourselves to the two day bus trip (we have plenty of road time ahead of us), we thought we’d opt for the 40 minute flight instead.

Once in Addis, we found a clean and quiet guesthouse where we hid, I mean rested, for two days (I just about only left the guesthouse to eat at the restaurant around the corner and to get my nails painted (bright red with decorations on my big toes even). Neither of us was feeling too great anyway as we think we ate something dodgy in Lalibela so it was good to have some time to rest (and rest is sometimes hard to come by in Ethiopia as your sleep is often disturbed either by loud music, priests that continuously chant for up to five hours or the yelps and barks of dogs fighting outside in the street).

On the morning of our departure to Awassa (our first stop on our short southern itinerary) we trundled our way through Addis on a public bus and then through the mayhem of the market with our backpacks to board one of the old buses bound for our destination. The windows on our side didn’t open and our seat sloped so we had to keep shifting position to ensure we didn’t slide off – this was going to be fun in the midday sun . . .

More than seven hours and only 270km later (it was supposed to take five but a truck had overturned less than 100km from Addis so traffic had built up quite significantly) we arrived in AWassa just before night fell, found a reasonably looking room close to the bus station and tucked into some fresh tilapia (the town of Awassa or Hawassa is within walking distance of Lake Awassa so the fish is fresh and delicious) for dinner.

On Sunday morning we were up early to look for another room (ever notice how much nicer things can sometimes seem in the dark?) and moved to the Hawassa Inn which is closer to the ‘centre’ of town.

Later we took a walk along the lake and I was very excited to spot at least seven African fish eagles (I heard their call first before we saw them), numerous hamerkops (hammerheads) and quite a few pied kingfishers darting in and out of the water catching their lunch. We also passed loads of alien-looking maribou storks who look too big and unnatural to be capable of flying. During our lakeside walk yesterday we even spotted a hippo not far from the lake bank!

African fish eagle

African fish eagle

Pied kingfisher

Pied kingfisher

Sunday lunch was spent at Lewi Resort, a monstrosity of a place perched at one end of the lake and yesterday, we thought we’d escape reality again and do more of the same. This time we wandered along to Haile Resort at the opposite end, which is owned by Haile Gebrselassie, the amazingly talented long distance runner, and chilled out by the infinity pool while watching and listening to the fish eagles and generally pretending that we were actually on holiday and not battling our way through Ethiopia . . .

This is the life . . .

This is the life . . .

Hiding out at the resort also meant we had a bit of a respite from the almost constant shouts of ‘You, you, you! You give me money!’ generally whenever we passed children or beggars, which for me makes me quite cross and annoyed.

However the fantasy can only last for so long as we’re travelling again today, this time to Dila which is apparently quite a nondescript little place but where we will need to spend the night in order to catch our bus to Moyale, the border town for Kenya. And then from Moyale it’s around 11-12 hours in a cattle truck (we WILL be paying extra to enjoy the privilege of sitting infront with the driver) along mostly unsealed roads to Marsabit. Now do you understand why I needed to spend that day by the infinity pool pretending that Africa really isn’t all that hard?

We hope to reach Nanyuki, the base for exploring Mount Kenya, in time for Christmas but we’ll have to see how the travelling goes.

Anyway, if we’re not able to get in touch before, we want to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and we will be in touch early in the new year if not before.

Take care and sending lots of festive love to all of you.



The Northern Circuit
December 19, 2011, 4:23 pm
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The next destination on our tour of the north after the Simien Mountains was the town of Bahir Dar which sits on the shore of Lake Tana. Quite a small place but more well-known for the monasteries that are dotted around the numerous islands in the lake.

Through couchsurfing we got in touch with Yordanos, a local fruit wine entrepreneur who kindly hosted us in her house on our first night. She also introduced us to a great lunch venue along the lake where we sat under the trees and watched the pelicans fishing for food. Having done the boat trip around the lake where we visited a few of the monasteries, we organised our minibus transport (at a much lower rate than we were originally charged thanks to the efforts of Yordanos) to Lalibela which left at 3am the next day.

