Turkana Route Done – Kenya Believe It

In Omorate we bought some diesel on the black market as we still had some Birr left over. This was syphoned from a 44 gallon drum into a watering can and then poured into the beast by the local child labour. We then had our carnets and passports stamped without any real problems (Wendy turned the carnet guy around by offering him a sweet when he started complaining about us all having “Moyale or Omorate” as our point of departure in the carnet instead of just “Omorate”).

To cross the border into Kenya we turned off the main road onto a nondescript dirt road. Soon after that we came across a village with a small school and a man flagging us down for a chat. He was fuming because the car in front hadn’t stopped to talk to him so next time he will take down their details and report them because he is the school headmaster and we must tell them that. Check the worry in my eyes!

The bikers had gone to watch a bull-jumping ceremony so we made plans to meet up with them just across the border the following day. We camped in a dry river bed along the shore of Lake Turkana and became reality television for a bunch of locals who arrived with little wooden chairs, put them down in the shade of a tree near the cars and then proceeded to watch us, later moving to near our fire area when we started preparing supper. Out came the tables and fold-up chairs, a box wine, stainless steel cups and knives and forks. Wendy made a cabbage salad and Jules and I made a risotto. Chris and Ellen prepared some tilapia they had bought earlier. Jules went back to the car to fetch some salt. She came back from the car. She then put the salt in the pot. Are you bored yet? I’m not surprised. Finally the kids who had come to watch the faranjis lost interest as well and started to play a game of “Throw stones at birds flying past”. A couple of close shaves, but by the end of the game it was birds 1, children 0.

Early the next morning the children from the village were back to watch our morning movements, although unfortunately this was before we could do our morning movements. I tried to distract them so Jules could go for a wee, discovering that binoculars are the most amazing thing ever invented. It didn’t take long for them to work out that trying to look through them from the front blocks the other guy’s view and can lead to a shove from a bigger kid.

Chris (from Chris and Ellen) brought out a chess set and the two of us played an intense game with plenty of spectators while we waited for the bikers. Jules tried to show some of the kids how to do “Biggles” glasses with their hands over their faces (If you don’t know what that is, see guy on left of attached photo – ignore the guy on the right because he was absolutely useless, although his inability to do “Biggles” was extremely funny for the other children, so he was allowed to stay).

The road became incredibly rocky and in some of the steeper parts it was quite tough on the bikes, especially for Chris (from Chris, Archie and Archie) as he was worryingly experiencing a problem with his engine that had supposedly been fixed in Addis. Chris (from Chris and Julie) also had a worrying problem when the gear lever moved backwards and forwards without changing gear. It turns out that our repair in Addis had caused a bigger sounding problem. Fortunately this was easily repairable and we were on our way without causing too much stress.

We had left-over goat pasta, cooked by Archie (from Archie, Archie and Chris), in his signature sauce – Red. Red is bolognaise with garlic (if you have any), onions (if you have any), herbs (if you have any) and tomatoes (if you have any). Failing that you can use tomato paste (our favourite brand can be found in most Ethiopian shops – Chilly Willy).

Jules had a heart attack when she felt something tapping the bottom of her foot while she was eating her goat and Red. Lifting her foot she discovered a hole big enough for the world’s largest, scariest snake, complete with eyes and head belonging to the world’s cutest little mouse.

On the fourth night we camped right next to the lake in Sibiloi National Park, with Hippos, Crocs, Tsesebe and Hyenas all paying us a visit.

In a town called Loyongalani we stayed at a campsite called Palm Shades, moving away from the staple diet of Red or Two-Minute Noodles for lunch to have some jelly with left-over mangos which we had made a couple of nights earlier. The campsite wasn’t too bad, but we were hassled a bit in the village by the usual personal shop assistants. That night we settled down to a night of cards, Ice Cold Beers and Red for supper.

The next day we did a marathon drive to Maralal on the worst road we have ever been on. If a sane person had witnessed this they would have called the car equivalent of Childline and the beast would have ended up in a foster home. On our way to Baragoi in South Horr we saw truck-loads of police with AK-47’s. This was the area we had been most concerned about because of a history of bandit activity. Last year over 30 police officers were killed in an ambush in an operation to recover livestock. Fortunately we made it through without any security issues, although the beast selfishly added a new sound to its repertoire of generally intermittent unfamiliar sounds and smells that conspire to turn our imagination against us. Normally the sound turns out to be something innocuous like jerry cans on the roof rubbing against each other, and the smell is usually from the battered old taxi or truck in front of us, but this sounded like a wheel was going to come off every time we went over a bump.

