Route: Addis – Bale Mountains – Omo Valley (into Kenya) – Lake Turkana – Nairobi
Jen: Our last installment ended in Addis where we spent a few days to relax and also organise our onward journey South. Our route out of Ethiopia and into Kenya has been a consideration since we started planning our trip and we’ve been grateful for advice from fellow travellers.
There are 2 possible routes
1) the main road via Moyale – the main things we’ve been told about this route are the car shattering corrugations that last for 500km, a lack of any interesting scenery and the best point – a risk of Somalian bandits! (doesn’t sound too appealing does it?!?)
2) a particularly isolated, off road route via Lake Turkana – this route includes some interesting tribal villages, some really tough terrain that can cause major damage to your vehicle and beautiful vistas of a bluey jade Lake Turkana
We were keen to give option 2 a try, however we’d been told that you might not see a car for 4 days and therefore it’s not very wise to do the route on your own cos if you breakdown or damage the car you are properly stuck. We were therefore pleased that in Addis a plan came together whereby 6 of us in 3 vehicles would travel in convoy and support each other through the rough rocky roads. Abi & Gerry are a lovely English couple travelling in an Iveco 4×4 van and Harry and Bart, a witty father and son team from Holland driving a big old Mercedes truck.
After organising a meeting point Ben and I headed out of Addis on our own towards the Bale Mountains with an overnight stop at Lake Langano. For our first night we stayed at Sanetti Plateau which at 4100m and quite literally took our breath away. We camped near a little lodge the Wildlife Conservation people have built and it was really quite beautiful with an icy wind and rather chilly in the middle of the night at -3°c. Our little bit of discomfort was made worthwhile the following morning when we took a walk over the Plateau, the place is teaming with amazing birdlife, lots of smaller animals and within 30 minutes we’d seen a number of Endangered Ethiopian Wolf which we got very close to. The views across the small lakes and rock formations were also stunning with the different colours you get at this type of altitude.
From the Plateau we dropped over the other side into the Harena Forest and stayed in Katcha camp. The camp is in a small clearing and looks up at the most almighty mountain, it was really beautiful. We had a really nice evening chatting to various people also staying at the camp. There was an English couple who were in the process of building an eco lodge. I was really interested to hear about how they were making a sustainable building that would be self sufficient in water and energy. I was also rather pleased that we’d arrived before the lodge had been built as I don’t think we’d have enjoyed the same views at the proposed $300 a night! There were also some animal and bird experts who were carrying out surveys in the park. There are lots of species that are unique to Bale and they were in the process of discovering all that is hidden in the depths of the park. Our final night in Bale was spent in Dinsho, near the park headquarters where deer and warthogs wandered around vehicle quite happily. We also bumped into the Drago truck for what we think will be the last time so we nipped down to say our goodbyes to them.
Arba Minch was our next stop where we stocked up on supplies for our adventure down South and enjoyed the views over the lakes of Nechisar National Park from our lovely camping spot. The rest of the Turkana gang also arrived and despite only driving on tar Harry had already had some ‘challenges’ with the truck, spending a few days in a workshop trying to repair broken springs.
We headed South West towards the Omo Valley, this area is quite different to the rest of Ethiopia with all sorts of interesting tribes. We were also quite shocked that on our first night we found a suitable place for a bush camp (something we didn’t think was possible in Ethiopia), where some local tribes came to see what we were doing but purely out of intrigue rather than wanting anything from us.
There aren’t too many tourists in this area, however from what we read of the guidebooks it suggested the whole place has become a bit of a gringo show with people charging per photo etc. We were keen to visit a local market where the different tribes all come together and get a glimpse of local life without it feeling like a human zoo. However we were unlucky with our days and therefore missed the local markets. On arriving in Turmi we were told there was a local tribal ceremony where a man from the tribe has to run over some bulls. By completing this challenge he proves that he’s a man and is then able to marry. Despite our concerns that it was going to turn into a total tourist trap or that we’d be imposing too much into local customs we decided to give it a try.
We disappeared off the main road for 9km up towards a dry river bed and on getting out the of the car could hear singing and horn blowing. We then walked up the river bed to where lots of the Hamer tribe were sat under the trees with the ladies singing and dancing. Part of the ceremony involves the ladies being whipped by the men, the sound of the tree branches against their skin was an extremely uncomfortable experience and the scars and open wounds across there backs looked appalling. Initially the 6 of us felt really uncomfortable that were imposing but those concerns quickly disappeared when more and more white faces and big camera lenses started appearing. The whole thing quickly turned into the big tourist trap we had feared. As the afternoon progressed we walked to the other side of the river where three bulls were lined up and held together by the men. The bull runner, who was wearing nothing but a gold cross over his back, then had to run up and over the bulls, and on completing this challenge had to do another 3 runs to prove his manliness. We left the afternoon feeling very uncomfortable with the whole experience.
