A Travellerspoint blog

Day 192 – Bye-Bye Biruk

1st April 2012

overcast 24 °C

Our mistake was forgetting April Fool’s Day as we drove to the town of Shashamane to drop off Biruk and conclude our business dealings. Biruk had been brilliant. Always fighting our corner on prices, always happy with a story to tell and always honest. He was leaving us with a list of useful guides at each location for the rest of our trip as well as places to stay and expected prices. We nipped out for one last coffee with Biruk and then hit the road. We’d be in Addis Ababa by mid afternoon.

We closed in on Addis knowing only the name of the place in which we wanted to stay; Wim’s Holland House. It wasn’t on any of our maps, it wasn’t on the sat nav and it wasn’t in any of the blogs we’d downloaded. We passed through a town called Debra Zeit, home of the Ethiopian Veterinary Headquarters, and called Biruk to see if he could help. He advised us that it was near the old Djibouti train station if we asked anyone there, they could direct us. It took two hours of searching, stopping to find internet cafes beset with power problems and connection difficulties, fancy hotels who had never heard of Wim’s and a good quarter tank of fuel. Eventually, Biruk sent us a friend who jumped into the car and showed us to our Addis abode. We’d been one hndred metres away when we asked a police man if he knew where it was. The big colourful sign had been just twenty five metres over his right shoulder.

Posted by ibeamish 21:45 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Day 191 – Smashing Rain

31st March 2012

rain 24 °C

We had a big drive ahead of us as we said goodbye to the crazies of Jinka. The tar road was almost complete and our only real issue was fighting the cows, goats and sheep for space on the road to Arba Minch. We were heading north again.

We pulled into Arba Minch and found a back water stop that had a very small room, a very small and very broken bed and a long discussion about charging Ethiopian prices versus white foreigner prices. We paid Ethiopian prices. There was a lot of rain during which, Somers perfected her shiro cooking and Biruk discovered that the cooking oil that he’d bought earlier had been stored in a bottle that had previously held petrol. The dressed salad took on a very different flavour and Biruk ran off into the wet evening in search of more oil.

The food eventually came and we broke open the bottle of Tej we’d bought two days earlier from the market. The honey had continued fermenting and the sweet nectar now tasted like brewer’s yeast. To make matters worse we smashed the rear windscreen slamming a door whose lock had started sticking with dirt.

Posted by ibeamish 21:43 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Day 190 – Lord Have Mursi

30th March 2012

sunny 25 °C

The celebrated day of visiting South Omo’s flagship tribe had arrived; today was Mursi day. Before we would see them though there were several hoops to jump through, and disappointingly, we missed the first. We pulled over in Jinka whist Biruk leaned out of the window and had a quick chat with a guy and a girl. He told us that they were the tourist office people and they’d agreed he could pay when we returned later on. George Michael was singing ‘Careless Whisper’ on the radio as we pulled away. Two hundred metres down the road and we had found two problems; the first was that the road had literally disappeared in the rain, last year we assume, and the second was that whilst we wondered how to ford the dry but large and impassable gap we were set upon by a young man on a motor bike who seemed particularly aggravated that we were off to see the Mursi. “Time can never mend careless whispers...” but the music had imparted no sensibility on this young man’s occasion. He was very angry and speaking in Amharic. Biruk laid into him, but the young buck gave it straight back. “There’s no comfort in the truth, pain is all you’ll find...” Biruk was flying back into him and still there was only the crescendo. “Tonight the music sounds so loud, I wish that we could lose this crowd...” George was getting emotional and as we reached the final verse Laura and I were shouting out of the window in support. It all ended a little bit messily with us telling him to shove his Mursi up his bottom and we’d go elsewhere rather than be attacked as visitors in a foreign country. “I’m never gonna dance again, guilty feet have got no rhythm...” We did a u-turn, turned the radio off and found a cafe for some coffee and the chance to dissect an arsehole.

The escalation of fees had become ridiculous, and we were rapidly growing to hate tourism is South Omo, we longed to see the Hamer and their smiles again. For our Mursi trip we would each hve to pay to get permission from the tourist office, we’d then each have to pay to get into the ‘national park’, Redvers would need a permit too, we’d need an armed guard, nobody knew what for, job creation perhaps as there isn’t a single bleeding animal for a hundred kilometres in any direction, then we could expect village fees payable to the elders all before we took pictures of the Mursi and paid them on a ‘per click’ basis. One photo cost 5birr (20p) per person in that photo. A photo with five people in would cost a quid!

In the red mist we were angrily supporting each other, “Sod the bloody Mursi, sod the escort, sod the park and sod paying every sodding one to have an uncomfortable experience with a people who are incommunicable bar for charging you after counting the clicks.”

Somers and I slipped very easily into our new plan of not visiting the Mursi village and instead attending the market and enjoying more local cuisine; we even had a crazy American miracle worker to watch; but Biruk had taken the drama personally and told us it was never good to leave a situation unsettled. He made his apologies and informed us that he’d be back in ten minutes.

He soon returned. He’d paid our ‘tourist office’ fees, settled the problem with the young fella’s boss and we were golden for heading to see the puckered up beauties of Mago National Park. We drove to the gates of the park where we paid our entrance fee as well as paying for the services of the mandatory armed guard; we realised that we hadn’t paid for a comedian but the big gun in his hands had more charisma than our new travelling companion; his heart just didn’t seem in it. Biruk and the guard and the big rifle got exceptionally cosy in the passenger seat whilst we continued our adventure into a park that claimed to possess two hundred elephants and twice as many buffalo. In truth we wouldn’t see a single animal in three hours of driving.

Finally we pulled up in the village of Hayloha. Clearly the Mursi were the world’s worst kept tribal secret as there were at least three four by fours that had made it ahead of us. What followed was weird, uncomfortable and probably morally and culturally wrong. For an hour and a half we, and the other Faranji’s, wandered around a village that was basic even by rural African standards. We were besieged by individuals who had actually mutilated each other in the name of tradition and beauty. There is not one single thing, to our minds, that is beautiful about a woman who has slit her lower lip and proceeded to stretch the loop of tissue until it can accept a clay disk 15cm in diameter, her earlobes have similar discs in the stretched orifices of the original piercing and her lower front teeth have been removed. Kissing clearly didn’t feature in the nuances of Mursi loving. On top of the physical damage, the ornate head dresses added colour and originality and included animal horns, metal work and anything else from plastic fruits to ceramic jugs, all atop their heads and all competing with each other for camera friendliness. We took photos, and we bartered prices, and we successfully showed those Southern Ethiopians that if they continue to mutilate themselves, and continue to wear ornate head dresses, white men will come and they will pay handsomely to gasp in shock. Well done us.

In what was probably a selfish motion, we did attempt some idle chit chat; a guide even stepped in to tell a young girl that it was rude just to request money when we asked her a question; but looking at her elders, she had no role models. We tried to draw a map of the world in the dirt to show where we’d come from and where we were going, but to be honest no one really cared. We were told that the pastoral duties have been handed over to the children because the older people are making too much money to follow the animals and work the fields. Rather they sit in the village, dressed up in full regalia, taking tourist receipts

We drove back for an hour to get to the gate of the park, tackling steep sections of dried talcum powder dirt only to discover at the exit gate, that we could only pay at the park headquarters. They were twenty five kilometres back into the park. Biruk had missed the turn, he apologised profusely as he went to speak to the guard. The guard turned out to be a complete jobs worth. He simply couldn’t take our money. He was going to the HQ the next day, but he didn’t want to be seen to accept money when he wasn’t allowed to. Biruk offered him a little extra, but still he stood firm. We spent the next two hours driving along bad roads and rattling our car to pieces in order to find the park headquarters, which were nowhere near anywhere. We paid, we complained that the park was staffed by people unable to think outside of the box, and we got a look that said “There’s a box?” Somers then wrote an essay on tourism and park management in the comments book.

