Roadtrip Day 7: Driving from Lalibela to Aksum, entering the province of Tigray

Wednesday 10th January, 2018

Today’s trip 390 km; 10 hours

It is a long drive from Lalibela to Aksum, the distance covered is 390 kilometres of which 280 kilometres is on unsealed roads. It took us ten hours to get there without a stop except for fuel.

The Chinese are very busy in this part of the country, putting tarmac on a large number of roads and building bridges. Although there doesn’t seem to be much logic to which section gets done first. So you often drive from smooth tarmac into deeply rutted dirt track, and the transition of road to bridge can be like scaling a small version of the great wall of China.

We rolled our windows down to wave to one of the Chinese supervisors, overseeing a large group of local workers. Amazed, he promptly waved back. They are in a strange country, in the middle of nowhere, and a long, long way away from home and family.

An interesting side note is that Ethiopians call all of us non-Ethiopians nowadays “China China”. This is definitely a first for me, being very blond!

We drove through some amazing scenery, some sections closely resembled Monument Valley in Utah, with similar monolithic structures. This is farming country, with people working the land and children tending the mixed flocks / herds of sheep, goats, cattle and donkeys.

Children walk long distances in small groups to and from school. There is very little road traffic, except for in the small towns.

We pass small villages with round houses and thatched roofs. Very scenic!

We also see plenty of USAid signs, a testament to the famine in recent history. There are obvious signs of overgrazing; with large numbers of small mixed herds scouring the barren countryside. Vegetation here is alpine in nature, fragile and very dry.

The geology is stunning, we are driving through the Trap Basalt top layer that covers most of the high country.

We share the road with the usual herds of livestock, occasional trucks and long distance busses, and donkeys. Of all road users, they can be the most stubborn and you just will have to give way to them.

Once in the Tigray province we encounter our first “wire and gun” traffic stop. A steel wire spans the road, usually with some small flags on it so you can actually see it. When you stop, armed men step out of the shadows alongside the road. But, when they see our unusual travelling party, the wire and semi automatics are lowered and we are waved on.

We had one occasion where there were no flags on the wire and we hit it at full speed (that will have been around 60 km p/h). The sentries were very apologetic and waved us on when we stopped to check the car for damage. This is intended to stop trucks and raise taxes locally on goods passing through the area.

After filling up the car, we arrive very tired, but safe in Aksum.

The Prado takes petrol, and that is not easy to find in the countryside. Most vehicles here run on diesel, with petrol mainly used in small quantities by the Bajaj, and often bought in plastic bottles. When we finally found a fuel station that sold petrol and not just diesel, we proceeded to take just about its entire stock.

We are staying at the government owned Yeha hotel. It is positioned in a prime location. Our suite is spacious albeit a bit dated. We are one of the few guests, and have a nice view of the Mary of Zion church, the Stelae, the sunset and get complimentary prayers.

Water, alas, is available only ad hoc, and hot water only on demand….

Travel Details and Tips:

Accomodation: Yeha hotel, Aksum. At USD 106 per night for a suite, although that doesn’t give you guaranteed running water!

Tip 1: How to get (hot) water in an Ethiopian hotel.

  • Be prepared, so ensure there is always one person of your group dressed and ready to talk nicely to the manager if needed! Cold water should always be available, and hot water at least during the time slot that they said it would be available.
  • If you see a bucket in the bathroom, it is usually there for a reason. Fill it up if the cold water is actually working, at least you will have something to flush the toilet with…..

Tip 2: Beds in Ethiopia are firm, very firm, and if you are unlucky hard, where it is absolutely possible to bounce a coin on the bed.

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