Cape to Cairo 2010

A Motorcycle Diary

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3 August (Day 35)

03 Aug

We left Lalibela at 7am. It rained during the night so I was feeling a little trepidation at the condition of the first 100km of gravel that we were going to have to tackle because the soil here goes like slime when wet…well, the trepidation was well placed. It took 2 hours to do this 100km which was made all the worse by the trucks that had already been on the road and the countless animals that are continuously being herded up and down.

On the subject of animals, I have come to the conclusion that the Donkey is the stupidest animal on the planet. They have no sense of self preservation whatsoever as they will purposefully stroll out of their way and into your path even though you are coming at them at 50 or 100km/h. The complete sense of terror that this manoeuvre produces when your back wheel locks up in the mud and you have no control over stopping is enough to induce automatic and unwelcome bowel movements! The alternative name for a donkey shouldn’t be an Ass, it should be a dumbass!!

The ride from Gashena (the town at the end of the mud) to Woldia to Mekhele is probably the most beautiful ride I have ever had. The road conditions (barring people and donkeys) are perfect new tar that sweeps you up and down half a dozen of the MOST INCREDIBLE mountain passes. Each pass will take you from an altitude of 3500m to 1000m and back again and 10C to 30C and back again..I am surprised that we haven’t got the bends from this constant change of altitude! To quote Mike Copeland from his book, Cape to Cairo, “A reasonably good road leads up and down many mountain passes – each one worthy of a name and fame in any other country other than Ethiopia, where there are so many that no one notices them anymore”. I am fast coming to the conclusion that Ethiopia must rank in the top 5 of the worlds most beautiful countries. On the downside, although the people are incredibly warm and hospitable, there is a bit of a culture of aggressive and insistent begging which becomes tiresome after awhile and could prove to be a deterrent to successful tourism over time.

We are spending the night at the Axum hotel in Mekhele which is obviously the local hang out joint for this town. The rooms are super basic and hygiene does not feature highly on the list of priorities although we are advised it is the best place to stay in town.

The Ethiopian cell network has no Data connectivity and the places we have stayed at thus far have had no internet availability and hence the reason that the website uploads have been sporadic. I imagine this problem will continue until we are in the Sudan assuming we have Data connectivity when we get there, failing which it will be a similar case of uploading when we can. Furthermore, because there is no data connectivity, the “where are we now” page will also not be updating until I can either find a wireless network for my phone to tap into alternatively, the Sudanese Data network, however, please trust me, we are in Northern Ethiopia at the moment.

Tomorrow we head for Axum, the historic stronghold of the Queen of Sheba.


Mountain road out of Lalibela.

Rui navigating the mud road.


On the road to Mekhele.

One of the half a dozen mountain passes we did today.

Navigating the hairpins!


2 August (Day 34)

02 Aug

Today was a day at rest which started later than usual and gave us an opportunity to explore the remainder of the Lalibela churches. These structures and the engineering behind them did not disappoint and continue to fascinate with their beauty, simplicity and ingenuity. Our guide Abbeba was brilliant and recommend him to anyone coming to this part of the world..+251(0)911532650.

A problem that we have encountered in Northern Ethiopia is finding regular unleaded fuel as most fuel stations primarily keep diesel and so we needed to hunt around a little and eventually found a small garage that was able to sell us fuel decanted out of a drum…hhmmm, wasn’t so sure about this as I know that Katie is quite particular about her tipple and the last thing I need is to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with a blocked fuel filter!! Unfortunately there were no other available options and after taking the fuel through a funnel covered with a stocking that I had bought at home particularly for an event just like this she seems to be okay with it. Massey on the other hand could run on diesel!

After a second attempt at repairing my bike’s auxiliary fuel tank I seem to have finally closed the leaks from the accident on the Marsabit road and should hopefully have the full functionality from that tank back by tomorrow.

The Autocom radios on our bikes have given us nothing but endless problems and although my radio is now working after purchasing a R600 spare part whilst in the UK last week, Dale’s has now packed up and we have no ability to repair it. Whilst Autocom is probably okay for the autobahns of this world, they are unfortunately just not fit for a journey of this nature and we are now without bike to bike communications for the remainder of our journey.