We stayed at a campsite called Camel Camp, too shattered to even light the huge pile of free firewood the manager had organised for us for a bonfire. The bikers religiously stuck to their diet of Red while Jules and I treated ourselves to goat stew, the only item on offer in the restaurant.

The next day we drove to Gilgil to stay with Julie’s cousin Tim and his girlfriend Mikhaila for a couple of days, being treated by them on our first night to a meal of Spaghetti and Red (“hehe – good joke Chris”, says Mikhaila, “but what you aren’t telling them is that Tim cooked it on his own, and he used loads of ingredients, including Real Beef Mince, something you and Julie haven’t seen since Cairo and it was bloody tasty, and I saw you help yourself to another spoonful later on in the evening when you thought nobody was looking).

Addis To Omorate

Leaving the thriving metropolis of Addis Ababa, we went on our way to meet up with the other members of our posse for the trip into the Wild West that is Turkana, a land where cows owned by people of one tribe are rustled by members of another tribe, often resulting in bloodshed. When I have my hair rustled it affects my cow’s lick, but that is all.

We spent a night at Lake Langano, getting one wheel about a foot into the air along the way as we navigated some proper 4×4 terrain. Although the highly skilled driver did eventually get a high five from the chief navigator / camera person, said camera person did not film or photograph the momentous occasion as she was too busy apologising to the car for the unnecessary abuse as there was another perfectly good route to the lake about 4kms away. Glass coke bottles are an extremely important commodity in Ethiopia, and before we had packed up to leave, we had a coke bottle nazi from the camp’s restaurant forcing us to decant the cold, unopened cokes we had bought the night before for the journey the next day into a plastic water bottle in order for them to be flat and revolting by the time we wanted to drink them (I know, flat Coke is a First World Problem and people around the world are deeply affected by this).

We drove to Arba Minch, staying in a campsite with a beautiful view over two lakes far below us and resident warthog. We also got to meet the Ethiopian soccer team, as they were staying at the same venue for a friendly game against the local side. I donned my In-Dire-Need-Of-A-Wash-Bafana-Bafana T-shirt for a photo with them, which very nearly didn’t happen when Jules tried to get them to say “Bafana Bafana” instead of “Cheese”, and then very nearly lost my top when their coach came back later for a pic with us and the beast, thinking I wanted to give him my top in exchange for one from him when I am “next in Addis”.

The next stop was a town called Konso, where we met up with the 3 bikers, Ray and Wendy. We had the pleasure of having to travel to the local Department of Trade and Industry to get permission to purchase diesel. This involved trying to find the correct office, then some sums to work out how much diesel I thought I would need because “I would like to fill up with diesel” is not the correct answer, then off to another office to get a stamp to make it all official. We have worked out that if you want anything in Africa, all you need is a knife, a potato and some ink. Unfortunately I forgot to make a “Please don’t bullshit faranji’s” stamp so we had to pay an extra 2 Birr per litre for the “generator for the fuel pump”.

The bikers had already spent a night at a hotel in Konso, paying more for the room than a married couple would pay to dissuade homosexuals from staying there, and as they didn’t want people to think they were rich homosexuals we went to find somewhere else to stay. Fortunately we made a plan with an old guy who looks after the Konso museum on top of a hill with an amazing view and no children asking for pens or money. For this privilege all he wanted was for us to buy a ticket each to have a look at the museum. This was really interesting, with information about the tribes in the area including statues with giant penises on their foreheads to remember their heroes and other statues with penises chopped off to show the enemies the heroes have killed. The way they live is reminiscent of the blue guys in Avatar, with “Generation Trees” and other beliefs very foreign to our Western upbringing. With the tour of the museum over we set up camp and he offered us a sip of some beer he had been drinking that his wife had made. I don’t think Guinness’s Chief Brewer needs to start looking for a new job just yet.

Charlie (The cyclist we met in Addis) had joined us before heading on his way through Turkana (Us: 4×4, Fridge, Water, Spare Tyres, Hi-Lift Jack, Recovery Gear, Hi-Vis Jacket, Battery Operated Mosquito Killing Tennis Racket, In Convoy with 2 other cars and 3 motor bikes etc. Charlie: Bicycle, Spare Tube, Bicycle Pump, Puncture Repair Kit, on his own).

The museum guard had a quick ride on Charlie’s bike and nearly came a cropper when he fell, AK-47 pointing in all the wrong places, hitting the ground hard, but fortunately not going off.

