Having struggled my way back up the escarpment, I continued through the village at the top of the escarpment, and on through the next, after which there was a gravel track to the left heading eastwards. This is a "new" road, only completed in the early 90's, and so does not appear on any map I have seen. However, it is an excellent gravel road, and goes almost straight to Debre Birhan. Along the way, many families of Common Cranes were seen, invariably a pair with one, or occasionally two, young in attendance. Red-capped Lark and Black-headed Siskin were also common.
Having reached Debre Birhan, I turned left to the north-east through the town, and then turned to the right just beyond the end of the houses, to continue east further up into the highlands towards Ankober. Again, the aim was to find a specific species of bird, namely the Ankober Serin, of which very few localities are known. I was aiming for the original site from which the first specimen was collected. Richard Webb's Ethiopian Trip Report provided excellent directions, but just before reaching the point, something went wrong on the Landrover.
Without warning, or any strange noises, I was simply not travelling forwards. After trying all the gears, I was still getting no joy. I then tried low ratio, and that seemed fine - everything was OK again, except I wasn't likely to be travelling too quickly. After a bit more experimentation, I tried high-range and four-wheel-drive. This also worked, although the traction appeared to be rather poor. This was when my brain finally started working. I had broken a rear half-shaft - or even the main drive shaft. A quick inspection revealed that it wasn't the latter, so I only had front-wheel drive. Well, since I was only a few km from the Ankober Serin site, why let trivia like a broken half-shaft stop me? While I had no problems continuing to the site, I had that nasty nagging feeling that while it is easy to drive down steep inclines, how easy was it going to be to get back up them with only front-wheel-drive and a heavily laden Landrover?
Having reached the site, I wandered up the steep hillsides looking for the ground-feeding Serins. Of course, there was no sign of them anywhere appropriate, so I continued wandering round the hillside, having attracted a small following of local children who were clearly trying to work out what this faranji was up to. Not only could I not find the Serin, but there was literally no bird life at all, except some small brown bird hiding in the only shrub in sight. After a further 20 minutes there was still no sign of anything, and my return path took me back past the isolated shrub. Determined not to fail to see anything at all on this stop, I approached the shrub, only to find the bird emerge and start singing from the top of the bush. It was, of course, the Ankober Serin.
While my original plan was to continue along this road for a further 20 km to a small village called Melka Ghebdu, where anther species of Serin occurred (Yellow-throated), this was likely to be pushing my luck - and the species could also be found at Awash National Park - my next port of call anyway. Although Richard Webb indicated it was possible to drive from Melka Ghebdu direct to Awash, this road no longer exists, and so there is no option but to proceed to Awash via Addis Ababa. Hence I was able to return to Addis to effect repairs without missing out on any birds.
Of course, first I had to return to Debre Birhan. And I was right - those steep declines were OK, but now that they were inclines, travel wasn't all that easy - in fact in a couple of instances I was forced down into first-gear low-ratio spinning the front wheels to get any traction on the dusty road. However, in the end I succeeded in getting back up to the top, from which it was an easy cruise back to the town. I stayed the night in one of the local hotels which was supposedly recommended. I cannot fathom why, since the Hotel Helen, was neither particularly clean, nor offered hot water, nor even any food. Since I got there by about 16:00, I used the opportunity to try and identify the problem with the vehicle. Much local advice was offered, including a most earnest "mechanic" who was convinced the problem was in the handbrake. Before he did any real damage I persuaded him that I knew what I was doing (which he could clearly - and correctly - see was not true).
Monday 13th December 1999
With no reason to stay in Debre Birhan, I left at 06:00 heading for Addis Ababa and Selassie Teklu's garage. The road was good tar, and the 130 km was covered in two hours, so I was able to arrive at the garage as it opened. It didn't take long to locate the fault, which was that the right rear half-shaft flange was stripped, as well as the half-shaft itself showing some signs of wear (although it was not broken). Clearly this was caused by the previous problems with the rear springs, which must have forced the rear axle into a slight angle to the prop-shaft and hence the angle of the wheels themselves. If this was the case, then I could expect a similar failure from the left half-shaft as well. Consequently I decided to replace both half-shaft flanges as well as both the half-shafts themselves. However, since this was Addis, the expense was very considerable - approximately US$ 500 for the four components. This expense was to impact on the trip later on, but at the time it seemed like a sensible precaution.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000