Simien Mountain Kids

Tuesday 6th May

Gedaref, Sudan – Gondar, Ethiopia

We left the cremated locusts early only to be confronted with a wall of dead hedgehogs, some of which were still struggling on the newly laid tar on the edge of the road. Andy used his farming skills to put some of them out of their misery before we continued the short distance onto the border. As we approached, we stopped to chat to a Dutch family that were travelling North at the end of a two year trip having already driven down the West Coast of Africa with their two children in a converted fire engine. Their warnings of the Ethiopian kids tendency for throwing rocks at passing vehicles were in our heads as we approached the border. We underwent a painless departure of Sudan and crossed the invisible border into Ethiopia.

The most immediate thing we noticed was the sheer quantity of people and animals that seemed to appear at the roadside. We headed into passport control which was a mud hut filled with flies that had a special attraction to the newly arrived white flesh. After 30 minutes of swatting, the officer flicking through endless pieces of paper finally found whatever he was looking for and stamped us into Ethiopia. The empty desert and tarmac were now gone and quickly replaced by lush hills, stony roads and many waving kids appearing from their roadside huts. The pace of the Land Rover must have been too fast for them as we never got hit by any stones that were coming our way.

We checked into Ethiopian customs about 40 km from the border and then continued to gain altitude as we charged along the dirt road. As with the north of Sudan, parts of this road were also being upgraded to smooth tarmac which we took with mixed emotions. The excitement of the spectacular scenery was quickly dulled by a glance at the engine thermostat that was all over the place, but mostly in the red. We pulled back a bit to give the engine a chance to cool but soon suspected we had a faulty thermostat which we had been warned can have a tendency to stick.

Despite this, we made it to Gondar and checked into the Belegez Pension which had a secure courtyard for us to tinker with the engine with tomorrow. We changed cash, checked e-mails and chatted to two Israeli girls staying at the hotel before heading into town. We were quickly joined by the local Ethiopian ‘guide’ who had a lisp and went by the peculiar name of Paddy O’Brian. He insisted on putting us in a tuk tuk to the Goha Hotel  for a much needed beer and dinner on their garden terrace overlooking the town and the valley beyond.

We headed back into town to soak up the nightlife and once again were joined by another ‘guide’ who was a wee guy called Emmanuel with a squint eye. He dragged us around a couple of bars and danced for us when asked, but generally got in our way. He was quickly sent home when Paddy re-appeared and asserted his authority by taking us to the a newly opened ‘Euro Bar’. We met the Norwegian from the ferry as well as a couple of girls from Holland working out here with an Israeli guy.

With midnight approaching, there was a reason to celebrate as Nick was due to hit 30 shortly and therefore Andy secured the Sambuca from behind the bar to help lubricate the evening. This worked. Paddy taught us some new skool Ethiopian dance moves before we headed past the queue for diesel at the station (at 1am this is a sobering thought) on the way to the Bru Box club for some traditional dancing which we considered could be improved by the addition of bagpipes. The locals agreed as we made some more new friends.

The end of the tarmac
Gaining altitude
Cosy roads
Typical scene

Wednesday 7th May

Gondar – Simien Mountain National Park

Feeling older and hungover, Nick managed an omelette breakfast before we both delved into the engine to extract the thermostat which was surprisingly easy. We then joined the queue for diesel which ensured we were prime targets for all passing children, as well as the blind and lame all requesting cash. Our toughened Egyptian skin saw us through although we finally bailed out of the queue when we heard it was another 2 hour wait and we had already received some sort of parking ticket while waiting which was promptly ignored.

We headed two hours along the road to Debark dodging runaway cattle and sheep as we went. We paid our entrance fees at the information centre for the Simien Mountain National Park (SMNP) who also sorted us with the obligatory guide and scout who jumped in the back as we headed into the park after a brief faff in town picking up stoves and supplies. We drove for about an hour to reach the campsite at Sankabar at an altitude of 3260 metres and got our kit ready for trekking tomorrow.