The next morning we slipped the old man a few Birr each, something he clearly wasn’t expecting and the poor guy got tears in his eyes. Leaving the town we were treated to village children dancing on the side of the road and then running up the car wanting money as we went past. Each village seemed to have its own dance, the ultimate being a whole bunch of kids doing headstands. The villages started to thin out and people and livestock started to disappear and for the first time in Ethiopia we could stop for a wee on the side of the road without having to worry about “Give me Pen”.

Even though the road was mostly in good condition and we had a bunch of people we knew travelling on the same road as us, the stretch from Konso to Turmi has got to be the most “In the Middle Of Knowhere” Jules and I have felt this trip. We had all gone our separate ways to meet up later, and saw no cars and almost no people as we entered a beautiful valley with hills in the distance. The people we did see looked like they were straight out of National Geographic – western clothing had all but disappeared, and we saw tall men covered in scars from having designs branded all over their torsos, outlandish hairstyles and generally carrying AK-47s. The ladies were topless, a lot of them wearing animal skin skirts with red mud in their hair. Gradually the guns disappeared and were replaced by sticks and funny little chairs with a dual purpose – seat and pillow to prevent hair style from being messed up.

In Turmi we stayed at Mango Camp, a campsite next to a river bed with loads of trees covered in fruit for us to pick. It was market day in the town, so we went to see if we could get any more supplies for the next leg of the trip and have a look at the people. For some reason there are always a few people who think faranjis are too stupid to be able to shop for themselves and hang around pointing out where the shops are and what you can buy in them and then asking for commission afterwards. Without trying to sound condescending, there is quite a good chance that I have been into more shops than you, not even mentioning online shops like Amazon and eBay, which incidentally would blow your mind, and generally the only thing that has ever prevented me from successfully buying something is my wife pulling up the handbrake. I know what 2 minute noodles are. I know what rice is. Bugger off.

We all chipped in and bought a goat for supper, which one of the Archie’s slaughtered and butchered back at the campsite (9 people travelling together in the middle of nowhere – 3 Chris’s and 2 Archie’s).

The local people in the area are from the Hamer tribe, where boys become men by jumping over cattle and women are whipped and left with scars on their backs for life. Wife beating is also apparently an acceptable social norm.

From Turmi the next stop was Omorate to get passports and carnets stamped before entering Kenya.

Lalibela to Addis

We went to have a look at the Blue Nile Falls near Bahar Dar. Declining a guide we ended up with an unofficial guide anyway, plus about 20 kids following us trying to flog their wares. The falls were ok, but I believe they have been affected by a hydro electric plant, and only improve later on in the rainy season. We paid the “guide” a tip, bought a rubbish piece of cloth from one of the kids for waaaay more than it was worth due to faranji guilt and as we were leaving a couple more kids wanted pens etc. Fortunately you can appease them by giving them empty water bottles (I know – selfless, beatification and sainthood to follow shortly). Unfortunately we only had one water bottle but we did have two empty coke cans. I asked the guide if the child would find a can useful. “Yes, and can I have the other one for my child please?”.

We haven’t worked out how to deal with seeing this level of poverty first hand, and there have been strong feelings of guilt due to how lucky we have been our whole lives. We have resorted to humour to try and take the edge off, but when you moan about the fact that the document you are reading is stuck on landscape when you hold your ipad in a portrait position, a sarcastic comment from your other half doesn’t always go down well. Seeing another tourist with a child with flashy light-up soles on their shoes running around a town where people are either barefoot or wearing crappy luminous plastic sandals doesn’t help things either. I can only assume that the reason for the earlier tantrum was that the battery had died in one of his shoes. First world problems are real problems too!

From Bahar Dar we did a 170km trip to Lalibela in 7 hours. We have probably been driving a hell of a lot slower than most, but having read a horrific post from another couple who killed a little boy who ran in front of their car and seen the way toddlers are left right next to the side of the road to run around unattended, as well as the total lack of looking before crossing by everybody else we are absolutely paranoid about hitting somebody. It is exhausting driving so slowly, constantly being on the lookout and waving and smiling.

The site of a faranji in a car can raise the sort of bloodlust you would expect in a medieval battle, and some of the kids get so worked up it is similar to when you over-excite a puppy and it wees on the floor. One kid took advantage of his goats being in our way, screaming and jumping and acting as if Father Christmas had gone into his local pub leaving his sleigh parked inside the grounds of a young offenders institution with his bag of presents on the back seat. Thank God for central locking!

