Wednesday, October 22, 2014

You are kindly invited to attend my upcoming presentation in London:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

You are invited to attend my upcoming presentation in London:

Seating is limited, so please come early or bring a pillow just in case you'll end up sitting on the floor;-)


Sunday, 22nd July 2012 at 4pm


V22 Workspace
F-Block Halls
The Biscuit Factory
100 Clements Rd
London SE16 4DG

General Queries:

Free entry. Donations welcome.

Monday, July 19, 2010


On Thursday, 29th July 2010, I will be holding a presentation with photos, video clips and plenty of anecdotes. For further info, please click on the poster below:


The Tafelberg Restaurant
(Cape Town German Club)
6 Roodehek Terrace
off 105 Hope St, Gardens (M3 outbound, turn off to the left opp. Gardens Center)
Cape Town 8001
Phone 021-465 6852


Thursday, 29th July 2010, 7pm

Tickets are available at:

Ulrich Naumann
Deutsche Buchhandlung (German Bookshop)
17 Burg St, Cape Town 8001

The Tafelberg Restaurant
Tuesdays - Sundays 11am until late, or
ticket counter from 6pm on
event night

Admission R 35
The presentation will be
held in English (with a proper German accent)

Looking forward to seeing you there!


Please spread the word ;-)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Serene Sudan

Friday, 24th of October, Gonder in Ethiopia to bushcamp 30km outside Gedaref in Sudan

Happy to explore a new country, I make my way to the border town Matema on a partly tarred and mountainous road. Before I get there I almost forget to stop in Shenedi, 50 km short of Matema where according to other overlanders’ information the customs office supposed to be. That office is quite a sight and if I’d dared to, I would have taken a photo to document it! Their customs office actually looks more like a dormitory! Four string beds with mosquito nets, each one with a snoozing customs officer in them, have been put up in a way almost like to fortify the counter! Without one of them moving an inch I am told it is lunchtime and they would only open at 3 pm again! I look at my cellphone – it’s just after 1 pm now, lunchtime! What a joke! After telling them that I am still trying to make it to Khartoum today, they make me understand that the person with the key for the drawer in which the stamp is stored is gone home for lunch… but they assure me that somebody seems to have gone to call him. So I go back to my car and make myself a quick salad for lunch. After about half an hour the guy eventually arrives, only to tell me that I could proceed to the customs office in Matema! Hm, interesting! Didn’t know there is one now! He signs the letter though, that I got from the Customs and Revenue Authority in Addis.

When I arrive at customs in Matema, the customs officer in charge, again the only one that has the magic stamp to get me out of Ethiopia also seems to be on lunch in the village and a few attempts to track him down prove to be unsuccessful. So I try my luck at immigration where a young guy with quite an attitude grabs my passport and pages through a huge book with long lists of numbers to see if my passport number is blacklisted! I seem to be clean, so back to the customs office where the guy eventually turns up to stamp my carnet.

In Galabat on the Sudanese side things seem to be even more relaxed! When I arrive at the customs office, which is nothing more than a table situated in a large
shed-like building with a corrugated iron roof and a squeaky electric fan hanging from it, all what seem to be customs officers (one doesn’t really know – none of them wear any kind of uniform!) are gathered eating from one big plate of fish (it’s Friday!). Bad timing – lunchtime again! I get invited to eat with them and against my protest one guy disappears just to come back shortly after with another fried fish just for me! So with a bit of a sigh I stow my passport away again and join them at the table, reminding myself to adhere to Muslim tradition only to use my right hand for eating.

After I finish my lunch, one of the guys actually attends to my paperwork, but it turns out that the chief officer in charge who needs to sign my application is actually on some praying duty! I end up waiting 1 ½ hours for him, compelled to sip chai with the other officers! After his arrival I finally get the carnet done, get registered at immigration (130 Sudanese Pounds), recorded at the police office and only manage to leave the border after 5 pm, more than 4 hours later!

My advice to fellow overlanders: Choose any other time other than Friday lunchtime for this border crossing!

Relived having finally left the border formalities behind me, I drive on a perfect tar road into the sunset and bushcamp in a field 30 km outside Gedaref. One thing that really strikes me while I’m driving – it’s so quiet here! No children running after me, no one shouting, no one begging, no ‘You! You! You!’ So far any Sudanese person I pass is either waving friendly at me or just carrying on mining his/her own business! How awesome is that!

Saturday, 25th of October, bushcamp outside Gedaref to Khartoum

I cross the wide Blue Nile River and drive into Wad Medani where I exchange Sudanese Pounds and have yummy falafels on the side of the road. When I arrive in Khartoum I head straight for the Security Office which is actually closed – some important king has apparently passed away and a national holiday has been announced for his funeral. The same applies for the Antiquities Office where I wanted to get permits for the different archaeological sites, the German Consulate and even the National Museum, so I pop in at the Acropole Hotel to pass on best regards from Wim to the Greek owner.

The Blue Nile Sailing Club seems to be the place to meet other overlanders so I pull in there and meet a definitely different type of overlander: A guy driving from the UK to Cape Town in a white Porsche ( busy fixing the vehicles fallen-off exhaust!!! With a permanent marker I add my signature amongst plenty of others on the fender of his vehicle and admire the 6 year old beauty, equipped with quite a different kind of rear spoiler: A ply-wood roof platform that not only unfolds serving as a base for a two-man ground tent but also has a wall-mount Heineken bottle opener screwed onto it! I park Anse at the Sailing Club and get a lift into the city center where I eat at a local restaurant and catch up with some internet.

Back at the Sailing Club I meet more overlanders, two Dutch couples who are on their way south to Cape Town. They tell me that if I was registered in Galabat, I don’t need to re-register again in Khartoum since the blue sticker that was put into the passport at the border is actually marked ‘Central Registration, Khartoum’. Yay! One less errand tomorrow! As the Porsche guy comes up in the conversation, they mention having met some London guys going south in one of these red double-decker buses!

Sunday, 26th of October, Khartoum

I go to the German Embassy where I speak to the Regional Security Officer about the current situation in Sudan after the Gilf Kebir kidnapping and specifically about the route from Port Sudan along the Red Sea Coast via Halaib to Aswan in Egypt. The Security Officer ensures me that the kidnapping was nothing for me to worry about since it occurred in the isolated far western part of the Egyptian/Sudanese border close to Chad and didn’t affect the areas I was planning to visit. He isn’t concerned about the Port Sudan-Halaib-Aswan route either but mentions that I will definitely need to apply for a travel permit going east, since I would deviate from the standard north-south Wadi Halfa - Galabat route. An area I should stay away from he advises is Kassala close to the Eritrea border where several people have been killed during demonstrations last week.

To find out more about the Port Sudan-Halaib-Aswan route I go to the Egyptian Consulate from where I was sent to the Egyptian Embassy where I was told that they can’t help me and sent me back to the Consulate! In brief, I completely wasted my time and got no information!

To bear the heat I have a refreshing ice cold carcade (hibiscus) tea served out of a bucket by a street vendor and then sit down at a local ‘ful’ place where they serve the common bean dish with plenty of oil, hot sauce and cheese sprinkled on top and accompanied with two flat pita breads. After the meal I have my first Sudanese coffee, served by one of the ladies who one can find on almost every street corner. Their utensils seldom consist of more than a handful of stools, some pots, water containers and a tiny stove. They are masters in their trade and it’s fascinating to watch them juggle an array of coffee and tea pots on their charcoal stoves, adding to the brew depending on the client’s preferences, herbs and spicy condiments taken out of a multitude of jars that surround them.

A traditionally served Sudanese coffee comes in a little clay carafe with an elongated neck and a bulb-shaped base which rests on a little padded ring. Some form of twirled plastic wool that looks like it was part of a pot scourer gets pushed down the opening of the neck before pouring the thick coffee into a small china cup, holding back the gritty bits. After adding heaps of sugar the tiny spoon gets rinsed in a separate cup specifically filled with hot water for that purpose. A tiny incense burner spreads the distinctive smell of sandal wood and myrrh. Enjoyed sweet and black, the strong and always freshly roasted spice-infused coffee is rather intoxicating!

Replenished I try my luck at the Antiquities Office again but find out that the permits for archaeological sites are no longer issued centrally in Khartoum and can now be bought at each individual site!

