Friday, September 21, 2012


WEATHER: Sunny and 21C

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: Getting out of the city

BUMMER OF THE DAY: Can’t think of a single thing

WORD OF THE DAY:  Diment-cat in Amharic


We had a travel day today and probably left a little later then we had originally planned.  We checked out, booked in again for 2 day’s time, left my luggage with the hotel and we were on the road at 9.45am. I needed to use the ATM on the way out of town and westerners really a point of interest, even in Addis Ababa where you think they would be used to seeing them as they transit through the capital for the start of tours.  But I still get a lot of stares and even after using the ATM I know they are curious stares rather than mean stares and I know it is something I am going to have to get used to, I don’t like it, but I can’t expect to blend in when I have lillie white skin in a sea of Africans.  We had the 4WD back for the next 2 days and Zeme’s car with the number plate 69696 was out on a tour so we had 69695 instead.  They are exactly the same but it wasn’t Zeme car….  We had to refuel up on our way out and to fill the Landcruiser it cost 1180Birr which is around 65AUD for 70 liters so that works out to be around 93c a liter.  Considering the cost of fuel these days I guess that is pretty cheap for us.   

Within 20 minutes we are out of the city limits and back to ‘country’ road driving.  Not the type of country road driving we are used to, today is market day and there is a lot of foot traffic on the roads today all carrying their wares to sell and later in the afternoon their wares that they bought.  Each main village holds a market once or twice a week and then the small villages in the area all congregate at the main village to buy/swap and sell.  Anything from clothes, pottery, wood, chickens, goats, sheep and anything else in between.  It is a fascinating thing to drive past with everyone carrying what they can on their backs and if they are lucky on the back of a donkey and you know when you have hit the main village as there are thousands of people here.  Really it is a sight to behold.  Market days on the road certainly help break up the monotony of a long drive that is for sure.  Driving into town we have the backs of all the villages and as we leave the town we can see all their faces on the opposite side and even though they may be carrying 20-30kg they are smiling and groups of people are laughing and talking and it also looks like a bit of a social outing for them as well. 

Donkeys (Aheeya in Amharic) are an important part of an Ethiopian life.  Ethiopians have a saying: “A man without a donkey IS a donkey”. In the rural areas which make up 85% of the country, donkeys are used for collecting a family’s fresh water supply, working on the farm, carrying produce and goods to and from markets - all the basic activities that support people’s day-to-day lives. Donkeys carry large bales of firewood, sacks of grain, charcoal and building materials including timber, bricks, sand and blocks of cement – which are frequently, strapped to a makeshift pack saddle with little or no padding or protection, maybe just some thin sacking or rugs. It’s not surprising that, underneath the saddles, most pack donkeys have large, ulcerating sores and other nasty harness wounds.  There is a charity THAT HAS been working in Ethiopia since 1986 when they forged a working partnership with the University of Addis Ababa's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Debre Zeit, situated 30km south of Addis Ababa.  THEY ARE THE WORLD'S LARGEST DONKEY AND MULE CHARITY FOR THE LAST 43 YEARS WE'VE EASED DESPAIR, AGONY AND HOPELESSNESS AROUND THE WORLD.

They have a busy donkey hospital to provide more extensive treatment to sick donkeys and mules. It is equipped with an operating theatre, laboratory and recovery stables. Approximately 250 donkeys are admitted each year. The hospital is also used as a training center for donkey owners, vets and farriers.  Their hospital holds clinics twice a week and it is not unusual for our teams to see up to 1,000 donkeys in one day. Owners are also able to bring their donkeys in for emergency treatment at any time.  Two mobile clinics operate in a 150km radius of Debre Zeit, visiting donkeys and owners too far away to visit the hospital.  In the north of Ethiopia, two mobile clinics operate in a 100km radius of Bahir Dar.  In the heart of Merkato Market, Addis Ababa (largest market in Africa), a new stationary clinic is providing a source of veterinary aid to some of the hardest working equines in the country. It is also being used as a training center for their owners.  For more information see

We stopped at 12.30pm for lunch just in one of the main towns.  It has been a while since I have eaten the local dish of tibs, which characteristically consists of spicy vegetable and meat sautéed like a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 50 centimeters in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour. Ethiopians eat with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up bites of entrées and side dishes. Utensils are rarely used with Ethiopian cuisine and you will see sinks and locals washing their hands and before each meal, without failure.  I enjoyed this particular meal when I was last here but today for some reason the injera tasted a little funny to me and the tibs was okay.  Maybe I am just out of my tibs eating groove?  Eating in Ethiopia is cheap and for 2 serves of tibs and 2 cokes including tip was the grand total of 120Birr which converts to around 6AUD.  Can’t argue with that.