Lalibela was spectacular. We arranged for a guide through the hotel we stayed at (Tukel Village – camping in their garden was expensive at 300 Birr a night, but they had clean loos you can actually sit on and hot showers with good water pressure). We organised a guide throught he hotel as we didn’t want the hassle of sorting out the proper guides from the chancers, and were keen to learn a bit about the churches. At 400 Birr he wasn’t cheap, but he spoke good English and was extremely knowledgable, although he kept dropping not so subtle hints about the various things his clients had given him – brand new pair of hiking boots in the post, new torch, and a free trip to Belgium in September if the Belgian embassy decides that he will actually return to Ethiopia. We also splashed out and got ourselves a “Shoe Man” out of faranji guilt and fear of having our shoes stolen from outside the church as you have to take your shoes off each time you enter a church. When you take them off he puts them together neatly, and then hands them back to you when you come back out. Our guy was quite skilled and only dropped Jules’ shoe lace into a puddle once. When giving him his tip at the end we thought we were being quite generous by giving 3 times more than what we had been told the average daily wage for a labourer with his own spade is, but doubled it when our guide told us the lucky guy only gets this great opportunity for 3 months a year because there is a rota.

The tour of the churches was like being Whatshisname, every woman’s dream action hero symbologist in a Dan Brown novel – is that even a real job? Everything symbolises something – 3 windows for the Holy Trinity, 10 pillars for the 10 commandments, something else for Noah’s ark, etc etc. We also got to see the chanting rooms (mentioned in the previous blog post – turns out Somebody Else’s Child’s Awful Picture of a Fire engine is another person’s Monet because we overheard another tourist asking where she could buy a CD of the chanting). Even the drum they use to keep us awake at night is loaded with symbols – 2 sides to represent the Old and New Testaments, and the hide used to tie the drums represents the lashes Jesus got. Interesting factoid – did you know one of the wise men was from Ethiopia?

The really incredible thing is that the churches are all still in use. We had our tour on a Sunday and there were still people milling around all day even though mass starts at 5 in the morning. This goes on for 2.5 hours and you have to stand the whole way through. To help you out you can get a prayer rod – a long pole with a small bar on top that you can lean on like a crutch.

After the service the priests stay inside the churches to heal people with the Lalibela crosses – big intricate crosses that are rubbed on the bodies of the faithful. Occasionally you hear a loud scream when it is rubbed on a person who wants to be healed. There is also a fertility pool – a deep pool of water next to one of the churches where ladies who are infertile are lowered in on Christmas Day (7 January in Rest of World Calendar). Based on the amount of green stuff growing in the water, there could be some truth in this.

When we organised our guide we had already planned an early start and therefore finish and I think he was quite greatful for that. Other guides weren’t so lucky or happy, because Ethiopia was playing the most important game of their lives in the afternoon. Against Bafana Bafana. A match that could see Ethiopia qualify for the World Cup for the first time ever. We had been invited to watch it in town by the guy at the hotel reception in what turned out to be a venue made from bluegum poles, black plastic bags, flour sacks and posters of various football clubs with a 26 inch tv for about 150 people. True to African form, they had music playing until kickoff and then realised they hadn’t tuned the tv for the match. I almost predicted a riot.

Bafana Bafana scored first.

Ethiopia scored.

Followed by an own-goal from Bafana Bafana?

Leaving Lalibela we drove to Addis Abbaba via Lake Hayk, initially driving on proper 4×4 road (woohoo), then more 4×4 road (enough now), and then pristine tarmac up steep mountain passes with amazing views of countryside hundreds of metres below stretching into the distance. In Addis we stayed at Wim’s Holland House, meeting up with Ray and Wendy again, three English guys who are travelling on motor bikes, and a guy called Charlie who has been travelling through Asia for the past 3 years and is now on his way down Africa all on a bicycle he picked up for about £100. Really nice people, except “When We” want to tell a “When We” story Charlie almost certainly has a “When I” story to beat it without even trying. That is an adventure. We are effectively sampling the beers of Africa.

We’ve got another week or so in Ethiopia and are then driving in convoy with two other cars and the bikers into Kenya along the east side of Lake Turkana. This will be the most remote part of the journey and should take about a week before we are in what resembles civilisation again.

