ADDIS ABABA TO BAHIR DAR TO LALIBELA TO AXUM TO SEIMEN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK TO GONDAR
JUNE 29 : ADDIS ABABA TO BAHIR DAR
Had breakfast at the Ghone Hotel, where we had been staying in Addis, before leaving to head north for six days of visiting various historical and geographical sites in northern Ethiopia.
Our tour guide made mind boggling reading about places to see including palaces frequented by Queen of Sheba, Alexander The Great, Queen Constantine, monasteries dating back 900 years, greek orthodox churches carved out of rock, etc., etc., as well as the natural wonders such as the Lakes, The Rift Valley, The Blue Nile River & Falls, etc., Many of these being world heritage sites.
We were now 4 days ahead of schedule so we planned a 6 day round route based upon information garnered from other tourists as well as our own tourist guide map. First stop would be Bahir Dar which would be our first base for two days.
At this time of year the climate is very rainy and there are thunderstorms almost very afternoon followed by rain throughout the night. We would not be camping in this weather and decided to find hotels wherever we could. You can get a reasonable hotel room for 40 usd for two sharing, so why camp?
Ethiopia is very hilly and we took along time to climb out of Addis before eventually reaching the summit. The altitude has an affect on the Bulldogs breathing so he battled to get up the hills…mostly in second gear. After reaching to top we headed north along the plateau consisting of semi arid areas as well as some areas where agriculture was taking place in earnest, mostly where there are rivers.
All the rivers in Ethiopia are a rich red colour stemming from the natural colour of the soil. Soil erosion is a big problem. The rivers all eventually disperse into the great lakes in the rift valley. The source of the Blue Nile is at Lake Tana in Bahir Dar and that was where we were heading.
Suddenly we came around a corner and the landscape dropped off way down into the depths of the rift valley. By the time we reached the bottom we had descended almost 2,5km in a distance of about only 10kms. Our breaks were taking strain and we had no option but to shift to second gear and let the Bulldog use his compression to take us down. Lipstick at one stage suffered complete brake failure but managed also get into low gear to help break the car. Their brakes revived themselves once back on the level at the bottom.
What goes up must come down as they say…and we were now facing a 2,5km climb up on the other side. This seemed to take forever. The countryside was very rocky yet fertile, local pops ploughing through the rocks to plant mealies using their home made ploughs made out of logs with a strong down pointed log at the end, drawn by two oxen.
The mountain pass being a nightmare for trucks, many broken down on the way and lying in the middle of the road with large parts like gear boxes and axles lying all over the place. They would be going nowhere for a long time and would be repaired on the spot. In the meantime all traffic would have to go around them. Warning signs would be some rocks or branches placed in the road to warn you of the upcoming breakdown. Being a very steep mountain pass and probably also due to a large amount of underground water, there are massive sinkings in the tar that come without warning.
After a full days traveling we eventually reached Bayir Dar and settled into a reasonable hotel on the shores of lake Tana.
The bar and lounge was good and the chairs shaped like miniature camels tickled our fancy. Supper was also good so we had nothing to complain about.
The language barrier is a problem because we have no knowledge of the basics of Arabic and in turn they do not speak English at all. We have learned to say Salaam to everything which seems to go down well.
The Ethiopians use a different clock which goes like this:
They only have 12 hours i.e. 1 to 12 in the morning and 1 to 12 in the evening.
1 oclock on the morning is our 7 oclock.
6 oclock is midday
12 oclock is our six pm.
And so on.
We really get mixed up when making arrangements to be at certain places at certain times and always have to check if it is international or Ethiopian time they are talking about.
They also only have 30 days in a month so they have twelve equal months and the balance of the days are put into a final month. Leap years are catered for in this month.
JUNE 30 : BAYIR DAR : LAKE TANA AND BLUE NILE FALLS
Tin boat for five hour trip to various monasteries and islands around the perimeter of the lake.
Hippos in the Blue Nile
All places more than 900 years old
Goat skin manuscripts.
Massive doors carved from single logs.
Rain forests on islands.
Rock retaining walls: to create vegetable gardens, retain earth around monastery, retain earth for entire perimeter of island at water level.
Came back early and drove to Blue Nile falls.
Not so great.very dirty water and falls not so impressive but being at the famous Nile kept our interest.
Drove through very poor villages…almost exactly like a medieval village would look, mud, donkeys, chickens, stone walls, muddy pools, stenchy, smoke, etc., etc.,
Bought spare wheel bearing seal at Toyota Dealership. You have never seen so many landcruisers in your life. The work bay had 13 in a row at any time hoisted up for service. The yard is cluttered with cruisers waiting to be collected and/or repaired. The Bulldog was smiling from eye to eye being the most handsome of them all…..these guys do not have any fancy trimmings or mag rims like he has. This area is certainly the home of the landcruiser 70 series and we have unofficially re-named the town Bulldog City.