We had dinner tonight at a brilliant small local restaurant called St Georges Beer and Coffee Bar. The local Injera (a type of pancake) served with Tibbs (bits of lamb or beef) and Shera (a chickpea sauce) is delicious and eaten by hand.A meal of Injera, tibbs and Shera for two, 6 beers and a bottle of Tij (honey wine) cost us R75-00 ($10) and a forthcoming hangover no doubt!! The locals here are so incredibly warm and hospitable, that one of them settled our bill without us even knowing about it!!

Tomorrow we leave early as we have a 450km run to Mekhele and the first 100km of which is dirt.


Lalibela Churches.


Our guide Abbeba.


Lalibela Churches.


Pensive Monk.



Exploring the Labyrinths. It was so dark in this tunnel that it was not possible to see your hand in front of your face.


Lalibela Church.

Lalibela Church.


Local children being tutored by the monks.

St Georges Beer and Coffee bar.


1 August (Day 33)

01 Aug

We left Bahir Dar for Lalibela at 7am this morning in the hope that we would not ride in the rain because we were advised that it only rains in the afternoon and evening…well, so much for that!!

The ride to Lalibela was breathtaking and the further north that we travel into this country the more beautiful it becomes.

Lalibela is an ancient town that is historically important because of the churches here that are hewn, inside and out, out of solid rock. These churches were created by King Lalibela in the 12th century because an important part of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity in those times was to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once, in one’s lifetime, however, after Jerusalem was invaded by the Arabs, King Lalibela decided to re-create Jerusalem at Lalibela so that the pilgrimage could still be fulfilled by his people, albeit locally.

These structures are carved entirely into solid rock, and then the interior was carved in thereafter. These structures are incredible to see and no surprise that they are considered one of the 7 wonders of the world.

Today we saw 3 of the 6 structures that we will be seeing as we are spending 2 nights in Lalibela to give us an opportunity to explore this town and its wonders properly.

Lalibela is the first Ethiopian town that we have come across that is showing signs of embracing tourism which is relatively new in Ethiopia, notwithstanding the fact that this country has one of the most unique, diverse, extensive and interesting tourism offerings available in the world, never mind just Africa.

We are spending the night at the Tukul Village Lodge (which is nicely done out, affordable at $40/night, clean and conveniently located) which is fashioned on a typical Ethiopian village with beautiful views over the simien mountains and set at an altitude of just shy of 3000m.

We are now 9550km from Cape Town and whilst we are both thoroughly enjoying this journey of discovery, it does come with its darker days that make us long for home.


Wet morning ride to Lalibela which partially cleared up later.


Ethiopian countryside.


On the road to Lalibela

Road through the simien mountains.


Dale through the corners on some fantastic gravel roads in the mountains.


St George’s Church in Lalibela.


Ethiopian orthodox Monk.

Interior of the church of St Mary.


Monk in prayer.

Exploring the labyrinths.

Church of St George.

Ethiopian orthodox Monk.

The “Panic” Bell.


Monk in Prayer.

Church of St George hewn out of solid rock.


31 July (Day 32)

31 Jul

We are spending the day today in Bahir Dar in order to rest a little after yesterdays ride. Bahir Dar is on Lake Tana, a 3600 square Kilometre lake that has 14 islands on it.

We were up relatively early to explore the area as Bahir Dar is the beginning of the “historic route” of Ethiopia. Northern Ethiopia has an incredibly rich and old religious history with some Monasteries dating back over 1500 years and in Bahir Dar, the vast majority of them are on the islands in the middle of Lake Tana.

We caught a boat at 8am from the hotel to see the 3 most important monastery’s on the islands, Kebran Gabriel, Entos Eyesus and Debra Maryam. This proved to be an incredible experience as they are holding original books and artefacts as old as a thousand years old and the monks on the islands still live the way they did a thousand years ago. In all 3 cases, the original structures which are all approximately 1000 years old have been surrounded by newer structures in order to protect the integrity of the older structures within. On Kebran Gabriel there are no woman allowed in the monastery.

On our return, we decided to take a 30 km ride to go see the Blue Nile Falls which necessitated a 30 minute, 1 kilometre walk down and up the gorge and back in full storm trooper gear in 30 C heat…Not Fun, but the falls themselves were worth seeing, although they are nothing as spectacular as the Vic Falls.

If you are in Bahir Dar, we recommend that you get in touch with Beb (+251 (0) 918 764708) who showed us around and was incredibly helpful with all sorts of things including where to get welding done for a broken topbox bracket!

The rest of the day has been devoted to TLC for the bikes, Food, Beer and R & R.


