Saturday, June 23, 2018

Off the Chart - Addis to Nairobi

Addis Ababa

On this trip, capital cities are not so much destinations as dry land. Places to regroup. Addis in particular has a sketchy reputation - more than half of the travellers I have spoken to have been robbed here and so mostly I stay at the overlander-friendly Wims Holland House, run by the lovely Rahel and venture out past the glue-sniffing adolescents only to pursue the wild-goose chase of my to-do list. It quickly becomes a can't-do and make-do list and my sorties become studies in African logistics. For each item I want, someone thinks I can get it in a certain area, no real specifics, so then I go there and start asking people in my tenuous Amharic. Usually the spirals end up leading to some sort of improvisation and workaround and are delayed by power cuts, water cuts, fuel shortages, religious practices, someone's sickness or general unavailability of anything that is not of the lowest quality possible. It really makes me feel for an Ethiopian trying to get anything done. It's like wading through porridge. It does at least mean I meet a lot of Ethiopians in the process and most of them are very warm-hearted and helpful.

Also, as a diversion from my free-wheeling lifestyle, I actually have some gainful employment. Beth Rettig, front-person of Blindness, a band I did some mixing for last year, has some new material and has asked me to mix a couple of songs. It takes a bit of asking around but I manage to find a studio in Addis belonging to some reggae artists that fits the brief.
Qkhas Studio, Meskel Flower, Addis Ababa
Qkhas Studio, Meskel Flower, Addis Ababa
It does come with a band next door rehearsing "Jammin'" and "One Love" which is a little irritating and the world's most useless internet. Also there is a moment of friction when my host accidentally deletes most of his work-in-progress songs while stoned and then asks me where I put it, but I get the tracks done and there's something satisfying about making it all happen here.
La Gare, Addis Ababa
La Gare, Addis Ababa
I do manage one 'sight', The Ethnological Museum which has some lovely art, folk stories and nice clear outlines of the various religions in the country. It is also housed in the former palace of the Emperor. Haile Selassie actually lived in my hometown of Bath for the five years preceding WWII and even donated a cricket pavilion to my school. I remember the plaque and wondering who on earth this 'emperor' was. Now I'm taking photos of his toilet. His real name is Ras Tafari and is considered a god to the rastafarian movement. I tell the story to the reggae band in the studio and it sort of blows their minds.
Haile Selassie's bedroom, Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa
Haile Selassie's uniform, Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa
Haile Selassie's bathroom, Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa
Painting, Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa
Musolini's 13 steps, Ethnological Museum, Addis Ababa
It is in Addis that I run into Tom of the Nitty Grittys. Last time I saw him he was going through a sort of "Sheltering Sky" period of hallucinations due to his typhoid. Now he has parted company with the rest of the crew, has typhus plus an assortment of other parasites, has lost his passport, been robbed of his wallet and driving licence and his motorbike is in a coma in the Bale Mountains with an engine full of muddy water. Still smiling.

Over Sunday pancakes at the house of dutch Gerald and his Ethiopian wife and family I talk feminisim with his bright-as-a-buttom 17-year-old daughter. It's not that bad in Addis, she declares, but out in the villages it's like the stone age. Gerald's wife performs the lengthy coffee ceremony and tries to hook me up with her cousin.

I sip expensive wine and hobnob with diplomats and NGO workers at the Alliance Fran├žaise where there is a stunning photography exhibition of the tribes of Ethiopia. There is heavy security around the compound.

Franco, from Germany, has been here 4 months painting murals for a new school that, in the end, never opens. It's always the same story here, he complains, There are amazing new ideas and concepts but in the end they never happen because of corruption, apathy or some indecipherable social rules.

Outside in the muddy lanes, it is chaos, they are laying a short section of new water pipe. It takes them two weeks and we watch as they seal the sections with concrete over the tops of the joins but nothing underneath where no-one will notice. Not until they actually try to use the pipes that is. Near the end, they accidentally crush a whole section of the pipe and they just fill in the hole quickly and leave.