1 JULY 2011 : BAYIR DAR to LALIBELA
Left early in the morning knowing that it would take a long time due to the endless mountain passes. The northern part of Ethiopia consists of about 80% mountains, and they are massive. Some time in the past the road network had been cut through these mountains and the passes are endless. It is not uncommon to go through a series of up to 10 hairpin bends so that you can drop down a shear cliff only to continue once again along another mountain pass. This is civil engineering at its best. The drop offs next to the road are shear, the views are spectacular and the trees and vegetation are lush. Driving a right hand drive car doesn’t do much for the nerves when you have a 1000m drop off on your right hand side!
Although your speed is slow, you are always wide awake and somehow you don’t get tired of the passes. Sometimes you cannot believe the routes that have been chosen.They are simply crazy and I dont think any engineer in south Africa would dare design a road such as these guys have. Sani Pass is a mere pup in comparison.
On top of this there are roadworks on a continual basis and the term “moving mountains” is exactly what happens. Never seen so much excavation and massive vertical retaining walls (made out of natural stone and not reinforced concrete) in my life.
On the level areas the local guys carrying poles are a menace. All buildings are built with poles and every local seems to carry one to town every day to earn himself a buck. You have to be very careful that he does not turn sideways just before you pass as you will then be facing a pole at bonnet level that crosses one entire lane.
Lalibela simply leaves you speechless and completely overwhelmed. There are 5 churches completely carved out of rock. These date back to 1200bc and there is very little evidence on how they were built. They estimate it took 23 years to carve each building out of the mountainside. It is definitely more interesting than any Egyptian pyramid, sphinx or tomb. The entire building is rock and the inside is as beautiful as you can get with features and designs carved onto the columns including arches and beams……all constructed to precise dimensions.
They have now been included as a World heritage site with Unesco funding in order to preserve them. As a matter of interest these Greek orthodox churches are in daily use and we were able to go in at the same time that a service was being held. Medieval as you can get and in our opinion should be included as one of the wonders of the world. It is beyond belief. Tourism to these churches is still catching on but there is no doubt that it will become very busy in time to come.
We would recommend that after reading this blog that you look up Lalibela on the internet as we are sure the photographs and information that you will find there will be a surprise to you.
2 JULY 2011 : LALIBELA to AXUM
Arrived at Axum in rain and lightning at night. Hired a guide and visited Stellae Park in the morning. This area comprises Obelisks of various sizes and heights all beautifully carved of solid monolithic stone. Below each obelisk are tombs and catacombs much like you would find at the pyrimads. There is one obelisk that is 30m tall, which has unfortunately fallen over. This place is an archeologists dream and many diggings have taken place with some amazing findings. We were able to go down into some of the tombs and luckily the mummies had been removed!
Axum is steeped in history and this is the town in which Queen of Sheba lived with her son that had been fathered by King Solomon. How she got from Jerusalem to Axum is a miracle. She ruled over Ethiopia for a while and so did her son. We visited the ruins of her palace and if you closed your eyes you could believe you were back in biblical times.
The Ark Of the Covenant is believed to be concealed in the church across the road. Apparently the son of Sheba brought it from the holy land.
It is very difficult to understand the history here, as it seems to be as important as what happened in the holy land at the same time. We will definitely be doing some research on the Internet when we get back.
3 JULY 2011 : AXUM TO SIEMEN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
After going through thousands of magnificent mountain passes that we are sure are beyond comparison anywhere in the world we arrived at Siemen Mountain Park in the evening. This is the home of the rare Giladi Baboon that is not found anywhere else in the world.
We walked with a baboon troop in morning; this being very special as they allow you to walk amongst them and you are no more than a metre away at any time. Their chest is a strange shape and almost looks you see their hearts. Very stimulating and would rank a close second to visiting the Gorillas in Rwanda.
We stayed in the mountain lodge, which is at a very high altitude of 3200m. Breathing the thin air is very difficult and any sudden movement you make leaves you breathless.
In fact the whole of northern Ethiopia gives you the feeling of living high in the clouds and on top of the world.
The park is also home to the Ibex that we did not have time to see, as they are even higher up in the mountains. These are the mountain goats with the very big horns like roan antelope and they head-butt each other all day long without falling off the shear precipices that they live on.
4 JULY 2011: SEIMEN PARK TO GONDAR
Arrived at Gondar at lunch time and are currently staying at a hotel on top of a hill overlooking the town below and the mountains and valleys in the distance. From this perch we are able to see Gondar Castle and some grand monasteries.
We are now a couple of days ahead of schedule and are preparing The Bulldog for crossing into Sudan tomorrow.
All our best wishes from the Bulldog Team “woof woof who let the dogs out”