Hours later on a day of hypocrisy and arguments we arrived back in Jinka and went to a local spot for a bite to eat, a plate of fasting food, a few beers and an education on the popular music of Ethiopia. Biruk was a passionate man, and in a strange Ethiopian ‘Alan Partridge’ style he repeated the words, translated, of the soppy love songs we were listening to. Dinner for three, including three coffees and four beers cost us £3.50. We needed the food; we had ambitions that were greater than our energy. We were going to be healed.

We raced each other along the tar, switching to running bare foot when the flip flops became restrictive, until we found a tuk-tuk that would take four to the Jinka stadium. There we found a crowd of people gathered around a stage with rudimentary flood lights and a sketchy sound system. Already the dust had begun to rise from under the feet of the amassed crowd. The pastor chap was already speaking as my belly began gurgling. There was a whole world of Jesus-based ‘saving’ going on. But only the righteous were on the list; and my belly was feeling more in need by the minute. You had to raise your hands up if you did believe and if you could feel Jesus then you were half way there. As we watched, a young lady stood up and did a little sacred pop number before the pastor was back up ‘feeling the faith.’ I had a young girl on my shoulders and Somers had a child on each hand as our pastor asked people if they beleived. With their hands raised the pastor shouted to them. “There is a too-murr leaving over there, sick-ness is being healed over there, paa-ra-lie-sis is leaving over here. Jesus saves. Hallelujah.” ‘Dear God’ we thought.

As the first woman asking for a miracle got on stage the frenzy was building. The towering column of dust had risen with the dancing and the atmosphere was raucous. The lady apparently had been the owner of a paralysed leg, but tonight, after seven years, it was dancing. Hal-hay-loo-yah! More dancing followed whilst Biruk asked Laura and I if we now believed. I tried explaining I’d been brought up Catholic and what we were seeing had nothing to do with Jesus, but he seemed offended. He’d taken leave of his senses and told us that he’s very serious when God is involved.

The fact was that what was happening was actually a great uniter of people. A ten thousand strong crowd were singing and dancing and enjoying their lives, and not one was thinking violent thoughts towards another. They did all think the white guy was God’s worker though. My funny belly had turned to nausea and dizziness and I put down the child and sat down in the dirt worried that I would fall over if I didn’t. I needed saving but there were no miracles for the non-believers. Jesus wasn’t saving me, He was busy saving a man with goitre, He’d defied modern medicine and reduced those glands in the space of one evening. He was the Creator after all; if you made it then you can fix it. I didn’t care anymore, I needed a toilet, I was stood in a crowded stadium in a country whose toilets, as a rule, are nothing short of appalling. We were past code red and I didn’t know which end was going to pop first.

Biruk led me out of the crowd as I shuffled, crossed my legs and wretched. The last thing I heard was a chap with ‘sickness’ (as proved by his journey to Addis Ababa to see the [unsuccessful] doctor) was also cured. His mate was telling the crowd just how sick his friend had been. Somers, for some reason hadn’t followed, she’d stayed in the crowd with a new found friend. I was dragging my feet, I didn’t want to soil myself, but it was rapidly becoming a distinct possibility. We were aiming for the nice bar in town. It was too far. I had to call time. I knew I wouldn’t make it. Biruk asked a local shop owner, who, thank God, was full of Christian spirit and showed me around the back of her shop to her back yard and at the very bottom of the yard she led me to a dark damp corner with a hut. It was in that hut that she showed me her commode. It was too dark to see so she gave me her phone, switched on its light and left me.

I struggled inside, phone in mouth, unbuckling my jeans, pulling them down and stepping out of one leg simultaneously, as is necessary when the toilet is a small hole in the floor. It was then that I realised the whole floor was awash with a blend of fresh and stale piss. The rank stench of ammonia burned my nose and my eyes, the small pieces of turd that streaked the jagged concrete rim in my weak torchlight, added an extra dimension to the smell sensation that was assaulting my already nauseous brain. It was around this time, as I was buckled over one of the most disgusting toilets on the planet, gagged by the phone in my mouth, wondering whether to vomit, crap or piss myself, asking Jesus where exactly he was in my time of need, that Jesus was actually busy just a quarter of a mile away, making sure a deaf and dumb ten year old could utter his first words to ten thousand believers. In the end, I did nothing. I left having ‘paid my penny’ and had nothing to show for it. Jesus saves.

I made it back in time to find Laura, safe and sound, and to see the pastor and his entourage leave in their big flashy Land Cruisers; they still had two more nights of miracle-working. It turned out the pastor is filming an ‘On the Road’ reality TV programme about his journeys in Africa. It’ll be worth a watch on a comedy basis alone.

Posted by ibeamish 21:42 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Day 189 – There’s a Meerkat in my Bowl

29th March 2012

sunny 26 °C

After waking in our river side campsite we ate another expertly prepared spicy sauced breakfast before I nipped up the hill to the ablutions for a morning constitutional. There were two brick outhouses, back to back with corrugated tin roofs. I looked into the first to find a bowl of the filthiest most repugnant poo water I’d seen for a while. Out of sheer curiosity I decided to see if the second toilet was in any better state. I peered around to see that this bowl had had far more use and far less water pass through it, I was turning away as I heard a splash and my head span back to see where the noise had arisen. There, next to two small floating turds, appeared a face. A small brown face with a pointed nose and whiskers, rodent like but not the face of a rat. I watched bemused wondering if rats really can swim through u-bends, waiting for the face to disappear. But the face remained with a helpless look about it. And with that face there came a conundrum. How could I not attempt to save our furry little faecal faced friend? But how could I venture anywhere near that stagnant brown foetid water? The answer came with a plastic jug used for throwing water into the bowl post motion. I lowered it in at arm’s length as the little chap snarled his pointed little fangs upwards. The jug touched the water and the creature turned on his back to attack the jug, slipping beneath the water as he did. It must have then dawned on him, as he tasted that sweet fluid washing over his little mousy taste buds one more time, that maybe he should try to climb out instead. As he emerged he clambered into the jug, revealing the elongated body, wide paws and long thick tail of a meerkat. He was exhausted so first I showed him off to Somers and I put him on the ground, outside of the loo. In the full glow of the morning sun he weakly wobbled off into the bush. He’d probably survive.

When Laura and I made it back to the car we found that Biruk was arguing with two Hamer guys who had decided that rather than the 70 birr per tent we’d agreed the day before, they now wanted 200 birr. Yet again our collective bloods boiled as we made it clear that we’d agreed a price already. Biruk, with more to lose as a tour operator than we, was furious but conceded slightly by paying 100 birr. He insisted he’d get it back in the future; we doubted it.

Having seen the Hamer our next point of call was Key Afer market, 65kms away. As we neared our destination the road began to fill with men and women carrying urns filled with honey, oil, maize and salt. People were carrying sacks of clothes or vegetables and herding animals. All were destined for the market and the weekly chance to sell their wares. We pulled into a nearby hotel and walked in.

We passed women sat on the dirt, their sorghum, salt, maize and seed laid out before them; some had precious little to sell. There were ceramic urns of honey weighing maybe one and a half kilos and being offered for £2.50, salt was five pence a bag. We stopped under a little shelter for another coffee and some bread and we ended up buying a stool from a Banu man who had sat drinking with us.

After some brief respite we headed to the livestock section of the market. Live goats looked perplexed as they were suspended and weighed on scales strung from the fences. Cows looked in fine condition as they were herded around a large enclosure, one large bull escaping and giving his would be owners the slip and then the run around as he hurtled back and forth scattering the other beasties. A goat would cost anywhere between 500 and 700 birr (30-40 US$) and a cow or small bull cost around 1400-2500 birr (80-140 US$) we didn’t have the space and thought that Joseph migh not take kindly to his dominance being questioned.

After the livestock market we popped into the local veterinary supplies shop to speak with the owner who reported that market day was always a good day for business as purchasers sought to worm their new animals immediately. Wormers and Oxytet are the big sellers, straight in from China.