Bleary eyed and not quite conscious, we got talking to the lovely Eva from Spain and Ababa from Ethiopia while we all waited for the minibus outside our hotel last Monday morning. Like us, both Eva and Ababa have lived in London for a number of years. They’re both AIDS nurses and recently worked at Chelsea & Westminster hospital.

We had to wait in Gashena, four hours from Bahir Dar, to catch a lift on to Lalibela so whiled away the time drinking sweet tea (I’m going to miss the tea in Ethiopia) and Alberto entertained some of the local kids with his juggling balls (no pun intended!).

Mastering the art of juggling

Mastering the art of juggling

Kids of Gashena

Kids of Gashena

Just foolin' around

Just foolin' around

A minibus eventually arrived and off we rattled to Lalibela along a 60km dusty track. We’d booked into the Seven Olives Hotel as heard it was one of the nicest places to stay in town and we thought we’d treat ourselves. At $42 (a lofty price to pay on a backpacker budget), we soon found out that the Seven Olives is overpriced and overrated (blocked basin drain, toilet that didn’t flush and a nasty shower where one wall was covered with mouldy shower curtain material). So after washing our clothes, chilling on the terrace and negotiating a lower price for the room, we moved out the next day to the Blulal, which
was cleaner and a third of the price. Eva and Ababa were staying nearby so it was also convenient to meet up.

Lalibela is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the various rock-hewn churches that are found close to town (UNESCO are also responsible for the hideous scaffolding that has been erected over some of the churches for preservation purposes) and considered by some to be the eighth Wonder of the World. The churches are located in groups, the largest being the northwestern ones and then the southeastern ones, which although there are a smaller number of them, we thought were more impressive. Standing all on its own is Bet Giorgis (St George), another pretty imposing structure. The churches are all carved out of stone and although I don’t think they are as inspiring as the temples in Siem Reap in Cambodia, they are still a fascinating work of art and definitely worth visiting.

Most people hire guides for the day to explore the churches but Alberto and I ended up doing our own self-guided tour and had a really good day away from the hassling and bothersome touts (they can really wear you down in Lalibela) feeling our way through dark tunnels connecting churches and chatting to priests hidden away in their cavern-like lodgings in hidden holes within the stone walls.

Bet Giorgis

Bet Giorgis (Saint George)

Appreciating Lalibela

Paying respects at Lalibela

An angel (or a hairy Spaniard) at the door

An angel (or a hairy Spaniard) at the door

The light of Lalibela

The light of Lalibela

Going exploring

Going exploring

Lalibela is also where we encountered the most tourists and bumped into some of the people we’d met whilst in the Simiens, including Kim from South Korea who’s been travelling for ten months and is now also on his way to South Africa. We also met Rick the photographer (and former war journalist) from New Zealand who has been travelling for over 35 years and has too many interesting stories to tell!

Another thing Lalibela is famous for is its tej, aka honey wine, which we sampled at the aptly named Torpedo tej club complete with Ethiopian fiddler and traditional shoulder dancing (we’ve been told that in the north, the Ethiopians dance using mainly their upper bodies and in the south, they use their lower bodies more so when you put them both together, you get a whole Ethiopian). We both agreed that tej is definitely an acquired thing as it has a particularly interesting aftertaste of salami infused with a bit of honey!

More news to follow soon . . .



Awassa to Nanyuki
December 19, 2011, 5:36 am
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Estamos ahora mismo en Awassa, una agradable ciudad al borde de un lago 250 Km al sur de Addis Abeba. Nos hemos alojado en un hotel excelente un par de noches y estamos haciendo poco más que dar paseos por la orilla y comer pescado, que aquí es fresquísimo. Hoy puede que nos acerquemos a un hotel de lujo que hay cerca a bañarnos en la piscina y a ver a la multitud de aves que pescan en el lago. Antes de ésto estuvimos dos días en Addis Abeba apenas sin salir del hostal tan majo que habíamos encontrado, comiendo en un restaurante excelente a la vuelta de la esquina, lavando la ropa, Simone pintándose las uñas y demás vida relajada.

