Blue Nile Gorge Bridge

From Khartoum we drove 250 miles east to the town of Gedaref close to the Ethiopian border. The heat was not as intense as it was across the desert, but it was still in the mid-thirties centigrade. The road surface deteriorated considerably for the last one hundred miles and although Bridget has been through worse, it was unexpected after the great roads prior to Khartoum.

On inspection of the cars that evening Chris discovered Dorothy had a broken rear leaf spring. By the usual MG good fortune a passer-by offered to help and whistled up a good mechanic within half an hour. It was arranged for Dorothy to go to the workshop the next morning and I would chase the British Embassy for the letters we needed for the border crossing.

I phoned the Embassy and, full of apologies, they admitted they had misread the dates and thought we needed the letter the following week. They promised to e-mail me later that day with the letter.

With Chris at the workshop with Dorothy I decided to give Bridget a thorough check over and discovered to my dismay the she had a broken rear shock absorber. After some hasty text messages I took the shock absorber to the same place as Dorothy was and, between me and the mechanic, we disassembled the shock. The lever arm had become totally detached but we also found that one of the seals on the piston was broken. We couldn’t get a replacement but the mechanic found a rubber seal that was the right size and would suffice. The shock was reassembled and fitted looking good as new.

Dorothy had a replacement spring from a donor Hillman Hunter (perhaps the Midget Register would rule on whether this disqualifies Dorothy as a Midget).

In the morning we made our way eighty miles to the Ethiopian border. This was when Chris discovered he had not got an Ethiopian visa! The only way for him to proceed would be to return to Khartoum and attempt to get one there. I continued through customs and immigration and started the drive into Ethiopia.

I was heading for the town of Gondar, some two hundred and fifty miles away. The road is excellent although like all countries the roads of Ethiopia do have their own unique dangers. These consist of pedestrians and animals. Ethiopian people have no apparent appreciation of traffic and wander all over the roads rarely looking to see if there are any vehicles approaching. Children often run out unexpectedly and on many occasions adults walking in the road look straight at you but do not recognise the imminent danger of being hit until the last moment.

Animals are driven up and down the sides of the roads. Donkeys, cows, goats and sheep are all herded along the highway and it is not rare as you turn into a bend to find the whole road occupied. The most disconcerting thing I have found is that often the herder will, if crossing a road, drive the animals out into the path of oncoming vehicles and then stand back and watch to see if any are hit!

My expectation of Ethiopia, set by the media and in particular the famine appeals, was of a barren, hot country with little vegetation. In truth the countryside I have seen, which has taken in the whole of the north-west quarter of the country, is of very well established agricultural production. Everything is lush and the soil looks very rich. The scenery as a whole is nothing less than extraordinarily beautiful. There are many mountain ranges and hundreds of square miles of grasslands often depicted in films about Africa.

I arrived in Gondar at 15:00, quickly found a hotel and went exploring. There is a castle complex, consisting of what the locals refer to as six castles, but is more like one castle with five extensions. The people of Ethiopia are every bit as friendly as the Sudanese but there are the signs that tourism is making some of them more ‘commercial’, always looking to make a buck. Certainly not on the scale of the Egyptians though.

Chris e-mailed that he had arrived in Khartoum and hoped to return to Gedaref that evening. I replied that I would continue as per our schedule and see how things were when I reached Addis Ababa.

From Gondar Bridget and I drove down to Bahir Dar some one hundred and ten miles. The drive was without incident, but we were now around six thousand feet above sea level and the temperature was much cooler at twenty four degrees. Bahir is on the banks of Lake Tana. It is a progressive city and, I have to admit, my hotel was modern and very comfortable. The beer was cold, the food good and the bathroom clean. I took a boat across the lake to visit a couple of islands, both of which have Coptic monasteries.

That evening I e-mailed Chris and suggested he head straight to Bahir from the border and catch up a day. I gave him detailed information on the route and the location of the hotel. His response was that he hoped to cross the border the next day.

Meanwhile I struck out for Addis Ababa, a distance of three hundred and forty miles. The temperature was cool, we even had a thunderstorm during the previous evening, and the road started out as good as the previous ones. However that was all to come to a screaming halt at the one hundred and fifty mile mark. Suddenly the road surface undulated wildly and was badly broken in places creating large steps. It almost certainly has been caused by land movement and in some cases severe landslides.

Having crashed over the first patches I thought it was a temporary blip when suddenly there was more, followed by the total disappearance of any road. At first I thought this was just where they would be laying a new road, but soon found that this was a general long term situation. In total these conditions continued for eighty miles by which time Bridget was hot, bruised and very tired.

This nightmare run was however punctuated by the most spectacular scenery of the Blue Nile Gorge. This alone made the drive worthwhile even if Bridget couldn’t enjoy it. That was doubly the case when to get out of the gorge she had to climb some eight to ten thousand feet. The view for me was awesome.

Tired and battered Bridget made it to Addis, arriving around 17:00, but it took another two hours to find a hotel. As I arrived I received another text from Chris; he had crossed the border as planned, but now had a serious overheating problem. He suspected that he had blown a head gasket and would get a mechanic to check it for him.

I always like to say some positive things about the places I visit even when I may not particularly enjoy them. With Addis I make an exception. It has nothing to recommend it. None of the many international hotels I tried had any type of guide, there is nothing to guide people to, and none of them had a map of the city. I like to take at least one photo of every place I go and the only thing I could find in Addis was a Coptic Church.

I will be moving on tomorrow to Awasa and the last message from Chris was that he was transporting his car to Bahir Dar where he is hoping to repair it.

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