During my visit of the interesting National Museum I am amazed about the artefacts’ Egyptian influence and also learn about the ruined village Suakin south of Port Sudan. I park off at the Rivera Restaurant’s terrace near Omdurman, enjoying an obviously non-alcoholic sundowner and dinner overlooking the Nile

Monday, 27th of October, Khartoum

As I am intrigued about the Red Sea coast and Port Sudan/Suakin, keen to find out more about the road up north from there to Aswan but at the same time also not so sure how difficult it would be to get a travel permit for that area, I decide to make my route choice dependant on how soon I would be able to obtain it. The security office has moved and it takes me a while to find its new location where I apply for the travel permit to Port Sudan. After making numerous copies up the road I submit my application from which the officers erase Halaib saying I should apply for there from Port Sudan. I get told I can collect it tomorrow – and there doesn’t seem to be any cost involved!

I explore the souqs of Omdurman, huge bustling markets with anything on sale one can think of. I meet a friendly local guy who turns out to be working for the American Embassy and invites me for okra (a vegetable which turns pretty slimy when cooked) and tea. I give him a lift back to Khartoum where I hang out with the Dutch overlanders at the Blue Nile Sailing Club.

Tuesday, 28th of October, Khartoum to bushcamp 110 km northeast of Khartoum

I do some emailing, back up my photos that pile up in my cameras, in the afternoon fetch the travel permit from the Security Office (Granted! That was easy enough!) and then check out the big and overpriced Afra Shopping Center before hitting the road and bushcamping 110 km northeast of Khartoum.

Wednesday, 29th of October bushcamp northeast of Khartoum to bushcamp with the Bedouins 100 km east of Atbara

Exploring the Temples of Naqa, namely the Lion Temple, the Temple of Amun and the Great Enclosure is great fun as they can only be reached by driving east off the tar road through the desert. I am glad that Priscilla is behaving as she guides me with confidence through the maze of tracks!

After a ‘ful’ pit-stop in a small village called Kabushiya I carry on to the Royal Cemetery of Meroe, where I explore the famous pyramids on camel back. After filling up in Atbara I turn onto the newly tarred Atbara – Port Sudan road.

I drive another 100 km east through seemingly endless desert and when the sun starts sinking towards the horizon I pull in, after asking for their approval, to bushcamp next to several Bedouin families who have erected their big tents at a distance from each other not far from the road. It boggles my mind how people can have an existence in this landscape that looks anything else but hospitable and am intrigued how they live.

They are as curious towards me as I am towards them. The gathering crowd watches my every move when I pitch my rooftop tent and letting them inspect it after it’s up creates big amusement! I get invited to their tent, this is so exciting! Their tents are very wide and open on the side facing away from the wind. It’s comfy with carpets and pillows everywhere. Everybody sits or lies down with me and I get offered delicious coffee. Apart from the essentials my Arabic is virtually non-existent and even after consulting my little phrase book I struggle to make conversation with them, so we try talking with hands and feet which ends up to be quite frustrating after a while! One of the men gives me his cell phone to charge – I am even surprised that there is coverage here in this desolate area! Later, after I’d given it fully charged back to him, it rings and for the next half an hour or so I watch the person on the other end of the phone being handed to every single person in the tent (even the kids) making loud and leeengthy conversations.

In the darkness of the night one little girl pulls one of the grazing goats towards the tent and the covered up mother sits down next to the goat to milk it. Some of the milk gets mixed with whatever is cooking in the big pot on the fire and the rest of it gets poured into several plastic bottles. A big pot of food gets handed over to the children who walk away with it and gather to eat outside the tent. Once they are finished I get served a big plate of hard to define food. Not quite sure what to expect and a bit worried having experienced the awful tasting piece of bread in Tiya, I cautiously try a small mouthful of the food in front of me while all Bedouins’ eyes in the tent are glued on me! Phew, I am relieved – it is actually very tasty! And the crowd is all smiles that I like it! It is a kind of coarse, brownish looking porridge, similar to maize pap but made of what I think is millet. It is topped with curdled goat’s milk which might sound gross but is actually quite yum and goes well together with the dryish millet pap. To thank them for their hospitality I pull out a big packet of chocolate biscuits that we all share amongst us.

Thursday, 30th of October, bushcamp with the Bedouins to bushcamp with the truckers in Port Sudan

I am up with the sun and wave the Bedouins goodbye. I ask the family father if I could take some photographs, but he doesn’t want to, which I respect. I am a bit sad that I won’t be able to share their beautiful faces with anybody, especially the ones of their gorgeous children! But I feel privileged that I was able to get a glimpse of their way of life that is so far removed from ours!

As I drive away I see one of the men walking past the goats towards the open desert. I wonder where he’s walking to and eventually make out a herd of camels far away on the horizon!

After a few more hours of endless road through vast desert landscape and past oncoming trucks carrying container loads of goods from Port Sudan, the road suddenly turns left and winds through a rugged mountain range, only to then carry on as straight again as before all the way to the coast! But then, after having driven through almost 500 km of dry and hostile environment, the sight of the vibrant turquoise waters of the Red Sea lapping on the beaches of Suakin is truly overwhelming! I visit the ruined remains that are left of what must have once been a bustling town of Suakin built that time entirely from coral bricks on a small peninsular south of Port Sudan. I enjoy freshly grilled catch of the day at the nearby seafood restaurant which also offers good views of Suakin and the ferry terminal from which ships leave to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, only 330 km from here!

Half an hour further north along the coast is Port Sudan, a busy town with a big commercial port. At the Hilton Hotel I try to find out more information about diving, but the diving operators that (according to the Bradt guide) had an office here closed their business two years ago. The hotel’s helpful security guard speaks good English and gives me phone numbers of two skippers/dive masters who might be able to help me. After checking my mails I try to find a hotel that would allow me to camp but most of them don’t have a courtyard, never mind secure parking! Frustrated I quit looking for a hotel and instead search for a possible bushcamping spot. Not so easy to find in a bigger town, but eventually I end up pitching my tent in a quiet street of the harbor next to truckers who spend their night on string beds beside their tanker trucks…

Friday, 31st of October, Port Sudan

One of the guys I called about diving gets back to me, but he is expecting a whole group booked onto a live-aboard diving excursion and is too busy preparing for them. He says that these types of excursions are the most common ones around here and finding day dives from Port Sudan won’t be easy.

Adamant to find out about the route north to Aswan I visit the local security office where I fill in the application form for the travel permit. Since it is Friday, the Commanding Officer in charge needs to get called and arrives half an hour later. I explain to him my intention and he claims that there shouldn’t be a problem as long as I have a valid travel permit. Somehow this all seems way too easy to me and I ask him if he possibly knows any spokesperson located near the border town Halaib that he could call to find out further information. For a while he browses through the contacts of his mobile phone and eventually calls a number. The conversation that follows seems to surprise him, so before he puts down the phone I can already tell that my route north won’t be going via Halaib! He sums up what he heard from his colleague: It seems like there is no real problem from the Sudanese side. The Egyptian Government however is very protective over tourists visiting their country and even though commercial and local traffic crosses into Egypt that way, it prohibits any foreigners from traveling this route. The main reason for this is that the former Sudanese town of Halaib, has been claimed by Egypt and is now disputed territory.

After all the mostly positive feedbacks I got until now I am just glad to find out the proper story here and not only 300 km further north!

When I ask the Security Officer about diving in the area he recommends going to Aruz 50 km up the coast and promptly issues me a travel permit for there. Before I follow his recommendation I head to the local souq where I get myself one of these long gowns that all the men wear here and have loads of fun with the tailors who for a few moments dress me up like a real Nubian – turban and all!

I drive up the sand blasted coast hoping to somehow find an opportunity for a dive – to no avail! All I find is the ‘Sudan Red Sea Resort’ which supposed to offer diving and snorkeling but whose owners are currently not around and a few km further north which supposedly is Aruz, I find a currently closed resort. Nonetheless I can’t resist the warm turquoise water, drive down to the beach, hop into my newly acquired outfit to make sure I don’t offend anybody (not that there were many people around to offend, but I wanted to be safe!) and leap into the Red Sea.

I meet three young fishermen, who seem to live on the beach close by and have set up their ‘camp’ there which merely consists of a huge cool box containing an ice block to preserve their catch, two plastic canisters of water, a pot and some basic utensils, all of it scattered around an area encircled by shells that looks like it is used for praying. They invite me over for a coffee and when I look at how they exist, it makes me realize in how much excess I actually live, even though my possessions are currently confined to a car! I drive back the sand blown road to Port Sudan and camp again with my trucker buddies ;-)

Saturday, 1st of November, Port Sudan to bushcamp next to Atbara-Karima tar road

I can’t resist another plunge into the turquoise waters of the Red Sea before heading through the desert back to Atbara where I manage to fill up water at the local market and take the ferry to cross to the western bank of the nile. Surprised to find a perfect new tar road, I make good headway and bushcamp in the desert not far from the road, 60 km short of Karima.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Intense Ethiopia

Thursday, 25th of September, bushcamp on northern Lake Turkana in Kenya to Turmi in Ethiopia
We drive a few kilometers further north to Louis Leakey’s camp, a base from which numerous important archaeological excavations are undertaken. Unfortunately Louis Leakey is not around, but the friendly camp manager invites us for tea and biscuits while some of his staff try to repair (unsuccessfully though) Coni/Andi’s and Eric’s tires. The camp is well equipped to operate in this hostile and isolated environment and we get to have a look at the gigantic solar oven, an impressive row of batteries which get charged by solar panels and a wind generator as well as the high tech desalination plant which supplies the camp with water from Lake Turkana. Even internet is available, though at the usual snail speed.

