. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath


Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition


Kensington Tours can help you plan your own expedition anywhere in the world.




#8 - Ethiopian Diary
Jeff Willner - 20 August 2001

(Lalibela, ETHIOPIA) – Ethiopia started out so promisingly, great food, paved roads – but the past ten days has ground us down to raw nerves. Despite its world-class attractions, there are few tourists here. As a result there is little of the tourist infrastructure that visitors depend on, no bank machines, no decent bookstores, sparse internet access (sometimes only one computer in an entire city), and most damning, only four ‘farangi’ dishes available outside the capital – spaghetti, fish ‘cottelett’, omelet, and fasting food (vegetables). Ethiopia’s national cuisine, a sponge-like flat bread called injera, is delicious but has an unfortunate side effect, bad gas, a serious problem with four people in a confined space. We arrived at the beginning of a sixteen day fast, so in most restaurants there is no meat served. Leaving only spaghetti as a viable mid-day meal.

Something as simple as getting money from a bank account, which would consist of a five-minute trip to an automated teller machine in Kenya, took days of effort and culminated in a satellite phone call to home to arrange a Western Union transfer. Only three places in the country take credit cards, Ethiopian Airlines, the Hilton, and the Sheraton. There is no such thing as a cash advance, so desperate backpackers can be seen lurking in the hotel lobbies asking guests if they can pay for their hotel bill with their credit card in return for cash. For a week we were confined to Addis Ababa, waiting for visas from the Sudanese embassy – a process that consisted mostly of being told, “come back tomorrow”. We decided to take a side trip to one of the national parks as a break from the hassle – but ended up getting completely stuck in the mud, after which the truck broke down yet again. In short, it hasn't been one of the better weeks on the road. Here are excerpts from the diary.Highlights of one of the more aggravating sections of the trip.

3 Aug – Arrived in the southern outskirts of Addis, the paved road gave way to a scramble of traffic cut through by maniacal taxi vans. Sally navigated us around the outskirts toward the Sudanese embassy, hoping to get a jump on our visa application – the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi was able to process us in a day so our fingers are crossed. On the way we passed the city abattoir. A tin-walled slaughterhouse with a mountain of decomposing cow bones in the back, watched over by a hundred vultures hunkered on the walls and roof. Groups of cows were herded through twin lanes of traffic to stand in the muddy curb outside, purchased by the slaughterhouse buyer, and then forced into a dark chute. Experts have informed the company that the tons of bones could be used to make fertilizer – but they haven’t bothered, instead the bones accumulate and rot. The smell is horrific. It crawls inside your mouth (it’s too much to breath through your nose) and sits there like an evil thing.Not a good omen. Sure enough, the word from the embassy was bad “Everything is closed – wait till Monday”.

4 Aug – Ethiopia’s tourist line is “13 Months of Sunshine” because their calendar has an extra month – but since we’ve arrived it’s been rain, rain, rain.

Petrol is cheap in this country, imported from the oilfields of Sudan. It is nice to spend $0.31 per litre, but the sulfur content of the fuel is much higher than normal. So we drive with the odor of brimstone.

5 Aug – Walked to the top of the city to see St. Georges’ church on Sunday. Coptic Christianity is quite similar to the Orthodox beliefs, worship of icons figures prominently in both. I’ve seen pictures of supplicants kissing pictures and relics in eastern Europe – but here the church building itself is holy. Men genuflected at the gate, walked to the church wall and kissed it, prayed, and moved around the corner to repeat the process.

6 Aug – This morning the battery died. We’d hotwired the diesel injector pump in Kenya to get out of the desert, but it slowly consumed the charge of the twin battery system. A taxi took me and the batteries to Ultimate Motors, the best Land Rover place in Addis Ababa. Fixing the truck took a full day; repaired loose wiring, new shocks, new auxiliary tank fuel pump, and re-welded one of the spotlight mounts. Great service but unfortunately the shop was located downwind of the slaughterhouse. Gag. As I waited on the truck the mechanics told me about another couple driving to Sudan that had passed through a week earlier. North of Addis Ababa the man had swerved to avoid a dog in the road, the truck slid sideways on the gravel road and rolled – requiring days of expensive repairs. “So you understand what you must do if you get in this situation?!” they enquired forcefully. “Drive slower?” I responded. “No. Hit the dog!”