Desayunando en Awassa

Desayunando en Awassa

Esta relajación tiene dos motivos, primero que las dos semanas por el norte han sido duras y necesitabamos un descanso, y segundo que la próxima semana va a ser entre dura e infernal: Vamos a recorrer unos 1000 Km entre Awassa en Etiopía y Nanyuki en Kenya a través de pueblos tipo parada de camioneros (Dila), ciudades fronterizas africanas (Moyale), la peor carretera de África (Moyale – Marsabit – Archer’s Post) y pozos de polvo donde la gente está inquieta (Isiolo). Con un poco de suerte llegaremos para Nochebuena a Nanyuki, que es el campo base para expediciones al Monte Kenya, la segunda montaña más alta de África y al parecer el punto donde empiezan los sitios agradables.

De Awassa a Moyale hay unos 500Km de asfalto, y nuestra idea era encontrar plaza en un minibus que saliera a eso de las 3am, de manera que llegáramos a Moyale a la 1pm con tiempo para encontrar un hotel, hacer los trámites para cruzar la frontera, y negociar pasaje hasta Marsabit en la cabina de un camión de los que hacen la ruta. Por desgracia ayer en la estación de autobuses fue imposible encontrar ni minibus ni bus que nos llevara, y todo el mundo nos dijo que teníamos que ir a Shashemene (25Km al norte) o a Dila (80Km al sur) para ir a Moyale. Como levantarse a las 2am para coger un minibus a Dila y recién llegados coger un autobús a las 5am para hacerse 12 horas de viaje y luego llegar a Moyale exhaustos, tal vez de noche, y con muchas cosas que hacer no era serio, hemos decidido partir el viaje y dormir mañana en Dila, tras un viaje cortito en autobús desde Awassa.

Dila no parece que vaya a ser un sitio muy agradable, es una ciudad administrativa y universitaria que sirve de parada a los camioneros que hacen la ruta de Addis Abeba a las ciudades del sur y Nairobi. Por suerte llegaremos con mucha luz solar para encontrar el hotel menos chungo de la ciudad y nos iremos muy temprano la mañana siguiente, el el primer bus para Moyale (a las 3am si es posible). Me he comprado una linterna nueva más potente y spray anticucarachas que lo vamos a necesitar.

Mi mejor amigo

Mi mejor amigo

Moyale va a ser canela fina probablemente, y más siendo nuestra primera experiencia con una ciudad fronteriza africana. No espero que sea peligrosa ni nada por el estilo, no hemos encontrado nada de eso en Etiopía, pero si que espero por lo que he oído de la gente que sea el sitio más sucio de todo nuestro viaje, con pocas o ninguna comodidad para alguien de sensibilidad primermundista. Cuando lleguemos allí, y rezo para que sea con muchas horas de luz solar, tenemos que buscar un sitio en el que podamos dormir (probablemente usando el spray anticucarachas, y con la esterilla y el saco encima de la cama) y tenemos que negociar el pasaje a Marsabit.

Al parecer hace unos años había un autobús que hacía la ruta Moyale – Marsabit – Nairobi, pero ya no existe más. También al parecer hace unos años la ruta había que hacerla en un convoy con vehículos de la policía para protegerse de los bandidos y eso ya no hace falta, así que una por otra. Para los que se preocupen acerca de nuestra seguriad, hemos contactado la embajada de Kenya en Madrid y nos han dicho que no hay ningún problema, y cuando estemos en Moyale contactaremos el Comisionado del Distrito para asegurarnos.