We get closer to the Ethiopian border and since there is no official border post, we ask at the Ileret police station for a letter of confirmation, stating that we have crossed the border there. A few kilometers further north we stop in the middle of nowhere because according to our GPS’s we have now really crossed into Ethiopia without passing a single border sign! Driving ahead of Eric and the Swiss and thinking that our next official stop is the immigration office in Ormorate (Kelem), I speed past the tiny settlement of Fort Banya only to get erratically waved back by a slightly upset crowd of villagers (supposedly police officers) armed with AK47’s. What a welcome! Obviously not happy about our intention to bypass their ‘checkpoint’ we spend a while arguing with them, but after we show them our passports and the letter from the Ileret police station and after Coni, Andi and I agree to give three locals a lift to Ormorate all is good! Anse gets ‘Africanized’ with the luggage of my temporary passenger Lelibele: A sack of maize, a bag of charcoal and two live chicken get thrown onto Anse’s roof and off we go! Lelibele is a teacher in Ormorate and she explains to me in broken English that we were the first cars since five days coming past her village!

It’s not too long until we turn left onto the main gravel road towards Ormorate, (driving now on the right side of the road again) and check in at the Immigration Office there. We get asked for declaration papers for our cars, which we know we don’t require, all of us having carnets, but it takes some talking to convince them (thanks Eric!). The customs official asks us to come back in half an hour for them to check our passports, so we walk into the rather strange village where we manage to exchange some US Dollars into Birr, even though at a bad rate. After the customs official thoroughly scrutinizes each car, we are finally released and head on to Turmi where we set up camp at the shady Mango Campsite.

Friday, 26th of September, Turmi to bushcamp next to Hamer village

There are several peculiar tribes living in the Omo valley. The south is predominantly inhabited by the Hamer who number about 35000 and are known for their display of elaborate and eclectic body decorations, especially the women who are easily distinguishable by their thick plaits of ochre-colored hair hanging down in a heavy fringe, wearing beaded leather skirts, dozens of copper bracelets on their arms and heavy copper necklaces around their neck if they are married and displaying body scars on different parts of their body. Some of the men have hair buns formed into shape with colorful clay, indicating that they have killed a person or a dangerous animal within the last year.

Many organized village tours are offered in this area, but the four of us all agree that we don’t want to involve a guide and prefer to arrange our own one-on-one experience where interaction is more personal and our contributions will benefit the village directly, without a third party involved. After learning from one of the campsite staff that there is a Hamer village 2 km away which offers dancing, we drive there to find out if we can negotiate a price to see the dancing, take some photos and maybe even bushcamp there, but communication with the village elder proves to be difficult and we make him understand that we might be back later in the evening. On our way out we bump into the guy from the Mango Campsite who obviously had seen us doing our own thing and unhappy about his commission vanishing… so maybe not the best thing to visit this village!

We drive further eastwards on the Turmi – Arbore road and take a random track to another Hamer village. This village seems very large, consisting of numerous smaller clusters of huts and we arrive while a group of men are holding a meeting, so we feel a bit awkward to disturb. Three Hamer men approach us and we try to negotiate a price to be able to take some photographs. Judging the price per car they give us (can’t remember but it was way too expensive), we figure that this village is used to big tourist groups and we don’t even bother engaging into further negotiations.

A bit disappointed about our two more or less failed attempts, we have our first traditional Ethiopian lunch outside a hotel in Turmi. Today, because it’s Friday only fasting food is served, consisting of different vegetables placed on the large pancake-like ‘injera’, which is made from fermented dough using flour from a grain called ‘tef’. Yummy! A strong and sweet Ethiopian coffee to round the lunch off and we are ready for action again!

This time we head north on the Turmi – Key Afer road where we take another random turn off east and end up at a handful of Hamer huts situated on a small hill. Little do we know that we hit the Jackpot with this village…! The Hamer chief, whose name is Bona greats us and because of the language barrier, Eric tries to explain the easiest way possible what our objective is. Coni jumps in as she did her masters in Ethiopia a few years ago and still remembers a fair amount of Amharic which now comes in super handy to communicate the more tricky details! After discussing with the other men, Bona agrees to allow us into the village and we negotiate a price for seeing them dancing, taking as many photographs as we want (during the organized tours one often has to pay for each photograph) and for bushcamping next to the village!

We park our cars right next to the village and the Hamer men and some of the women gather for a dance. After handing our contribution to Bona, the atmosphere gets more relaxed and the men hang out, sitting on their little head rests/stools while the women gather to chat. Eric has the great idea not only for us to see how the Hamer live but also for them to see a bit of our culture and lifestyle, allowing a more mutual beneficial cultural exchange. So Eric pitches his rooftop tent and let Bona and the other men have a look inside it – an amusing sight! I pull out my Africa map and show them my travel route, but the Hamer men are much more interested in my Ethiopia map which has animal sketches depicted in the specific areas where they occur on the map. Bona points at each animal, saying its name in the Hamer language and all the other men repeat the name, nodding with agreement. Coni and Andi circulate photos of their families back home amongst the villagers.

We also get a chance to go inside their huts where Hamer women sit on goat skins, craft new leather skirts and grind some grain to make flour using a flat stone. Bona invites all of us into his hut where we get served a coffee-tea, brewed from the husks of coffee beans which gets scooped out of a clay pot on the fire into huge calabash bowls and passed to each of us. While the four of us are sitting in a circle sipping tea with the Hamer men (only one woman was present serving the tea), I really feel privileged to be able to experience the Hamer hospitality at such personal level!

Not sure if it was Andi or Eric who came up with the idea to ask if we could have a goat for supper, but not long after we agreed on a price, a goat gets slaughtered right in front of us, put onto a bed of leafy branches right there, skinned, gutted and cut into pieces which get pushed onto pointed wooden spits and arranged around the fire by ramming them into the ground. Andi does a brilliant job basting the meat with a honey/beer marinade and soon, after giving a big part of the meat to our hosts, we all sit around the fire, munching away at this special communal feast!

After the meal Bona disappears and comes back with a calabash bowl filled with honey in honeycombs which we all fish out with our fingers– delicious! One only has to avoid eating the odd (bitter tasting) bee that got drowned in the sticky juices. More than content with our Hamer experience, we head to our tents, trying to digest today’s events.

Saturday, 27th of September, bushcamp next to Hamer village to Jinka

Today is market day in Dimeka and after handing over some presents and saying goodbye to the villagers, we give Bona, another man and two Hamer women a lift to the weekly event. We arrive a bit early for the market who really only starts happening from around 10 am and have breakfast at a hotel (scrambled eggs fried in rancid butter). It’s an awesome experience to dive into the hustle and bustle of this busy market, surrounded by trading Hamer people wherever one moves. I am surprised to find a good choice of fruit and vegetables there and stock up on bananas, papaya, guavas, granadillas and tomatoes. I also find ‘itaan’, pieces of dried tree sap (amber?) which gives off a pleasant scent when put onto hot coals. After we are done with all our shopping, we hit the road again, via Key Afer to just outside Jinka where we pull in at the neat Rocky Campsite. Coni cooks for us a delicious risotto with dried mushrooms – yummy!

Sunday, 28th of September, Jinka to bushcamp outside Mago NP

We plan to drive into Jinka town but get stopped by a check point with a rope where we supposed to pay an entrance fee even though we are only passing through the town! Eric gets into an argument about that with the ‘official’ and drives through the gathering crowd around the barrier. We drive straight to the police station to report the incident and slowly it becomes a big issue, with Eric having to talk to the head of the tourism bureau and him being demanded to pay for a chair that he allegedly damaged when going around the barrier.

We also try to exchange some more dollars on the black market (it’s Sunday and banks are closed) which turns out to be a huge headache, but eventually we manage to change some at the Jinka Resort, where we have lunch while waiting for Eric who is still sorting out his chair issue. Eventually all is good and we leave for Mago NP where we are planning to see another village of the Mursi tribe. The drive is stunning as the park lies on the bottom of the Rift Valley and the windy road descends from the 2400 high escarpment. Just outside Mago NP we find a great bushcamping spot and wash down the annoying events of the day with Eric’s screwdriver and a communal ‘dawa’.

