03 Ethiopia, Djibouti

ETHIOPIA Sep/Oct. 1998

Detained at border

The customs guy carefully checks through the whole vehicle. Everything takes about two hours. Change money. How nice, a Birr is worth R1. Want to look for diesel.

Bank guy comes to tell us: customs want us to go back. J knows it is about the sat. phone. We think: ‘why not continue?’. At the barrier they are waiting and tell us to go back. The boss of customs calls us to his office. He had reported to Addis that we had a satellite phone and thought they would take note and say we could continue. But they have refused and now want our embassy to obtain a permit from their Telecommunications Department.

Check, and thank goodness the Selfs are back; e-mail them (using the sat. phone!) to fax SA Embassy in Addis. Sorry, Liesl. Your foreign holiday with us postponed once again. Jan says we should have gone back after the first breakdown, 3000 km from home, when he saw rear axle was slightly bent. (Dipli weighed in at 5500kg, vs. Land Rover design spec of 3800kg) Now there was no possibility of turning back anymore!

Wait. We are safe next to armed customs police. We watch the passing parade of people in this main road to Kenya: Brightly clad Muslim women, kids shouting “how are you”; donkeys carrying water. Wait …., but Jan keeps busy. Transfers controls from RHD to LHD (All duplicate controls had been pre-installed, so it meant swap over of linkages). Later he also finds that all 4 batteries are nearly flat and has to replace the starter motor (solenoid cap broken & charge current did not pass to batteries); changed charge wiring.

Mr Lemma, the Customs’ head, takes us to lunch at nice Ysosadayo Hotel. Goat stew and the large brownish spongy sour pancake (Injera) and delicious spaghetti and great Ethiopian espresso coffee. He is an economics graduate. He was married one year when he was sent here. Sees his wife and baby every two months. The 10th of September was New Year in Ethiopia of the year 1991. (They still use the Julian calendar!) The hours start counting from 6 in the morning (instead of midnight) so that 7 o’clock is 1 o’clock etc. Then the signs are in Amharic writing. Boy, do we get confused!

We hear of excellent communications K & A have made on our behalf. Great friends! As it would be, it was a public holiday in S.A.

Sufficient market; nice walk away. Juice shop. Cold papaya pulp served with fresh lime wedge. (2birr). An English speaking lass assists Leoné with shopping. She greets a friend. Kisses on the cheek. Smack, smack …(5 times on alternate cheeks)

After 2pm of the third day here, Lemma phones his boss. Jan uses Lemma’s phone to phone SA Embassy. The official has been working on the matter the whole day. It usually takes a week. Phones back later to say they will take responsibility for us and that we are not to use the phone in Ethiopia and that the permit would be faxed to Customs HO Addis and that they would then have to phone here… and it is nearly week end. At 5.15pm on Fri. 25/9/98 our papers are returned and we are officially told that we may go! We left the next morning having been there for three days. Never again did we declare the satellite phone at a border!

When we were searched by customs at the Ethiopia border, the guy looked through everything except the garbage bin. Soon after we’d left Moyale there was another customs police control. The guy entered the vehicle and searched only through the garbage can!

We were heading for Addis Ababa. First we went through dry acacia bush and then as we went higher the vegetation became lush. The grass was of a short variety and we were driving through green parkland. The houses were built of mud and straw with banana related leaves on the roofs. Most homes had flowering plants. (Unusual in Africa). Children waved and shouted with delight: “Faranji!” “You! You! You!” The tarred road had frequent random potholes; often very large and not always avoidable even by swerving or braking. Pedestrians, animals and their owners had no regard for moving vehicles. In villages the trade on either side spilled onto at least half of the main through road.

The Amharic sign writing was fascinating and the English transliteration most amusing: “Seven Up” would be “Savaanappi”.The night before Addis we camped at Lake Langano (one of very few campsites in Ethiopia). There we met some Danish Missionaries who kindly organised pleasant safe parking for us in the capital city and near the SA Embassy, where we were collecting mail.