8 Aug – Decided to head out of town to Awash National Park for a couple of days, killing time more enjoyably while waiting for the Sudanese visas. Hotels are basic, foam mat bed, non-flushing toilet, and cold water shower, but the price is right - $1.50 per person. Entry fees at the park were a wee bit skewed, 3 Birr for locals, 50 Birr for tourists. It was raining cats and dogs but driving through the scrub on a sand and gravel road was a blast. We forded streams, bush-barged through the forest to detour bad sections, and generally filthified the truck with mud. The Awash Falls were pretty impressive in rainy season. More interesting was the hot spring pool – wading in the warm water was positively therapeutic. The view from the Awash crater is supposed to be spectacular, but 30km west of the hot springs we hit axle deep mud and despite low gear and differential lock I got completely stuck. Rain fell steadily as we waded through the shin-high muck, digging out the rear wheels andpushing branches and stone under the wheels to give traction. Two passing villagers took matters into their hands, taking the shovel from us, but the more we dug the deeper the truck sank into the mud. Finally, when the right wheels had sunk almost up to the door frame, a tractor appeared. To huge cheers from the onlookers it dragged us free. We distributed $25 to the tractor owner, the diggers, the pushers, and various onlookers that claimed they had played a key part in our rescue – to be honest we were just relieved that we wouldn’t be spending the night in the mud.

Beating a retreat back down the park road the way we’d come, the truck started acting up again, stalling briefly at shorter and shorter intervals. Thinking that the ignition was damp, I idled the engine for awhile – but nothing seemed to help. Jody and Sally pored over the owner’s manual, “Is it bad diesel? Can we check the sedimentor?” We checked the diesel filter drain – no water, no dirt. Finally when the truck ground to almost a complete halt, we called Foley on the satellite phone. “I think it might be the anti-theft valve in the main fuel line”, Stuart predicted. On the shoulder of the road, we opened up the passenger seat and did some surgery, removing the fuel line valve and cannibalizing the aux tank valve to fill in the gap. Cutting out the aux tank valve left an open fuel line, which I decided to close with a pair of vice-grips heavily taped to the frame. This did the trick, so on we went, wincing at the bumps, hoping that the vice-grips did not fall off. Bloodytruck.

9 Aug – Still no visas. The consulate looked at Sally, Gulin, and I, “For you no problem.” Then holding her US passport he turned to Jody and sighed, “But for you, problem. Come back Saturday.” Jeez. Back to Ultimate Motors for a permanent fix to the fuel valve problem. Another precious $80 of currency gone.

10 Aug – Addis sucks at us like a black whirlpool, it takes a full-day of strain to accomplish the littlest task. Purchasing sand ladders (steel grates used to get unstuck for the abysmal Sudan border road) occupied six hours, most of it in the Merkato - Africa's largest market. It covers over twenty square blocks and is littered with hundreds of little shops. The scale is so vast that it is virtually impossible to find anything without a guide. I was led through the construction material shops, the scrap metal piles, demolition areas where entire cars are sledge-hammered into their constituent parts, enquiring in each area unsuccessfully. I drew pictures in the mud with a stick, and haggled with metal-bashers over close substitutes. The only genuine aluminum sand ladders I'd found in the city were used, and the owner wanted $250 - for that amount of money I could afford to be patient. Finally in the early evening, waiting for yet another vendor in a tiny mud alley, I wasrewarded with two steel mesh tracks for $100. Close enough.

12 Aug – Leaving Addis Ababa is a relief, finally we are on our way to the famous underground, rock carved churches of Lalibela. Though it is no longer starving, this is a poor country. Very little industrialization, over 90% of the economy is agriculture based, and a recent civil war with Eritrea has beggared the population. It has been a challenge to continuously fend off the children asking for money. There is little foreplay, just, "Give me 1 Birr!". After being pestered day after day, minute by minute, it is hard not to snap at them - "Stop it. Just stop it!" Cows and especially donkeys litter the road. Between potholes and moveable bovine targets, driving is a constant challenge, there is certainly no temptation to fall asleep. Sally keeps one hand braced against the dashboard and emits occasional yelps when we are particularly close. Birds would seem to be the easiest creatures to avoid, they tend to have an advanced sense of self preservation. Buthalfway to our destination a majestic hawk rose lazily in front of the truck and then, inexplicably banked back, smashing into the oncoming windshield. To make matters worse, it became lodged in the engine snorkel, wedged against the glass with one eye staring inside at the horrified passengers. I braked, and it slid gently down the windscreen and bumped onto the hard tarmac road, dead.

This country is an enigma. It is undeniably beautiful, but it is impossible to escape its ugly poverty. Like the slaughterhouse scent that pervaded the professionalism at Ultimate Motors, or the rotten egg sulfur smell that is the penance for cheap diesel, there is always a reminder that you are in the third poorest country in the world.

Jody's Haiku
Muddy, Rainy, Smells like Pee
Depressed 'Farangi'


Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com