Monday, 29th of September bushcamp outside Mago NP to Key Afer

At the Mago NP headquarter we hire a scout and visit a Mursi tribe, whose women are known for wearing their clay lip plates which are inserted into their lower lip. As the entrance into a village is 200 Birr per vehicle, we leave Eric and my cars at the headquarters and the four of us plus the scout squeeze into Coni and Andis Nissan. This village experience is totally different to our Hamer one and we are not enjoying the encounter at all. The Mursi come across as very aggressive people, partly because some of them are drunk and as one has to pay 2 Birr for each photograph to the person one took a picture of, we get pestered and beleaguered constantly, with Mursi pulling on our clothes, trying to get our attention and money.

Visiting the Mursi village was a disturbing experience for me and it’s clearly visible that the effects of tourism can cause a lot of damage if the revenue generated by it doesn’t get managed properly. If I had known beforehand that I am supporting the drinking problem and therewith also the loss of the identity of the Mursi, I would have definitely not spent my money there!

Back at the headquarters, we all hop into our own cars again, drive up the windy road again through Jinka and just manage to arrive before the market at Koko closes. We stock up on some supplies (mainly beer!) and drive further to Key Afer where Coni runs after a boy who hit her, gathering the crowds and creating some action in that otherwise sleepy town! We eat a yummy ‘kai wat’ and camp at a little pension with a shower next door across the road.

Tuesday, 30th of September Key Afer to Arba Minch

Pretty much a driving day form Key Afer to Arba Minch. After boycotting an overpriced hotel venue, we stop for lunch at a small local restaurant in Konso, where we some local brew ‘tej’ made with honey.

When driving through the villages we get pestered by children a lot who shout: ‘You, you, you!’, ‘Give me your money, give me your money!’ ‘Highland, Highland, Highland!’ (referring to the plastic bottles of a local brand of mineral water). One boy throws a stone at Eric’s car and he makes a point in stopping and running after him.

After checking in at the Bekele Mola Hotel Campsite in Arba Minch we hit the local internet café. My mum and my brother both send me concerning news about 5 Germans who were part of a tourist group that was kidnapped in Gilf Kebir on the Egyptian/Sudanese border.

Since our ways will part from here tomorrow we exchange all our photos.

Wednesday, 1st of October, Arba Minch to Awasa

Eric also decides to head to the Bale Mountains, so we say goodbye to Coni and Andi who will head north to spend some time on Lake Langano before taking on their volunteering jobs in Mekele. It’s sad to see them leave but we can hopefully catch up with them again in a few days on our way to Addis. After exchanging some Birr (thereby experiencing the most serene and professional banking service ever!) and me slipping into a barrel of old oil while tightening some of Anse’s bush nuts in a garage pit, Eric and I get on our way to Awasa. On half tarmac and half bumpy gravel road it turns out to be a six hour drive. The Adenium campsite in Awasa doesn’t exist anymore, so we end up camping in the courtyard of the Lalo Pension where the generous lady owner lets us stay for free after we having kai wat and injera at her restaurant.

Thursday, 2nd of October, Awasa to Bale NP

It’s a long haul to Dinsho where we pay for our park and camping fees at the Bale Mountain NP office. Luckily we get around hiring a guide as I intend to do some mountain biking. Eric and I pass the towns of Robe and Gobe and then crawl up the pass to the Saneti Plateau on the highest all-weather road in Africa! Anse’s right roof rack support, the one that links it to the chassis snaps through the vibrations and we pull the loose lower part away and secure it to the snorkel to keep it from knocking against the rack.

Our cars struggle to ‘breathe’ in this thin air and even with putting my foot completely down Anse’s response is pretty slothful! Often I catch myself shifting too early into the next gear only having to shift one or two gears down again not to stall the engine. So frequently we end up screaming up the steep roads in first or second gear.

By the time we reach the turn off to the campsite it is dark already. As we drive up the last 500 meters on a muddy track, Eric gets bogged! Luckily he is in front of me and we manage to get him out pulling his Cruiser backwards with my winch. At this altitude of 4100 meters it is freezing cold and our numb hands struggle to do the right moves! We manage to bypass the muddy section and pitch up tent at the Saneti Campsite where two wardens welcome us.

Eric whips up one of his magic minute noodle soups (prawn flavor!) and two extra strong screw drivers and we hop into our tents wearing layers and layers of clothes. I don’t sleep much that night as my altitude sickness symptoms are kicking in again and it’s anyway so freezing that I struggle to keep warm.

Friday, 3rd of October, Bale NP to bushcamp near Abule Bassuma Lodge Lake Langano

At 2 am Eric starts his car because he realized that he doesn’t have anti-freeze in his cooling system and fears that the radiator might burst if the water freezes. I do the same and lie down again until just before 6 am when I can’t stay in my freezing tent anymore and go for a walk to warm up a bit. I abandon my intention of mountain biking since my bike has a flat and there’s no ways I could repair a tire in this cold, so we both pack up and go for a drive on the plateau.

The sun slowly breaks through the mist and cloud cover and soon the temperature gets a bit more bearable. While driving along and enjoying the vast scenery, I even manage to see a pair of Ethiopian wolves (which actually look more like foxes)! We drive up the highest elevation of the Bale Mountains which is Mount Tullo Deemtu, with 4377 m the second highest peak in Ethiopia. We can’t stay up there in the icy wind for too long and drive towards the other side of the plateau where we enjoy an amazing view over Katcha and parts of the Harena Forest, but refrain from descending all the way down that southern side of the escarpment and rather make our way back towards Goba again. As I pass some kids on my way to Goba, I see an maybe 5 year old boy grabbing a stone and wanting to throw it at me! I stop, jump out of my car immediately and run after him. I just grab him, shake him by his shoulders and shout at him: ’You don’t throw stones at us, okay? Don’t!’ As I look at him furiously, the little boy just starts crying terribly and I notice pee dripping out of his pants! ...Um, okay, that must have been a good lesson then! ;-)

Since it is Friday, Eric and I order fasting food (=vegetables) for lunch at a restaurant in Robe and get ripped off as we are asked to pay for a much more expensive meat dish! We head to Dodola where we hope to camp at a hotel but the security is not great there and we decide to push on. It is getting dark but the accommodation options are limited and instead of spending the night in Awasa we decide to rather head north on the tar road and try to find Coni and Andi who planned to stay a few days on Lake Langano. After checking a campsite and the fancy Sabana Lodge we think they might be all the way at the north of the Lake and drive to the Abule Bassuma Lodge. When we arrive at the gate it is already past 11 pm. Two watchmen make us understand that the lodge is closed but that we can bushcamp next to the gate for 40 Birr per person without the use of a toilet or a shower! We stuff that, drive a few kilometers away from the Lodge and bushcamp next to an acacia tree. It turns out to be a strange night with dogs barking, horses making noises people’s voices in the distance and two hyenas howling!

This must have been one of my longest travel days ever!

Saturday, 4th of October, Karkaro Beach, Lake Langano

We pack up at the crack of dawn to avoid getting troubled by anybody and head south again to the only campsite that we haven’t checked yet since Coni and Andi didn’t plan to stay there as it has a reputation for its terrible facilities. But when we arrive there we can see their red Nissan already from the distance! We are glad to see Coni and Andi again and they are happy to leave this campsite since there was a disco going on right next to their tent last night! So we all decide to go to a place called Karkaro Cottages that turns out to also have an awesome campsite right next to Lake Langano!

Sunday, 5th until Tuesday, 7th of October, Karkaro Beach, Lake Langano

The next three days we just spend relaxing, writing, editing photos and I even manage to fix my faulty door lock! We also eat like kings: Coni creates a delicious coconut curry and for Sunday night’s supper I try to invent a new recipe: The ‘Langano Pie’, a Bobotie-like ground goat/beef bake wrapped in puff pastry and baked over hot coals in the cast iron pot. Yummy!

On Monday we get some Langano fish which we buy from the local fishermen and put it on the braai and have it for dinner with baked veggies. As I am finishing off the meal, I feel something creeping over my foot and get a huge fright – it’s a small snake! Luckily nothing happened!

Coni, Andi leave Tuesday morning as they have to attend to admin things in Addis and little later Eric is also on his way again. He is planning to go into Somaliland, Djibouti and Eritrea, then north into Sudan and has to figure out the visa situation in Addis. He offers me to come along and it really sounds tempting, but with Christmas being around the corner I won’t manage to fit this lengthy and pretty adventurous detour into my trip. Too bad!