Addis Ababa: “New Flower” has no street names but Jan somehow found his way around. The National Museum has some of Haile Selassies’s finery on display. They also have the skull of 3,5 million year old Australopithecus Afarensis from Hadar (“Lucy”). The brand new Sheraton (marble palace) hotel was worth checking out. We found the cathedral but the other beautiful Coptic Orthodox churches eluded us. Hand-woven souvenirs and jewellery are all decorated with variations of the beautiful design of the Lalibela cross.

Our Danish friends took us to a Coffee Ceremony in a private home. The girl sat on a low stool. On the floor in front of her was a little paraffin stove with a steel dish. She boiled water and washed the beans and then roasted them. They were ground in a mortar and pestle and poured into a narrow necked jar alternately with boiling water. Incense on burning charcoal in a candelabrum on the floor.

While we were waiting they served a layer of large “injera”, with a portion of boiled veg and a spoonful of tasty sauce on the large pancake in front of each person. We took pieces of the spongy national staple together with the trimmings and ate with our right hand. The excellent coffee is served in small cups with sugar or butter and salt.Because of our overloaded and rather delicate axles, Alas! we could not go North to Lalibela (rockhewn churches), Gondar (castles) and Axum (obelisks and stelae). At that stage we were considering shipping back to SA for axle transplant.

We were heading East from Addis and decreasing in altitude. Before long the temperature was 31°C. One highlight of that desert area was the Afar people and their camels. Near the town of Awash there were rows and rows of Carmine bee eaters on the telephone wires. 670km was good tar. The next 86km took us 4,7 hours. (Potholes).

The whole way, there was a continuous stream of trucks with trailers, mainly tankers. We estimated one every two minutes. (We timed them because each time we chose to camp wild, it seemed to be near the road and next to a spot where the trucks were battling to get through) Because of the border dispute with Eritrea, all Ethiopia’s imports were coming through Djibouti.

At the Eth/Djib border the customs official would not accept the import permit (to send back as we were instructed) or even stamp the form listing the vehicle and other items (including sat phone), which had been the cause of our detention at the Kenya/Eth. border.

DJIBOUTI October 1998

Hot as Hell

The first 150km of bad road and the next good 100km was through tortured scenery of black volcanic rock. The soda lakes with brown water had no vegetation on their shores.

Djibouti City and port was bleak-black & buried in garbage. It looked like hell and felt like it: 34-44°C. In other countries, usually, foreigners are seen as “tourists”. In Djibouti (ex French colony) we were thought to be “journalists” (because nobody goes to Djibouti for pleasure – except one friendly ex-Legionnaire, who takes people Sand Yachting on dry pans; if he can find anybody to take!)

By then Jan had decided not to go back to SA but to continue as planned. We had to find a ship to take us to the Arabian Peninsula. We trudged from one shipping agent to the next. In desperation, Jan walked kilometres on the docks, talking to each captain of each ship. Eventually the grumpy Belgian shipping agent found a ship, “NedLloyd Coral”, for the vehicle only. Passengers were not allowed. We would have had to live & eat in hotels for three days while the ship went ahead to Aden. Our motor home would have stood on the docks until we arrived by air, 3 days later. No way!

After much effort, Jan obtained a permit to enter the harbour area by car. We could drive back and forth from agents to ships. When the “NedLloyd Coral” docked, J was there. The friendly Danish captain said: “Yes!” he would take all three of us on his cargo ship, and entertained J with some cold Beck’s beer. Captain Absolomsen obtained permission from the owners in Denmark. The arrogant agent condescended to ask the charterers, Ned Lloyd. Late in the day they begrudgingly agreed. In spite of the high price we had to hurtle from harbour to agent back and forth madly shuffling all the paper ourselves. Jan landed up defining the loading equipment, organising the assembling of it and supervising the hoisting. When the ship sailed toward Yemen into the Gulf of Aden at 1 o clock in the morning Jan said it had been the busiest day of his life.

Our vehicle was on deck between containers. We had access to 220v and water. Cargo first had to be offloaded in Al Mukalla, Yemen and we would then return to Aden. This gave us 4 days and 4 nights at leisure on a calm sea. We were invited for a barbecue on deck with the crew and shared many a cold Beck’s, with the lonely captain.

Djibouti: Going to Yemen on container ship

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