Driving north to Addis Ababa, meant lush green landscapes and some interesting overnight spots, not least the bar where we pitched our rooftop tent. By Romi Boom
After having our carnet de passage stamped by the Ethiopian customs officials, we hit the road to start exploring this ancient country of sacred historical sites and dramatic landscapes. Driving north, now on the right-hand side of the road, we were keen to make good progress on tarred surface. We were slowed down by potholes and people everywhere along the road, plus donkeys, goats, horses, sheep, dogs and cattle making any speed above 50km/h wishful thinking.
Although there are relatively few private vehicles on the road, villages materialise at every turn and everyone seems to be walking non-stop, their white garments spotless despite mud underfoot. The locals are friendly and the expansive scenery is green and hilly, especially once you leave the badlands of the low acacia countryside behind you.
Late afternoon the sluices of heaven opened. We had long since realised there is no fast lane in this populous country and we were way behind schedule. Philip Briggs, who knows the country like the back of his hand and wrote the Bradt Guide to Ethiopia, recommended the Aregash Lodge at Yirgalem as one of the best the country has to offer. Since this was near enough, we headed there and struck gold.
Situated in lush verdant surroundings, Aregash Lodge is run by a Greek-Italian-Ethiopian couple and nothing short of first-world standards. Pristine white linen and stacks of fluffy towels, a two-bedroom en-suite tukul (bungalow) with our own lounge – what luxury! We loved the place, the owners, the food, the atmosphere. Everything just impeccable, and they came bearing armsful of gifts for us – fresh lettuce, tomatoes and carrots from their own garden, part of 11 hectares of private forest.
The lodge is especially popular with birders from Europe. The price was so reasonable at R700, and R100 for two dinners of imported Italian pasta, three salads and fruit for dessert. The rain still came down in buckets, but our spirits were revived.
The trip to Addis is a fairly straightforward five-hour drive past six lakes of the East African Rift Valley. The road gets better and better, the traffic gets worse and worse, and finally we arrived in Addis in another storm, rain and hail, with gridlocked traffic. We struggled to find our way; construction works had blocked off certain roads and our GPS version of Tracks4Africa was outdated. The moral of the story is obvious.
After asking in desperation where Wim’s Holland House was, somebody said “faranji” (foreigner) and indicated that we should head for the station. A block further, a European with an Ethiopian driver was stuck in the traffic alongside us. It turned out he was none other than the legendary Wim, who put two and two together when he spotted our rooftent, and motioned for us to follow.
A godsend to overlanders, Wim was helpful as can be, and told us to drive right into the tented section of his premises. The adjacent campsite property was jam-packed, but hey, no problem. Soon our rooftent was pitched inside the bar. That was a first for us too. It was kind of cosy to be surrounded by plastic tables and chairs. We had supper with a Namibian driving a state-of-the-art Cruiser conversion who said it rained all 12 days that he’d been in Ethiopia.
Overwhelmed by what we had seen so far of Africa’s most unique country, we were chomping at the bit to reach the northern historical circuit and the Simien Highlands. The Prado’s service for the following day was booked. We’d done 9,500 km without any incidents.