Ben – it did give a great opportunity for photography, although I felt my sole eroding with every click of the shutter.
From Turmi we followed reasonably good, but corrugated gravel roads to the Ethiopian border town where you have to drive in the wrong direction in order to get stamped out of the country. From there we found a small track that would take us South to the Kenyan border, although it’s unclear exactly where we crossed the border. We were again back in 40°c desert type landscape. The thatched huts had been replaced by huts cobbled together with corrugated iron and people were less forcefully asking for things. We made slow progress over the next couple of days. With massive boulders in the middle of the tracks which we had to be very careful of plus numerous dry river crossing with big rocks that had to be circumnavigated we barely covered 100km in a day. We had a couple of very isolated, beautiful bush camps and enjoyed the company and cooking of the Turkana gang plus a fair bit of alcohol courtesy of Harry.
On day 4 of our mini adventure we had a particularly trying day, things didn’t start well when no air was building up in one of the tanks of Harrys truck which resulted in brake issues, we had a bit of a knocking noise and found that we’d broken another shock absorber and the Iveco developed a fault with the water pump. All this was topped off by the truck hitting a big tree through one river crossing with the trunk literally being pierced by the roof rail. It took the lads an hour or so to remove the tree from the truck and remove all the broken parts from their roof. Later in the afternoon we got closer to the lake which was beautiful with it’s greeny blue colours and mountains in the background.
We progressed down the side of the Lake and and finally saw another car plus a few more people. Harrys brakes got worse and we were aware some kind of fix needed to be made before we started heading up into the mountains. We therefore made our way to the small town of Loligalani where we pulled up into the Womens camp in order for Harry, Bart and Ben to make some changes to the air pipes. After a couple of hours and some great hospitality from the camp we were again on our way winding our way up the small track into the mountains with amazing views down to the lake below. Loligani was our first taste of a Kenyan town and they were very welcoming and helpful without feeling that we were automatically going to owe them something. We saw lots of amazingly dressed local tribes and it would have been nice to spend a day or so enjoying the place but we had a deadline to get to Nairobi and had to push on.
We continued up via South Horr through the mountains, each of us with our own concerns about how much more our vehicles could tolerate but we all steadily pushed on and the vehicles held up. It seemed that the route was throwing every off road terrain at us – soft sand, rocky dry river crossings, deep mud, massive boulders, steep climbs, big drop offs and rocky water crossings – the only thing we didn’t seem to encounter was snow!
We’d been looking forward to finally making it onto the Moyale Road but it was somewhat of a disappointment when we did. The road conditions did not improve, the road had just got wider, there were massive pot holes and the most horrendous of corrugations which made us all grateful we hadn’t taken the main road the whole way. After 22km we finally reached the tarmac and our 1000km of off roading finally came to an end.
From Archers Post we drove down South through the lush green hills of Northern Kenya and past Mount Kenya, over the equator and down towards the gridlock that is Nairobi.
The whole Turkana experience has been amazing, it’s had it’s challenges but I feel extremely lucky to be able to visit such an isolated and beautiful part of the world with a great group of people – and in particular the Chief Disco Driver and Mechanic (and as he’s about to demonstrate Chief Geek)
Ben – The route was incredible, and probably demonstrated what a whole of a Cairo to Capetown journey would have been like 20 or 30 years ago, we have it easy with all this tarmac !! Thought I’d stray from my usual rantings in this installment, and give a few geeky trip stats:
– On the way into Nairobi we completed day 80 of the trip, and crossed the equator (Phillias Fog & Michael Palin went round the world in this time, what are we messing about at!!)
– At the end of Day 80 we had driven 14,234km. This in about 285 driving hours, using 1416 litres of diesel.
– Things Broken & Fixed on Disco: 1 x rear shock absorber, 1 x rear shock absorber mount, cracked rear spare wheel mount bracket (and Ethiopian kids ripped the spare wheel cover trying to steal it as we drove off!)
– Disco serviced twice
– Disco problem false alarms easily fixed: 1 x water leak, auxiliary battery stopped charging.
– We’ve bush camped 20% of the time, and camped 50% of the time. The rest was Guest houses & Boats
– We’ve spent quite a lot of money, but less than we thought so far, Kenya looks to be really expensive though !!
(Geeky bit over)