Moyale, espero que no sea para tanto

Moyale, espero que no sea para tanto

Así que, a falta de autobús, la gente viaja de Moyale a Nairobi en los camiones que traen mercancias de Nairobi a Moyale, y vuelven con ganado y productos agrícolas. Por los comentarios de otros viajeros es bastante común y el problema no creo que sea encontrar un camión que nos lleve (pagando extra para viajar en la cabina con el conductor), sino que nos asedien los truhanes vendiéndonos pasaje. Y por supuesto, eso es sin contar el viaje en sí.

La carretera entre Moyale y Isiolo es parte de la Trans-African Highway 3 que conecta El Cairo con Ciudad del Cabo con diversos apodos a cada cual peor. El caso es que es un camino de cabras a través de un desierto de piedras con muy altas temperaturas, 375Km de puro placer ahora que los chinos han asfaltado 125Km entre Archer’s Post e Isiolo, antes eran 500Km. El primer tramo hasta Marsabit, de 250Km, lleva unas 12 horas, y tras descansar allí un día entero tal vez haya un autobús que nos lleve hacia el sur, directamente a Nanyuki si tenemos mucha suerte o haciendo noche en Isiolo si no.

Desierto de Chalbi, entre Moyale y Marsabit

Desierto de Chalbi, entre Moyale y Marsabit

No nos hacemos ninguna ilusión y mantenemos nuestras expectativas al mínimo. Podríamos llegar a Moyale de noche, podríamos tener que esperar un día o más hasta conseguir un camión que nos lleve en la cabina, el cajero en el lado Kenyano de Moyale podría estar fuera de servicio y vernos obligados a cambiar dólares de emergencia, le podrían pedir un visado a Simone (yo lo saqué en Londres, pero me dijeron que ella no lo necesita), el camión hacia Marsabit podría estropearse (y se estropeará), Marsabit podría ser un pozo infernal también, etc, etc, etc. Vamos descansados y precavidos, y la poca experiencia que hemos conseguido en Etiopía será utilizada y expandida en un viaje que estoy seguro recordaremos mucho tiempo.



Simien Mountains, parte 3
December 16, 2011, 9:36 am
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Los cuatro días que hemos pasado en las Simien Mountains han sido lo mejor hasta el momento de nuestro viaje. Nos ha costado un buen mordisco al presupuesto, y en ocasiones ha sido muy duro, pero ha merecido la pena.

Organizamos el tour desde Gondar, no queriendo meternos en líos. Podríamos haber cogido el autobús a Debark y organizado todo nosotros mismos allí, y nos habría costado la tercera parte, pero en aquel momento y teniendo en cuenta el estrés de los últimos días, quisimos optar por la opción fácil.

El tour en sí no era un asunto banal, incluía:

  • Un todoterreno con conductor para llevarnos a las montañas, un viaje de seis horas en caminos sin asfaltar.
  • Un guía, que habla inglés.
  • Un scout, que es un militar con un AK47 para disuadir a personas y animales de hacer tonterías.
  • Dos muleros y sendas mulas, para llevar equipaje y suministros.
  • Cocinero y asistente de cocinero, para alimentarnos a nosotros y al equipo.

Vamos, que nos acompañaban seis personas para asegurarse de que lo pasábamos bien. El primer día fuímos con el conductor y el cocinero a los cuarteles del parque nacional en Debark, donde recogimos al guía, al scout y a los cocineros.

Jugando al futbolín en Debark

Jugando al futbolín en Debark

El guía el scout y nosotros dos nos bajamos unos 15 Km antes del primer campamento, a 3200 metros de atitud, llamado Sankaber. Nosotros cuatro seríamos los que haríamos la ruta por los caminos bonitos, mientras que el resto iría de campamento a campamento por el camino más corto para preparar las cosas para cuando llegásemos.

Durante el primer día, camino de Sankaber, tuvimos un adelanto de lo que veríamos más tarde. Acantilados con cientos de metros de caída y vistas espectaculares. Y también babuínos gelada que no se asustan del ser humano y cuervos que tratan de robar tu almuerzo (suministrado por el cocinero al comienzo de cada día).