Wednesday, 8th of Ocotber, Lake Langano to Butajira

I catch up with my long neglected diary and only leave the camp around 3 pm. I drive on gravel to Butajira, which lies about 60 km west of Ziway and stay there in a local Hotel for the night.

Thursday, 9th of October, Butajira to Addis Ababa

I leave very early and hit the tar road north to see the stelae, 700 year old grave stones with peculiar engravings in the little village of Tiya. On my way out from the stelae site I get invited by a local family to have ‘bona’ (coffee) in their simple hut. Sitting down on yellow water canisters, we gather around the fire place and sip salted (!) coffee, definitely a taste to acquire! (The taste reminds me on my first long distance sailing trip to Norway in 1987, where one morning I brewed coffee for the whole crew, not knowing that I had actually used the sea water tap to fill the coffee jug! ;-)

One of the elder women offers me something that looks like a piece of bread but when I put it into my mouth, I almost want to spit it out straight away as it has an incredible stench and taste to it! It’s like sour dough bread, rancid butter and stinky goat fat all put together! The bits that I have already put into my mouth I quickly try to wash down (unchewed!) with the salty coffee, but even the coffee is not strong enough to get rid of that awful taste! Eventually I manage to shove the remaining piece of bread in a quick movement into my pocket, ensuring the old lady that I don’t want to have another piece! ‘I think I’d better be on my way now, thank you!’ I pay for the coffee and get quickly into my car. The smell from my pants’ pocket only went away with the next wash!

A few kilometers northwards, about 10 km west of the tar road I visit the Adadi Mariam monolithic (rock-hewn) church, which is – having the photographs of the Lalibela churches in my mind – not that spectacular, but gives me a good idea what rock-hewn churches are about. They basically get created by carving the entire church out of the solid rock, resulting in a structure below ground level that stands free from the surrounding rock on three sides (semi-monolithic) or all four sides (monolithic).

I give one of the priests a lift back to the main road and then head through the lush and hilly countryside to the next interesting location, Melka Kunture, a prehistoric site which is regarded to be one of the most important Stone-Age sites in Ethiopia. I walk through the impressive exhibit which boasts an overwhelming amount of information and an unbelievable collection of fossils, ranging from (in Ethiopia) extinct mammal species including hippo, giraffe, and wildebeest over perfectly shaped hand tools to hominid fossils like cranial fragments of homo sapiens.

I reach the center of Addis around noon and head straight to the Sudanese embassy, which turns out to be closed for visa applications on Thursdays! So I head to the Egyptian embassy, only to learn that their visa section is only open until 12:30 – please come back tomorrow! Well, I sort of expected to pay the price for taking a route off the beaten path, thus arriving in Addis late and only towards the weekend and mentally prepared myself already for a longer stay in the capital…

So then I tackle the next official hurdle: Getting an official letter from the customs authority which explains that my carnet is not stamped in because I entered through Ormorate which doesn’t have a customs office. It takes quite some time and a lot of running around to find the right responsible for this task, even though Coni and Andi who had been at the Ethiopian Customs and Revenue Authority only a few days ago had emailed me the exact room number, but obviously this seems to change by the day! My Swiss friends had to come back the next day to collect the paper, so I made sure I insisted of them issuing it the same day, and it worked!

I park off at the centrally located Baro Hotel where rooftop camping in their courtyard costs an affordable 40 Birr! Through email I find out that Eric is also in town camping at the hidden away ‘Wim’s Holland House’, a spot that had been recommended to him by some overlanders he met at Jungle Junction in Nairobi.

Friday, 10th of October, Addis Ababa

In the morning before I go to the Sudanese embassy, I stop quickly at Wim’s Holland House to see if Eric is around. I call his name, hoping to catch him sleeping in his rooftop tent. Instead I just get this sleepy, muffled response from him sitting behind closed doors on the throne: ‘Hey V-dog (that’s how he calls me)! Is that you???’

Refraining from further elaborate conversation (for obvious reasons!), we agree to meet tonight around 6 at Wim’s place and I hurry to get to the Sudanese embassy in time to collect the visa application forms. But when I arrive there the gates are still closed and lots of people are standing outside waiting. The embassy supposed to open at 8.30 am but when even after half an hour nothing moves, I figure I would be better off going to an internet café to download the forms the net and make my way to the Egyptian embassy where I hand in my passport and visa application.

After visiting some Land Rover spare part shops I also manage to find a Swiss-owned aluminum welding workshop to have Anse’s roof rack support bracket repaired. Since the staff is about to knock off, I leave the broken part there for them to fix it in the morning and drive to Wim’s Holland House where I hook up with Eric again. Wim and his lovely partner Rahel are just starting to cater for overlanders and for the time being let us stay for free in their courtyard while they are busy building proper shower facilities for the next generation overlanders! We like them, their rustic place, their crazy dog ‘Whiskey’ and most particularly their draft beer!!!

On BBC we hear about the world’s financial markets crashing and Eric, being a financial analyst, gets real excited and can’t wait to get onto the internet to take advantage of the tumbling stock market by shifting some of his options around. Unfortunately we get held up at the bar in good conversation by some local guys, so we never get to the internet but instead score an invite to the one guy Amar’s house on Sunday.

We still go out to check out the scene that night and end up walking along the endless Bole Road, looking for a nice bar with music. We first go to a place called ‘Black Rose’, pretty upmarket and full of ex-pats and later end up at the Harlem Jazz Club at the end of Bole Road which has pretty good life music and a predominantly local crowd.

Saturday, 11th of October, Addis Ababa

Still half asleep, woken up by the bright sunlight I unzip my tent in the morning and there is already Whiskey, greeting me with excitement, front paws on the bonnet and his wiggling tail knocking on Anse’s bull bar. Getting from the car to the toilet is a challenge as he tries to chew on my sandals or anything else he can get his teeth on while I walk. A few mornings in the row Eric wakes up in his rooftop tent from my outcries while I try to escape the naughty puppy: ‘Hey, no! Go away! Whiskey! Ouch, leave me alone! Hey, no Whiskey! Go away!’ Later I find out that the only thing that works to shake him off is to splash him with water, so the following mornings my route leads to the toilet via the water trough…

I give Eric a lift into town and we go past the Swiss workshop where I just want to fit Anse’s now solidly welded roof rack bracket. But fitting the thing back where it was turns out to be a 3 hour nightmare…! The bracket had been welded perfectly, but it was the bolt which connects it to the chassis that was the problem… won’t elaborate on that one, we got it fixed eventually!

Since I am looking for a breaker bar (an extra long socket wrench), we drive to the ‘Mercato’ area where one can find almost anything, from toothpaste to corrugated iron sheets…! It’s a market which most ‘faranjis’ (whities) like to avoid because it’s a crowded place with a chaotic maze of narrow roads and alleyways, supposedly an ideal ground for pickpocketers. To our surprise, in the midst of all that chaos Eric discovers a very well stocked tool stand where I even find a second hand breaker bar!

After another delicious macchiato and some pastry we visit the National Museum which has a new and very impressive archaeological collection of prehistoric hominid fossils and artifacts, including a replica of the 3.5 Million-year-old skull of Lucy which, when found in 1974 forced a complete rethink of human genealogy as it apparently proved that our ancestors were walking 2.5 Million years earlier than had previously been estimated. What I find really awesome looking at this exhibition is that it displays the different hominid species in sequence of their occurrence next to each other, so one can even spot the differences in, say the shape of the skull. The relations and connections between the various species are also explained in fairly easy-to-understand English, which makes the exhibit so much more enjoyable.

Eric and I also visit the Holy Trinity Church which is an important pilgrimage site for the Orthodox in Ethiopia. After getting our tickets, which supposed to be valid for the church and the adjacent museum, the priest leads us past many worshippers into the church which boasts beautifully colored windows and also houses Haile Selassi’s grave. After the church we go to see the museum, only to find it closed! We get into an argument with the warden since they were very quick taking the money from us at the entrance without mentioning that the Museum was about to close! The office staff has left already and nobody wants to take responsibility for giving us back half of the money… they just shrug their shoulders and smile at us so we end up leaving pretty peeved – another one of these take-advantage-of-the-faranjis episode!

Sunday, 12th of October, Addis Ababa

Amar who Eric and I met at the bar on Friday picks us up and gives us a lift to his spacious house at the outskirts of Addis. We get to experience real Ethiopian hospitality by Amar’s family, having to eat and to drink until we pop!

Back at Wim’s Holland House we are joining the Dutch ex-pats and their kids for ‘Pannekoeke’-Fest which Wim organized inside the antique royal railway wagons, now merely used as a Museum and parked on overgrown rails behind the old train station building.

