Tigre or Bust – on the road in Ethiopia

Max Levene


Day 1: After being hoiked into the car and positioned on my new cushion the Levene charabanc sets off, the land cruiser packed to the rafters (mostly my stuff, including a wheelchair, a shower chair and a spare set of wheels and medical supplies; oh the joys!).

We left at 11:00 to meet Leul, a well respected Ethiopian army
colonel and  war hero, who helped fight off the Dergue and is now our Tigrean fixer, translator, negotiator. I was greeted in usual Ethiopian fashion with a kiss on the cheek – something hard to get used to, but in Ethiopia it’s a rather rather warm gesture of friendship.

The day consisted of driving through the beautiful countryside of Amhara, passing through many villages which each curiously seem to specialise in one product, with one village solely selling oranges, the next onions and the next offering car washes.

En route we almost killed a donkey hiding in one of the road tunnels.  Whilst driving, we were trying to book a hotel by phone, but after securing two rooms in Kombolcha, on arrival they turned out to not exist. Whilst travelling, we received a phone call from a Lalibela tourist guide, assuring me that the hermits had been praying for me!

Later, after navigating the hair-pin bends of the mountains, we stopped at the plateau town of Dessie, a six hour drive. After trailing round the hotels for a room we ended up in the Qualiber Hotel, a rather rustic place offering such delicacies on their menu as ‘Fried Lamp’, accompanied by very depressing Ethiopian music that had us all in near suicidal moods by the end of dinner.

The local staple, injera, tastes like pickled crumpet and looks like carpet underlay!  Leul made me laugh by eating FirFir, basically injera with injera, our equivalent of a bread sandwich.  After dinner it was time forme to be manhandled up the stairs to be in bed by 8:30.

Day 2: After a rather awkward shower, half in and half out (gamash gamash) of the shower tray, I was then bounced back down the stairs for an omelette breakfast. Leul had his usual injera, which is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We set off at 10:00. It was a more mountainous drive with spectacular scenery not dissimilar to the French alps.  As we pass through the villages the children (and some adults) shout either ‘Farengi’ (foreigner), ‘China’ or simply ‘you you you’ at the car. Leul found it amusing when we passed  a white man and I started shouting you ‘you you you’ as a joke.

On the way we stopped off at the stunning Ashange Lake, the proposed site for our Eco lodge.  Hoiked out of the car into my wheelchair to the amazement of the locals, we then bounced along the wild plot with young kids moving rocks for me! One of them nonchalantly scratched his nose with a sickle. Whilst dad surveyed the site we tried to get the perfect picture of a Meskel Flower which are now in full bloom. After a sardine sandwich shared with the locals, we got back on theroad.

After a six hour drive, That night we stopped at the Johannes Hotel in Mekele, the capital city of the Tigre region.  After 22 stairs I was at the bar where I witnessed one of the greatest misses in football history, by one Fernando
Torres, and ate a pizza. Another 22 stairs to the bedroom for what was intended
to be an early night although a dose of Mekele belly put pay to that!

Day 3: Dad and Leul went to meet the local Muslim leaders about a mosque on the Ashange site.  Mum and I spent the morning on the bar balcony overlooking the main roundabout drinking buna (coffee) and studying the tuk tuks (small half motorbike, half car taxis that swarm around like bees and cause havoc). Dad returned – there had been a hitch in the negotiations over the land for our planned Eco-lodge and it’s now in doubt.

We then drove 3 hours to Korem where we stayed at another rustic hotel with a pillar that held up the stairs which stopped a metre short of the ceiling. Due to a weak stomach I had a diet of chips all day.

Day 4:  Dad and Leul went to negotiate with the local leaders on the Ashange site. After a lot of negotiation and support from local people, the local dignitaries eventually signed terms of agreement and the lodge plan was back on the road.  Mum and I stayed at the hotel and chatted with some very ‘on the ball’ local teachers; could be useful contacts if the lodge is ever completed.

At 12:45 we left Korem for Addis Ababa. It was a rather uneventful journey -if you can count dodging local people, tuktuks, donkeys, herds of goats, sheep, shoats (mixtures of the two), overtaking huge trucks crawling along with rather precariously loaded goods and the odd dead camel sprawled across the road – and then on through the desert until Awash.

Driving along at around 70 miles an hour in pitch black suddenly a rope is pulled across the road, we slammed the brakes on and stopped a metre short of the rope. On the side of the road was a policeman with a tiny torch, what a warning! They then proceeded to point us into the bush as if we were meant to drive into the middle of nowhere. Luckily we had a hitchhiking policeman in the car who told us it was a contraband checkpoint and we got past without problems.

We finally arrived back in Addis at 10:30 after an interesting yet exciting few days with dad still scratching from the bed bugs.

Max Levene broke his neck playing rugby and now uses a wheelchair. His family is hoping to set up an eco-tourism lodge in Ethiopia.

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