En Sankaber montamos la tienda, nos tomamos un té calentito y nos pusimos a cenar. Lo que no nos esperábamos mucho es que cerca del ecuador el día dura de 6:15 de la mañana a 6:15 de la tarde, y si estás arriba en las montañas eso significa que a partir de las seis de la tarde está muy oscuro y hace mucho frío, con lo que teníamos poco que hacer. En general a las ocho de la tarde (noche cerrada y fría) nos metíamos en el saco a dormir. Llevábamos ropa térmica, pero la tienda y los sacos los compramos para que fueran ligeros, y esa primera noche nos helamos de frío y dormimos poco. Creo que la temperatura bajo a unos dos o tres grados sobre cero.

Un lammergeyer sobrevolándonos

Un lammergeyer sobrevolándonos

El segundo día nos avisaron de que sería durillo. Eran sólo 15 Km hasta Geech, a 3600 metros, pero subiendo y bajando valles y montañas, de modo que al final habríamos subido unos 1400 metros y bajado unos 1000 (sube 400, baja 200, sube 500, baja 300…). Además por encima de 3400 metros empezamos a notar que nos faltaba el aire con la altitud, y lo que nos faltaría después.

Ese día veríamos muchos babuinos y algún klipspringer, Simone se caería de culo en una bajada, tragaríamos mucho polvo y veríamos los estragos de la erosión en las montañas, debido al pastoreo excesivo. Como recompensa, el campamento en Geech parecía el techo del mundo, y nos fuímos a ver el atardecer a un acantilado cercano a 3900 metros, donde las vistas eran espectaculares.

Un klipspringer

Un klipspringer

Camping en Geech

Camping en Geech

Atardecer cerca de Geech, hacia el este

Atardecer cerca de Geech, hacia el este

Atardecer cerca de Geech

Atardecer cerca de Geech, hacia el oeste

Esa noche ya nos esperabamos un poco lo del frío, así que pedimos que nos dejaran un par de mantas extra y yo dormí con dos pares de calcetines y el polar. Simone se abrigó un poco menos y si yo me helé de frío, ella más. Cuando me levante poco antes del amanecer, la tienda estaba completamente cubierta de escarcha.

El tercer día serían 32Km, y subiríamos a un pico de 4070 metros, pero el guía nos dijo que sería más fácil y que las vistas serían aún mejores. Empezamos por subir a 3900 metros a Saha, un acantilado impresionante donde un montón de babuinos estaban a la suya. También estabamos ya dentro de un entorno afroalpino, sin árboles pero con lobelias gigantes, que daba al paisaje un aspecto muy extraño.

Paisaje afroalpino, lobelias gigantes y hierba

Paisaje afroalpino, lobelias gigantes y hierba

Saha

Saha

Tras Saha y tras atravesar un valle fuímos a Imet Gogo, con una de las caídas verticales más altas de África. No se la distancia exacta, pero se que me daba un vértigo respetable. Allí había también una cascada de varios cientos de metros de altura.

Tras Imet Gogo vendría uno de los dos tramos más duros de la jornada, una bajada fácil de unos 300 metros hasta un valle lleno de hierba verde, pero luego una dura subida de 400 metros hasta 4070 con unos 15 kilometros de marcha a nuestras espaldas, falta de aire por la altitud, y un frío imponente una vez arriba. Aún así, coronamos nuestro primer cuatro mil.

Tras comer allí en la cima, buscando una roca encarando al sur para tener un poco menos de frío, empezamos el descenso hasta Chenek, a 3600 metros. Esperábamos que el descenso sería fácil, pero nos equivocábamos. Eran unos meros 10 Km, de los que los primeros cinco eran más o menos a nivel, por tanto fríos y faltos de aire, y los siguientes 5 eran una bajada por un camino de cabras que nos dejo exhaustos.

