Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Kenya, where did you say the road was?

The Kenyan Moyale crossing was by far the easiest and most pain free so far, a complete opposite to the road to follow as we would soon find out.

Delilah feeling the long hours
The 'road' consists of loads of corrugation of varying sizes, rocks, mud, sand, more rocks, some boulders …constant and seemingly never ending, well about 500km in length. It seemed my job was written from the offset, mop up crew. I actually found the road quite manageable, this is not to say that the road was not tough on the body and the bikes, I just went a lot slower than everyone else to stay behind the slowest person. First it was Andrey and Andre that fell prey to this infamous road that is to be surfaced soon, then it was Jan, an ex-South African we met in Moyale on the Ethiopian side. Jan's husband, Paul and Australian was also with us on the road to Isiolo. After a few more falls, and being hit by a stone on the body, Jan decided to put her bike on a truck all the way to Isiolo while we carried on. Pete in his Land Rover, had completely left us in his dust and we hadn’t seem him the rest of the day. It was only Delilah, Andre, Andrey (Russian), Paul (Aussie) and I left to try and reach Marsabit in one piece. The scenery was not particularly outstanding, which helped as any lack of concentration on this 10 hour section of road meant you would be lying flat on the ground seconds later. This did happen to me once and twice to Delilah, luckily with no injuries.

We eventually reached a point about 40km before Marsabit, around 210km into the road and decided to stay over in a small village as the sun was setting. The “hotel” consisted of just a room with 3 beds, no shower, toilet or running water. Delilah and I decided to sleep outside in our tent, with the rest occupying the beds in the room. Paul (the Aussie), realized he had completely lost his bash plate on his bike … completely missing, including his toolbox on the front ... didn’t even notice he had lost it ... he thought he just went over a big rock

The next morning, we left for Marsabit …same story, lots of rocks and sand, then we started to get some really good clay/gravel road and all seemed like it would end as well as the previous day started. This lasted for about 5 minutes till it got really misty, you couldn’t even see 10m in front of you, not the worst thing in the world as the bikesa were not receiving the pounding they were getting previously.

On reaching Marsabit, we managed to find Pete, had some breakfast and then discussed our options. The final mutual decision was that it would be better for us to put the bikes on a truck for the next leg of the journey to Isiolo as they were just taking too much of a pounding and the £70 it cost per bike on the truck would be far less than the amount needed to repair the bikes later if we carried on with the road. While loading the bikes, we told Pete to carry on ahead as the trucks were quite a bit faster than the other vehicles on the previous leg.
Biker (forgot the name, sorry) from SA, heading north to Cairo
The journey on the truck was on its own an adventure, even though they were tied down 'securely' at first and then securely by ourselves afterwards, they still managed to sustain a bit of damage. Tree of the bikes had bent side stands and one bike had a badly scratched paintwork … nightmare ride. At times it felt like adventure cattle rustling in the back of a moving vehicle and the bumps in the back of the truck seemed a lot worse than what I had felt on the bikes the day before. We eventually reached Isiolo well after sunset .. probably around midnight actually .. off loaded the bikes, had a steak for dinner and camped the night in a hotels parking while the others had a room, which was good as we really needed a descent shower after the days events.

The only scenic thing on the road. Really beautiful

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The rest of Ethiopia

Our hotel in Debra Markos
We left Bahir Dar at lunchtime after a long journey back from Lalibela and wanted to get ahead of things and head to Addis Ababa. The road was really good (with a few sections in gravel) but required lots of dodging and swerving with loads of cows, goats, sheep and people on the road. Eventually we decided to stay in a little town called Debra Markos. We visited the only camp site as shown in the Lonely Planet….mmmm was not very nice, so Peter and Andre mentioned that they had spotted a hotel just at the start of the town. it was 3 months old and they only wanted 200 bir for a king sized room....what a great hotel and definitely well recommended.

The next morning we left at about 10am so that we could arrive in Addis Ababa nice and early leaving the guys enough time to sort out their front tyres, which to this point had all but fallen off the wheels

Pen  please?
Herding some donkeys down the steep Nile Gauge roads
The roads were great and scenery was unbelievable, Ethiopia at the moment has been the most beautiful African country I have seen. The people are friendly, the children are excited to see us and wave every time we pass them. Its such an amazing feeling to see how excited and happy they get when I wave at them.
The old Nile bridge built by the Italians
The new bridge built by the Japanese
On the way we stopped off at the Blue Nile gorge, a brilliant road, about 9 months old, descending from the mountains about 2600 meters above sea level to the river itself ....the bridges are pretty amazing....water was not flowing as we expected, but we were told that there was a damn wall further up stopping the flow of the water and apparently they only open the gates on Sundays...... so we continued on the winding roads.

