Tuesday 25th August
Up before 7am and down to breakfast at 7.30am, had pancake with lemon and sugar for breakfast with orange juice. Left the hotel at 8.30am on foot and walked through the outskirts of Lalibela to the rock churches. We were accompanied by kids all the way who wanted to tell us about what they are learning at school, the capitals of the world and things about Lalibela.
We hiked up to the site of the north-western churches, organised tickets then went into the museum with the deacon for a walk around. Strangest looking deacon I have seen, youngish dude in black jeans and trainers with a vaguely religious looking white piece of fabric thrown over him!
Anyway strolled around the museum with had a small but strange bunch of artifacts before all meeting up with the guide and heading to the first set of churches. The walk to the churches was precarious to say the least. The uneven rocks were slippery so made for a slow and painful walk around. We spent a few hours taking in these rock-cut churches, they are all sunk into the ground and carved out of the rock. After we had done the first section we headed to a restaurant called Seven Olives for lunch, had a lightish lunch of vegetables and rice. After lunch we decided to leave the rest of the churches until tomorrow and head back to the hotel to relax, nap and read.
In the evening we headed out back into town for a meal at Johns Cafe followed by some drinks in a Tej bar. Tej is basically locally brewed honey wine and is rank. This bar had traditional local dancers and women dishing out glass jugs of Tej. All a bit random and loud but entertaining. We stayed for a few swigs of strong Tej before finding a tuktuk to take us back to bed.
Wednesday 26th August
We headed back to Johns cafe for breakfast before walking to a unique restaurant called Ben Abeba which looks like loads of tree houses stacked on top of each other with spiral walkways between them and the whole thing perched precariously on the mountain edge. The restaurant is owned by a Scottish lady who was as mental as her restaurant design! We sat having a drink until lunch and then ordered lunch which was quiche! The weather outside was misty, cold and wet so we holed up there until the rain stopped.
Once the rain had stopped Jacqueline, Nicole and myself left and walked to the south-east set of rock churches. What a debacle it was even more slippery that the day before and the walk to the churches was steep, rocky and very slippery. It made the going slow along with the fact that we didn’t know the route to the churches and ended up going back through the north-west set backwards in order to get to the beginning and work our way to south east set. At least we got value for money!
I am clearly not a mountain goat and was slipping all over the shop, so much for my anti-slip trek shoes! I was being overtaken by nimble-footed holy men in plastic jelly shoes (the fashion in rural Ethiopia!)
So there was me risking life and limb trying to negotiate rocky slippery paths when a man appeared out of nowhere to help me down the rocks. This ended up happening 10 or so times in the space of the afternoon. In the end it was getting out of hand and I was starting to wonder whether all these helpful men appearing out of nowhere was a sign from god and I was the chosen one! So for the afternoon I became St Francis of Pembury and blessed everyone that I passed.
Anyway being the chosen one did not help us navigate the churches on our own and we ended up lost in Lalibela…we were the only people around, wandering from church to church and being directed by the ‘guardians’ up rock-cut ladders, into caves, down dark corridors which eventually would bring us out at another church! Eventually we wandered out of an opening onto the side of a mountain by a church that was closed and fenced off. We had nowhere to go and didn’t fancy walking the whole route back to get out. As luck would have it another man appeared at my time of need and showed us the way out. There were some steps hidden in the undergrowth that took us down a rock cut path to the other side of the mountain!
We eventually made it out the road and hailed a tuktuk back to the hotel which also proved hilarious as the driver asked us where we all came from…Nicole replied New Zealand, Jacqueline replied Australia and I (having just found out I am the chosen one) said ‘heaven’ much to the amusement of everyone and we were all crying with laughter all the way back, even the tuktuk driver who was crying with laughter so much he could see where he was going and practically fell out the tuktuk when we made it back to the hotel.
Once back at the hotel we chilled for half an hour or so before heading down to the restaurant for a coffee ceremony. Now I don’t like coffee but I thought I would go and experience it for the cultural aspect. Well what a waste of time, it was basically watching a girl roast coffee beans, pound the beans and make a brew! There could have at least been so atmospheric music to accompany the coffee-making! Panpipes or african drums or something!
Later that evening we showered, packed and dined before heading to bed.
Thursday 27th August
Left early and headed back up the awful mountain road in the direction of Gonder again but turned off and heading to Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. We arrived at the hotel late afternoon/early evening and after freshening up Nicole, Wilma, Jacqueline, Jan, Alison and myself headed over to a restaurant on the lake for dinner. Had some lovely foiled baked fish with rice and veg before wandering back to the hotel for showers and bed.