Nuestra ruta durante el tercer dia

Nuestra ruta durante el tercer dia

Llegamos al campamento con un par de horas de luz, y aprovechámos para darnos una ducha con agua de manantial fría de verdad. Fue duro, pero nos quedamos como nuevos. Después de eso cenamos y nos quedamos charlando con otros senderistas alrededor del fuego. Como momento bizarro del día, cuando oí a los muleros charlando en amharico con el personal de otros grupos, y les oí mencionar a Van Persie y a Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ese noche fué la más fría, pero también la que mejor dormimos. Con las toallas bloqueamos las mallas de ventilación de la tienda, nos pusimos toda la ropa de abrigo que teníamos, remetimos las mantas de modo que no resbalaran de encima de los sacos durante la noche, y pusimos los chubasqueros alrededor de los pies del saco, para mantener nuestros pies un poco más calientes. El resto de la ropa nos la tiramos por encima que calentase lo que pudiese. Durmimos como benditos, y eso que la ropa que dejamos encima de la tienda a la mañana siguiente estaba congelada dura como una roca.

Hace frío en Chenek por la noche

Hace frío en Chenek por la noche

El último día solo teníamos previsto hacer unos 5 Km, y mejor así, los dos cansados, y yo con ampollas en los pies. Aún así pudimos alcanzar un mirador muy bonito y observar un buen rato como los babuinos gelada y los ibex walia se alimentaban, ignorándonos completamente. A mediodía vino el todoterreno a recogernos, y seís horas después estábamos de vuelta en el hotel, pegándonos una merecida ducha, pero esta vez de agua caliente.

Un walia ibex

Un walia ibex

Viendo el paisaje en Chenek

Viendo el paisaje en Chenek



Missioning in the mountains
December 15, 2011, 1:33 pm
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If you visit Ethiopia, go to the Simien Mountains – they are beautiful. The mountain tracks take you through fields of thyme, up close to the Gelada baboons (who are pretty tame), through villages nestled on the mountain hillsides, down valleys to views of waterfalls and up killer climbs to watch the sun set over gorges and ravines below. I loved to sit and watch the lammergeyers (one of the biggest birds of prey), kites, eagles and buzzards circling in the valleys below us while we tried to refill our lungs with as much air as possible before carrying on with the day’s route.

Making new friends

Making new friends

We did a four day, three night trek (approximately 70km over the four days, the longest day being 32km). The walking on some of the days was hard due to the altitude and your lungs scream and your legs feel like lead as you climb to the top of some of the viewpoints (our highest viewpoint was 4,070m above sea level) but the views and peacefulness more than make up for it.

On top of the world

On top of the world

At the end of the world

At the end of the world

Another amazing day in the Simiens

Another amazing day in the Simiens

Once we reached camp for the night, we would pitch our tent and if we felt brave enough (I was braver than Alberto) we’d have a cold shower (which most of the time was in the open) before the sun set (it’s freezing once the sun goes down and it takes a while for the day to warm up in the mornings  – on our last night in the mountains we left some clothes out to dry and they were frozen solid the next morning!).  The cooking staff would then serve us thyme tea and a big tray of popcorn to replenish our energy levels before we would tuck into simple but delicious dinner each night. The rest of the evening involved sitting around the campfire (on our last night I looked around us and couldn’t help but smile seeing the faces of the guides, scouts, mulemen, cooks and other trekkers all gathered around the fire sharing stories and reflecting on another great day out in the open).

And then it was off to bed – at 8.30pm!

While it was good to get back to Gonder (Seyoum at Lodge du Chateau made sure to heat the water up for us just in time for our arrival)  to get rid of the dust and wash our clothes, the trek in the mountains has been the highlight of my Ethiopian trip so far.



Simien Mountains
December 9, 2011, 3:30 pm
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Tras cuatro días de senderismo en las Simien Mountains, estamos de vuelta en la civilización. En breve haremos un par de posts más largos con un montón de fotos alucinantes, como esta:

Somewhere in the Simien Mountanins, at 4070 m altitude

Somewhere in the Simien Mountanins, at 4070 m altitude



The hits just keep coming
December 5, 2011, 7:12 pm
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The day of our journey to Gonder started off just like our first few days in Addis – badly.

