Travel Through Ethiopia on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Ethiopia on a Harley (30/12/99 - 12/1/00)
Distance 2467 km (171679 km to 174146 km)

This is part of the Sixth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Djibouti

30/12/99 Twenty minutes out of Djibouti and another 20 minutes into Ethiopia with no payments necessary and polite efficient Ethiopian immigration and customs. This now feels like Africa, within 10 km's we have seen two gazelles grazing, a salt lake with people gathering salt and carting it away by camel. We stayed in a small hotel 40 km over the border, basic, DBB a double $US 5.00.

31/12/99 More animals along the roadside, quite a pleasant surprise after no wild life the whole of Europe and the Middle East, baboons, ostrich and a jackal. Small villages of varying design in stone, mud, reed and grass huts, some corrugated iron and concrete appearing. Still mainly Muslim but with women openly breast feeding babies and some topless with loose fitting clothing. The same grazing goats and camels but some longhorn cattle and the occasional herd of donkeys. 420 km today to another truck stop hotel just out of Awash. Petrol hard to find as there is no private vehicle ownership and everything else is diesel trucks and 4x4's. Had to purchase four litres from a small village, double usual price, the trend here, if in need the price will reflect the amount need. Money change has also been difficult. Being 400 km from the nearest foreign exchange bank no one wants to change, we have been offered 5 Birr to the $US 1, officially 8 to 1, we settled on 6 to 1, luckily everythingDrinking the potent home made brew, yellow, with the locals is cheap.

1/1/00 We survived the Y2K problem without a hitch, waking up and our world hadn't changed, probably because its only 1992 here and their new year is on the 11 th of September, apart from that the day starts here at 6 am and not midnight, so nothing changed and nothing was celebrated. The strategic bridge separating North and South Ethiopia, with a lot of Russian military hardware and training moving around the north, prevented our crossing. Pedestrians and motorcycles couldn't cross, we were told to put the bike on a truck and catch a bus across. This 100 meter long bridge was guarded by 20 soldiers and all vehicles were crossing but not motorcycles as it was too dangerous!!!??? Two hours of discussion with the soldiers, then one general, then three generals finally I was allowed to cross with a soldier on the back but Kay would have to ride in a bus. Through a national park and eland and other deer plusPounding seeds in a mortar and pestle dozens of different colourful birds before stumbling across a village home brewery pub. The brew called yellow, because of its colour, served in bulbous bottomed fluted glass tasted like a cidery wine cooler. One was enough to be light headed. The local men imbibed while the women carted water with donkeys or ground grain in a stone mortar. Addis Ababa for the night.

2/1/00 The cheap roadside hotels seem to have had their drawbacks as from the buttocks to the neck I am covered with dozens of what appear to be flea bites, itchy as hell. Kay seems to have escaped the problem, presumably just infesting my shirt. At 2400 meters Addis Ababa is cool and the air thin enough to make walking up hill tiring. The Ethnographic Museum, a great display of different traditional peoples of Ethiopia some we have already seen, others we hope to see.

3/1/00 Finally meeting other travellers (not tourists), even one motorcycle traveller, Dave, from America, riding his BMW GS 1100 from South Africa. We picked his brain on roads, national parks and border crossings over maps and dinner. Visited the Mercato, one of Africa's biggest outdoor markets (streets of small shops packed with shoppers) and "veged out".

4/1/00 Another motorcycle traveller, a retired Norwegian, riding a BMW RS 1100 from Norway via Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan to Ethiopia. He caught the boat in Aswan Egypt to Wadi Haifa then the train to Athara, Sudan. His visa issued in three days in Norway. It appears the border south is open as he rode to Khartoum and Gedaref then part rode part trucked over the border to Gonder, Ethiopia, and rode to Addis Ababa. Still relaxing. Cut 4 cm more from the windscreen to be able to look down to see pot holes and welded aReading a magazine while getting shoes shined in Addis Ababa hairline crack in the exhaust pipe.

5/1/00 Its easy to find excuses to hang around a place too long when it is comfortable, good company, good food and cheap. Washed and polished the motorcycle, tightened bolts, wrote postcards and did emails and updated the web site. We have no more excuses to stay here.

  6/1/00 Ethiopia is too nice a place to hurry through and reports from other travellers are that it is more "African" than the south of here. So we decided to loop out west for a few days. Not far out of Addis Ababa women were collecting water from the nearest well carrying it in large clay pots (same as we had seen in the museum), the houses became round stick and mud with grass roofs not square with tin roofs, but the traditional clothes had gone, replaced by western discards. Still in the mountains the season is coming to an end, harvesting of seed crops finished and the threshing by walking cattle over the straw beginning. Plenty ofGrass hut village, cattle and haystacks along the roadside trees and more grass than we have seen for a long time. Carry bags, baskets and straw matting made from the leaf of the "false banana" growing everywhere. No private cars, just busses and trucks. We stayed in Jimma 340 km of bumpy but sealed roads.