Friday 28th August
Had a lie in and a lazy breakfast before taking a wander round town to the supermarket and market. Wilma and I went for a stroll through a huge clothing market before coming out in the middle of a vegetable market that stunk of rotting vegetables! We had a quick look round, narrowly missed standing on a rat then headed back into the clothing market to find our way out.
Wilma and I headed back to the restaurant on the lake for lunch before having a chilled afternoon on the wifi and watching films.
In the evening we met up with Nicole and popped out to a local pizza place for dinner before a spot more wifi and bed. Very chilled!
Saturday 29th August
Left Bahir Dar at 9am and headed on a long drive to Debre Markos. The drive was long and arduous but I passed it by brain training, reading and listening to music….normal long drive pastimes!
We were dreading the stopover here as we had read up on the hotel we were supposed to be in and it had terrible reviews and was a total fleapit so the alternative was bush camping! Aaaaargh!
However, we arrived in Debre Markos at 4.30pm and tried our luck at the top hotel in the area, luckily we got a great deal and instead of camping we stayed in this amazing hotel with wifi, pot plants, a lift, large clean rooms with white cotton duvet and a feather pillow, large power shower and a tv with cable.
We chilled in reception for a while using the wifi as they were changing our room into a triple for Ann, Wilma and I. We eventually got the key to our room and headed up to take in the wonders. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant (steak!) before having the most luxurious shower in a while and climbing into the amazing bed!
Sunday 30th August
Up at 5.30am and breakfast at 6am. Lovely buffet breakfast with french toast, banana fritters and local honey. We left the hotel at 7am and made our way slowly to Addis Ababa. The road wound up into the mountains and back down again. As per normal the journey was long, slow and arduous. The highlight of the journey was seeing huge vultures in a field, followed by the stench of death and then what appeared on the side of the road slightly further down was half a hyena being eaten by a group of vultures. They were squabbling and yanking at the poor dead hyena for chunks of meats. We stopped the truck alongside the spectacle for 5 minutes or so in order for us to observe and take pictures and videos.
A short while after the vulture/hyena spectacle we rounded a corner to see a huge line of traffic queued back which we had to join. It turned out to start with there was a religious ceremony going on at a church at this location, which happened to be the holiest place around. So there were loads of coaches oarked up along the road and people milling about everywhere. So we switched off the engine and sat people watching. After about 2 hours the traffic started to move, only single track was available though so there was general pushing in and arguments about who was entitled to go through and from which side next!
We thought we were in luck and we inched forward only to have a truck carrying a digger come the other way and whilst trying to squeeze through the gap hit a ditch and tilted right over to its right, almost fully tipping over. Well, christ, everything then ground to a halt again as this truck was blocking the way forward! Everyone was shouting, people were tooting their horns. It got proper messy!
It was at this point Wilma, Geoff, Malcolm and I settled down at a table on the truck to play cards. They were teaching me some weird Antipodean game called 500 which is a bit like a combination of poker, crib and hearts!
Whilst we were playing cards the stuck truck performed an amazing manoeuvre of reversing the digger off the back of the truck using the arm and bucket as a balance and all without tipping the truck over. Then the truck moved onto the flat, then the digger drove back on much to the delight of the crowd and to some applause!
So after 4 hours of being parked up we finally got moving and rattled through the final 100km to Addis Ababa. We got into Addis at 10.30pm looking forward to our hotel room, bed and shower. Unfortunately the hotel was a total shithole, its supposed to be the oldest hotel in Addis and from the state of the rooms I would say it’s not been decorated again since! Nicole and I had a basic room which smelt of wet dog with a shower that only produced cold water! Still we were tired so crawled into bed and slept surprisingly well.
Monday 31st August
Up at a leisurely hour and breakfasted at the hotel. After breakfast Nicole, Wilma and I headed out to the National Museum to see Lucy. For those of you that don’t immediately know who Lucy is, she is a small monkey found in the 70s in Ethiopia who appears to be the missing link between monkeys and humans. There is a display with her fragmented skeleton in and then a replica of her showing monkey features but with a pelvis and legs like a human, making her bi-pedal or 2 footed rather than 4 footed.