By this point we’d worked up a thirst and so we nipped into the local alehouse. Inside the metal tables and long benches were filled with tribesmen and women laughing and joking and all supping Tej, honey wine. The men, mostly six feet tall or more, were adorned in their short cotton skirts that provided a skin tight layer over what can only be described as immaculately pert sets of buttocks, their knives slung by their sides; the women sat in their leather skirts, their beaded wrists, throats and ankles providing bright colour to the darkened interior. Our landlady was a in her twenties and had attitude, this was clearly a useful trait in a trade where everybody appeared to be trying to short change her or squeeze some credit. She’d open bottles with her teeth and scoop litres of wine from the huge barrel all whilst keeping a keen eye on the regulars. We drank a litre between us and ordered another two for later on. We stepped into the harsh daylight, slightly inebriated and starting to get a little bit hungry.

We’d arrived in Ethiopia during the fast. Ethiopia being a predominantly Orthodox Christian country, the fasting is our Lent. The only difference being that Orthodox Christians do not eat any meat during this period. That meant that precious little was available and so we turned our eyes to the market. Cows and goats were a little beyond our budget and belly size but a chicken, now that would be eating. Biruk chose a splendid cockerel; feet bound with bark, and we handed over the princely sum of 60 birr. We left the market, cockerel under arm, deliberately avoiding naming him, deliberately avoiding talking about the obvious and wondering if we’d actually go through with it.

At Jinka, at the Jinka Rocky Campsite, after a final meal of water and breadcrumbs, and a brief escape attempt, our supper found the pot. Biruk insisted on par boiling him with lemon before we could braai him. This would amount to our chicken tasting like it has been washed with the dishes and having a texture as tough as a tyre. As an accompaniment we gave Biruk his first ever cider, which he wasn’t so keen on and as an aperitif we finished half a bottle of scotch, which he clearly did have a taste for.

Whilst drinking we met Daniel and Gezchawewho, friends of Biruk’s, who had just returned from a ‘religious conference’ being held at the local sports stadium. The preacher/prophet/pastor was an American who it would seem was also partially deluded or, worse still, particularly devious. Daniel and Gezchawewho told us they’d witnessed a guy, paralysed from the waist down, stand. They’d also seen a lady who was blind in one eye regain her parallax vision and a guy who had a funny shaped belly have it fixed/corrected into what we could only assume was a super ripped six pack. We asked leading questions whilst gritting our teeth and stifling laughter; the pastor was here all week, it’d be rude to miss him.

Posted by ibeamish 21:41 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Day 188 - The Evangari Dance (Hamer Time)

28th March 2012

sunny 26 °C

We left early and drove to the town of Turmi. Another dusty town, it’s a dusty region, where we pulled into a campsite to try and get some firsthand local knowledge and see if there were any bull jumping or Evangari ceremonies scheduled for the day.

The Hamer were a far bigger tribe than the Tsemai, numbering around 35,000 people we were told that they weer the nicest people in South Omo. We were also told that there men were ‘heroes.’ Tis was defined as being a very nice individual, but when wronged, they ‘destroy the opposition.’ Bradt had told us that the Hamer ‘display an elaborate and eclectic selection of body decorations’ with the women being particularly ‘striking. Through television documentaries and guide books they are most famed for their ‘bull jumping’ ceremonies. For a boy to become a man and thus be allowed to marry he must undergo a coming of age ceremony that involves running back and forth across the backs of several bulls, lined up side by side, whilst being fully naked and without falling. To fall is to fail and failing means that the boy must try again to enter manhood at a later date. Once this ceremony is completed the female family members of the successful jumper are ritually and brutally whipped. To look at an elderly Hamer lady’s back is to be horrified by scars, interlacing each other, each thicker than a thumbs width from the repeated whippings she has received at such ceremonies. It is not for the women to complain, rather they must insist on the beating to be harder as the leather slices into the flesh of their backs; to show pain is to disgrace the jumper and the family.

The bull jumping ceremony has unsurprisingly become a major attraction to tourists visiting the Hamer, and the village chiefs’ charge up to US$35 per person to be present. We had missed one such ceremony that had happened on the previous day. Having heard such vivid descriptions of the ceremony we weren’t particularly disappointed. The day following the jumping, the village holds an Evangari Dance for the boy who is almost a man. We were told that there would be one such dance that afternoon and that if we liked, and paid, we could visit the village and watch the dance.

We’d need to confirm our trip, and pay more money, at the tourism office in town, as well as covering a cost to the village elders. Biruk seemed to think that it would be negotiable for 500Birr all included, he’d been been bartering like a hound and we weren’t about to stop him. We drove into Turmi and sat in a hut enjoying another coffee ceremony as Biruk went to speak to the appropriate individuals.

An hour or so later we nipped back to the campsite for lunch of shiro (bean powder, tomato, chilli powder and onion) and bread, that Biruk had prepared that morning and then we went back to collect the Hamer man that would take us to the village and make the introductions. We parked again in the campsite and walked along the river bed and through the blistering heat of the scrub to the village. We were shown through the small archway that led into the kraal, noting the bull jumpers totem inserted amongst the sticks that showed us he was present. From there we walked across the kraal to a low shelter made from sticks and grass. Under this shelter sat fifty or so men, women and children. Most dressed in hides and beads but many also dressed in a combination of jewellery and t-shirts and jeans. We sat on animal skins laid out on the dirt for us amongst the other Hamer people. The women had the most stunning hair, narrow braids and big fringes covered in the red ochre that we’d first seen in the Himba tribes of Namibia. They were beautiful individuals with even brown skin, bright eyes and wide smiles. The broad noses of the Africans further south had noticeably slimmed, the lips less full but the cheek bones still proud. The physical stature was slender and well muscled in the men and filled but not full figures in the women.

We sat and played with the children and were offered our first calabash of Tej. Tej is the home brewed honey wine, sweet and alcoholic and far superior to sorghum beer and it tasted good. The bits of twigs and berry and else that floated on the top gave it a wholesome and rural sensation as we politely sipped rather than slugged the alcoholic nectar. The women began to sing and their voices filled the air around us as they sang for their heroes to enter the kraal.

After some time the heroic bull jumper entered and began to greet the elders. He was a skinny lad of around fifteen or sixteen, not long past puberty and his body still to develop fully. But today was his day, he appeared a little taken aback by it all as he came over to introduce himself to us and thank us for coming.

We were shown around to see the goats slaughtered to provide meat for the celebration. The animals were dispatched quickly and cleanly and skinned whilst the carcass lay on fresh green leafy branches torn from the trees for the occasion. After that we left the kraal to watch the Evangari. The young men began the dance and would only be joined by the women half an hour or so after beginning. The men would chant and take it in turns to enter the centre of the circle alone or in groups and jump until a final loud chant signalled their time had finished and they rejoined the circle and its singing. When the women joined them, the dancing became more complex, with the women moving first towards the men and then the women being faux harassed by the men who follow them in the circle as the ladies feign escape. It was clear to all that this dance is clearly where several future husband and wives first cast alluring eyes. Giggles would erupt between pairs, as one man became an obvious but jovial harassment. We were invited to join the dance but felt a little too uncomfortable to do so. We felt that we’d already intruded on the ceremony and that joining in would be too great a gesture. The invites were genuine and we rarely miss a chance to dance, but this, we felt, was not the time.

Back in the kraal the goats had been coarsely butchered into limbs, backs and skulls. Each had been staked and was stood alongside a long fire being tended to by one of the young men. As we watched the flames licking towards the roasting meat, a black kite hovered above, swooping to ground level intermittently trying to secure a piece of meat for himself. We met a chap named Dom, a white guy from Derby, who has given up on England and has moved in with the Hamer. He has an adopted son of sorts (Dom met him and paid for his education) and has his own hut within the village. He was a very interesting man, who had nothing but enthusiasm for the culture and was quick to explain nuances of the ceremony as the young jumper was led from the kraal with his two mentors. First he would have to spend a month in a darkened room and then he would enter the bush for a period of time whilst he entered manhood.