The road to Harar takes me from first light to last along an undulating mountain ridge that swoops down to 800 metres and 34 degrees and sweeps up to 2600 metres and 8 degrees past friendly villages clinging to coffee mottled hillsides. The city itself is heralded by the most intense rainbow I have ever seen. 
Road to Harar near Metehara
Road to Harar near Karamile
I breakfast on dabo fir-fir which is 'scrambled bread' tossed in spicy, oniony shiru and lazily wander the cobbled passages of the old town, rubbing shoulders with headscarved women in glorious colours expertly balancing awkward parcels on their heads while bargaining with tailors and butchers and fruit sellers crouched on the stones.
I find, with the help of some giggling bescarved 20-something girls who all video my every move, the house once occupied by Arthur Rimbaud. Amongst many things, in his fascinating life, he was a pioneer of photography and there are some pictures of Harar from the 1880s that drip atmosphere.
Arthur Rimbaud, Self-Portrait, Harar
Harar, 1880s
I knock back a couple of jumbos in a tiny bar, each table with its own solitary alcoholic. One wobbly woman warns 'Be careful, he speaks Amharic!' and later produces a huge transparent bag full of condoms for the bartender to admire.
At sunset, I ride out into the bush and pick through the muddy thorny trails until I find Abbas, son of the original hyena man. It became a Harar tradition to feed the hyenas around the city walls to keep them from eating the livestock. My headlight picks out their cat-like eyes as they shamble around with their curious crouching gait, tearing at the camel meat, emitting horror movie howls and scrapping with each other. It's electrifying. I pluck up the courage to sit with Abbas and a hyena climbs onto my back and snatches a hunk from over my shoulder. The warm weight of the creature is oddly comforting and I find myself feeling quite affectionate towards these playful curious creatures. Abbas has names for every one of them and points out the pack leader who is a pregnant female and I watch how the pecking order plays out. 
Hyena, Harar
Hyena feeding, Harar
My guide Sisay takes me to an Arabic eatery back in town and I am served a fattira, prepared over an oil drum fire. It's an egg and bread concoction eaten specially for this first day of Ramadan. We then talk over a couple of beers on a nearby rooftop of his childhood in the orphanage of The Name of Mary Cathedral which I found earlier in the alleyways and I picture him as one of the children I heard there singing psalms.
Mohamed making a fattira, Harar
Another predawn fumble and I launch myself into the return journey. There is no petrol to be found though and I am glad of my jerrycan that allows me to skip the huge lines of bajajs waiting and just gives me the extra 300km I need to reach the first non-dry village. My tyres hardly seem to skim the rutted tar as the glory of the mountain light warms faces and hands that greet me with amazement and a simple friendliness. I feel a lump in my throat for the sense of touching the unreachable.
Village on road from Harar to Awash
I come swiftly back to earth on one bend as the road is blocked by the collusion of a truck and a tuk-tuk. An angry policeman stalks up to me and I realize the roadblock is specifically to stop me. Within a few seconds 20 villagers are pressed around me jeering "open his bags!" and throwing sneering looks. The policeman tries to grab my keys but I quickly pocket them. I cannot understand what they want. After a few tense minutes of confusion an older man comes who speaks a few words of English. He asks me why I did not stop for the police earlier and I think back to a previous checkpoint where I was waved through thinking maybe I misinterpreted the gesture.. I play dumb and after examining my licence and deciding I am not, in fact, a major security threat they let me go.

Just before Awash a soldier tells me motorbikes are forbidden from crossing the bridge. He is not interested to know that I crossed it just two days before or that the only other way to Addis is via Somalia and after an hour or more of discussion I find myself asking passing trucks if they will carry me the 500 metres. Some of them want an absurdly large amount of money for the 10 minute job. Finally I find a friendly pair of roadworkers who don't want money and, with the aid of several soldiers lift my bike onto the bed of their landcruiser. I sit up there a steely grip on the handlebars of the tenuously secured bike. Halfway across the bridge there is an abrupt hissing sound. What are the chances!? We have a puncture. We flag down a lorry to get help to get the bike off again and I end up riding the second half of the bridge. Impassively, the soldiers watch the farce unfold from their little hut.
Puncture, bridge to Awash

Addis Ababa

I have a brief stopover in Addis and I bump into Blanca, Basque cyclist from London I met in Gondar. Her daughter Amaya is visiting and they are just returning from a 2 weeks trip around the north in buses. She gave up on cycling in Ethiopia after, on her second day in the country, a man she was passing punched her. Amaya kindly offers to take a few bits and pieces back to London for me and I drive her to the airport in the chilly wee small hours.
Blanca, Wims Holland House, Addis Ababa

Robe - Bale Mountains

Once past the deadly trucks and chaos of the road to Adama, the countryside unfolds into a rolling green that reminds me of Yorkshire or the West Highlands. With Cactii. And little round houses made of mud with pointy thatched roofs.
Road to Bale Mountains
I make Robe in the dark and go to eat with Tom. No-one here understands Amharic, only Oromic, and Tom cannot get the simple pasta he wants. Not ideal in his delicate medical state. In the morning I find him vomiting into the flowers. I buy him a coca cola which helps. It's a surprisingly effective medicine for the tropics.

I ride up the rutted slippery road to Tullu Dimtu, second highest peak in Ethiopia, past the hulking giant lobelia, in a watery high altitude light that reminds me of Lake Titicaca, and sit contemplating the clouds pouring like a weir over precipices and the little pools that bring the tarns of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania to mind. Places of patient majesty. I am at once everywhere and nowhere.
Bale Mountains
Track up to Tullu Dimtu, Bale Mountains
Tullu Dimtu, Bale Mountains
I scramble back down into the icy embrace of the mists and pick my way through tangled cloud forest, limbs draped with wistful old man's beard.
Road to Dolemena, Bale Mountains
Road to Dolemena, Bale Mountains
Back in the real world I discover I have lost my water bottle somewhere along the bumpy way and start to retrace my steps, despondently echoing the search for my camera in Sudan. By the wreck of a jeep a boy steps out asking for a ride. I take him from this desolate spot to an equally outlandish location by a mobile phone mast. I can't imagine what he would be doing in either place. He is overjoyed at the ride. The karma wheel turns and I miraculously find my water bottle nestled in a rut.
Road to Dolemena, Bale Mountains
I even spot an elusive Ethiopian wolf as the light starts to pale.
Ethiopian Wolf, Near Tullu Dimtu, Bale Mountains
Near Goba, Bale Mountains
I heartlessly abandon Tom to roll his Sisyphean rock up his mountain of woes and strike out west for the Rift Valley passing Warthogs, Balboks and Olive Baboons by the road. 
Warthog, Bale Mountains
Balbok, Bale Mountains
Olive Baboon, Bale Mountains
Bale Mountains
Village, Road to Shashemane from Dinsho
In Shashamane I stop for lunch and despite it being famous as the Zion land given to rastafarians by Haile Selassie, I don't see a single dread.