Kebran Gabriel on the right and Entos Eyesus on the left in the middle of lake Tana.


no re-decorating been done here for 1000 years!


New structure on the outside protects the old inner structure.


The 1000 year old inner structure.


Preserved old Books and artefacts.

Student Monk.


Ceremony to celebrate Saturday, the religious day.

Elder Monk on Debra Maryam.

Papyrus reed boats, still a common method of transport on Lake Tana.


On route to the Blue Nile Falls.


The Blue Nile Falls.


30 July (Day 31)

30 Jul

We left Addis early today because we had a long 600km run to Bahir Dar.

Ethiopia has without doubt been the most scenic, exotic and surprising part of our journey through Africa thus far. It is green and lush and none of our pre conceived ideas of drought and famine have been true at all. The road conditions were also better than what we experienced between Yabello and Addis as the route is less populated and therefore less heart attack material crossing the road every few hundred metres.

The ride to Bahir Dar took us through the magnificent Blue Nile Gorge where we descended from a height of 3000 metres to 1200 metres down a steep mountain pass with the most breathtaking views imaginable..this is a part of the journey that will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

The one oddity that we have come across in Ethiopia thus far is the different attitude of the people when riding through the towns which vary from incredible warmth and friendliness to downright hostility. Shouts of “youyouyou” and “youyouf**kyou” from the kids followed by a stone being thrown at you is not uncommon..wonder what that is all about???

During the ride we also saw some remains of the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that have simply been left to rot on the side of the road,

After the blue Nile gorge the heavens opened and we rode the next 400 km in a relentless rain that saw us arrive in Bahir Dar after 10 hours of riding so absolutely exhausted that the concept of falling asleep at the hotel door was an appealing one. We are spending the night at the Lake Tana Hotel (flea, not fine) and will be here for 2 days to recuperate after today’s ride.


On the road to Bahir Dar


Descending The Blue Nile Gorge


Blue Nile Gorge

Rui loving the sweeping turns.

Rui Descending the Blue Nile Gorge


Dale crossing the Blue Nile.


On the road to Bahir Dar

Massey at the waterfalls.

The new and the old bridge over the Blue Nile.

Rui crossing the Blue Nile.

Remnants of the Ethiopia, Eritrea war left to rot on the side of the road. We must have seen 10 of these old tanks on route.


29 July (Day 30)

29 Jul

We are in Addis today and have decided to stay put for the day to rest and explore a little of the city. We are staying in an amazing hotel with world class facilities and have taken the opportunity to use them to its fullest.

I was unaware that Ethiopia had been a communist state for 16 years after the suspected assassination of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1975 or that Addis Ababa is actually a young city that was only built in 1887. Ethiopia has always struck me as one of those exotic and ancient destinations and whilst the areas around Axum in the North date back to the Queen of Sheba and the start of the Solomonic dynasty, Addis itself is the youngest of the 4 capitals that this country has had in its history…interesting stuff…for me anyway!!

I met with Flavio Bonaiuti this morning (the KTM man in Addis) after hearing about him for many years. My friend Shaun Barron did this trip a few years ago and broke his knee in northern Ethiopia and notwithstanding that he is not even a KTM client (probably why he broke his knee), Flavio rode 500km to assist Shaun with his bike. We had dinner with Flavio tonight, he took us to a local traditional restaurant called Fasika where we sampled incredibly delicious Ethiopian cuisine washed down with fantastic Ethiopian Bedele beer whilst being entertained by local music and dancing. Flavio has been an encyclopaedia of information about what to expect over the next 7 days whilst we travel through Northern Ethiopia. Thanks Flavio, it was great to meet you and hope to return the favour in SA one day.

The day has been a well deserved break from the bikes and tomorrow morning we leave at 7am for Bahir Dar about 550km from Addis Ababa. Apparently, the road conditions..i.e., people, cows, goats etc will remain the same until we get to the Sudan but we are excited about the next 10 days which is kind of the highlight of this whole trip for us.


Addis skyline.


The Addis Sheraton.


Dinner at Fasika with Flavio.


Traditional Ethiopian meal of Kitffo, Bozena Shiro Watt, Yebeg Alcha Watt and Yebeg Tibes…The whole plate (barring the metal bit) was a huge pancake of sorts and edible.


28 July (Day 29)

28 Jul

We left Yabello late this morning because we needed to do some maintenance work on the bikes after the Marsabit road yesterday.