Our guide, Yishi, is a 19 year old Ethiopian student with minimal English and is in complete contrast to our grizzly mute scout who is a giant armed with an AK47. This is apparently for our security against animals and any humans who may attack. Due to altitude, cold, hangovers and recent old age, we celebrate Nick’s birthday in style by heading to bed for 8pm.

7509 miles

On the escarpment edge
The only roof tent moment in Ethiopia

Thursday 8th May


Despite sleeping in full winter weather gear, it is still a chilly night so the early start is appreciated. We drive further along the track to the scout’s home where his wife prepares a breakfast of traditional ingera (sour pancake) topped with (warm ‘mixed meat’). It gives us both the dry boke but we smile and wash it down with sweet tea.

We start the trek with a cheeky two hour walk to Geech camp where we set up our tents. The altitude is noticeable and we are both left breathless which is not helped by minimal exercise over the past 6 weeks. We press on though (without our scout who is having another cup of tea) to a viewpoint an hour away passing a load of Gelada baboons en route. Our guide falls asleep during a quick rest stop, so we decide to do a runner and summit the nearby peak as he remains unconscious. Some kids on the opposite peak join Andy in a workout miming every action he is doing as we take in the spectacular view.

The scenery here could be described as a bit of Scottish Highlands crossed with the Grand Canyon. Huge rock escarpments drop away to endless views across the Ethiopian Lowlands.

We return to our guide who wakes with a fright realising he is a chup and head back to camp. We then meet our scout on the way who is raging as he tried to catch us up at another viewpoint but the guide had changed his mind. Some harsh Ethiopian words are exchanged.

Back at camp we meet the Isreali girls from Gondar who have an entourage including a scout, guide, cook, mule and mule handler. We enjoy ripping into them and feel smug that we were not sucked into such a deal by the tour operators back in Gondar. After a game of cards and an education into Israeli politics, we leave them to head up to watch the sunset from a great viewpoint which is shared by more baboons. After boil in the bag dinners it is another early night as temperatures drop.

Whipping kids into shape
Israeli cards
Taking in the sunset

Friday 9th May


We are woken at 6am by locals shouting loudly across the valley which is not affected by Andy’s ‘Shut up!’ snooze function. Embarrassingly, it turns out that it is the scout’s wife communicating to him that the horn in the Land Rover has been going off all night and keeping her awake.

We pack up camp and follow the scout’s fast pace to reach the nearby summit of Imet Gogo (3926m) for more stunning scenery looking into what seemed like an endless abyss dropping away below us. After 4 hours, we are back at the Land Rover and a tired woman, who offers us more local food and tea. We decline this time, pretending to fix the horn and offer some left over kerosene as compensation.

We jump back in the vehicle to drive onwards to Chenek Camp and beyond to an altitude of 4,200 metres to see a herd of Walia Ibex (similar to the Swiss Chamois) and baboons. The Land Rover does not like the altitude and the smoking seen in the Swiss Alps returns along with a fluctuating thermostat. The inane comments coming from our guide do little to help Andy’s stress levels and we contemplate throwing him off the cliff. Luckily, the scout offers his rifle to Andy and the job is finished.

We return to Sankabar camp and buy two chickens off a local farmer. As an education for Nick, he follows the scout in slitting their throats and skinning the twitching animal before the scout employs Ethiopian methods of gutting, which means throwing away very little. We all enjoy a cold beer with our chicken dinner prepared by the scout before yet another early night.

Chicken killers
Taking aim
Andy rambler
Over the edge

Saturday 10th May

SMNP – Bahir Dar

With diesel running low, we finally ditch our pesky guide back in Debark, before cruising back to Gondar on vapour. There is no diesel queue thankfully and we celebrate with a coffee and croissant at a local café.

