After filling up my Landrover and checking that it was running OK, I was off again. One cannot express the friendliness and helpfulness of the local Ethiopians than in this example. At no stage did anyone ask for money (except for the petrol), and were all willing to help. I wonder how many other places in the world one would get this type of assistance?
The fuel got me back to the Total garage for the night, where I refitted the two side windows.
Tuesday 21st December 1999
Leaving early in the morning, I drove westwards to Mille, a bigger town with petrol available. Or so I thought. Even here none of the garages had any petrol, so again I had to buy some more petrol on the black-market, to get me to Dese. After passing the turnoff to the south towards Awash, the road became gravel - although in good condition. However, there were enough bumps and potholes to shift the roof enough for the windows to fall out again. Amazingly, both fell outwards onto the gravel while I was travelling at about 40 km/h - and neither broke. While picking up the glass, I was saw several Bush Petronias near the roadside - about the only birds I saw on this stretch of road. Slowing down again, I continued to Dese, where I quickly found a garage with a welding kit. Here we welded steel supports from the chassis to the roof-rack - hence securing the roof in position. With that fixed, we refitted the windows again.
From here I continued north on the gravel road to Heyk, seeing Blue-headed Coucal near some woodland just off the road. In Heyk I turned off to the west to try and find the lake. Initially I went round the southern side of the lake, but the road remained about 1 km from the lake, so I returned to try driving round the northern shore. Here the road approached the lake, but at a monastery. I could find no details of this monastery, which was clearly not orientated towards visitors of any kind, and the armed guard would not allow me to camp nearby (it being dusk by this time). I was able to find a good spot to camp about 1 km back along the road. There seemed to be no problem for me to camp here - and there were encouraging bird noises from the nearby lake.
Wednesday 22nd December 1999
The early morning showed a large number of water-birds on the lake - probably around 400 in total. Of these 397 were Tufted Ducks, with just 3 Common Pochards amongst them. There were also quite a few other birds around, including White-rumped Babbler, Streaky Seed-eater and Eurasian Reed-Warbler heard calling at the water's edge.
From here I returned to Heyk town, before continuing north to Weldiya. On the way, the scenery was quite beautiful with a variety of valleys with high ridges separating them. From one of these I found a pair of Greater Spotted Eagles soaring along a valley, and at another point found 4 European Griffons soaring above a ridge. Pectoral-patch Cisticolas were also quite common along this road.
On reaching Weldiya, I turned west on the "Chinese" road, which had recently been finished, and was certainly in good condition. However, as with all roads in Ethiopia, it was quite rocky, and at one point drove a splinter of rock through the tyre, deflating it instantly. While inspecting it, I noticed that terrible smell of petrol. On investigation, I discovered that the rear tank had broken some of its mountings, and the filler pipe had slightly broken, with a very small leak of fuel. This must have been caused by the continual vibration from the roads. Clearly it could not be fixed without welding, and I was not too keen on welding a fuel tank without the proper facilities. Since I still had two independent tanks left, and with a capacity of around 150 litres, this was not going to be a major crisis.
Having changed the wheel, I used up the remainder of the fuel in the rear tank, and probably only lost a couple of litres from the leak. On reaching Dilbe the road turned "north" to Lalibela. I had read the road was only passable in the dry season, but it didn’t seem to be in too bad a condition. On the way I saw a variety of species similar to those at the Jemmu escarpment, including Clapperton's Francolin, White-billed Starling, Rüppell's Black-Chat, Blue-naped Mousebird, Moorland Chat and Great Grey Shrike. White-winged Cliff-chats (endemic) were also common here.
Confusingly, the road is marked on the Michelin maps as going south to north, yet the GPS clearly showed I was travelling east to west. Only the Ethiopian Mapping Agency map indicated this correctly. I can only assume that it is due to the "Chinese" road following a very different alignment to the old road. However, after travelling on the road for about 70 km I reached a T-junction with a tarred road. This had me totally perplexed, since no-one had indicated anything about a tarred road in this area. Turing right (i.e. north) I soon reached Lalibela.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000