As the sun set, the dancing came to an end and the village moved back within its perimeter in order to eat. We were sat on another skin and provided with another bucket of Tej and served goat meat on leaves to share amongst us.

As the day and the ceremony drew to a close we made a dignified exit to leave the Hamer to celebrate another successful upbringing. We weren’t yet finished though and so we walked towards the town and to the appropriately named ‘Tourist Bar.’ As we walked through the bush a bright half moon lit our way and the honey wine softened our minds. A few beers later we were making the return journey staring melancholically at the stars. We had been concerned that the day would feel overly voyeuristic and intrusive, we needn’t have, we met some of the loveliest people we’d come across in Africa, we’d been looked after like royalty with the finest wine and the best cuts of meat and we had been very grateful for the chance to experience it. It had been a surreal but extremely pleasant day.

Posted by ibeamish 21:40 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Day 187 – Swollen Willies and Cultural Dilution

27th March 2012

sunny 20 °C

The previous nights heckling had obviously been learned from a straight to DVD illegally imported movie. The youngsters, none older than fifteen, had obviously been having a bit of fun. In fact, they’d caught us a little off guard. In anticipation of the shouts we expected to be levelled at us we had learned the words for “why” in response to ‘give me...’ and for “Ethiopian” in response to “White Man (Faranji)!” The directness of their statement had clearly been a little left field.
It had not affected our sleep though and we had woken early to rearrange the 500 kilograms of curios and artwork in the back of Redvers to allow for a third passenger. Biruk turned up promptly and we set off North via the petrol station.

The split between Sudan and South Sudan combined with the downfall of the Libyan leader has not helped fuel prices in Ethiopia. Not so long ago diesel was available at US$0.70 per litre with supply costs increasing the cost of fuel too had increased to around US$1.06. Whilst this was still cheaper than Kenya and very cheap compared to the UK we were hoping that driving was due a dramatic cut in costs. Perhaps Sudan will have retained its low prices.

With a full tank we drove north to a town called Yabello. This would be our first chance to experience the delightful flavours of Ethiopian cuisine. We stopped at a small cafe and ate Injera for the first time, the sour yeasty pancake style flat bread cooked only after the dough has been fermented for three days, served as the carbohydrate base to most traditional meals in Ethiopia. Its an acquired taste that’s made better by eating it with the delightfully spicy food it comes with. We also began what would become an Ethiopian theme; we had a coffee. With the perfect growing conditions and altitude Ethiopia is mad about coffee. They produce 70% of Britain’s coffee and they themselves consume 40% of all that they produce. Leaving Yabello we turned east; from there we had a hundred and eighty kilometres to reach our first overnight stop at a dusty little village come town called Weita. En route we passed through the town of Konso stopping for another coffee at a hotel called Kanta that overlooked the terraced valleys we had just driven through. It was as fine a setting for coffee as we’d yet seen. The terraces provided an artistic beauty to the already majestic hills and mountains surrounding us. We drove through cotton plantations and their fields stretching as far as the eye could see filled with the brown, twiggy, cotton plants marked by their balls of cotton wool fluttering silently in the warm breeze. The hills gave way to green acacia and scrub bush set in an endless sea of dried yellow grass; goats, cattle and few camels used the road, their right of way equal to ours.

The main purpose of our trip into South Omo was to visit its inhabitants. The scenery was second on our list but there was only one priority. We’d read a fair bit in preparation for the business-like nature of such a trip. Biruk new that a good guide should turn up with bricks of one birr notes ready to pay for his clients photographs. One can hardly blame the tribesmen for spotting a money earning opportunity and taking it; with income from a pastoral life style paling in comparison to that from tourism it’s no wonder that the small children are left to herd the livestock whilst the adults pose for anywhere between 8 and 20 pence a picture; every click gets billed and all those clicks mean income which is very hard to come by in the arid dry climate of an area that receives rain for only one or two months of the year.

Our first tribe on the itinerary was the Tsemai. Bradt had told us that they were a subsistence tribe numbering around 5000 who reared cattle and farmed flood plains surviving on sorghum and maize with some m eat and milk and honey in addition. After relaxing for an hour we were led across the road and through the village by a young boy in a Manchester United shirt. It wasn’t long before we had several small hands in each of ours, clinging on to wrists where hand space was no longer available. We wandered amongst the goats and the circular wooden huts. Their walls made of upright sticks, crossed with more branches and one half of the circle plastered with mud to seal the wall. The roofs were grass and the whole hut was maybe four metres in diameter. The bed was a sheet of plastic, woven sacking on a low platform of sticks held together with twine. We were invited to look around the hut of one young lady. At 16 she was very young and had a one year old child in arms. Marriage was acceptable from around fourteen years of age, but no one was counting years here. We wandered the village completing an impromptu tour during which our hands were never free of children. One young boy in the village had recently been circumcised and his swollen penis appeared particularly sore as he failed to notice the flies that periodically landed on it. His friends thought the sight was particularly funny and pointed at it whilst looking in our eyes encouraging us to laugh along. It looked far too sore to laugh.

We wandered back to meet our host who happened to be suffering from malaria and, via Biruk, she offered us coffee. Biruk told her not to work whilst she was sick, but it seemed that we would be taking coffee regardless of her pains. We sat and talked as darkness came and a fire was lit. Our coffee came in calabashes cut in half lengthways to make vessels that resembled natural bowls rather than mugs. The coffee was made from coffee bean skin, berries and foraged herbs rather than roasted beans and had a salty, dilute, woody quality to its flavour that was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. We never found out the name of our boy guide, but through him and Biruk’s translation we learned that rural culture is rapidly urbanising as transport improves bringing with it more access to easy food and easy attire. Our guide was himself dressed in a football shirt and jeans and was attending school. His goals, like any young boy the world over, were to be a pilot, a teacher or a doctor. The latter was preferable and if successful he planned to return to his village to help his family and friends. But it was his desire for education that caused him the greatest troubles. His parents and the village elders wanted only medicines from the west. They would rather their boy maintained his tribal clothing, would rather that he tended to livestock than learned mathematics, the sciences, Amharic and English, and would rather he found a girl from the same tribe, married and continued the cycle without evolution. The government has made education compulsory, and rightly so, but with 81 tribes to unite they won’t please everyone. The more our boy strived to better himself, the more he alienated himself from his family. He told us that if it weren’t for the fact he was their son, his parents would rather have him dead than losing his identity. He remained philosophical though, stating that this place was his home and his parents were his blood, clothes and education couldn’t change that.

The churches and missions have long since arrived in the area offering food and water in return for worship. Biruk tested our guide’s knowledge of the crucifix worn around his slender neck; our boy was no idler and he wasted no time in explaining its significance to his new found religion. He and Biruk explained that it’s not the westerners that change fashion ideas here, it’s the Ethiopians. White men dress like white men, but when your fellow countrymen turn up dressed in a smart shirt and trousers made from synthetic materials that wash easily rather than the scanty animal hides that are so rigid and abrasive, its alluring; and that is in his own territory. Our boy told us that if he went to school, or into a big town, in tribal clothing he’d be ridiculed.

The overall impression seemed to be that the cultural dilution and the decline of ‘tribe’ was inevitable. The culture would never disappear but it would change and become a heritage held for identity; the values of providing money to ones parents and the important cultural ceremonies like birth, coming of age, marriage and death would remain. As if to compound this dilution we were told that the cover girl in the Lonely Planet, whose picture was also in our Bradt guide, no longer wears her Hamer leather skirt and chest piece, instead preferring a pair of tight jeans and a vest top.

Biruk suggested that with the arrival of tar roads and the increased number of buses and bus routes they bring, with intertribal interaction at regional sports events and with the increasing migration to towns perhaps the tribal people of South Omo are losing their identities. He furthered that some will hold on to the dress if only for an income from tourism but in all likelihood they would end up confined to ‘Cultural Villages’ offering a one size fits all museum like experience.

