Day 129 Ethiopia : Abru Minche - Turmi

Day 129 Ethiopia

Trip Distance 286 km (178 m) Total Distance 14902 km (9262 m)
Road Condition 20% tar 80% hard core surface  
Time to travel 1.5 hrs 6 hrs  
Fuel costs EB8    
Wild Camp N4 50.946 E36 44.402 Loads of Wag-n-Bietjie thorn bushes but otherwise almost perfect for a wild camp!

We set off fairly early from the pension after a dreadful morning listening to the cacophanous wailing of the orthodox Ethiopian priest "call to prayer" that went on for 3 hours from 5am - 8am.  Oh dear lord, save me from this please! 

Our first job was to find petrol for Iain as we needed to fill the 25l drum we would carry for him and also to fill his additional water bottles up so that he was carrying the maximum amount of fuel.  He had taken advantage of the electricity yesterday and filled his bike tank but without a permit was not allowed to fill the bottles or the drum.  Iain dashed off to the police station for a permit whilst we went into town to do a final shop for the trip ahead.  We were able to find some of the dry provisions that we needed but the fresh veggies, bread and eggs that we were rapidly running out of, were nowhere to be seen - market day, it turns out is on a Friday not a Thursday when there is no electricity..... what to do?

Several hours later, with his permit clutched in his hand, Iain managed to find a station with a gennie but no fuel...  what good was the bloody permit then?  It turns out that the local fuel stations sell petrol to their mates who then store it for black market sales at double the cost!  What a great scam!  After Iain found out that there was 20l available for him on the black market but equivalent to £1/l instead of the usual 45p, he held out for about 1 hour hoping the price would drop.  With no reduction in price in sight and desperately wanting to do the trip, he capitulated and bought the fuel.  Phew we were on our way at last.

Eager to get off, we decided that the eggs and onions Iain had seen for sale could be bought further down the road, so we passed them by and hit the road.  Not a good decision, we later found out.  The first 50kms or so of road was asphalt in great condition so we made good time.

SG104902 Jorg & Anja in Willy and Iain at the rear as we left Abru Minche
SG104928 All of us on the last of the asphalt and together for a while before we split up as Iain was able to go faster than the cars


As we approched Konso, the road started to change with the asphalt deteriorating and disappearing in places replaced by hard core but eventually coming back for a while.  After Konso we hit the hard core and it was to be another 1003km before we saw asphalt again!!!  We were complacent and had no idea that once we saw the tar again, we would be ready to get out and kiss it!  Never again will I complain about roadworks repairing roads and surfaces.

SG104942 Having just hit the hard core surface, Iain took the lead to avoid being choked to death in a cloud of dust from Willy and Sully

The road rose through the hills as we approached the Omo Valley and deteriorated further swapping between hard core and sand.  But both drivers and vehicles pushed on without a falter.  At some of the slow spots, kids danced and begged for money with the usual cries of "You, you, you" and "Birr, birr, birr" ringing in our ears. Some enterprising kids at one spot had created wooden accessories for sale.

P1000444  RIMG1522

As we reached the top of the hillsRIMG1525, the Omo Valley appeared in front of us SG104986 but we carried on undaunted.  Once we hit the bottom of the valley the road was rather more sandy and dusty 

RIMG1528 Iain ahead in his cloud of dust

and when we had a view of the road it stretched out in front of us towards the hills of Turmi.SG104965  We stopped to have a chat to Iain and decided that we would drive for another 2 hours before we stopped for the night probably at Turmi.  Iain went on ahead.  But the road surface soon changed and with about 60km to go before we hit Turmi, the sand turned to very sharp stone although the surface was firm.  There were some corrugations and because the surface was firm, we needed to go a bit faster always aware that we were in danger of a puncture with the very sharp stones everywhere. 

And so it was decreed and Sully was the first victim.

Land Rover 0

Land Cruiser 1

We went through the police checkpoint at Abore village when the villagers started pointing at her back left tyre and shouting.  We got out to investigate and there it was in all it's glory.  One very flat tyre.  Trevor had felt Sully start wallowing about 1 km before the checkpoint but had thought it was the road surface as it changed to thick sand on entering the village.  But thank god the villagers had let us know. 