After the museum we popped next door for a cold drink and rest after the long walk from the hotel to the museum in thick carbon monoxide! Pretty grim, think the 30 minute walk shortened my lifespan by 5 years all the crap, chemicals and fumes we inhaled! Anyway the Lucy cafe was a welcome respite from the outside world, tranquil little cafe with tortoises and foliage. After our refreshing drink we left and tried to hail a cab to the Sheraton for a nice slap up lunch. Unfortunately the taxi drivers in Addis Ababa are thieves and upon asking got told it would cost us 400 Ethiopian Birr which is over 10 times the cost elsewhere in Ethiopia! We declined the taxi telling him he was too expensive and a comedian! We therefore ended up walking across town in the fumes to the Sheraton. Once there we checked out the restaurants and decided on Stagioni the italian. All the ingredients had been flown in from the med and were fresh, so Nicole and I shared and Insalata Caprese with proper mozzarella and pesto and Wilma had crostini, then for main Nicole and I had the sea bass with potatoes and veg, including cauliflower and broccoli and Wilma had a caesar salad. After our slap up lunch we headed to the foyer for drinks and people watching whilst Nicole had a massage. There was some kind of conference on so the foyer was littered with chinese and japanese business men and women all following their bizzare business customs of bowing, sitting lower than the person you are doing business with, crossing arms over knee etc.
Once Nicole returned we ordered afternoon tea with a chocolate brownie sundae and hot chocolate. Probably the best thing we will eat in the whole trip! As we had 3 months of camping coming up now with very few if any hotels we thought we would make the most of the opportunity to do ‘ladies that lunch’. To be honest it was the best place to be as the heavens opened mid afternoon and there was a monsoon downpour and a thunderstorm. Once the rain had passed and we were suitably refreshed we left the Sheraton and walked back through some dubious streets to our crap hotel. We passed some interesting characters on route from prostitutes, dodgy geezers, homeless beggars and nutters who insisted on touching our arms! Eventually as we neared our hotel we came across a man who offered us a bite of his corn on the cob, when we declined he started following us and telling us it was dangerous for us here etc etc. Pretty sure he was off his face on chat so we ignored him and made it back safe! Somehow we managed to make it around Addis without getting spat on and then pickpocketed or invited to a coffee ceremony and then robbed, which apparently according to the lonely planet is a common crime!
Once back at our hotel we grabbed a drink in the bar before heading to the room for an ice-cold shower and bed.
Tuesday 1st September
Alarm went off at 6am, up and dressed and headed to breakfast for 6.30am. Waited for the hotel staff to get going so breakfast ended up being 7.15am when we were supposed to leave at 7am! So we left a tad later than planned and drove all morning until we stopped at an Ethiopian Winery for lunch. We had a normal truck lunch in the car park of the winery but we all piled into their shop to buy local wines and spirits. Not being a wine drinker I bought a small bottled of locally produced Ethiopian Baileys.
The afternoon consisted of more driving until we reached Lake Awassa and our campsite for the night.
It turned out to be a lovely campsite right on the lake with facilities and a bar and a troupe of monkeys (if that is the correct collective noun!)
We pitched our tent and I hid the zipper so that the monkeys couldn’t break in and steal our stuff. As it was they were sitting on the top of our tent and rummaging in other people’s bags they had left out in the open. I even caught a monkey trying to undo the zip thinking the zipper was at the bottom, I watched in amusement as he tried to find it but couldn’t. When I casually looked over and said ‘ahem, what do you think you are doing’ he looked like a naughty schoolboy caught out by the teacher and then ran off! Little shit!
We have also taken to strategically positioning our tent when we camp so we pitched ours not along the lake shore but under a huge tree over the back. My thought process was when it pissed it down with rain over night everyone would get wet and we would remain dry!
Anyway we had cheesy chicken pasta for tea once we fended off the monkeys and settled in for our nights sleep under the tree.
Guess what…it pissed down and I lay there merrily listening to everyone get up and zip down the windows and doors so as not to get rain in the tent and ours was bone dry under the tree with merely a few drops making their way through the branches to our tent. We were able to leave all the windows and doors open and lie there somewhat smug with our strategy!
Wednesday 2nd September
Awoke still somewhat smug and dry and had breakfast whilst fending off monkeys. One ran off with a piece of toast and I caught a furry mitt creeping up from underneath the truck stairs trying to get into a carrier bag!
We had another long drive today to Konso, I spent most of the day waving like a lunatic at people as we whizzed along.