It was our first interaction with the people of South Omo and it had left us with a lot to think about, but time had slipped by and it was getting late. We thanked our hosts for their time and their thoughts and we headed back to our ‘hotel’ and erected the tent. We were grateful for the dark that meant trips to the ammonia ridden; rotten concrete holes behind the corrugated iron sheeting could be avoided; cowering near the bush for a quick wee was second nature by now. We were excited about travelling to visit the Hamer people the following day. Apparently we’d be paying them to dance for us...

Posted by ibeamish 21:38 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Day 186 – The Wheels Are Falling Off

26th March 2012

sunny 32 °C

The sweet tones of our ten dollar mobile phone rang a pre-dawn chorus and roused us all too suddenly from what had been a fair night’s slumber. It was five thirty and it was still very dark.

There was a chill in the air that we hadn’t been used to around those parts and we chose not to shower. This decision was reinforced by the fact that when my forehead had accidentally touched the shower head the previous evening, my vision had shot rapid pages of white then black as the alternating current fiddled with my synapses. By six o’clock it was still dark but the sky had begun to lighten as we bade farewell to Clare and readied ourselves for the trip to the border.

The canvas covered vinyl seats creaked beneath our bottoms as we nestled in to them and the day slowly began to arrive above the hills surrounding Marsabit. The ignition key clicked once and the current began silently flowing, warming the glow plugs and readying Redvers. Two more clicks and that ‘ole deep throat grumble came to life. White knuckles gripped the cold steering wheel as Redvers slipped through the gates of a sleepy hotel in a waking town. Out on the road the wheels began what would be a relentless and fruitless search for forgiving ground having to force every inch forward through a wall of gravel and corrugations; no inch would be easy. The gears slipped smoothly from first into second as the grumble lightened and Redvers began to stride. Up into third and the wheels began to rise from the gravel, into forth and Redvers himself rose, no longer forcing his way through the gravel, now only sailing; three and a half metric tonnes of metal, hippo and human flesh floating over the abrasive river of stone beneath them. On the stereo, Bill Withers was holding onto notes indefinitely as we glided past craters with seas of green at their depth. The orange sun had broached the hills in the east and was casting its warm glow on the cold earth. Men wearing rifles and very little else cowered as they walked, shielding their faces from the dust with what little cloth they wore. There would be no time for pleasantries, no respectful slowing as we passed pedestrians, no stopping to say hello; only a brief wave before Redvers and his trail of dust engulfed any who walked the same road. And so it continued for five hours. We passed caravans of camels, endless rows of cattle and huge herds of goats; there were many armed individuals, none of which cared more than to wave a friendly hello or send a half hearted request for water in our direction. The dry scrubland passed by us and the sun climbed high; cold turned to hot as kilometre after kilometre flashed by.

Redvers had dealt with the road admirably; the road surface had improved dramatically during the second half of our day. We were only forty kilometres from the border as we slowed a little on entering a small Burana village. Redvers shimmied and we felt bumps that weren’t there. We broke hard as the back end suddenly dropped down. A harsh grinding noise rose up and a wheel, our wheel, went flying past the passenger window, bouncing off the ground and careering into the a thick acacia bush. We came to a stop.

We got out of the car and saw a thirty metre excoriation in the red earth where Redvers had dug his wheel-less brake disc into the ground. I picked my way through the scrub to retrieve the stray wheel that had become lodged firmly amongst the thorns. The tyre was good; the wheel was superficially damaged but seemed OK.

How the hell had it happened? It was the same wheel I’d so anally tightened the nuts on one day previous. If I hadn’t have been so pernickety about the correct torque setting I’d have called myself an idiot for not tightening the damned things. Anyway the wheels were actually falling off this was definitely another notch up the problem ladder. We needed another plan. With wheels flying into bushes and white men chasing after them through the thorns wearing only flip-flops and shorts we’d generated a fair amount of attention. The customary crowds were beginning to mass as we set up the jack to inspect the damage. The ground had worn a hole through the steel of the brake disc guard and the remaining metal had wrapped itself tightly around the disc. The disc itself had only superficial damage. The shock, oh another damned shock, had bent a little whilst trying to stop a three tonne vehicle literally in its tracks and the wheel bolts seemed fine but the nuts were nowhere to be seen. The crowd had already formed around us and with our rural location, there wasn’t a lot of English to be spoken. Laura hauled out the tools and as I tried to use them they were swiped from my hands. But it was no Mozambique; it was to be a lesson in kind heartedness. Every man had something to say, each trying to communicate with us even though language was lacking (on our part more than theirs.) I wasn’t allowed to jack, the hammer to beat the brake guard back into shape was taken from me. The guys didn’t just want to help, they were going to help. Eventually, with a ‘two heads are better than one’ approach we worked out how to remove the mangled brake guard, we took off the bent shock and hammered it back into shape. Whilst we finished off refitting a new wheel and a re-worked shock, Laura went for a walk with a local teacher, who spoke excellent English, in search of the missing nuts. They found four of the five and each had their outer most threads sheared inside them. We were still confused but a post mortem could take place later. As thoughts of reward passed through our heads, we recalled Mozambique and the problems that had resulted from attempted generosity in a crowd. Handshakes, heartfelt thanks and smiles besotted with eyes full of warm friendship would be the reward. The smiles that came back to us told us that would be all that was needed. Yet again we were back on the move.

We made Moyale not long after two o’clock. We found a cafe for a late lunch and after a short wait passed through Kenyan customs. The Ethiopian customs involved sitting in a large fairly empty room whilst a huge man dressed immaculately in smart suit trousers, highly polished loafers and a pristine, perfectly ironed, high collared white shirt unbuttoned from the neck to a point half way between his nipples and his belly button, switched leads between several computers and generally appeared a little confused at what was happening. Eventually he squared us away and we crossed the road to customs. They issued a vehicle permission form, for no charge, and it only took half a look through the back door to realise that Redvers wasn’t worth a full inspection. Goodbye Kenya, hello Ethiopia.

We pulled into the Koket Borena hotel and I began to have another look at the damage whilst I was still filthy. The shock still needed a little more attention and so I started to work. I would be assisted again, by a short Ethiopian chap who was generally a complete hindrance. He spoke no English, he took my tools from me and then made the situation worse, repeatedly endangering us both beneath a car supported only by two jacks. Biting my tongue I avoided losing my patience until finally, with the job done I offered him a beer as compensation. He didn’t want beer though. He pointed at his dirty clothes, at his dirty hands and mimicked the international ‘rubbing together of fingers’ sign for money. He’d been useless for 90 percent of the time but I did feel sorry for him and so I gave him 50birr (two quid.) He got angry and asked for more. I got angry and told him that I was grateful for his help but it was now definitely time for him to piss off.

Whilst I’d been beneath Redvers, I’d noticed, as boyfriends are prone to, a well dressed man speaking to Laura. His name was Biruk and he was a tour guide. The fact that he was only approaching us an hour and a half after we’d entered meant he was a clever one at that; he’d waited until we’d settled in.

He was offering guided tours of South West Ethiopia. We were on a budget but more important we were busy. He suggested that he should return later, or, if we liked, he would have us over for a traditional coffee at his house and if we approved of that he could serve us dinner. We accepted and arranged to meet him at six.

With the car finished for now, we settled in to a Saint George beer before Biruk collected us and escorted us to his home. We met his wife briefly as she left for church and for the next hour and a half we drank some fantastic coffee, met his daughters Elsa and Hannah, both of whom were truly adorable, but Hannah especially so; she climbed over us, giggling softly and toying with our Faranji (Ethiopian for Mazungu or white man) hair whilst we looked through photos of Biruk’s previous tourist trips. We liked Biruk, he seemed honest; we also liked what we saw but were busy trying to work out whether or not visiting the tribes of South Omo would actually be a pleasurable experience. Our guide book had laid out the terms of engagement for us with tourist fees per tribe, village fees, ceremony fees and fees per photograph when photographing tribesmen and women. It would be an interesting trip but would probably be painful a one. We agreed that we didn’t want to miss it and we arranged to leave the following morning,

We chose to walk back through town, it was dark but it was nice to be soaking up the atmosphere of another culture. A culture that failed to shine through the voice of a young boy sat with his friends across the road; they were sat beneath a shady tree on an already dark night and his voice rang clear, “Fuck you, you sons of a bitch!”