We continue for 3 hours along the tarmac road narrowly missing two fatalities as kids dive out from behind stopped buses. Lake Tana appears as we enter Bahir Dar and check into Ghion Hotel which is a popular lakeside hotel. We grab a boat for a quick 90 minute tour to see the start of the Blue Nile river which flows from the lake. We quickly stop at an island to see one of the many 12th century monasteries that surround the lake. The local priest handles the ancient goat skin parchment rather crudely as Andy snaps away.

The boat does a quick tour of the fishing harbour to see the hundreds of pelicans feeding before we return to the hotel jetty and bar. With no electricity expected until 9pm, we take in the view with some beers (which remain cold despite the lack of power) and reading before a candle lit dinner under the stars. The romance is ruined when the power comes back on and we are joined by a German orthopaedic surgeon who is driving his Land Rover back home having worked in Ethiopia for the past year.

He is not hugely positive about the future of the country that appears to have lost control of birth rates as well as its pride, having relied on overseas aid for the past 30 years. It is reassuring to hear that he is having more problems than us with his TD5 Land Rover suffering a failing fuel pump causing him endless heartache and threatening his job which he has two weeks to get back for. Our conversation is cut short by a passing lightning storm that knocks out the power briefly as we experience our first torrential downpour in Ethiopia.

7714 miles

Nile ferry
Another cruise
Lake Tana priest
Local kid

Sunday 11th May

Bahir Dar – Chancho

After a great lakeside breakfast, we headed south towards the Blue Nile Falls. After battling through various sales-kids, we made the viewpoint for the falls which had plenty of water in them, despite the nearby hydro-electric plant. We didn’t hang around as keen to start the 6 hr drive to Addis Abeba.

Nick utilised the smooth road to edit some footage from Egypt and Sudan, while Andy educated the locals in some Scottish finger gestures in response to the numerous requests for birr. We hit the vast Blue Nile Gorge behind time which wasn’t helped by the major bridge and roadworks strangely being funded by the Japanese government. After an endless climb of over 1000m out of the gorge, the engine was struggling as was our diesel and cash supply. We eventually found a garage where a taxi driver gave us a crap deal on a dollar exchange, but at least we were moving again.

With the sun setting and the roads becoming increasingly littered with donkeys and drunks, we decided against Addis and pulled over in the next town of Chancho (we think). We checked into a decent looking place and got 2 rooms for $7. The manager even escorted us to a local restaurant where we were served ‘Western’ scrambled egg and bread with a cold beer generously bought for us by a friendly local who spoke good English. The other locals all averted their gaze from the over loud Ethiopian news on TV to stare at the phenomenon that had just walked through the doors. With nightlife looking minimal, we headed back to the hotel and locked our doors securely.

8091 miles

Tank remnants
Blue Nile Falls

Monday 12th May

Addis Ababa

We quickly drove the remaining 40km into the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to find the Baro Hotel in the Piazza area of town. We parked in the courtyard and chatted to a couple (Andy & Noleen) who were there in a Land Rover and had been a week ahead of us since Tunisia. It was good to see some other overlanders again and compare stories. With no power in the hotel, we headed out for a great breakfast of French Toast in a café round the corner before checking e-mails and failing to upload anything onto website due to painfully slow connection. Working on African time meant that we spent the afternoon getting our Comesa Yellow Card from an Ethiopian Insurance agency which covered the vehicle for 3rd party insurance for the remainder of the trip.

We had arranged to meet up with Cathy and Tom from one of our supported charities MercyCorps who do a lot of work in Ethiopia including micro finance projects in the capital where they support woman in a coorperative….

It was a great evening hearing about the work of NGO’s in Ethiopia and getting an insight into the issues that the country face with some of the following facts stricking us;

The Ethiopian population grows by 2 million people every year

50% of the population in the capital are under 16

85% of the population are farmers

8119 miles


Tuesday 13th May

Addis Ababa – Awasa

Another morning waking with no power and cold showers. The reason for power cuts was a lack of rain in the short rainy season earlier in the year which has left the hydro electric dams with a shortfall, which is only compounded by the government selling electricity to Sudan to gain some hard currency.