7/1/00 This country of half Muslim, half Christian, coincidentally this year has Orthodox Christmas and the end of Ramadan celebrations occurring on the same day. Our Hotel, also a bar, thrived till 5 am this morning and street processions and outdoor Mosques were the order of the day in the small villages we passed. We dipped down from one plateau to the hot valley before climbing to the top of the next plateau 40 km apart. The Didesa River on the valley floor flows into the Blue Nile and finally onto Egypt as the Nile River. The large forest trees have been left to shade the coffee plantations and support many troupes of monkeys, we saw four different types, and birds, particularly the hornbill and vultures. Stayed overnight in Nekemte after 280 km, of which 170 was dirt road,Women gathering water from the town well, still using clay pots a lot consisting of large rocks to help hold the road together on the steep hills and in the wet.

8/1/00 Back to Addis Ababa, 330 km, reasonable road over similar scenery with increasing plantations of Australian eucalyptus. This crop greatly reduces the need to decimate the local timbers by supplying enormous amounts of wood for cooking fires and scaffolding and the nature of the tree means it is a perennial crop able to be cut dozens of times and regrow quickly from the root stock. More overland travellers, a Brit on an Africa Twin heading north from South Africa and a South African in a 4x4. Addis Ababa seems to be the decision point, Sudan?, sell, return south or what?, the end of the line south or north.

9/1/00 Three more overland motorcyclists, one on a Suzuki 650, four years on the road and two on KTM's all coming up from the south. Time again to move, too much talk.

Viewing flamingos, locals hassling us for money to make the birds fly 10/1/00 Heading for Kenya, down the sealed but as usual potholey road, or almost as bad, badly patched pot holed road. Followed the Rift Valley floor, not that here it is anything spectacular as we were barely able to see each side it is so wide and gently sloped here. Four valley lakes dot our route, Ziway, with its water lily walking jacana, other more common water birds, heron and pelicans, king fishers etc, a bird watchers paradise. Abiata with thousands of flamingos. We could ride the motorcycle into the national park and along the shore line alone without disturbing the feeding of the birds. We were not so lucky being disturbed and hassled by locals wanting money to make the birds fly or for nothing. Ethiopia has the greatest concentration of opportunistic beggars I have seen, any foreigner is a target of any native, rich or poor. One local undid the straps on one of our bags hoping it would fall as we departed, luckily we noticed and retied it. Camped lakeside on the Langano.The worlds work horse is actually a donkey

11/1/00 There is no rubbish in Ethiopia, there being not enough wealth to purchase western disposable plastic and metals. Any western type goods, tined food, plastic drinks and plastic bags are western priced plus transport. Outside the major population cities there is no electricity, small businesses have generators or gas lamps, the local people have nothing. The towns are an eerie black from the last generator till dawn. There is no running water, all is carried from the public well, people, donkeys, wooden wheel barrows using old truck wheel bearings for a wheel, but certainly no motorized or piped distribution. Vehicles are off the road from dusk till dawn, their drivers staying in $US 1.00 a night hotels /brothels /bars /restaurants with off street parking, also where we stayed last night. The rough roads and dirt are having their toll on the motorcycle. The cross member underneath between the two side frames has bottomed so many times that itWashing, bathing, collecting water was within mm's of hitting the sump. Luckily it has two holes in it and with a tyre lever braced against the frame we could lever it back to its almost original position. The stand spring connection, the lowest point on the bike has been bent and straightened so many times it snapped two days ago so we had it welded and strengthened. I was not too happy about helping to send the operator blind as he, as all welders we have seen here, and the general population don't think too much about tomorrow, he used no light filtering mask. The temporary electrical repair done in Yemen had again recurred and needed a two hour roadside more permanent repair and the gearshift linkages shaken and worn over 175,000 km needed to be strapped with inner tube to stop excessive vibration and total failure. Overnighted at Arba Maryam after a frustrating day.

12/1/00 The mountains gave way to the plains, left behind bananas, mangoes, small crops and trees for camels grazing the hotter lowlands. The road in better condition and the 320 kms to the border at 80-100 km/hr.Tall skinny termite mounds We carried 17 litres of fuel in spare cans filled at Yevello as reports of only black market petrol at three times the price at the border. A slow border crossing with the Ethiopian customs man trying to extract a bribe by asking for official encashment certificates (I don't think they are necessary) then a thorough inspection of the motorcycle in a very loose jacket in 30 degrees. We watched very closely as it would be easy to palm some of our items into sleeves or pockets in this unnecessary garment. One hour and we were out, away from the children calling "you, you, you" almost as a chant and away from the asking (begging) for money by almost everyone. A beautiful country, easy to travel marred only by the above two peculiarities.

Move with us to Kenya or go to our next visit to Ethiopia




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