Posted by ibeamish 23:57 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Day 185 – Bloody Brilliant Fun

25th March 2012

sunny 32 °C

The room in the mission had been a comfortable one, but it was there that we experienced the first effects of living in an atmosphere hazed permanently by dust. Our bogeys were the colour of the ground, our hair had long stopped being clean but worse was that the dense mass of the earth in the air was now affecting our throats. Thick sticky mucus was the body’s frontline fighter against the particulate bombardment. Mucus so thick that it stayed strung across our airways when we woke in the night struggling to breathe. Mucus that took seven or eight swallows to clear if ywe were lucky or, failing that, needed that most repugnant of noises as a nasal snort turns into a guttural rattle whose high notes have a squelchy quality and a slug of green is drawn into the back of the mouth. The only question that remained was whether to spit or swallow. Both the weather and its consequences were disgusting in the extreme.

It was time for day two of the ‘Great Trek North’ and incidentally, the day that carried our greatest risk. Apparently most of the troubles happen between Isiolo and Marsabit. We were forewarned that the first section of tar had been completed to a point 140 kilometres north of Isiolo which was half of our days driving. To be honest, bandits had slipped down our list of worries after meeting Clare’s drivers and the huge guards that had slung across their broad shoulders big shiny rifles. There were no rusty Kalashnikovs here, the convoy formation would have the guards at point, Redvers in the middle (like a true general: in the thick of it but able to see the battle ahead of him) and Clare at the back ‘covering our six,’ if that is the correct American parlance.

The road had a lot to live up to. Hailed by most that traverse it as the ‘worst road in Africa’ it was with some anticipation and in trepidation that we’d awaited our chance to cross it. We hit the dirt 130 kilometres out of Isiolo and we immediately stopped to pick up some Chapattis. It was there that we met a man called Hussein who was born in Merile, the town we’d stopped in, and whose family live in Manchester. We laughed as he complained that he’d visited Anfield but the area had “more Somalis than Scousers.” With a bag of hot chapattis in hand we had no further reason for being there. It was time to go.

The next few hours were some of the most fun driving we’d ever done. The roads were hideous, baked, hard ground with small rocks jutting out at awkward angles, interspersed with grave size potholes and the occasional boulder poking six inches or more from the ground. Like the iceberg that downed the Titanic, these boulders were anchored below the surface by 90 percent of their mass; what was above the surface was enough to send Redvers into the air, and back down with a bang, when we hit them. Redvers shook, he rolled sideways and back and forth as tricky sections were taken at reasonable speed and he bounced and banged as he went in and out of holes, tackling both divets and full-on excavations.

The real fun came when we started using the sand tracks at the sides of the road. These tracks were alternative routes made by previous drivers to avoid the suspension jarring tooth rattling hell of driving on the main road. The tracks were a web of criss-crossing intertwined pathways of varying quality but all better than their stony counterpart. Some had deeper sand than others, some had become corrugated but others allowed full speed ahead. The three vehicles drove alongside each other, each choosing their next ‘fork in the road’ and switching back and forth as great plumes of sand erupted like cocks tails from their rears. From the sky it would have appeared that three beetles were hurtling across the sand leaving a cloud of dirt in their wake. Redvers was born for it; Somers and I wore grins like imbeciles as we covered the ground a hundred metres at time. The sand though, could not last forever and intermittently we had to return to the hard jaw aching, shaking corrugations of the main road.

Alongside the road we passed local tribesmen clothed in full warrior regalia, spears and beating sticks in hand, going about their daily business. We saw necklace adorned women; some whose necklaces were so bulky that should the lady lie on her belly, her forehead would not be able to touch the ground. We were too busy for voyeurism and so we ignored the desire for photos; the road was providing all our excitement needs. It was bloody, sacrificial, terrain. We could feel our tires being eaten by the sharp edged rocks that spiked the road’s surface, we worried that our suspension was getting hammered and we knew that we were hopelessly overloaded, in part due to a hippopotamus with weight issues and in part due to our full fuel and water tanks.

And so, with just thirteen kilometres to Marsabit, our overnight stop, the inevitable happened. The left rear shock exploded. We’d come through a nicer section of road travelling reasonably quickly and fatally had begun to enter the beginnings of the dust trail left by the car in front. We hit a rough patch and bounced through, belatedly braking as we did. The banging made our teeth clench and our muscles tense. Our twisted faces winced in vicarious pain and then gave way to inquisition and realisation as the familiar tap, tap, tap of the broken shock resonated from Redvers’ rear. The first tricky section was quickly followed by a second and the sound of the tap was joined by the smell of hot rubber. We stopped. Somers jumped out. The shock had indeed exploded, the two halves had separated and the upper section had been punctured by the lower. The second section had bounced the suspension spring out and it was now rubbing against the wheel; it was Namibia all over again. Clare’s vehicle had stopped with us and the guards in front had pulled up and come back to see if we were ok. Thankfully many hands made for very light work and after replacing the rear shocks in Lilongwe we still had one spare; the jacks came out, Redvers’ bum went up, the wheel came off, the bad shock came off, the good shock went on, the wheel went back on and the nuts were tightened to the correct torque, Redvers sat back down, we all shook hands, the ignition fired and we pulled away. Some damage had been inevitable we were surprisingly philosophical about the pummelling.

We drove without the pomp and imposing ceremony we’d displayed earlier in the day. Our tail was between our legs with the realisation that we were the weak link in the ‘Kenyan convoy.’ It was then, not entirely a sorry sight, when the guards’ Land Cruiser pulled over ten minutes further along the road with a broken shock of their own. It was removed for repair later on; one more car part on a long list of the road’s breakages.

We trundled into Marsabit mid afternoon, relieved to have covered what may have been the most dangerous part of the entire trip but tingling from some of the most spectacular and most fun roads we’d yet encountered. We were filthy with African dirt that provided a fake tan of sorts and also served to dye grey hair ginger.

A tour of the town revealed little to our excitement. We checked into Jey-Jeys, a motel type residence and set our alarms for 5.30 am.

Posted by ibeamish 09:30 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 183-184 – Leaving Lian and the Road North

23rd-24th March 2012

sunny 29 °C

Lian had been heaven sent. A stressful few days had been turned into a blissful retreat but the time to leave had come, we bid her farewell and wished her good luck for her move south to Harare. We left safe in our new found knowledge that cucumber makes an excellent addition to a gin and tonic.

Since it would have been foolish to turn down the opportunity to travel with an armed escort we’d been in touch with Clare and had arranged to meet her at Archers Post, forty kilometres north of Isiolo. This was a straight slog that covered 310 kilometres of new tarred road (with randomly placed speed humps on the main motorway out of Nairobi.) Our plans were soon modified when Clare phoned to say that her guards had received reports of gunfire in Archers Post the previous evening; a dispute between Samburu and Turkana livestock owners. Not wanting to turn up late, or at all, to a gun fight, we shortened our sights and aimed for Isiolo. There was a Catholic Mission in town and Clare was sure that we could find a place to stay, sanctuary even, on our journey north.

An early start, quiet roads and slick surfaces made for a straightforward drive. We pulled in just after lunch and booked a twin room; unsurprisingly there were no double beds in the ‘Left Footer’s’ mansion. We nipped across the road to find a cafe for a cup of chai and a bit of spinach and ugali; the church security guard insisted on escorting us as we went, advising that although the town is normally safe, the neighbouring tribes will intermittently attempt to resolve their differences by attacking each other, stealing each others’ cattle or conning each other in a sale. All three scenarios normally involve or end in the use of guns. He described to us the scene as children run screaming, bullets whistle overhead and bodies fall while scores are settled. Drama aside, the weather was far too nice for fighting and we’d left town without breakfast; we had lunch to eat.

