|Monday 16th July - Ethiopia - Addis Ababa (Day 4)
Anne Wilma writes the travel diary simply because she is undisputedly more talented at such things than I ( undisputedly more talented full stop!). However, it is now time for me (Andrew) to give a slightly different perspective with my observations from behind the steering wheel. I will also attempt to provide some useful information for fellow overlanders.
As noted in previous diary entries the road conditions in Ethiopia can be very bad. When driving on dirt tracks you adopt a heightened level of concentration looking ahead for any significant pot holes and attempting to select the path that will give us the smoothest ride (sometimes not on the road). However, I have been taken by surprise on more than one occasion. When approaching Addis on excellent tarmac I suddenly let out a shriek of panic. I found myself attempting to lift the steering wheel as if that might help the Landcruiser jump the 2ft wide, 1ft deep trench across both lanes. If Id been riding a bike it might have softened the blow but at 70mph it had little effect. It was probably one such unexpected crater that resulted in one of the rear stabilising arms breaking in two.
Anyway, the Landcruiser is certainly in better shape than most of the vehicles we see on the roads. Often we see lorries and busses crabbing towards us, with their rear axles treading a completely different path to their front axles. Treading is not a particularly appropriate term as very few tyres have any tread on them and they wouldnt look out of place on a grand prix circuit. Whilst I was worried about a split bushing on one rear shock absorber it was nothing compared to the taxi ride I took today over a few speed bumps. I think the Lada did have front suspension but they obviously removed the rear springs. The driver also had to hot wire the car\to start it it would be very unlikely that anyone would attempt to steal it.
Exhaust smoke is also very black in Ethiopia. This is partly due to the altitude in the highlands (less O2 poorer combustion I reckon) but mainly due to poor fuel quality. Sell diesel diluted with a little water and increase your petrol station profits.
Yesterday we dropped off the Landcruiser with Moenco motors; the big Toyota dealership in Addis (on the ring road near the Airport). They are a very professional looking outfit and as 80-90% of vehicles in Ethiopia are Toyotas they are not short of business. Their service bay probably takes 40 vehicles at a time. They perform a very thorough service but unfortunately charge close to western prices. Given that we are about to go into the Omo valley (remote and dirt tracks) and since we have been on pretty desperate roads in Sudan and Ethiopia it was an appropriate place to get a thorough service.
Since buying a Landcruiser a couple of years ago I have become a bit of a Toyota evangelist (some might say I have become an even bigger bore!). However, at church on Sunday I saw a bumper sticker which put my Toyota enthusiasm in perspective (see photo below). Whilst my Japanese Landy is a great vehicle I should probably boast about Jesus a little more and bore people a little less about Landcruisers.
Ethiopia is the first country where the Bgan (Broadband Global Area Network) has been useful. We have a Nera 1000 unit with us but havent required it so far because of the extensive mobile phone coverage and the numerous internet cafes. We had expected that northern Sudan would be a mobile phone blackspot but were amazed by the strength of signal all the way down the Nile. Ethiopia is a little less well served by mobile phone masts and the mobile network has prevented us sending text messages.
Today I had to do a tour of Addis to apply for our Tanzania Visas ($50 each), collect Omo valley maps from the Ethiopian mapping office (opposite Hilton Hotel) and obtain an exit stamp from the Ethiopian customs office for our vehicle Carnet (300m behind the Ethiopian Hotel). Unlike many administrative exercises in African counties these tasks were not too frustrating and I managed to get back to the Ghion Hotel in a couple of hours.