I just can’t explain the mass movement of people that we saw today.  IF I didn’t know any better I would have thought that it was a mass exodus, some refugee push… to try and capture it all in words I am finding too difficult.  Once out of the towns there are always people on the roads, just not in the numbers you see in the major towns, but they are all doing the same thing, all going somewhere with something to me it always looks like their days are never long enough to get all they need to do done.  A trip to the shop that would take us 30 minutes in a car will take these people ½ a day if not more by foot and by donkey, if they are lucky.     

The Northwestern and Southeastern plateaus of Ethiopia are separated by the Rift Valley. Along the western margin of the Northwestern Plateau is the Blue Nile Gorge aka Abay Gorge.  The Abay Gorge spans an altitude range of 2500m to 1200m and is over a mile wide and deeper than the Grand Canyon of the United States of America. From the top of the escarpment the view was breathtaking.  The last time we came through here was in the dry season and it was still impressive but dry and brown.  This time in the wet season everything is green and lush and it really gives it a different look altogether.  So we started on one side of this magnificent gorge, winding our way down and around the mountain side, passing the very slow trucks and a little faster bus as they negotiate the downward drive in machines that look like they need a good service packed with local people getting to somewhere.  I read yesterday that there was a bus crash here in January where the bus ran off the road and plummeted 250m down the mountain killing 43 of the 46 on board and what caught my attention was there was an Australian onboard the fiery inferno.  I could not think of a worse way to die-RIP my friend.  There are baboons nearer the bottom of the valley that look to the car for food, we don’t have any to give, but I do take their photo from the window-which is wound up.  Zeme tells me there is nothing to fear and uses the automatic window to wind it down for me with the massive baboon only sitting 2m away from the car, I am a little apprehensive, I am sure that guy could jump the 2m and eat my face or what-ever baboons do to people once they have them in their clutches.  

The Abbay or Blue Nile Gorge is known to be the most stunning gorge in Ethiopia and I can see why when you see it in all its green glory in the wet season.   There are others, as Ethiopia is very mountainous but the Abbay (the father of rivers) provides the most dramatic and extensive gorge in all of Africa. Even though the river meanders around for 1,000 km inside Ethiopia, almost always in deep gorges, there are only two places, besides at the source in Bahir Dar, where it is accessible by road.  The temperature at the tip was 18C and when we had finally hit the bottom (as far as the bridge) the temperature had risen to 28C.  To cross over the gorge there is an old Abay Gorge Bridge that still has foot traffic now using it and now there is a new suspension bridge in place.  It is the first cable-stayed bridge in East Africa. 

The Japanese construction firm, Kajima built the newly constructed bridge over Abay River and opened it in October 2008.  Financed by a 14 million dollar Japanese government grant, the new structure has been constructed alongside a 60-year old bridge built by an Italian construction firm; the government of Italy covered the cost of the older bridge as a compensation for war damages it had caused during its brief occupation of Ethiopia in the 1930s.  The new bridge is 55 meters high, standing 22 meters above the existing one. There are also nine cables stretched on either side of the bridge, tied to the columns on each side, and there is no supporting framework put in the middle of the river. This feature makes it the first cable-stayed bridge in East Africa. It also has a clear 145-metre span.  It is believed to have immense significance in the traffic flow connecting the capital with the north western part of the country. Experts foresee that driving speed will double to 60Km per hour, and the volume is expected to increase from the current 360 vehicles a day to 729 in six years.  It is a beautiful looking bridge as we pass over it and then immediately start the climb up the other side of the Blue Nile Gorge.  The roads have been buckled in the heat and the heavy roads and this side of the gorge is certainly more affected with very large waves of tarmac, looking just like that waves.  Care needs to be taken when driving this section as well as the usual villagers, donkeys, children, buses and trucks all looking to also avoid all the wobbles of the bitchimen. 

Its 3pm and it must be the end of the working day for the farmers.  They are in force walking the side of the road with their massive tools that the cattle wear to harvest the crops, slung over their shoulders like it is a bag.  There are 3-4 tools being carried over their shoulders and I wonder how far they have to walk to get home.  With the rains brings the mud and you watch the women trying to keep the bottom of their skirts dry as they pass over patches of mud that haven’t dried from the mornings rain.  I guess it is a god thing for the farmers as it makes the ground soft for them to plough.  It looks like they are preparing their crops, no tractors here; it is all done by hand and by cattle.  As you drive each village has its own hoods that it is known for and you will see sellers on the road, all selling the same good that is from that particular area.  I guess it is just a game of luck if they do get business from passing cars on who is selected.  Products like corn, baskets, pink rock, lemons, and chickens being offered held upside down from their feet and the last one that did make us stop was Araki.  …………….