We had 580km to do from Yabello to Addis Ababa and we assumed it would take us no more than 6 hours…well, you know what they say about assumptions!!??

Ethiopia is incredibly beautiful and scenic and whilst the road conditions themselves are not bad, the problem is that it is narrow and almost every single linear mile of the road between Yabello and Addis Ababa is occupied and therefore treacherous.

The rule of the road in Ethiopia is that there are no rules. People, cows, goats, donkeys, trucks, cars and bikes share the road with equal rights. Even the cows have perfected their bovine look of disdain should you hoot at them because they happen to be standing in the middle of a national highway…the goats and donkeys have learned that look too whereas on the contrary, the standard facial impression for one riding a bike between Yabello and Addis is mouth agape and eyes bulging!

Because the road is so treacherous, our average speed never really went much above 75km/h and as a result, we only got to Addis at 8pm. The first rule of the road in Africa is DO NOT DRIVE AT NIGHT! Unfortunately, we couldn’t do anything about it as we were committed to the destination. Addis, at peak hour traffic in the dark is no joke. I consumed my delicious dinner of about 1000 grams of diesel smog whilst trying to get to our hotel for the night whilst simultaneously dodging Ethiopian kamikaze’s and navigating roadwork’s that in parts were akin to the Marsabit road!

When one thinks of Ethiopia, and because of the myriad of Ethiopian jokes, it is not a place that one would consider to be synonymous with wealth and therefore I had low expectations of the Sheraton hotel in Addis. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Sheraton is an oasis of Super Luxury amongst an old and decaying city. Like most American hotels in countries where there is a large Muslim population, the security was beyond ridiculous..I suppose it doesn’t help when Storm troopers Nobre and Edwards walk in looking like they have just been dragged through a camels backside asking for a room when the place costs $360 a night!!

Needless to say, it is Fantastic to finally spend a night in a decent place..so much so, we have decided to stay for 2 nights after perhaps one beer too many!!!

Unfortunately, because we were under time pressure today we didn’t have many photo stops.

The Yabello Motel..Clean, comfortable and well priced at R250/night.

Katie getting some TLC after the Marsabit road yesterday.

Ethiopians sharing the road.


27 July (Day 28)

27 Jul

We left Henry the Swiss in Marsabit in Northern Kenya this morning at 6.30am in order to try get the HELL road complete by Lunchtime. On reflection, and images aside, the accommodation at Henry’s turned out to be warm and comfortable notwithstanding the freezing visit to the outhouse at 3am.

We are just North of the equator at the moment and I don’t know about you, but I have always had the impression that the weather at the equator was always tropical and pretty constant! This is not so. When we were south of the equator we attributed the cold nights to the fact that it was winter, however, the cold has not abated notwithstanding the fact that we are now north. When I say cold, I mean nights of around 10C to 15C, just an interesting observation that I thought I would share.

The Marsabit to Moyale road has lived up to every single iota of its name, in fact, the word “road” is not an adequate description for what this mangled old dinosaur track is! Within the first 50km, Katie and I had a fall (happy now RM?) when trying to ride a wall of volcanic marbles. Fortunately I have no bodily harm other than a bruised leg and ego but Katie unfortunately has a cracked auxiliary fuel tank which is not a major problem because the tank can be isolated but does irritate me when I look at her all scratched up and hurt!!

It took us 7 hours to do 250km which was enormously taxing on the body and bike. This road runs through an ancient desert volcanic plain and is therefore a mixture of round plum size volcanic rocks half a metre deep ((volcanic marbles) that offer no traction whatsoever), thick sand, rugby ball size rocks strewn all over the road, small sharp rocks protruding from the ground and all sorts of other unimaginable things that one would not expect to encounter on a road. On the upside, everybody who has done this road complains about the number of punctures they have had..anything from 1 to 10 along this 250km stretch..we had none between us….Note to people who will travel this road by bike in future..Continental TKC’s, 5mm heavy duty tubes, slime and the right tyre pressures (2.4 in front 2.6 at the rear…hard is better than soft for this road notwithstanding what advice you may get..the Rocks are killers!). The road improves in the last 100km (although not dramatically) of the stretch from Marsabit to Moyale.