Our noisy next door neighbours gave us a wake up call at what we thought was 2.30am so we were ready (but not wide awake) to find a taxi at 4.30am for the trip to the departure point for the bus to Gonder. After waiting around in a dark, smelly alley for over an hour and a half while waiting for the bus (we were due to leave at 5.30am), the bus finally pulled in to the parking lot. It was only when we were on our way (and according to our watches, it should have been close to 7am so the sun should have been rising) and it was still pitch dark that we realised that three days before, we had set our watches forward by one hour too much so could have spared ourselves that neverending wait in the alley. We’re slowly learning as we go along …

Next up was the 12 hour bus trip to Gonder on a pretty comfortable bus and some lovely scenery, but after endless Ethiopian pop videos, romantic dramas and soaps and what looked like a national version of ‘Ethiopia’s Got Talent’, we were glad to get off.

That night, we decided to treat ourselves to the Goha Hotel, one of the fanciest hotels in Gonder perched high up on a hill 2km from the main part of town. Dinner was mediocre to say the least and our fellow diners consisted of elderly foreigner tour groups . . .

Our pre-arranged tuk-tuk back to town never arrived and as there was no phone network that night, we couldn’t call another taxi. The hotel shuttle agreed to take us back into town and in our hurry to jump in the shuttle, I left my brand new Blackberry on the table in reception. As soon as we got back into our room, I realised I didn’t have my phone. Panicked and anxious, we managed to find a tuk-tuk (by this time it was after 10pm and the streets in Gonder are dark and near deserted) driver and his mates (we had no choice, they all jumped in) to drive us back up the hill. The gates to the Goha were closed so I climbed under the fence through a hole in the barbed wire and ran up the driveway (forgetting about the guard stationed at the gate who appeared shortly after I had run past with his AK47, which freaked Alberto out just a little as he stood waiting at the gate with the tuk-tuk entourage.

Reception deny seeing my phone although I am 100% positive that is where I left it. One of the guys on Reception did wake up the shuttle driver so we could check the shuttle van but no luck.

So, I felt pretty horrible about the whole thing yesterday and it was made even more surreal (that’s my description for Ethiopia so far – surreal!) when the somewhat dubious tourist police found Alberto outside the internet cafe and knew all about the phone (the tuk-tuk driver told the tourist police what had happened). Today we went back to the hotel with the police and spoke to the manager, who I don’t think believed me. We were due to go back to the police station again later this afternoon but after being shafted by the police for the trip up to the hotel and back and just the nature of the whole episode, we decided to just let it go. I have learnt my lesson though.

Despite this, not everything has been a bad experience in Gonder. We moved to a lovely new guesthouse yesterday (the only boutique hotel in Gonder :-), Lodge du Chateau, where the rooms are arranged around a bright garden and there’s a great terrace to have breakfast and contemplate life while listening to the sounds of the town around you and watching the kites and eagles (there are loads of them in Gonder) swoop past. The owner/manager is really helpful and welcoming too (Alberto’s got another story about this too which I’m sure he’ll add to the blog later. Tip – use Google translate if you want to read his entries, sometimes just the translation itself is worth a laugh). We’ve also been to some of the tourist sites including the Gonder palaces and St Michael’s church with its beautifully painted and brightly coloured murals (the electricity had just gone out when we went to visit today so some of the pictures don’t do the paintings justice).

One of the palaces at Gonder

One of the palaces at Gonder

The view from the Chateau

The view from the Chateau

Consoling myself on the terrace of the Lodge du Chateau

Consoling myself on the terrace of the Lodge du Chateau

St Mikael's murals

St Mikael's murals

Tomorrow we are off to the Simien Mountains for a four day, three night trek complete with guide, ranger, mule and mule handlers and cook just for the two of us. From the pictures I’ve seen, the Simiens look amazing so pretty excited about the trip. I’ll let you know if we managed to spot any Gelada baboons or Walia ibex (mountain goats) when we get back on Friday and will try to keep the entry a bit shorter next time!