Incidentally the weather has been a little too nice. Isiolo and the rest of Northern Kenya are waiting for the rains; at present it is a dry and dusty desert savannah. As you speak, your mouth dries with a layer of silt on your tongue and your hair becomes thick and dry with grease and red earth every day.

We met Clare for a drink later that evening and ate in another restaurant in town getting our first taste of camel, (they were ‘out of goat.’) We were looking forward to a bit of camel spotting over the coming days.

Posted by ibeamish 09:27 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 182 – Bandits or not, we're leaving Kenya

22nd March 2012

There are two routes out of Kenya into Ethiopia one travels through Turkana country up alongside Lake Turkana. It’s longer than the alternative but far more scenic and far more rugged and is so remote that driving alone is not advisable. Also, according to most reports, it is currently where the highest risk of banditry lies. The alternative is a quicker route, tackled in two to three days driving through Isiolo, Marsabit and onto Moyale. The route has had its fair share of stories but the most recent ‘serious’ incident was a French guy being shot in the face last year. Whilst everyone tells us its currently fairly safe and we obviously think it is, no one can give guarantees, you have to take your chances, drive aggressively over some of the worst road surfacing in Africa and hope it’s not you they’re after.

From the extensive knowledge garnering we’ve done gaining information from lots of people who’ve travelled the road it sounds quite like the bandits are opportunists; they are predominantly cattle rustlers stealing each other’s cows using guns as their threat. We’d decided that there were a lot of advantages to tackling the route alone; we wouldn’t need to hang around for the slow folk, or rather, they wouldn’t have to hang around for us. We’d avoid being in amongst a dust cloud for two long drives, we’d avoid attracting attention being just one vehicle and we could dress Redvers down by splashing water and then dirt onto him. We could also drive aggressively choosing our leaving times early in the morning to get a head start on the locals. However despite this we had one more option. Clare who we’d met at our ‘croquet weekend’ was in Isiolo doing more research and would be travelling the most dangerous part of the trip on the 25th March. By her side would be an armed guard and in the car in front would be another. She’d kindly offered that we could join them and we’d decided we’d be foolish not to accept. With that in mind we asked Lian if we could stay with her for two nights once more readying ourselves for the journey ahead.

Posted by ibeamish 07:59 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 181 – “You’ll Need to Speak With the Warden”

21st March 2012


We woke before sunrise to make the most of our last safari. We said farewell to Sentero who insisted on having his picture taken with Laura and we drove down into the park with Jackson for our game drive. Jackson wanted to head to town so we left him at the gate and we drove around the park, the highlight being a pack of wild dog lazing near the road.

Our ticket allowed twenty four hours in the park and so we knew we had to leave before 11.30am. We did leave and just outside the gate I pulled over to get a fresh shirt from the back of the car. It was then that a park officer approached us with our tickets stubs and asked where we’d stayed the previous evening, we told them that we’d been in the village and they got annoyed that we hadn’t taken advantage of their $25 per person campsite. We were fairly irate with them when they suggested we had to pay for another days entrance and we ended up speaking to the park warden, where we sat down and told him about our fantastic evening and that the Kenyan Wildlife Service was doing foreign visitors a great disservice by charging so much for access to parks and for accommodation within them. We left with him apologising for any dampening effect the episode had had on our experience but we felt sorry for the reprimanding Jackson would in all likely hood receive for reducing the parks income.

We drove back to Nairobi stopping to try on some white sheepskin hats, (think 80’s Russian ladies on the French ski slopes,) only to find they didn’t fit. We bought a sheepskin rug instead and continued back to town, straight to the Yaya centre and straight to the DHL office. Our passports still hadn’t quite arrived, but they were somewhere in Nairobi and their arrival was imminent. We decided to go for a bite to eat before collecting them. Finally after twelve days of international phone calls, we had our Ethiopian visas.

That meant we could head back to Jungle Junction to see if there was anyone that wanted to form a convoy across Northern Kenya. We pulled in to a ghost town; where bikers and overlanders had filled the camping area so tightly on our previous visit, there were now just empty spaces. We stayed for the night but there was no one that would be of any use travelling north, we’d reached decision time.

Posted by ibeamish 07:58 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 180 – Sleeping With The Maasai

20th March 2012


We left Crater Lake to enter our first and sadly last Kenyan National Park. We were confronted with a dichotomy of National Park and geothermal power station fighting it out for space as water pipes encroach, creeping alongside the park’s roads and steam outlets form plumes of billowing white rising from the acacia bush. The chemical smell of sulphur hung in the air as giraffe wandered alongside huge steel pipes suspended two metres above the ground.

We stopped at the rangers post and met a Maasai chap named Jackson who was a community guide. He offered to guide us through the gorge to see the gorge, its ‘hot rocks’ and natural vents. We wandered through a steep walled gorge desperately trying to overtake a large party of Iranians as they helped each other up the steeps sections. (I’ll never tire of watching fat men try and climb steep walls: their arms can’t reach beyond their belly with any strength and their knees don’t come higher than mid thigh, which is normally where the most dependant section of gut hangs.)We passed them eventually and our sociologist/geologist ratio flipped. The soft limestone rock had been engraved by visitors passing along it but is washed clean every rainy season. Small streams of water flowed down the rock walls, water that was hot enough to scald your fingers when touched. Bright grass-green algae grew on the walls in the heat of the water, vents surrounded by bright red deposits and bright yellow sulphur roared their steam into the sky. The ground was peppered with deep black, shiny obsidian rock; a remnant of the lands volcanic nature.

Along the way back we passed through Jackson’s village and visited the school, eventually arriving at the topic of where we’d be staying that evening. Jackson suggested that rather than leaving to go to back to Fishermans Camp we could stay with him in the village. We accepted his offer and suggested that first we would go on an evening game drive and then retire. He agreed and craftily suggested that we slot in a trip to the shops too. We couldn’t really decline the suggestion and so we headed out of the gate on a quick food run. AT the shops we found the ‘Travellers Butchery’. A small lean-to hut attached to the side of a building; on the inside was a man with a knife, a set of scales, a couple of blue bottles and half a cow strung from the ceiling. He wanted £2.40 a kilo and so I asked for the fillet which I could see was untouched. It came in at about 600 grams and cost a princely sum of £2.40, apparently you have to pay a bit more if there are no bones.

We got back to the village and set up the tent amidst keen onlookers. We started offering ‘tours’ and soon had three or four kids on the roof, climbing in and out of the tent. Downstairs we began cooking, butternut mash, pasta with tomato and bacon sauce (from a packet) and fillet steak with salt, pepper and a little garlic. We’d suggested a ‘food share’ and so now we were cooking for eight; Jackson’s father Sentero, Jackson, Jackson’s son Jacob and three other young lads as well as ourselves. The ladies were staying indoors as this was an all male affair, Somers permitted, and the elders had already instructed the children to light a fire. We’d met Sentero earlier; he was born in 1944 long before his home had been declared a national park and long before geothermal power stations had starting drilling deep below the surface of his land. We’d been shown the levelled area where Kengen, the power company, had planned to drill yet another channel into the landscape, but the villagers had fought them off and retained their right to stay in their homes. As a semi nomadic people, they’d leave eventually, but they weren’t to be forced. In fact, Kengen has bought them more land around twenty kilometres away and so when it comes to moving the Maasai village will simply be relocated to the new plot.

