The Long & Bumpy Road To Gondar.
I woke up to a new day in Awassa, and things seemed a bit brighter. The hotel looked over Lake Awassa, which was a brilliant blue in the sunshine. I had a well deserved breakfast and was served coffee by a man in a waistcoat, a much better start than the previous day.
I got back behind the wheel of the Alfa a little later than I had planned, after all I was still recovering from the food poisoning in Moyale. I was pretty sure that the worst of Ethiopia was behind me. Waking up in a nice hotel to a hot shower and a good breakfast really put the troubles of the previous two days behind me.
The day’s drive to Addis Ababa wasn’t long, around 275 kilometres. The road took me over fields and wetlands and over a long plateau. It was, to my great relief, was in pretty good shape. It was narrow and pretty busy at times, but it was easy-going once again.
After a couple of hours driving I made it to Mojo, where I could get on the new motorway heading towards the capital, Addis. It’s a three lane wide, perfectly smooth, modern highway. It was difficult to believe that this was in the same country as the road I had driven the day before. It was great to just settle down and drive, not worrying about potholes, or people, or animals on the road.
I couldn’t take the expressway all the way into Addis Ababa and had to fight my way into town with all the other cars and busses, on a single lane road. The new metro system (paid for and built by the Chinese) had torn up a lot of the existing road structure, which meant I was driving in mud and through abandoned construction sites. A police officer stopped me just short of my hotel and held me up for about half and hour, asking stupid questions. I made it to my hotel in the afternoon with a little time to spare.
I only stayed in Addis Ababa for the one night. I can’t imagine a reason to stay longer. It’s really not a very attractive city. It is the headquarters of the African Union, but that’s really a bit of a joke anyway. The city is pretty dirty, and I didn’t hesitate to get out. I was on the road at 6am the next morning heading for Bahir Dar, 500 kilometres away.
Although Addis seems to have a pretty good ring road, it ends abruptly, and if you don’t take the right exit you’ll end up on an abandoned stretch of motorway, that people use as a football pitch. They’ll probably shout at you and you’ll have to drive the wrong way up a duel carriageway to get out again.
I made my way up the narrow roads in the hills on the northern edge of town, and the noise and chaos ended and I was in the country side again.
Rural Ethiopia is the world capital of the speed bump, not Tanzania, as Jeremy Clarkson thought. The road was pretty new and in good condition, but it was littered with sharp, jolting speed bumps. The locals would slow to a complete halt while driving over them.
The scenery only improved as I moved north. Although the going wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. The road went from smooth to rough, as though tar had been poured directly over the ground, and back to smooth. There were police checkpoints and often there were stretches where I was diverted onto bypass roads and onto dirt. There was the constant aggressions of the locals most of the way. Some throw little pebbles at me as I drove by, others threw food. A pair of children at the side of the road threw water from a bucket as I went by, it mostly splashed back onto them. But mostly people just shouted at me. “You you you you” or “F**K you”.
Between Gohatsion and Dejen the road drops down through a great valley, over the Blue Nile and up the other side. It’s very scenic but the road is ruined. Heading down it felt as if the tar was sliding down the hill, creating great waves and fold in the road surface. I was in 1st and 2nd gear the whole way down. Climbing out the other side was similar. My poor car was really taking a battering in Ethiopia, although, it wasn’t complaining much.
I passed the town of Debre Markos in the early afternoon, it’s the usual stop over for overlanders between Addis and Bahir Dar. I had no interest in stopping, as the town seemed fairly run down, and I couldn’t even find fuel there. I was determined to reach Bahir Dar that day. After Debre Markos the road improved greatly and I made it to my hotel in the late afternoon. I remember being so exhausted that the last 10 kilometres felt like 100, and I was worried about falling asleep at the wheel.
In the morning I found my car had a flat tyre, the first of the trip. It was just a little screw in the tread. I changed out the tyre in front of the hotel, I was carrying two spare wheels, so it wasn’t much of a worry at this point.
While I was changing the wheels over I met an Egyptian called Tarik, who was driving around in his Jeep. He told me he would be heading north, back to Egypt soon, but he hadn’t decided when he was leaving. I got back on the road again, alone, heading for Gondar, the last town in Ethiopia. It was a fairly easy drive, only 270 kilometres or so. I got fuel in Bahir Dar on my way out and made my way around the edge of Lake Tana, and up through the hills towards Gondar.
I arrived at the Goha Hotel, a famous old place on a hill overlooking the city. I was excited to be at the end of my journey in Ethiopia. It had been exhausting. Almost every interaction outside of my hotels had been unpleasant. The roads were fairly bad most of the way, they were crowded with bad drivers in unroadworthy vehicles. The police force was a menace. I was tired of being shouted at and being told to hand over money.
I stood on the lawn of The Goha, looking down into Gondar and its castles. And I couldn’t bring myself to care. It was a beautiful view, but I had no interest in heading down into the city to explore. I was tired of Ethiopia. I snapped a few pics, and joined the rest of the guests at the bar. Maybe I was prejudiced against Ethiopia because their officials pushed me around when I needed a visa, or because my initial impressions of the country were so bad, either way, I was glad the be at the end of 1500 kilometres of Ethiopia. I had only a couple of hundred kilometres left before the Sudanese border, which was always the big risk in this whole trip.