Lake Tana to Simien Mountains

On a bullshit management course I went on a couple of years ago we were told about delivering difficult news with a Bad News Sandwich – if you want to tell somebody that they’re effectively ineffective you start with a slice of something good, throw in the negative filling and finish off with another positive slice. “Nice haircut. You’re fired. I really liked the picture of your wife in her bikini on your Facebook page.” Please excuse the broad generalisation, and there have been many exceptions, but what we have experienced of the people of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia so far has been a Good News Sandwich. Egyptians will try everything in their power to take money from you – a slice of Bad News. The Sudanese will do everything in their power to make you feel welcome and shower you with gifts – a helping of Good News, with some cheese and pickles. Ethiopians make you feel guilty about being richer than if Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck pooled their money and then won the lottery – another mouldy slice of Bad News!

Within 5 minutes of driving across the border we heard a scream of “FAAAARRRRAAAANNNNNJJJJJIIIII” followed by 50 children rushing out from wherever they had been hiding to shout in high-pitched voices – “You you you, give me money”. Further on we were greeted to “You you you, give me pen” and then even the “You you you” became less frequent and we had “Hello Money” or “Hello Pen” as we went past each village. We had been warned about children throwing stones at the car and as we want to be able to pass it off as a little old lady’s run-around one day we have been driving really slowly with the windows open smiling and waving until our hands want to fall off. We watch children bend down to pick stones up as we approach and then drop them when we smile and wave, kind of forcing them to wave back even though I’m sure they would far rather be throwing stones – I know I would!

Ethiopia brings new meaning to begging with about 60% of the people waving and as we get closer their hand immediately changes to either beg for money or food. Sometimes we don’t even get a “Hello”, just a “Money”. Life is extremely difficult for people over here, and I don’t think watching or commentating from the window of a fancy 4×4 gives us any idea of just how hard it is. There seems to be a hell of a lot of sitting down doing nothing, but mainly there is bloody hard manual work going on, and it doesn’t discriminate on age or gender. Children younger than 5 are out all day either fetching firewood, looking after goats or cattle, or fetching water. My nephews, the lazy buggers, just go to school and play in their rooms full of toys while getting cuddles from Mom.

Still in convoy with Ray and Wendy we went to Lake Tana to stay at a place called Tim and Kim’s. Tim and Kim have created a great site, with space for overland vehicles, as well as huts for backpackers and chalets. They have a stocked bar and restaurant offering whatever is available at the time, but it was all superb. The toilets are spotless and the showers are refreshing (marketing speak for cold) and this is a great place to spend a few days doing absolutely nothing. Like the rest of what we have seen of Ethiopia, the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. Serious birdwatching is a religion of sorts, and I imagine that instead of getting 7 virgins in heaven, dying from a twitching jihad sends you to heaven in Ethiopia, based around Lake Tana. Where else in the world do you hear the words “Another Bloody Fish Eagle”?

We took a kayak out onto the lake and went around some islands with some Monasteries. Fishermen came past with their catches in papyrus canoes – White Fish, Catfish (Barbel) and Tilapia. The locals don’t eat fish, and the catch is mainly dried and sold to Sudanese farmers for cattle feed, although we picked some up for dinner – Barbel is surprisingly tasty! We saw some hippos with a calf, as well as plenty of birds with names we know and plenty more with names we don’t. In theory you’ll be able to see around 70 different species in a morning. The Big Breasted Bed Thrasher still eludes us though.

One thing I have found difficult to accept is the large number of guns floating around – masses of people walk around with AK-47s or old hunting rifles. Apparently there was no money for people who fought in a war in the past, so they were given guns as payment because there were plenty of those lying around. These are now passed down to the oldest son, obviously with relevant training and permits and they are never carried under the influence of alcohol or chat.

From Tim and Kim we went to the Simien Mountains, still travelling with Ray and Wendy. We went via a town called Gonder, with an old castle and a lovely old church with exquisite pictures on the roof and walls, and a strange rule banning ladies who have had nookie the night before or who are having their monthly visit from Auntie Flo from entering (I’m not sure how else to say this without sounding crude or embarrassing grannies, but still keeping some juvenile humour!)

Gonder has a shop called “Best Supermarket”. In a town where most shops are little corrugated iron stalls with a window relativity comes into play again and we were treated to a cornucopia of 2 Minute Noodle Flavours (Beef, Chicken or Vegetable), biscuits (Digestives or Digestives) and some homemade peanut butter. Fully loaded with supplies we continued on our way, waving, smiling and “Salamnoing” (Salamno is hello) our way down the highway, averaging about 25km/h because of all the people, cows, goats and suicidal donkeys.