Take care and let us know what’s going on in your side of the world.



Goodbye London, hello Africa!
December 2, 2011, 4:33 pm
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We said goodbye to London two days ago and arrived in Addis Ababa yesterday, and what a welcome to Africa it’s turned out to be.

To get the party started, our taxi driver couldn’t find our guesthouse but after some time which involved the aimless wandering of a Spanish man down the streets and alleys of Addis, we discovered the guesthouse was right infront of us all along. First problem solved then. However we’re learning very quickly that things in Africa aren’t always easy. We turned up at the guesthouse ready to dump our backpacks to be told there was no knowledge of our reservation (despite email confirmation a month ago) so off we went in search of somewhere else to stay. The reality of our new base looks nothing like the picture and is a bit to be desired

We then thought we would embrace Addis and found our way to a busy part of the city courtesy of two minibus taxis – the 5km trip cost less than 30p for both of us. Dodging beggars and streetkids (the kind which grab on to your hand and won’t let go which both distress and annoy me at the same time), we found our way to the originally named Addis Ababa Restaurant which was recommended in the Book of Lies, aka The Lonely Planet (which to be fair, has also been right on a number of things), and stuffed our faces with injera (the Ethiopian staple which is served with everything and used in place of utensils as you use your hands (remember to use your right hand though!) and the injera to mop up the meats and vegetables served with it. Injera is like a huge pancake and can sometimes be quite tasty but also sometimes grey in colour and sour tasting) before continuing with our exploring.

Alberto’s African experience so far has been a baptism by fire of sorts. On less than five hours’ sleep, he did really well yesterday to resist two pickpocketing attempts. The first involved a mock fight where a young boy ran up to us pretending to take shelter from another guy who was chasing him. While holding on to Alberto, he reached for Alberto’s pockets. Luckily, we were standing outside the St George Trinity Cathedral at the time and there were quite a few people around who came to our rescue and chased the boys away. As the chaser was being led away, I turned to see the young boy who had run up to Alberto walk away with a sly grin on his face so he knew exactly what he was doing. At the same cathedral, we were accosted by a pleasant looking guy who started chatting to us (yesterday was the celebration of St Mary, or so our new friend told us, so we were focusing on the way in which the people around us entered the grounds and paid their respects) but it was soon revealed that he was hoping to persuade us to come along to a traditional coffee ceremony which can involve music and dancing. Once there and according to the Lonely Planet, you can expect to be stung for a lot of money for the pleasure of it all. We kindly made our excuses and headed off for more adventure.

Just a little while later in the Piazza, a notorious area for pickpocketing and nasty types, we were walking back to try catch another minibus to the guesthouse when a man released an almighty amount of spit right onto the front of Alberto’s shirt and then apologetically pulled out a tissue to start wiping the mess but missing his shirt and going for Alberto’s pockets (again) instead. He was quite persistent and Alberto had to push him off quite a few times until we could get away.

Today has been better – we’ve organised an Ethiopian mobile number, braved the train station to buy tickets for our 12 hour bus trip to Gonder tomorrow, stuffed our faces yet again with more injera (we have yet to finish our huge serving of injera yet somehow the Ethiopians seem to have no problem with eating it all, which we find quite amazing), tasted traditional Ethiopian buna (coffee) and hailed more minibuses to get around.

Injera with red pepper injera - tastes better than it looks

Injera with red pepper injera - tastes better than it looks

Pouring traditional buna

Pouring traditional buna

Happy travellers once watered and fed

Happy travellers once watered and fed

Tonight we’re going to chill and get an early night as tomorrow (which according to the Ethiopian calendar is 23 March 2004!) we’re boarding a bus to Gonder in the north which leaves at 5am. The joys of travelling . . .

Despite an intense start to our trip, for the most part, the Ethiopian people we have met and come across have been really friendly and helpful so I hope this will continue as we travel around the country. I am looking forward to getting out of the city though!