We arrived in the evening and Alison and I were sharing a room for 3 nights, she sat out in the bar with a beer and left me to chuck my stuff in the room. I had merrily dumped my bag on the bed and then headed to the bathroom when I saw a cockroaches the size of a large mars bar on the floor, this led to a total mental breakdown for 10 minutes…during which time I headed to the truck to get my industrial can of insect killer spray, came back sprayed the cockroach and bathroom and then fetched Alison to remove dead roach from the floor. We then hit the restaurant for dinner, there was two thing on the menu…..shero and njera. Upon returning to the bathroom we had 3 more huge cockroaches which had sadly perished due to my spray, so Alison removed them also.
We crawled into bed…only after I had sprayed a chemical barrier around my bed so no cockroaches could reach me!
We had one more dead through the night when Alison got up for midnight wee but after that no more cockroaches appeared. Thank god!
Thursday 3rd September
We were rudely awoken early by a young guy filling the beer fridge which happened to be right outside our window. This was somewhat of an annoyance but second to the fact we were casually lying on the bed and the guy was peering straight through the window at us. Alison grabbed the curtains and pulled them closed but the curtains had other ideas and the whole curtain rod with curtains attached fell from the hooks onto Alison’s bed, she then looked up with a look of horror and ‘what the hell just happened’ on her face, the guy was peering in the room, I was wetting myself laughing and Alison’s reaction was to make the noise of someone who has just trodden on a snail in bare feet and then pull the covers over her head! This prompted me to laugh even harder! Brilliant!
The rest of the group headed off on a 2 day people safari to some far-flung tribes but Alison and I decided to stay in Konso and do some cultural bits and bobs and housekeeping!
First on the schedule was washing and hanging it outside on the line to dry. Then we headed over for breakfast. When I reached the table Alison had acquired an Ethiopian man called Asha who apparently had been told to keep an eye on us as we were by ourselves and offer his services as a tour guide! So we went with him out to the markets where Alison bought a scarf and we had a wander around a local village. We then headed to the small handicrafts centre before buying our ticket for the museum from the ticket office.
Then we headed for a nice restaurant on the hill for a drink before heading to the small museum. It only really contained photographs of traditional Konso tribal stone villages (a UNESCO world heritage site) and loads of wakas. Wakas are wooden carved statues of deceased people that they put on their graves. They are very rare and these ones are some of the only ones left in the country. After walking around the little museum we headed back to the lodge on the hill for lunch of tilapia and veg. After a leisurely lunch we wandered with Asha to a local market which was busy, noisy and mental. Loads of locals selling and shopping for vegetables, fruit, wood and other household items. We wandered around amidst the locals and goats who snuck in to eat people’s wares when they weren’t looking! After that we headed back to the hotel and chilled for the afternoon.
Friday 4th September
Alison and I met Asha again at 9ish and headed off in a tuktuk together to a Konso tribal village to see the UNESCO stone terraces and buildings. After a 10 minutes tuktuk off-road ride we had to get out and walk up stone steps for half an hour to reach the lower part of the village. We met a few villagers who seemed friendly enough until we started taking photos with them in them. We had been told it was fine and we donated some money to the village but apparently it still wasn’t enough and they wanted more money!
So after looking around for a short while we left the irate villagers and started the descent back to the tuktuk. The tuktuk wasn’t waiting where it was supposed to so we ended up walking for 20 minutes or so out of the village and across a construction site of a new stadium to get to a road where the tuktuk finally met us. We headed back to the lodge for lunch and wifi before strolling back down the hill to the hotel for a peaceful afternoon before the rest of the group got back!
We settled down at 7pm with Killian, Ciara, Roberta and Lee who also had not gone on the people safari but had gone trekking nearby. They had also been to some villages earlier in the day and been thrown out of one so it appears we fared well with just irate villagers!
The truck appeared at 9.45pm with the group looking weary and dusty so we left them to have showers and order beers and we ordered shero and njera for dinner.
After dinner we sat having a few drinks before heading to bed.
Saturday 5th September
We left Konso at 8.30am and headed on terrible roads towards Kenya, the drive was long and took us through amazing scenery of dry scrubland, dust storms, little timber hut villages and hundreds of termite mounds as tall as trees littering the landscape!
We drove all day and stopped on the side of the road to bush camp. The bush camp was shit so everyone ate and was in the tent by 8pm! Still we were right by the Kenyan border so a morning crossing would mean we would get into Kenya in good time.