From just north of Koka, the new road is open, and the excellent tar continues all the way to Addis Ababa, with just one minor diversion around an incomplete bridge near Nazret. On reaching the outskirts of Addis Ababa, there were some delays where major road-works were being carried out. Surprisingly, navigation proved surprising easy within Addis Ababa, the maps provided in Philip Briggs' book being more than adequate.
I managed to arrive at the Department of Immigration at the first attempt at 12:15, only to discover that Ethiopian lunch-break is from 12:00 to 13:00. However, the office re-opened promptly at 13:00, whereupon I suffered a major setback. While the Ethiopian embassy staff in Pretoria had said they couldn’t provide me with a multiple re-entry visa there, I had got the impression that I would be able to obtain one in Addis Ababa. This was to prove wrong - unless a permanent resident, it is not possible to get a visa without first leaving the country. This seemed to rule out any chance of getting to Djibouti. However, I must say that the officials were very friendly in explaining this situation - a situation I was to find over and over again, even when we were not able to communicate properly because I didn’t speak Amharic.
After that disappointment, I continued to find the Sanford English School (first attempt again - but mainly by luck this time), and there met Steve Spawls. I had been given Steve's name through the African Bird Club contacts database, and he made me very welcome. I was able to camp at the school for three nights while I sorted myself out for the rest of the trip.. The first thing I discovered was that it was winter - there was no way I could sleep under a light duvet in Addis Ababa - the sleeping bag was required.
Thursday 9th December 1999
I spent the whole day getting the Landrover fixed up, re-welding the shackle attachment, and replacing all the rear U-bolts which were all damaged. We had problems getting the vehicle level (partly because the shackle mount may have been re-welded a few millimetres out of place), so we changed the old shackle to the longer forward-control one on left side. This left the vehicle in good shape, and ready to continue with the trip. Although I as unable to get any bird-watching done, I was still able to find Brown-rumped Seed-eaters - in Addis Ababa they replace the House Sparrow in the urban niche. Also seen were Olive Thrush and African Dusky Flycatcher at the Spawl's house.
Friday 10th December 1999
After a latish start, I spent much of the morning trying to find another set of forward-control shackles, before visiting a couple of the local birding spots. First, I headed out east on the Nekempte road, where after about 20 km I reached the Gefersa Reservoir. There were plenty of Egyptian Geese and Yellow-billed Duck. After some searching I found a pair of Blue Geese, and then at the eastern end of the reservoir a flock of about 50 Green-winged Teal. Fawn-breasted Waxbill were common here
Continuing eastwards for a further 5 km or so, I turned south on a road to the forestry college and the Menagesha-Suba National Forest. On the drive south, Wattled Ibis, White-collared Pigeon and large numbers of Black-winged Plover were easily seen, as were Red-breasted Wheatears in abundance. The National Forest would have been a pleasant place to camp, although there were no facilities other than one tap. I believe the forest has a good avifauna, with roosting Yellow-fronted Parrots regularly seen in the late evenings. However, since I arrived late (at around 14:00, and needed to return to Addis Ababa early, I failed to find anything of note.
From the forest, I continued south to the Jima route and then back to Addis Ababa. Although the roads weren't good, the suspension and other repairs held up well, so I was feeling much happier about the rest of the trip. However, Mourning Wheatear, White-fronted Black-Chat and White-billed Buffalo-Weaver were seen. That evening we had an excellent Italian meal at one of the local restaurants.
Saturday 11th December 1999
Having said farewell to the Spawls, I left Addis along the main road to the north at about 09:00 and drove to the Solulta Plains, an area of grassland that is extensively harvested as fodder. This grass is loaded as very bulky loads onto donkeys, which are then driven along the main road into Addis together with many other donkeys carrying firewood. This, as can be imagined, causes huge problems for any vehicular traffic, which has to dodge both potholes and donkeys, resulting in some of the most erratic driving I have even done. The plains are only about 20 km north of Addis, but allow an hour for the trip.
Solulta had a variety of species of birds, including Wattled Ibis, Pallid & Montagu's Harriers, Black-winged Plover, Yellow Wagtail, and plenty of Red-throated Pipits, a variety of Wheatears as well as Groundscraper Thrushes - a bird of open grassy plains in Ethiopia.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000