Monday, 13th of October, Addis Ababa

I collect my visa for Egypt, and spend the next 4 ½ hours experiencing mind-numbing bureaucracy at the Sudanese Embassy, just to fill out and submit the visa application papers! There must have been maybe 300-400 people waiting outside the gate – first I thought it’s a demonstration or maybe people lining up for food donations, but they seriously were all there to get visa applications!

I also meet Alex and Kathy in their Landy who are also on their way north through the Middle East, however at a slightly faster pace. We exchange addresses so we can keep in touch and maybe hook up on the way up. I also meet a Dutch guy who confirms that the Port Sudan – Halaib – Aswan road is open! He runs a course in Port Sudan and has people coming down from Egypt on that road to attend it, so it gives me hope that this route is possible after all. (To fellow overlanders wanting to attempt this route - don’t get your hopes up! Please read diary entry of 31st October).

After sitting around and pretty much wasting the whole day at the Sudanese Embassy I have my hair cut in the afternoon and get at least a bit of a visible sense of achievement for the day!

Tuesday, 14th and Wednesday, 15th of October, Addis Ababa

The next two days are a bit of errands and pottering-around days… I finally fix my rattling high lift jack, grease Anse’s ‘nipples’ ;-) (Universal joints), have the extension lead repaired, filter 12 liters of water, do some grocery shopping, get some spare parts and a Ethiopia T-shirt… and I can collect my Sudanese 14-day transit visa for a steep $100! (By the way, unlike some overlanders being questioned about being in South Africa, I experienced no problem for having a South African Permanent Residence stamp in my passport).

Eric and I hit the Harlem Jazz Club again, but it’s fairly quiet on a Tuesday night.

Thursday, 16th of October, Addis Ababa to bushcamp near Debre Sina

Last night at the bar I finally found out that there is an official Land Rover dealer and decide to pop in there this morning to do a computer diagnostic before I head north, hoping that those guys can maybe put their finger on Anse’s starting problem. But the glow plugs are working fine and the computer finds no fault!

At a Kaldis coffe shop (seemingly a Starbucks replica) I have a quick breakfast and one of those colorful juice mixes where layers of different pureed fruit juices (often including avocado!) get arranged on top of each other in a high glass – yum! A last slurp and off I am, finally heading north. The road is not great and very windy, snaking its way up into Ethiopia’s Highlands.

My special friend Priscilla is giving me trouble (Weibä!). It seems like the flip-up antenna has a loose connection and she’s loosing it completely (I mean the satellite reception) all the time. I manage to tie elastic around it to keep the antenna in place which seems to work for a while.

The highlands here are absolutely beautiful and every now and then a gap in the mountain range reveals a glimpse into the lowland hundreds of meters below with tiny villages sprawling over undulating hills, plastered in a mosaic of ‘tef’ fields in any imaginable hue of green. When I stop to enjoy one of those vistas, I even spot my first gelada baboons, real striking looking primates with electric-shock hairdos that would make even the best coiffeurs envious! I bush camp close to the road in a pine plantation right on the edge of the escarpment a few kilometers short of Debre Sina.

Friday, 17th of October, bushcamp near Debre Sina to Woldiya

From Debre Sina starts a perfect tar road (financed by the EU), winding its way down the escarpment towards Shewa Robit and Karrakora. On my way to Woldiya I explore (or rather try to explore) a few interesting spots.

There is the Geta Lion which is carved out of rock and situated protruding a rocky outcrop. I have a young boy guiding me there but when I arrive, one of the locals quickly runs up the mountain to throw a cloth over the lion, asking an excessive take-advantage-of-the-faranji 100 Birr to reveal it!!! Since the guys are not even negotiable I just give my guide a tip and leave those flippin’ crooks to their veiled boulder!

Situated further north lays the idyllic Lake Hayk with the Hayk Monastery on a little leafy peninsula. I pay entrance fee to see the monastery church and the museum – only to experience the same rip-off story Eric and I went through at the Holy Trinity Church in Addis! But this time around the museum is open and the church is closed! I get into an argument with the priest, leave half the amount of the entrance fee there and walk away, but the warden locks the entrance gate so I can’t get out! I try to explain that all it takes is a sign with the opening times of the church at the entrance gate, so that tourists are informed before they pay, but it doesn’t seem to sink in… The arguing goes on for a while and eventually they grudgingly let me go having only paid for what I saw!

In the bustling town of Dessie I need to distract my stomach after the excitements of the day and have lunch at the excellent Kalkidan Restaurant. Since it is Friday, fasting food is on the menu consisting of several dollops of differently prepared vegetables arranged on a humungous injera. After finishing the meal off at the local bakery with some great pastry and a macchiato, I drive all the way to Woldiya where I camp in the Lal Hotel kiddy’s playground.

Saturday, 18th of October, Woldiya to Lalibela

There is a fairly good gravel road leading from Woldiya to Lalibela but I turn off it and take the more direct route, a narrow rocky track which winds through tiny villages and great scenery (‘…die landschaftlich schönere Strecke!’ ;-). ‘Direct’ route is a relative and deceiving term though in mountainous Ethiopia! Looking at the distances as the crow flies, one often gets surprised when zooming in the GPS which reveals extremely windy, twisty, switch-back-strewn track, often exceeding three to four times the way and taking just as long!

I give an old Amharic man a lift to the next village as he has problems walking. It is market day and driving through the bustling community after dropping him off, I feel like a real alien! Hundreds of traditionally (with white turbans and robes) clad people staring at me while I crawl through the crowds! At around 2 pm I arrive at the Lal Hotel and meet Maria, who is the first women guide in Lalibela. She gives me an idea of what there is to do and to see in and around town. Her guide fees are Birr 250 per day which apparently is cheaper than what her male colleagues charge…I never bothered to find out.

As Maria recommends also seeing a church 42 km north of Lalibela, I decide to still go there this afternoon and leave the rock-hewn churches for tomorrow. So we drive north and turn east through the little village of Bilbela to visit the Yiemrhane Kristos Monastery Church. It’s a church that has been built of stone and wood into a huge cave. Inside the church it is pitch dark which makes it even more surprising when the beam of my guide’s torch reveals ceiling and walls covered with beautiful paintings. This church is considered as the ‘Jerusalem of Africa’ and has definitely a mystic and eerie atmosphere to it. But it gets even creepier when Maria shows me the ‘cemetery’ behind the church at the back of the cave, where corpses and bones of passed away pilgrims as far as from Israel were asked to be laid down. Some are virtually piled on top of each other and older ones have been buried in the ground with the odd shiny skull (from people walking over it) sticking out! By the time we get back to Lalibela it is dinner time and we eat at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant.

Sunday, 19th of October, Lalibela to bushcamp 52 km east of Debre Tabor

The best part of the morning is filled with visiting the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela which are definitely one of the highlights of my Ethiopia visit! Deciding on still making some headway today, I leave Lalibela around 2 pm and bushcamp between some tef fields 52 km east of Debre Tabor.

Monday, 20th of October, bushcamp 52km east of Debre Tabor to Debark, Simien Mountains

It’s a long haul to where the sheer endless and rugged ‘China Road’ joins the Addis-Gonder tar road. But once turned off north, it is pure bliss shifting into 5th gear and seeing the speedometer pointer climb up to the 100 km/h mark ;-) !

A few kilometers further north, I stop at the ruins of the Portuguese built Guzara Castle atop of a hill from which one can even make out Lake Tana in the distance. When I get to Gonder, dodging all the touts, I have lunch at the good Hebesha Kitfo Restaurant and make a turn at the well known Belegez Pension where I find Filimon who takes me on a informative guided tour of the ‘Great Enclosure’ containing several castles, amongst them the ‘Fasilidas Palace’. After this quick cultural pit stop, I leave Gonder in the afternoon and drive two hours north to Debark, the town where the booking office for the Simien Mountains is based. With plenty of other guests booked in, the small parking lot of the Simien Park Hotel is pretty full, but I manage to squeeze Anse in and pitch my rooftop tent.

Tuesday, 21st of October, Debark to Chennek Camp, Simien Mountains

At breakfast I meet an Austrian/Dutch couple who are linguists learning Amharic in order to research and document a tribal language in the Omo Valley. At the Simien Mountain NP’s office I book for one night’s camping, pick up my compulsory scout named Zenaye who happens to speak very good English and even guides me to the truly spectacular Ginbar Waterfall Viewpoint which involves a 15 minute walk to get there. After scrambling over a rocky ridge, a sheer breathtaking view over a yawning gorge unfolds! Out of a small cleft on the opposite rock face pours water, plunging hundreds of meters into the bottom of the gorge. With birds of prey circling in the thermal winds and only the buzzing of bees collecting honey from ‘red hot pokers’ subtly disrupting the stillness – a magical place!