The first 150km was great roads, there were a few gravel sections....which I think I did well to negotiate, however on the last gravel road, one with an angled incline, I was not so lucky. I was following Lindsay quite closely....BIG MISTAKE. He slowed down to much, which then caused me to slow down , then big problem.......I didn't have enough power on the bike by then to pull me out of the rut, so I had to let the bike fall.....all because of Lindsay....damn male drivers. Now I know not to follow him again.....anyway with little effort we got the bike up and off to the top, Lindsay then had to help Russian Andrey to get up too, he had dropped his bike. So before we knew it, this is what the trip was all about, Lindsay , Andrey, Peter and myself were trying to pull the bike to the top......what hard work......damn. Also Peter's 4 x 4 was overheating on the gravel after chasing after us up the mountain trying to film some of the riding and not watching his temperature gauge.
Pete's Landy overheating and Andrey (left - out of picture), on the 1200GSA, on another one of his 'trips'

There is definitely something that everyone is learning from this trip, a 1200GS adventure is a definite NO NO for a trip like this, well unless in the hands of a very experienced rider.

Eventually Peter got his car running again and we were on our way up the pass, not getting very far before Peter's car started overheated again, we could see how frustrated he was, but we stayed with him in case he needed us. This happened a few times before his cooling system finally gave in and blew a pressure valve with only 160km to go to Addis. We then waited on the side of the road and tried to fix it. Poor Peter was so stressed and couldn't understand why the car was overheating. Lindsay then suggested he goes back to the town to find some sort of valve to close the opening. In the mean time we stopped some Norwegian guys that suggested that we stop a truck and tow or put it on the back of truck.

Lindsay arrived with a bolt that fitted, but we didn't think it was a great idea anymore as Peter was unable to pin point the problem and didn't want to damage anything on the car. Eventually Peter decided to pay a truck to take him to Addis........one problem averted, but another one lingered, Lindsay's front tyre was showing threads already.

Finally, with Peter's car on the truck and heading for Addis, we decided we would get a move on before it got too late, cautiously, as we were worried about Lindsay's front tyre. It was a great ride but pretty cold and we had to stop to layer ourselves once again and also take the chance to warm up inside with a hearty cup of soup. Then, just 24km from Addis, Lindsay's tyre burst, what luck that we had put some Slime (tyre sealant) in otherwise, at 70km/hr, things could have turned out rather nasty. We took the first available opportunity to flag down a truck to get the bike safely into Addis, this at 9 in the evening..

Arriving in Addis at 10pm, we could not get hold of Andre or Peter so had to opt for the first available hotel which in all its glory could very well have been a brothel.....oh yes!!! it definitely looked like one. Anyway we stayed there for the night as the driver did not want to take us any further.

The next day we headed to Wim's Holland house where the rest of the group was , Lindsay just gaffer-tapped his wheel to get there as it would be easier than trying to get another truck or trying to sort a tyre from our current location. The place is so nice, they have a beautiful camping area.....green grass and a secure area to park and work on the bikes, beer on tap, very nice food and excellent hosts. We stayed for 5 days because we heard that we wouldn't be able to cross the boarder into Kenya over the weekend because customs for the bikes are not open on weekends......typical Africa. So we enjoyed the amazing food and i'm sure we all put back all the kilos we lost in the last month or so.
The crew: Aisha, Pete, Wim, Raheel, Adnrey, Andre, Lindsay and myself

Wim, the owner even gave Lindsay an old used front tyre that a previous overlander left behind to replace the blownout front tyre he had, which was soon fitted, hopefully it gets us to Nairobi with no hassles.

We also met a dutch couple, Robert and Clary (double dutch), living in Australia travelling around the world in about 7 years .. amazing. They also have an amazing truck, from microwave, toilet, bbq, shower, fridge/freezer all inside the truck … brilliant.