Outside the Simien Mountains in a town called Debark we stayed in the parking lot of a hotel called the “Semen Hotel”. Using the word “Relatively” again, the loos were “Relatively” clean. The kitchen was a different story altogether, and having survived playing Russian Roulette throughout Turkey, Egypt and Sudan I had one more go with the Injera (local sour pancake that looks and tastes a bit like grey rubber with bubbles) and Meat Stew. Gory stories aside, the guy who invented Ciprofloxacin will get a Sudanese welcome from me if he ever decides to visit South Africa, followed by an Egyptian kiss on the shoulders, and if he is a bird watcher, when he dies he will go to Lake Tana.

Fortunately Ray and Wendy had some space in their car as you can only enter the Simien Park with a scout, a man with an AK-47 and very little English. He was very helpful and a bastion of male chivalry. At the campsite in the park he went to help a lady who was trying to lift an incredibly heavy load onto her shoulders. Instead of carrying it for her, he helped her lift it onto her back, then walked back to the hut with her while she carried it. You might be wondering where I was and why I hadn’t helped her with my own good manners. Cast your mind back to the previous paragraph and then take your pick between sitting feeling like death in the car, lying feeling like death in the tent, or squatting feeling like death hovering over a long drop.

The Simien Mountains are a bit like the Drakensburg in South Africa, but on a grander scale, with incredible views stretching for miles, beautiful flora, and Gelada Baboons, the coolest animals we have ever seen. The baboons are the most chilled, docile and spectacular animals in the world, and we spent ages sitting right beside them watching them groom each other, eat and generally muck about. They are also obsessed with their penises, which was hysterical. The baboons alone are a reason to visit this country.

We were also really lucky to see an Ethiopian Wolf, although fleetingly (according to the Bradt Guide to Ethiopia it is the most rare of the world’s 37 canid species and listed as critically endangered on the 2000 IUCN Red List. I imagine 13 years on the outlook for it probably hasn’t improved much so we were extremely lucky). The next day we carried on up the mountains to find the Ibex. Up until this point the central diff lock had been behaving, but in the mountains with rain, hail, muddy roads, and steep drops on the side of the road leading to cliffs below it decided to get stuck again, so we had no 4×4. At just under 4,000 metres above sea level we were getting out of breath when walking, and the same altitude problems started to affect the beast. We had hardly any power and at one point were unable to go above 1500 RPM in first gear. Foot flat on the accelerator and no forward movement is not a good place to be when you are in the middle of nowhere on a steep hill with nothing but some 2 minute noodles and digestives and are still weak from vomiting out both ends. Fortunately there were Ibexes right near where we were stuck, so we were able to have a quick look at them, then leave Ray and Wendy snapping away with their camera while I fixed the spring again. Problem solved and we were able to use low range again.

After the Simien trip we said our goodbyes to Ray and Wendy, with tentative plans to meet up again in Addis, and went back to Gonder on our way to Bahir Dar, a town south of Lake Tana. In Gonder we went to the Dashun Brewery and had a couple of beers in a great beer garden. Driving into the brewery parking lot meant we first had to be searched. Jules was searched by a lady and I was searched by a man who gave me the current quote of the trip. He said he needed to frisk me so I said “as long as you don’t touch my penis”. His response was “I won’t – it is very bad for a man, but women must always touch it because it is gifted”. They then had a quick look in the cubby hole of the car, leaving the one or two other places a person searching it might want to look alone before letting us through.

That night we stayed in the parking lot of another classy establishment called the Belegez Pension, with toilets full of fortunately flushable floaters and plumbing and wiring that would make a health and safety official in the UK add a few floaters of his own out of sheer terror.

We had a really tasty meal across the road at a restaurant called “Master Chef” and then bedded down for the night. And then the chanting began. Please can somebody bring back “Allah Akbar” at 4 in the morning! It was like having Tarzan sitting next to your ear playing a Jew’s Harp through a Vuvuzela from 10 at night until 6 the next morning with the odd didgeridoo being swung around wildly and hitting you on the back of your head . The only advantage of this was that the odd hour of sleep I got had some colour as the combination of ghastly noise and Larium had me dreaming of Buddhist monks doing “Real Magic” – chanting and making flowers grow out of the ground instantly and turning them into fireworks and then people doing spectacular acrobatics started shrinking before my eyes. In my dream I told Jules about the “Real Magic” and then felt really foolish when she said “Don’t be stupid, it’s just an illusion – we see stuff like that in Covent Garden all the time”.

The next day we hot-footed it out of Gonder, stopping to fill up with diesel and give the beast a much needed clean for the vast sum of 50 Birr (about R25).