I also spend time with my furry primate friends, the Gelada Baboons again which occur here in large groups. This time I get to sit so close amongst the friendly bunch that I almost feel connected to these ancestors! (I always knew there’s a bit of a monkey in me ;-) ! As I sit there watching them plucking the grass with their hands like high precision lawn mowers I can even hear them noisily munching away right around me, only looking up occasionally to check on me (I like how focused they are on their food, can definitely relate to that!!!). Their dense long fur is beautiful, ranging from golden to brownish in color and only sparing a pink fleshy heart-shaped spot on their chest. Sometimes they make calls that sound so human like somebody is speaking!

Past Anyameda Camp and several stunning viewpoints we drive to the Chennek Campsite where the tents of numerous organized hiking groups are busy been erected/taken down by the porters. Whilst I am busy fixing my MTB’s punctures (I will never reverse Anse into a thorny bush again with my bicycle on the rack!), Zenaye points out to me a whole group of endemic ibex bucks not far away on the other side of a stream. Together with an Israeli hiker I rush over there, armed with my camera and zoom lens to take some photos. As we approach, the beautiful males with their huge curved serrated horns walk away from us and we follow them, hiding behind every bush trying to catch a few close-up shots. Walking back to the campsite, we are approached by some really upset hikers which we in our, asking us if we are finished now taking close-up photographs and chasing the ibexes away and how we can be so selfish and inconsiderate towards other people in the park…!!! At first I think they are really overreacting a bit, thinking that these animals are pretty plentiful here. But later on when I hear that they’ve been hiking for five days and not seen a single ibex, I really feel bad and go back to them to apologize. I offer sending them some of the photos per email and while we talk it turns out that they and their whole group are members of the Mountain Club of South Africa! And they are German speaking from Somerset West with their surname being Deutschländer!

I finally get my bike tires fixed and the two linguists who had finally arrived (They had to deal with a little drama in Debark where they had an accident with an old man) invite me for wholesome pasta. It’s freezing and for dinner I open up my last precious bottle of red wine which was actually meant for my friend Kevin as a birthday present from his parents, given to me in the intention that I would hook up with him and his wife Philippa somewhere in Africa! Sadly I never managed to meet up with them but at least I now enjoy their bottle of wine (2005 KWV!) in good company! (Even though it happened that the girl linguist was pregnant and the guy linguist had a red wine allergy, so I had the whole bottle pretty much by myself!) Here’s to Kevin and Philippa’s health! Cheers!

Wednesday, 22nd of October, Simien Mountains to Gonder

Today is mountain biking day! And even though around us everything is covered in thick milky mist I hop onto the saddle, equipped with gloves, beanie and tights to bear the cold. It seems like it takes me forever to tackle the countless hairpin bends up the Bwahit Pass but once I reach the top at 4205 meters I not only get rewarded with a stunning clear view into the sunlit valleys on the other side but also with a short lekker downhill. I don’t dare to head down too much though and try to find a hiking path that’s winding its way back up to the top of the Bwahit Pass. I find a few rocky paths, however with the least part of them being cyclable so it turns out to be more of a carry-your-bike-on-your-shoulder expedition past more or less surprised looking locals on their donkeys! Eventually I make it back up to the pass and get to ride downhill from there all the way to the Chennek Campsite. The most thrilling and pretty technical part is tackling the single-tracks etched into the rocky ground by many hikers and erosion and cutting through the hairpin bends in a straight line downhill!

I definitely got my fix! ;-) Without a fall, phew!

MTB back onto Anse’s rear, drop off Zenaye and my Simien Mountain NP map (which they rent out!) in Debark and back to Gonder where I pitch my rooftop tent in the familiar Belegez Pension’s courtyard.

Thursday, 23rd of October, Gonder

Anse has developed an oil leak between the main and the transfer gear box and with the help of Kim and Tim, a Dutch couple who stays for a few days in Gonder but actually run a new overlander campsite on Lake Tana I find a local mechanic to get his opinion on it. I’ve had this happen once before on my old Landy and remember it as being a big job. My friend Kevin in Cape Town confirms that I should only have the oil seal changed at a reputable place since the whole gear box has to come out. After looking at the street mechanic’s backyard workshop, I am not so convinced and decide to rather monitor the oil level until I reach a workshop I am comfortable with. While I am in the ‘car workshop street’ of Gonder (it’s funny how in Africa all businesses of the same kind are always on top of each other) I have my more worn rear tires swapped with the front ones.

On the black market I manage to exchange some US Dollars into Sudanese Pounds (1 : 2 while the bank rates are around 1 : 2,24) and have a yummy burger and one of those delicious layered fruit juice cocktails at a coffee shop down the road where I bump into Kim and Tim and her parents again.

As tonight is my last night in Ethiopia, I feel like I have to go out and have one last party! So I follow a local tout and his friend’s invitation to take me to some happening places after dinner. The two youngsters take me to a real ‘tej’ joint where the local honey brew is served in traditional bulb shaped glass vials. From there we go to a pretty empty bar that eventually fills up and people start dancing. More of the guys’ friends gather and I end up paying the drinks for the entire crowd, of which some had already disappeared. I don’t mind paying a round for all of them but when we stay on and the second bill is handed on straight to me again I get a bit annoyed. The two guys, now with a few girls attached to them, want to go to another place. I say: ‘That’s fine with me as long as you guys contribute to the next bill. After paying the last two bills I am running low on cash now!’ That doesn’t seem to fit into their night’s plans – they were obviously expecting to have a night out on me! The one guy even has the boldness to say that I am messing it all up for them! That comment really pisses me off and I leave the crowd on the spot. Tonight confirms what I never really wanted to acknowledge during my stay in this country.

Throughout my stay in Ethiopia I thought that I/we just happened to have bad luck experiencing several incidences of particularly unethical and deceiving behavior towards white people. But tonight tops it all and I realize that sadly this behavior seems to be the norm! White tourists are generally seen as cash cows that need to be taken advantage of as long as they are in Ethiopia! I had the intention to leave this country with good memories and in good vibes. I did indeed have some awesome experiences in Ethiopia – it’s a country with mind-blowing rich heritage!
But I can’t help having a bitter aftertaste!

Smurfing up and around Mount Kenya

Sunday, 14th of September, Jinja in Uganda to Eldoret in Kenya

Even after having reconfigured the batteries, Anse’s starting problem still seems to persist but I leave it for now since up to now, if with difficulty, she always starts somehow. In a sms conversation with the American guy Eric, it turns out that he planned to climb Mt Kenya but was turned away since one is not allowed to climb it solo. So after giving it some thought, I decide to join him to attempt the hike together!

I give Tune a lift to NRE, have a quick look at the very commercially run source of Nile (I wouldn’t bother going there again!) and buy my stash of Nutella before proceeding to the Uganda/Kenya border crossing in Malaba. It turns out to be a bit of a lengthy process since I have to convince the customs officers to stamp my carnet in and out at the same time since there isn’t any customs at the border crossing in Ileret on Lake Turkana. It’s a long drive to the Neiberi Campsite in Eldoret where I meet Sascha and his girlfriend Daniela from Germany who are overlanding in a Defender. The Indian campsite owner Raj Shah is the proprietary of the big cotton and knitting mill Rupa in Eldoret and runs the campsite by the side for the fun of it and to meet interesting people! He even offers me to make free use of his auto mechanic ‘Mebs’ who works on the company cars and trucks.

Monday, 15th of September, Eldoret to Naro Moru

I drive to the Rupa Cotton Mill, to get a second opinion from Mebs about a chafing noise on the front left that Anse makes when leaning over a lot, and he tightens all the bolts on the springs and shocks. At Chloride Exide I manage to have both my batteries replaced since I think Anse’s starting problem might be caused by my newer battery discharging into the older one. It’s a long slog to Naro Moru because of the bad road conditions and I only manage to leave Eldoret at 2.30 pm. But good thing I got a route description from Raj which helps bypassing the really bad patch of road west of Nakuru by driving via Eldana Ravine and Kampi ya Moto which makes it more bearable and after a 6 hour drive I manage to get to the Mt Kenya Youth Hostel in Naro Moru at around 8:30 pm where I meet Eric and the hostel owner Joseph. A quick pasta and Eric’s favorite mini chicken dogs in a can (Nakumatt makes it possible!) satisfy our rumbling stomachs.