We met two French guys riding KTM’s doing a round the world and heading to Cape Town, a Dutch couple on 2 Honda Transalp’s making their way to Johannesburg and a Johannesburger with 2 broken ankles trying to ride this road on a Honda Varedero…fortunately a car came by and took him the rest of the way. There is an amazing comaraderieship between overland travellers that makes you instant friends especially when meeting on a road like this. I hope you guys got to your destination okay.

We eventually got to Moyale at 14h00 and crossed into Ethiopia without too much hassle and tired as we were, we decided to press on to Yabello about 200km further North so that we could complete the trip to Addis Ababa tomorrow.

On route to Yabello we encountered our first slimy bit of African bureaucracy when the Ethiopian “customs police” stopped us and gave us crap in the hope that they could elicit a bribe. After about 30minutes and realising that we were not going to pay but simply comply with their stupid requests, they let us go.

We are spending the night at the Yabello Motel which is a definite step up from Henry’s as we have an en suite bathroom, hot water and finally a shower with more water pressure than the usual trickle that is referred to as a shower in this part of the world.

We are EXHAUSTED but have an incredible sense of accomplishment and achievement after having completed that road. The worst is now behind us.


The start of the Hell “road”!!!


Miles and Miles of Volcanic marbles.


Katie’s war wound of the day!


Arid, stark, empty and hard Beauty.


Dale (on the bike).


Exactly halfway between Marsabit and Moyale.

Not the kind of track you want to do everyday. Imagine 250km of this and more…!

Ancient Volcanic plain.

Notwithstanding the toughness of this environment, there are people that choose to live here.

Water stop on route.


Relief at last!!!


26 July (Day 27)

26 Jul

We left Meru this morning at 7am. The road from Isiolo to Marsabit is the first stretch of the “hell road” although we were delighted to discover that the Chinese have been busy here too with their road building and as a result the first 120km of a total of 250km was new smooth beautiful tar. The infamous road between Isiolo and Moyale will, fortunately and unfortunately be completely tarred within the next 18 months and the Cape to Cairo trip will thereafter be able to be done entirely on tar.

The road has lived up to its reputation thus far although tomorrow will prove to be slightly more challenging as the road from here (Marsabit) to Moyale is supposedly worse than what we encountered today. Although we have come through today unscathed and without punctures, it has not been without its war wounds. At one point, I stopped because the bike felt strange only to discover that one of my panniers had rattled off. Fortunately this only resulted in a round trip of about 6 kilometres where I found it miraculously lying in the middle of the road. I say miraculously, because in this part of the world, any object left lying around invariably disappears quickly!!

We are spending the night at “Henry the Swiss” which is apparently the best place to stay in Town!


Thank you Hu Jintao.


The end of the tar…Let the games begin.


Where I found my pannier lying in the middle of the road.


Even the wildlife has started to become a little more “North African”!


Katie on the good part of the road.

Massey and the middle mannetjie.

Katies war wound of the day.


Dale navigating the road.


Our SUPER LUXE accommodation for the night at Henry the Swiss.

Interior shot…reminds me of Boswell Wilkie circus!


25 July (Day 26)

25 Jul

I got back to Nairobi last night and Raring to go. Katie has been serviced and has new tyres (which she was desperately in need of) and feels like a new woman on the road!

We left Jungle junction at 7am to head for Meru where we are spending the night. African towns like Meru seem to all be cut from the same template..20 suspension destroying speed bumps in a half kilometre stretch, the local garbage dump situated alongside the road from the moment you enter to the moment you exit the town, 1 Motel, 1 or 2 fast food restaurants, a petrol station, a bottle store, a butcher and 20 million stalls all selling the same thing and whilst this description doesn’t sound great, they oddly enough have a particular “cobbled together” charm that makes them worth visiting.

I have come to the solid conclusion that the Kenyans are the worst drivers in the WORLD! To the Kenyans, the notion that overtaking on a blind rise or corner should be considered illegal is completely preposterous and met with flashing lights and outrage should one have the audacity to come around such blind rise or corner and be in their way. The law of the jungle definitely applies on the road in east Africa…the bigger you are, the more right of way you have!! Today my life flashed before my eyes at least a dozen times and I now have memories from my childhood that were once long forgotten!!!

Loving being on the road again!

Jungle Junction, Nairobi.


A large psychological milestone…the equator crossing!

0 stars or 5 stars?


Gucci’s new shoe boutique in Meru.

Obviously something bigger was on his side of the road!!!


That certain grungy charm, Meru, not Dale!


The new Honda Sirafas sports!