After another café breakfast, we headed south out of the city in a light rain after shopping for some provisions and diesel. The countryside was once again changing over the next 5 hours as we drove through the upper Rift Valley and large fields of fertile land. After we negotiated the buying of some firewood at the side of the road, the heavens opened at one point which briefly cleared the roads of people and cattle.

As we tried to find the Adenium campsite at Awasa using a GPS coordinate, we ended up down the wrong alleyway being mobbed by over 30 kids shouting the unending ‘You, you, you, you, you!!’ and ‘Faranji!!’ (Eng. ‘Foreigner’) while jumping on the back of the landy. With a frantic call to the campsite, we found the oasis of calm run by a German lady (Jena) and her Ethiopian husband. During a long Ethiopian coffee ceremony (3 rounds of decreasing strength coffee over a couple of hours) Jena filled us in on her take of the country which once again seemed full of frustration with the government and people there. She was returning home to rejoin her daughter who had recently moved back to school in Germany and seemed relieved to be doing so, despite a great affection for the country and her business here.

We appeared to be chasing the power cuts in Ethiopia as we once again dined by candle light as the rain continued to fall. Andy and Noleen caught up with us having unsuccessfully found a nice spot to camp to celebrate Noleen’s birthday. It seemed he was not delighted at having to share this romantic moment with two Scottish loons!!

8303 miles

Streetside donkeys
Local housing

Wednesday 14th May

Awasa – Abri Minch

Power in the morning meant we could finally get an overdue lukewarm shower after removing the excessive engine oil Andy had accidentally overfilled. We briefly backtracked to the town of Sheshamene for supplies before cutting West on the road to Abri Minch which turned out to be a terrible road full of potholes that pounded the suspension. We eventually make it to town and find a hotel offering camping with a  great view overlooking the two lakes.

With our low boredom threshold kicking in again, we used the rest of the afternoon to go and see the ‘crocodile market’ in the national park. We eventually found  the park office to pay the entrance fee and picked up the obligatory guide who sorted us out with a boat for the 2 hour trip ahead. As we left the shore, there we plenty of hippos and pelicans in the water and we were soon crossed by a huge croc. Local fisherman (a brave bunch in the tiny wooden boats) had scared away many crocs from their usual gathering spot, but there were still over 20 crocs on one of the islands that we passed.

We managed to catch a beer with the great sunset back at the hotel veranda before one of Ethiopia’s best dinners so far. This was only spoilt by the numerous mosquitos in the area.

8512 miles

Abri Minch
Croc farm
Croc hunter
Sunset beers

Thursday 15th May

Abri Minch, Ethiopia – Moyale, Kenya

The bad mosquitoes sneaking their way into the roof tent meant we were up in time to catch a stunning sunrise before heading south to the border with Kenya. The tarmac soon gave way to more gravel and dry river crossings (thankfully) and we started to come across the tribal people from this region of the rift valley with their colourful clothing and headwear.

We had a minor navigation debate when we received conflicting advice from our GPS, map and locals which was compounded when the main road we suspected was correct didn’t appear to have any recent tracks on it. However, our fears were unfounded as we eventually found tarmac again to the border town of Moyale. We checked out of Ethiopia with no hassles and were warmly greeted in Kenya with a ‘Hukana matata’ from the customs official as well as the comforting site of numerous Land Rovers. We already liked this country with no sense of intimidation or kids holding out their hands for cash at every turn.

After finding the Kenyan Wildlife Authority campsite, we headed out to the only local establishment serving food which was a bony stew on a bed of spaghetti served on a beer tray freshly wiped from the bucket under the counter. The fine dining experience was topped off by the local drunks stumbling in a crashing around the tables. We swiftly headed back for an early night in the quiet campsite.

8786 miles



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