Tuesday, 16th of September, Naro Moru to Mt. Kenya, hike to Met Station

Eric and I pack our backpacks for the hike, I park Anse next to the youth hostel with power connected to my fully stacked fridge and we leave around 10 o’clock in Eric’s car to Mt Kenya NP gate. The first part of the hike to the Met Station at 3100 m takes us 3 hours (2 of them rainy) along a jeep track through indigenous bamboo and rainforest. The hike gives us a chance to get to know each other a bit and it turns out that Eric is the guy that I already heard so much about from other overlanders. He’s been traveling already for 2 ½ years from the UK down the west coast of Africa down to Cape Town and he is now on his way up on the east coast (

We leave our backpacks at the Met Station and walk uphill another half hour which supposed to give the body a better chance to acclimatize. Back at the Met Station hut we meet a friendly German couple Gaby and Werner (Martin in Africa since nobody seems to be able to pronounce his first name properly) from Bamberg who are on their descent with their guide ‘little Joseph’. We have a few good laughs with them, enjoying their south German accent (Eric also talks German fluently since his father is from Bavaria and his mother from Switzerland). Already this altitude keeps me awake at night.

Wednesday, 17th of September, Mt. Kenya hike from Met Station to Mackinder Hut

We hike 6 hours from Met Station to Mackinder Hut via the ’Vertical bog’ which is a real marshy area with the odd red and white wooden marker showing us the way. The vegetation changes from forest to bamboo to lobelias. Again the rain sets in within one hour of walking… time for what Eric calls my ‘smurf outfit’ (referring to the UK comedy Little Britain), my clashy array of violet rain pants with my turquoise/black rain jacket. As the Met Station Hut, Mackinder Hut is pretty nice with stunning views of some of the snowcapped Mt Kenya peaks. At 4300 m I can feel the altitude sickness symptoms creeping in with a headache and nausea and stay in the hut eating some hot soup while Eric walks a bit further to find a nicer (and rubbish free) spot to pitch his tent. There is a big group of hikers spending their rest day at the hut to leave for the ascend tomorrow morning at 3 am, so I am glad to get a bed in a separate dorm. Apart from my headache and nausea I also have a runny stomach and don’t sleep a blink that freezing night.

Thursday, 18th of September, Mt. Kenya, Mackinder Hut

We spend an acclimatization day at Mackinder Hut but still walk up a scree field just with the essentials in our backpacks, leaving the heavy stuff at the hut. The formidable views at the glacier, the icy blue tarns and the higher snowcapped Mt Kenya peaks glistening in the sun are (literally) breathtaking. At about 4500 meters, three quarters through the scree field, I stop pretty exhausted with a pounding headache and wait for Eric who manages to walk all the way to the Top and Austria Huts (which at about 4600 m are used as a base for climbers going up the technical routes) and scouts out the area for the right path. It’s really freezing up there and I am glad to get back to the Mackinder Hut to boil us some hot soup on my little benzene cooker. Even though I eat well and keep fairly warm that night with a hot water bottle in my sleeping bag, my runny stomach still troubles me and again I don’t get any sleep that night.

Friday, 19th of September, Mt. Kenya, walk from Mackinder Hut back to NP Gate, drive to Naro Moru

We attempt to go up to summit and leave at 3:30 am(!). It’s an at the same time magnificent and eerie atmosphere, walking into the freezing darkness in the beams of our headlamps, the glacier and snow fields reflecting the moonlight and turning the rock faces into a shimmering bluish grey. After my third sleepless night, runny stomach and headache I feel too weak though to head up all the way to the summit and when we reach the scree again, I decide it would be more sensible to descend - it’s a bit disappointing but we also had an awesome experience without summiting. Reaching Mackinder Hut again I sleep a bit and around 10:15 am we walk back to Met Station where we catch a ride to the main gate with the porters (who have been logging radio equipment, solar panels and heavy batteries all the way up to the Austria Hut!). We find Eric’s car safe at the parking lot even though there is an inner tube missing out of his box on the roof! Back at (big) Joseph’s hostel we enjoy a hot shower and a well deserved meal.

Saturday, 20th of September, Naro Moru to Maralal

Our aim is to hook up with the Swiss couple Andi and Coni who are waiting for us at Loyangalani on the east shore of Lake Turkana to head up north together, so we drive to Nanyuki, where I have CMC Land Rover look into Anse’s starting problem again – to no avail. After shopping for some veggies and fruit at the local market, I leave around 12:30 on the long corrugated road via Isiolo (saw first camels grazing next to road) to the Yare Camel Club Campsite in Maralal, where I meet Eric again (who had left some time before me) some 6 ½ hours later. We enjoy a hearty chicken curry with chapattis, wash it down with a few beers and enjoy the nice vibe at the bar.

Sunday, 21st of September, Maralal to Loyangalani on Lake Turkana

Eric and I leave around 8:30 for another long almost 9 hour drive to Loyangalani on Lake Turkana. The road is rocky and slow going in places but otherwise fine and the surroundings are initially a lot greener than I imagined. That changes though further north and when Lake Turkana comes into sight it seems totally surreal in that arid landscape – an awesome view that shimmering bluish water against the rust brown volcanic gravel with the odd solitary white barked contorted tree strewn in it!

Loyangalani is quite a bizarre place, an oasis-like community of igloo-shaped huts made of palm leaves and corrugated iron in the midst of this deserted landscape! After all the sms conversations between us, we finally meet Coni and Andi (and their red Nissan Patrol) in person. They have settled at the Palm Shade Camp, but Eric and I are not happy with the price (KSh 450!) and find a cheaper option not far away, the Rhino Women’s Group Campsite for KSh 250 where we position our cars amongst a bunch of palm trees in such a way that the rooftop tents are somewhat sheltered from the strong thermal winds that come up every night from about 11 pm. Eric’s screw drivers (vodka orange) compensates for the rather meager dinner that night.

Monday, 22nd of September, Loyangalani, Lake Turkana

We put in a rest day and have our laundry done by the women who run the campsite. For lunch the four of us have a tasty (but rather tough) chicken with rice and discuss the upcoming route. Eric and I visit the Masai fishing village El Molo on the shore of Lake Turkana where in this unbearable heat I can’t help myself but jumping into the Lake with all my clothes on (to the amusement of Eric and our guide). After buying some local souvenirs (I get one of the wooden headrests) we drive back to Loyangalani and civilize ourselves as we are invited to a goat braai by four Czech researchers who examine Lake Turkana’s fish for parasites and were given a lift the previous day by Coni and Andi when they were stranded in their broken down car 20km outside Loyangalani. It turns out to be a joyful evening with delicious food being prepared for us, the local beers and imported Czech spirits flowing and the lightly clad Czech blonde researcher twisting our heads in her ‘Jane’ outfit.

Tuesday, 23rd of September, Loyangalani to bushcamp south of Sibiloi NP

The four of us leave around 8 am, (slightly troubled by hang over symptoms), visit the nearby rock engravings and drive north past the small Gajos Oasis where a row of maybe 15 local herdsmen scoop water out of a deep well by handing buckets from one to another and emptying them into long troughs where hundreds of grunting camels gather to quench their thirst. Just south of Sibiloi NP we cross an area with several sandy dry river beds lined with scattered bushes and big acacia trees – bushcamping heaven! We find a nice spot in the shade of a big tree right next to the river bed and enjoy the evening next to a roaring campfire.

Wednesday, 24th of September, bushcamp south of Sibiloi NP to bushcamp on northern Lake Turkana

We reach Sibiloi NP where we make a point in informing the deputy park warden about the wrong pricing for the public campsites (they charge the special campsite fee ($15) for the public ones which should be $5). The impressive sites of a petrified forest, a huge, well preserved turtle and a crocodile fossils make up for the scarce wildlife. Even though we make an effort to look for it, we don’t manage to find the poorly signposted elephant fossil and carry on driving on a sandy track to the rather strange Koobi Fora ranger’s post. Since we didn’t see the turn off an and it’s anyway not included in the park fee, we give the Koobi Fora Museum a miss and find a (in places faint) track going straight north from there through the former now dried out lake shore where we see, even though still within the park boundaries, numerous cattle herds grazing in the distance. After taking a rocky track that we think links to the main road, we end up in a cul-de sac of a deserted village with dilapidated houses where Coni and Andi prove that Swiss precision and team work doesn’t always have to take ‘Bern Time’ when they change their punctured tire in remarkable 12 minutes! On our way down the escarpment Eric also gets a puncture – the 29th on his trip! From Karl and Karen who Kirsty and I met in Queen Elizabeth NP I received a waypoint for a bushcamp on Lake Turkana and we follow a faint track right to the beach where we pitch our rooftop tents just before darkness sets in.