Aisha, Pete's wife, having left us for New York, we met two new friends at Holland House, two kiwis on bicycles who asked Pete for a lift to Isiolo … so they will join us for the next few days.

Gina, Tony and Pete at the pricey Safari Lodge
We then headed off to Kenya boarder, the roads were pretty good, the traffic some of the worst we have come across, loads of pot holes but ok to ride on. We then decided to find a camping spot near Lake Langano and headed for a lodge signed 'beach camp' but only found a really nice looking Safari Lodge with prices to match, but no camping, just out of our budget. As we were leaving, we bumped into Gina and Tony and their little boy Connor, who were away for the week at a holiday home along the lake ….... they offered us a couple of rooms for the eve, which was so great. Before leaving the lodge, we had a good old chat, a couple of beers and some lunch, the tab very generously picked up by them as well, how blessed. The road to get to their place was a bit hair raising, but we all made it through no problem.
Lake Langano

In the morning, some of the guys took a quick dip in the croc and hippo infested cream coloured lake before heading off towards the Kenyan Boarder, were we are going to overnight on the Ethiopian side and then leave early the next morning to cross over to Kenya and head onto the dreaded Moyale to Marsbit road, reportedly the worst road in Africa, a real bike killer, only time will tell......

Our final campsite in Ethiopia on the Moyale border

Friday, 15 October 2010

A little visit to Lalibela

Lalibela is a small town in Ethiopia, north-east of lake Tana, which is famous for its monolithic churches carved directly out of the rocks (actually a single piece of rock, really amazing actually). As you can see in the pictures below, some of the churches are carved to a point that they are completely standalone from the rock from which they had been carved.

There are 11 of these churches, built (or commisioned) by king Lalibela in the 12 century, some of which have been restored due to falling rock sections while the others are still in perfect condition. The metal/canvas 'roof' structure over some of the churches where placed by UNESCO for preservation purposes.

Ethiopia, what a beautiful country

At a push we managed to get to and through the border, but as darkness fell and not having good knowledge of driving conditions in Ethiopia, we decided to stay at the border town of Matemba, in a secure compound. We were all sceptical at first, but when the first beers came round and the tents were up, all was good, remember that there was no alcohol throughout the whole of Sudan.

Going back a bit, This trip started off Delilah and myself travelling through Europe and meeting up with Andre at the ferry in Venice, we then met up with some more over-landers, on bikes and Landrovers on the ferry to Egypt. We travelled with the bikers to Cairo and then were on our own again for a bit before hooking up with Peter sporadically until we reached the dreaded ferry to Wady Halfa, where we have been travelling together ever since. We Also met up with a guy from Russia, doing the trip on his own on a rather overloaded 1200GS adventure. He too has stuck with us till now as he has been having some off-road 'issues', one of which caused a loss of his front brakes in Sudan, which should hopefully be repaired in Addis Ababa, when we get there on Monday.
Our first 200 miles in Ethiopia exploded in the amazing scenery you only hear of in novels or see in movies, what a pleasure to ride, even with the now treadless tyre on the front of my bike. We soon reached Gondar after passing through a mountain pass having climbed to 2260 meters above sea level, amazingly the same height as the pass we did in Austria and just as beautiful. Now I see how people travelling on long trips manage to tie the 2 continents together.
Gondar is a rather quaint town, which apparently used to be the capital of Ethiopia, not much to do but lovely people. We did manage to arrange a trip part way up the Simien mountains national park, which saw us walking along the paths for about an hour, hoping to see some wildlife. We did get the feeling that the guy that arranged the trip pocketed most of the money though and did not pass out equally to the guides that were with us, which was quite disappointing and left a horrible taste in our mouths. 

Last night we spent the night camping on a hotels grounds just off Lake Tana. I must say I was hoping that it was going to be a blue lake, fitting in the the amazing scenery leading up to it, but unfortunately we were faced with a cream coloured one, which actually, as I noticed this morning, has a pretty romantic fit in its own way. We decided this morning, to rent some transport to take us to Lalibela, an area known for its rock hewn churches. Some of the buildings have been carved out completely, allowing them to stand-alone from the mountain from which they had been carved (more to follow about this in the next blog). We actually chose the transport as we would have had to drive north again for 6hrs to reach the city, it just did not seem the right thing to do.......

Some more pics to enjoy........
World heritage castle in Gondar

A break to enjoy the scenery

1 Bir please