Sat above the gorge we’d earlier walked through, the sun was setting and the fire starting to crackle. We sat around talking football and schools, power stations and traditions, tribal tendencies and government prerogatives. Sentero spoke a little English, himself having visited France, Spain and England in his sixty eight years but he elected to speak Maasai to us with his son translating as his eyes held our focus and we listened closely to his intonations long before we knew their exact meaning. He blessed us, he blessed our journey and he told us that we were welcome to be with him in his home. It was beautiful, if heavily clichéd, it was what every white man idealises as an ‘authentic African experience,’ but it was a truly wonderful experience. Eventually our food was ready and we all shared plates of butternut, pasta, fillet, ugali (maize meal,) salted beef and spinach. We were told that the Maasai eat lots of meat and that their tradition of drinking their cow’s blood is now reserved for women immediately after giving birth and for those who are very sick. The procedure involves using a sharp spear to pierce the cow’s jugular vein and then around one or two litres of blood could be collected before packing the wound with soil to staunch the bleeding. One cow could be bled around twice per year. Sentero suggested some chai was in order and so we retired to his hut where we sat around the fire and drank sweet, spiced tea. It was around this time during a period of brief but ear-piercing silence that I involuntarily let out a little sharp crack of a fart. I was mortified, everyone had heard it. Our guests were far too polite to acknowledge it; that is, until they realised that although the hut was silent, Somers was in fact splitting her sides with laughter and only now was her laughter starting to become more vocal. With that, Sentero, Jackson and Jacob burst out laughing with Sentero sagely adding, “That’ll be the ugali.” Conversation soon resumed and eventually, exhausted, we retired to bed, thanking our hosts for a brilliant evening: Ashe oleng. Oleng, oleng, oleng.

Posted by ibeamish 07:56 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 178-179 – Naivasha and the Crazy Dutch

18th-19th March 2012


We woke, climbed aboard Redvers and ventured out of Nairobi and travelled North West to Lake Naivasha. Naivasha is flower country. Huge greenhouses occupy hectare after hectare making use of the sun and its warmth and the readily available fresh water from the lake to produce blooms that are distributed the world over. Wepulled into the Fishermans campsite which was a nice enough place to escape to but the weeds had grown high obscuring the view of the lake. We entertained ourselves by watching the monkeys steal food from some fellow tourist’s tent and spoke to a couple of crazy Dutchies who have had experiences may of the same problems but have taken to dealing them with aggression. Every time the police had stopped them, the girlfriend Raine, who incidentally confessed she needs anger management lessons, began foul mouthing the constabulary whilst getting out of the car and storming away up the road, still cursing, whilst the boyfriend, Mika, is left telling the cops “Why do yoush all want my f#*king money, you craishee poh-leesh jusht want to rip ush off!” They’re trying to curb their enthusiasm now that they’re in Kenya but the four letter f-word seems to be their preferred method of communication in all affairs with the law. They’ve also been to some of the big game parks and found that not only were they very expensive they also had silly rules like a US$500 fine for killing an animal in the road. With that in mind they’d stopped at the park headquarters on leaving the Maasai Mara to report that they needed to pay a US$1000 fine for the two mosquitoes that they’d swatted against their windscreen. The warden was apparently less than impressed.

We still hadn’t shaken the budget demons and so we sat down again and did some more accurate sums trying to take into account every eventuality. Working from our ‘worst case scenario’ we realised that we’d need substantial reserves in cash by the time we arrive in Egypt to make sure that no one is left behind. Sadly, Uganda and Rwanda had to be axed and with them the chance of seeing Gorillas for a bargain basement price of $800 for an hour. We’d had a lot of fun further south and with so much uncertainty further north, something had to give.

The following day we said goodbye to the heroes from the Netherlands and we drove around to another spot called Crater Lake which is an extinct volcano with a lake in its crater. We stopped on the way to see Flamingos in their tens of thousands lining the shores of Oloiden Lake. We went for our penultimate safari spotting some giraffe, eland, Thompson and Grants gazelle and plenty of warthog.

Posted by ibeamish 07:54 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 172-177– Damned DHL and Two Hour Visas

12th – 17th March 2012


The ensuing ten days were spent in the luxury of Lian’s house whilst calling DHL Nairobi, the Ethiopian Embassy in London and DHL UK. Nairobi had no idea what was going on. Despite the embassy having cleared our passports within two hours of receiving them they had now lost them in the system so that they weren’t retrievable within the five minutes that the DHL collection bike gave them each day he came. DHL were useless, we couldn’t get a story from them that matched the embassy’s and we were left not knowing who was telling the truth. As the saga played out we soon realised that the five day turn around promised was going to be at least ten.

With passports and visas somewhere in the system we took some time out to act like full blown tourists in Nairobi. We watched orphaned elephants with at least seventy other white crazies all seemingly identifying with the elephants more than the others. It was brilliant though, and they did cool stuff and one even looked at me; like, really looked at me, I think he was trying to tell me something.

After that we did the next best tourist thing which was to visit the giraffe ‘sanctuary.’ Seven Rothschild giraffe hang around being fed pellets by humans stood on a platform at giraffe head height; just like in the wild. Naturally we put the feed in our mouths and got ‘giraffe kisses’ whilst taking photos.

In an attempt to once and for all fix Redver’s electrical problems we stopped by at the fancy garage, Schumacher’s, who reckoned at worst, the ‘fix’ would cost £200 but since he couldn’t fit us in until the next day we carried on our way. Twenty minutes later we’d found a back street garage in Karen, the wealthy Nairobi suburb, and a chap named Julian fixed it for twelve quid. It turned out that there was a faulty earth connection beneath the car; it was that which was responsible for the clicking relays. The radio now works independently of the headlights and the indicators indicate independently of the radio. Redvers was in perfect working order.

With no passports we wouldn’t be leaving Kenya anytime soon but we found more than enough entertainment amongst our new found friends. We had a board games evening where we played our first game of ‘Risk’ and were comprehensively trounced: and when TJ invited us to her toga party we promptly turned a kikoi and a sleeping bag liner into two quite superb togas and headed off beers and wine in hand.
On our penultimate morning Laura and Lian went horse riding in Karen and enrolled the horse vet on a mini tour of duty for later that afternoon. A quick lameness investigation and a foal with a swollen knee served to remind me of what it is I do when employed and also halved the price of the morning’s riding. The local expat bar was the Rusty Nail, the rugby was on and we were drinking again.

The DHL saga continued as useless Edna handed us over to stressed Anne who became more stressed as we suppressed our anger. By Friday, one week after sending our passports and four days after DHL had been asked to collect them, our coveted travel documents were still ensconced within the walls of the Ethiopian Embassy. They advised us that they would be collected on Monday and delivered on the Wednesday, twelve days after sending them. With that in mind we decided we’d have one more night in Nairobi before we went to try and see a bit of Kenya.

Posted by ibeamish 07:52 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 171 – A Spot of Croquet?

11th March 2012


Hangovers and bleary eyes led to fresh coffee and American pancakes prepared by TJ. But what better to cure a hangover than more gin and tonic and a lunchtime game of croquet? Fulfilling every requisite of colonials abroad we stood with our collective pink skin sweating beneath our wide brimmed hats under the heat of the African sun. The land dropped away from the garden affording views across the savannah if the Great Rift Valley whilst our sun cream plastered arms and legs trundled around an ill kept croquet lawn and we fumbled balls through hoops becoming ever more competitive.

Somehow, certainly not by skill, Somers and I won, but it really didn’t matter. There were no prizes and no winners’ ceremonies. Instead we had a ‘team photo’ posed with sternly serious faces in front of the thatched summer dining area. In black and white the picture could go down in the annals of history as the inaugural Kapiti Plains Open Croquet Championship.

Somewhere amongst the fun and games of the night before Lian had offered us a place to stay whilst we awaited the return of our passports. She had asked us again during the croquet and that had sealed it. We thought that it was a fantastic idea and accepted her offer gladly. After another hair-raising drive back to Nairobi we pulled into Lian’s driveway that afternoon to see a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a German Shepherd and a bear of a dog; Charlie, Zuka and Squidge were there names. The driveway led to a huge house set amongst expansive gardens that gave temporary residence to three tortoises and a marauding group of monkeys. We settled into our palatial accommodation, had another gin and tonic and watched a DVD before it was time for bed.

Posted by ibeamish 07:51 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

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