Ethiopia - An interesting Country.
Using several blagged modes of transport, three of us explore chunks of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is a very strange place. Regarded as the area where Homo Sapiens, (Us!) originated some 200,000 years ago, this vast and varied country on the eastern horn of Africa remains the only African country never to have been colonised by Europeans. The Italians enjoyed a brief occupancy just before the Second World War, leaving a legacy of Expresso machines, but other than that, it has evolved as an independent state. The country supports 84 languages and has its own Julian calendar of 13 months in a year. They welcomed the new milennium in 2007. Confused? They have their own time as well, using two 12 hour clocks in 24 hours, similar to us, but the first 12 hour cycle starts at 6.00 am, with 7.00 am being referred to as ‘1-o-clock’!
It was into this oddball country that I landed with two archaeologists back in 2001, feeling bereft without my Land Rover and wondering how we were to get around, we caught a bus for the first leg of the journey to a town called Nazaret. Realising that bus transport was inconvenient for our short stay I set about hunting down a Land Rover that we could rent, or even buy. In a back street I saw a group of mechanics under the bonnet of a battered Series 3 LWB, not a straight panel on it, held together by good luck and powered by its original engine and a push. With sign language and the odd word of Amharic, the most widely used of the 84 languages, I asked for help. Hasik Redi, was our man and he made a few calls to secure the use of a delightful Series 2A SWB Station Wagon over a vague period of a few days, on one of two calendars, at some time the next day. For our $100 fee we also got the Land Rover’s owner, Hassen Abdella, who would drive and Hasik, who would come along for the ride.
Five up in an 88 inch was a bit cramped, but with the luggage on the roof we managed, heading east in the vague direction of Harah, Ethiopia’s second city. The road linking Nazaret and Harah was largely unmade, relying on a rough gravel surface, which explained why most local vehicles used a Chinese 12 ply tyre. Anything less would last about five minutes (our time or theirs!). It was clearly going to be a long journey as the old Land Rover was a willing, but underpowered ride. To aid concentration Hassen claimed he needed drugs, so we stopped in a small town to buy Chat. Chat is a stimulant, grown and widely used in Ethiopia and is quite legal. Ethiopian students in the U.K. use it to help them through exams. Seeing its effects first hand though, this is perhaps a freedom our Government should check more carefully! With an adequate supply of the fresh green leaves we continued with Hassen’s eyes becoming redder by the mouthful and his temperament becoming more irritable, until he announced he had to sleep, immediately! He offered me the keys before collapsing in the back and dozing off quietly. I took the wheel for the next two hour stint up into the hills as day became dusk and the oil lights lit up interiors of houses that lined the road. It was a magical time with the smells of wood fires, food, dust and people mingling in the warm evening air, as we pottered along at a steady 45 mph.
In an Ethiopian registered vehicle, we were ignored by the children, who often chase foreign cars shouting ‘Faranji’ (Foreigner!) and have been known to throw stones at them. The Series 2A had covered a very low mileage, having been owned by a company for the first 20 years of its life and drove like new, feeling taught and responsive. In a setting unchanged in 100 years it was easy to imagine how travellers in the 1960’s would have seen this fascinating country from their own Land Rovers.
We reached Harah very late that night and checked into a cheap hotel infested with cockroaches, but serving cool beer, the only drug we needed after 300 miles of hard driving in a Series 2A. We set our alarms to any one of several time zones and crawled into our respective beds for a well earned sleep. Our archaeological work had mixed success with a combination of endless red tape and us not being much of a priority to the Government officials with whom we had to deal, but we have always remained optimistic about returning to this lovely and bizarre country which boasts 13 months of sunshine a year and everything from deserts to lush green mountains to explore.
Ethiopia 1: Archaeobotanist, Alan Fairweather and Hashik Redi prepare to go and buy our driver his drugs.
Ethiopia 2: Our little group pull off the road for a photo with the Series 2A.
Ethiopia 3: The battered Series 3 in a back street of Nazeret.
Ethiopia 4: The main road from Nazaret to Harah as day becomes night.