A land of contrasts

Yes, I’m fully aware of how lame that title is.  Thing is, it fits.

Ethiopia, both the land and the people, never give you much of a chance to sit back and catch your breath.  The land is always changing, and doing so in an instant- hills and curves in the road don’t just reveal new views, they reveal completely different landscapes with amazing regularity.  The masses of people (especially children) are always ready to mob you as soon as you stop.  Being pointed at by children while hearing the chant of “YOU!  YOU! YOU!” was a constant source of entertainment.  Being constantly surrounded and being asked for money, t-shirts, candy, etc was a slightly less entertaining experience.  Having rocks or dung thrown at you was luckily a less common and certainly much less entertaining experience (I later found that overlanders had it much worse and I encountered a number with smashed windows from locals throwing rocks).

It was empty when I stopped here, but a kid was there in no time.  Mind you, I think it makes for my most classic Ethiopian photo, so I’m not complaining.

The majesty of the desert can’t be ignored, but after a while it does get rather beige…  Ethiopia cures this with stunning views.

On the road to Gondar.

Blue Nile Falls (somewhat diminished by a hydro-electric plant), south of Lake Tana.

Riding into the Great Rift Valley.

An off-road detour that felt more like riding through a European forest than anything else.

Riding along a Rift Valley ridge.

These endlessly changing views are not limited to the natural landscape.  Ethiopia is a country of extremes when it comes to how the people live.  Modern towns and stone age villages will be within sight of each other, transport trucks pass convoys of people with goods balanced on their heads, and nicely paved roads turn into dusty tracks without warning.

Bahir Dar is a happening and fairly modern feeling place.

Gondar has lots of history, but it’s mostly a bustling commercial city.

A hut in one of the nameless (to me) villages that I passed.

A traditional laundromat.

What you also notice is that these different worlds are not separate, they are completely intertwined.  In Gondar, castles from the height of the Ethiopian empire mix with modern office blocks, trucks with donkey powered carts, and every light switch usually has an oil lamp near by.  When I was there, this city of almost 250,000 people didn’t have any gasoline.  They were hoping for some in a few days, but sometimes they could go a week without.  The locals took this all in stride and just pulled their donkeys out of the garage and kept on as normal.  For me it completely changed my plans-  I couldn’t go East since they would only get fuel after Gondar, but I only had fuel for a couple of hundred k, so going south looking for some was a risk.  I ended up going south, checking at every town and every gas station for fuel.  Some places had fuel in jugs, but would call it whatever I said I wanted-

“I’m looking for kerosene”

“Here, we have in jug”

“What about gas-oil (diesel), do you have any of that?”

“Here, we have in jug”

“What about benzine?”

“Here, was have in jug”

“Ah, thanks, I think I’ll just keep going…”

In Addis Ababa much the same thing happened- the Internet was down.  Not just at a hotel or cafe, but in the whole capital city of Ethiopia there was no Internet faster than a dial-up connection for days.  It didn’t matter how modern a place looked or how new the facilities, oil lamps and donkey carts where always at the ready to take over when the new fangled gadgets of the modern world inevitably failed.


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