So in record time (20 minutes) RIMG1530 we had the flat changed for the last good spare (the other spare having the welded rim) and set off for Turmi.  We didn't ever reach there though because the sun started to drop in the sky and because we had lost time with the puncture, we needed to pull over and camp.  With Iain well ahead, we were not able to contact him to let him know but as he had found his way down Africa, we figured he'd work it out and find himself a camp to wait for us the next day.

As we passed some hills just before the river crossing to Turmi, we found a great spot for a wild camp.  The boys investigated and although there was loads of wag-n-bietjie, there was a clear spot 250m way from the main road that we could reach.  So with low range engaged, we easily ploughed between and through the bush to our designated spot and prepared to make some tea.

Our first visitor arrived almost immediately.  With sinking hearts we wondered whether we would ever get any rest from the people in Ethiopia - no matter where you stop, no matter how long you stop, within seconds you are surrounded by begging people with their hands out.  We were tired of this and eager to leave it behind.  But it turned out to be an amazing visit.  There he was suddenly appearing from the surrounding scrub.  A local tribesman in his headdress and mini-skirt and white mud all over his legs (from the Karo tribe?) carrying his wooden pillow and a knobkerrie.  We greeted him in Amharic and Swahili and even tried English but he understood nothing.  We continued getting things ready with Anja in the back of Willy making tea with the tribesman watching our every move.  As Anja lit the gas cooker with the gas lighter, the tribesman's face correspondingly lit up.  Fire at the touch of a button.  His eyes widen and he began to offer her his brass bracelets in exchange for the gas lighter.  With little chance of him ever being able or knowing how to re-fill it, Anja asked for a box of matches and struck one off the box.  The tribesman continued to be more and more amazed - his face was a picture RIMG1531.  Anja proffered the box and at that he took his piece of charcoal from his cumberband, threw it away and tucked the box of matches in instead.  With a final wave, he melted into the bush and was gone.  Other than the photo that Anja snapped quickly, it was almost as though he had never been there.  We wondered whether he would ever be able to use the matches and what he would do without his charcoal and whether he would ever go back to the charcoal.  Had we changed his life in any way?

5 minutes later our second and last guest appeared.  We seem to think with the clay in his hair and from his dress that he was from the Hamer tribe.  He seemed to be a bit more sinister with his AK47 hung casually across his shoulder.  But he greeted us all and smiled - isn't it amazing how a smile can softened even the most tense moments.  His interest wasn't fire but on the webbing straps that Trevor had left on Sully's fender from taking the gas bottle off the back door.  He pointed at the webbing and at his gun.  His webbing was frayed and coming loose.  We had a quick chat.  Give him something and risk all the villagers (were they somewhere near??) appearing for their gifts.  Or give it to him because he needed it and wanted it and hope that he would leave us in peace.  Trevor went into Sully and appeared with some spare webbing and the tribesman's face grew a great big smile.  He took the webbing, shook Trevor's hand and air-kissed it - a real gentleman!  Then he approached each one of us seperately, shook hands, air-kissed them, smiled widely, we think said "thank you" and again melted away into the bush. 

With the light fast disappearing, the boys found loads of fire wood and built a fire.  We ate a simple meal of pasta with Anja and Jorg's last bottle of sauce stowed away for a time just like this and with a final look at the millions of stars and listening to the bark of baboons in the distance we went to bed.  As we drifted off to sleep, the veld fires we had seen during the day still burned fiercely on the horizon.  The orange and red flames leapt up almost seeming to touch the sky.  But with a road and about 500m of bush on the other side of the road having been back burnt by the locals during the day, we felt secure and safe in our campsite.

#1 John Cox on 9.02.2009 at 4:38 PM

Great Jan keep it coming am sat here with itchy feet.



Hi John, this was a bit of an epic to write but with so much happening I didn't want to miss anything out.  With hindsight, we would have loved to have spent more time in the Omo Valley meeting the different tribes... but next time, hey? :o)