I had tasted this spirit the first time I was in Ethiopia in the Dorze Village on day 2 of my group tour.  Araki is a distilled beverage. Ground gesho leaves and water are kept for three to four days and after that a kita made of teff or other cereals and germinated barley or wheat are added. The mixture is allowed to ferment for five to six days and then distilled. In the villages distillation is carried out with primitive equipment made of gourds and wood. The araki can be redistilled and will then have a higher alcohol content. The average alcohol content of araki is around 45%. Araki is brewed in rural and semi-urban areas and is used more commonly by farmers and semi-urban dwellers than by people who live in the cities.  It is mainly drunk in shot form and not only did I have one but I think by the end of the night I had knocked back about 10 of them and needless to say I was a little worse for wear the next morning when we had to leave the village.  The thought now of even having a sip makes my stomach turn and I think of automatically dry retching but this stuff was for sale by the side of the road and I thought I needed to toughen up and lets by some from these guys.  The second the car stops you are swarmed by the sellers all running over to you and it really is a first come first serve basis, as they seriously are all selling the same thing.  When we stopped for the last time, Zeme shouted to only have 1 or 2 come over, but they all want the sale and at one stage, while Zeme was haggling and testing the product there were 6 of them all with a bottle in each hand shoving them through the window.  Zeme wasn’t happy with the quality from the first 2 stops we made but on the third stop after pretty much knowing what the cost was-peanuts-you could buy a liter of the stuff in the bottle supplied, which were old Vodka, Gin, Bourbon bottles recycled for 40Birr (2.50AUD) or you could supply your own bottle (water bottle) and pay 10Birr (.55c).  We had a nearly empty water bottle anyway, let them keep their bottles to reuse, paid our 10Birr and we were on our way.  Before I knew what was happening Zeme had taken a sip of the stuff and I could just smell it from where I was and it smelt DISGUSTING.  I was told to take a sip, as it may not be as bad as it smelt or as I remembered, so I took a swig and it took all my might to swallow the foul clear liquid.  UGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH and I was the one to insist to stop and buy some, as they say if you fall off just get back up and jump back on.  Yeah well that WILL NOT be happening with Araki.  Zeme keeps telling me that if you have an upset stomach that drinking some Araki will fix it and I have no doubt about that, I rekon it could kill an elephant if you drink enough of it.  Are you getting the picture that I am not a fan………In my defence Z does screw up his face after he has had a sip, so we have decided to keep it and give it to Chombe as a gift from the trip.  That’s nice of us isn’t it.  While the bartering was on Zeme’s side, I had a small girl and some other children come up to my window.  So I would it down and said the general tem for hello-selamnoo, as she was a female the correct term is selamnish and if you are a male it is selamna.  So then I started joking around using the boy tern and then that made them all laugh and I started to count in Amharic just to show off my new found skills and then it was time to go.  So with a wave and a smile we were back on our way to Bahir Dar.

It was a long day and we arrived into the city at 7pm.  Bahir Dar meaning "sea shore" is a city in north-western Ethiopia.  Bahir Dar is one of the leading tourist destinations in Ethiopia, with a variety of attractions in the nearby Lake Tana and Blue Nile river. The city is known for its wide avenues lined with palm trees and a variety of colorful flowers. It is also considered one of the most beautiful, well planned, and safest cities by many standards (Ethiopian standards)  In 2002 it was awarded the UNESCO Cities for Peace Prize for addressing the challenges of rapid urbanization.  Bahir Dar is situated on the southern shore of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile (or Abay) and an elevation of 1840 meters above sea level.

The place we stayed before was okay, it wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad- but it had very slow Wi-Fi and I said this time around I wanted something a bit nicer and I didn’t care if they had Wi-Fi or not.  I know can you believe I actually said that!  While we were debating our choices out the front of one of the hotels, the tourist operator that we saw last time and booked our Tanna cruise was chatting to someone in the carpark.  So Zeme yelled out and he came over and said welcome to Bahir Dar as they shook hands and then he said actually welcome back!!!  It is so nice to be remembered, so he and Zeme had a chat about hotels and we were directed around the corner to The Blue Nile hotel where he said they do have Wi-Fi in the rooms and it a good standard hotel.  So we checked in and found that the Wi-Fi didn’t work in our room and the hotel would have been a 2 star in Oz but I guess it was a good clean 3 star here.  For 29USD a night for the room, one cannot expect too much.  By this time it was 7.45pm, so we decided to eat in the hotel.  Zeme had had a big day of driving and even though I sat in the passenger seat the whole day I too was knackered, I still don’t get how that works and we were back to the room by 9pm.  We ordered a few beers from room service and I also got them to bring up a coke, I was going to try that Araki one more time but mixed with coke and I still couldn’t even drink that, the minute I put that glass to my lips, the smell just wants to make me vomit.  Zeme had a few more swigs and I stuck to the beer.  The good thing about no internet is that we just talk.  We talk if the future, what we want, what we expect and I love these talks and when I am feeling blue I need to remember the words that are spoken at these times as I have never heard them before and it warms my heart when I hear them now.     

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