Arba Minch - Dorze

On the final approach to Arba Minch, the bike starts to make a strange rattling noise when I brake hard. It's coming from the heart of the engine. By the magic of social media, I send out distress signals and get advice from Italians in Egypt, Australians in Finland and Germans in Kenya. Between the three of them they talk me through it and in the end I have the engine purring again in a matter of a few anxious hours.

To celebrate, I head for the hills and camp in the spectacularly located Dorze Lodge coincidentally owned by one of the social media sprites I was just chatting with about the bike. 
Dorze Lodge, Dorze
I take a foggy hike up through the Dorze villages of Amara, Hirpo and Ayra, calling out in my newly minted Dorzainya "Aymalay?" (how are you?) "Lo'o!" (good) they reply "Asham!" (Welcome!)
Amara, Dorze
In the little town of Chencha I have coffee with a sprig of taynada, eat more of my beloved beyenet and now the sun has burned off the fog, stroll on through the pretty countryside up to a waterfall in glittering sunshine. 
Dorsso Waterfall, near Chencha
Hirpo, Dorze
Then back to Chencha for many vials of bright yellow smokey honey wine in a dusky bar. This neatly removes all the unwanted thoughts in my head.
Honey Wine bar, Chencha
Honey Wine bar, Chencha
Thus decapitated, I visit a local compound and marvel at the 'elephant' houses. The two windowed woven structures last for as long as eighty years, gradually getting shorter as the termites eat them from the bottom up. They have rooms for livestock which help keep the place warm. I watch the family weaving and spinning
Weaving, Dorze
Spinning, Dorze
Asamamit prepares Orwetza - a sort of cheese made by scraping the enset ("False banana") that is their staple.  
Harvesting Orwetza, Dorze
You bake it and eat it with a hot sauce and honey. Really good.
Baked Orwetza with chilli sauce and honey, Dorze
A bunch of neighbours come by and I have the delicious treat of some local music. Call and response chanting and dancing. Magical. 
Music and Dance, Dorze
When it is over, I present 400 birr to the elder lady and everyone applauds. Then of course there is a big squabble about how the money is divided.
Next day I wander the market where they are selling cotton, tobacco and coffee and pile down the track and on south.
Dorze market
Dorze market


A funny little nothing of a town. My 'hotel' compound is full of drivers and they install themselves on my doorstep and chew chat and argue noisily til late. I engage the services of Bereket a local guide and we bounce our way to the nearby village of Dekatu and wander the tunnel-like pathways made from low stone walls with woven branches on top. I poke my head up into the little raised community huts where the young unmarried men sleep, ready to defend the village. Today the language is Konso and I call out "Nagayda" (How are you?) to all and sundry which makes them giggle. I see a crammed little pub, everyone drinking chakka, an alcoholic drink made from sorghum and maize, and watch a blacksmith working metal over a fire with goatskin bellows. 

Dekatu, Konso
Dekatu, Konso
Dekatu, Konso
We go to Duro, up in the hills, and survey the lovely terraced landscape 
Duro, Konso

Sorghum harvest, near Konso
and then to Bereket's home village of Arogay where we sit in a little bar made of corrugated iron and drink chakka. It's very grainy and sour, more like a meal but after a while you don't mind at all.. A crazy woman comes and stands in the middle of the place berating everyone, her pendulous breasts dangling out of her top. Everyone sighs and winks at me.
Chakka bar, Arogay, Konso

Chakka bar, Arogay, Konso
Chaka, Chakka bar, Arogay, Konso


I take the turnoff after Weyto and the very good dirt track towards lake Stephanie which eventually becomes a pretty rough old track. I pass a motorbike with a sidecar - a local ambulance - and chat with the guy a bit.
Road from Weyto to Arbore, Omo Valley
Early afternoon I reach the little settlement of Arbore and find Antu, a local guide. He helps me fend off the local kids and feeds me a very welcome cold drink. Then we go pitch my tent next to his papyrus hut to an audience of about thirty.
Antu's home, Arbore, Omo Valley
We walk around the village at sunset and I take some pictures. It's 5 birr a photo of people so everyone is keen for me to snap them. The unmarried girls have shaved heads and wear bangles on their legs. When they get married they 'jump' (dance) with the boys and the noise they make is a big part of the ceremony. Then they take off their bangles and start growing their hair.
Arbore, Omo Valley
Arbore, Omo Valley
Kuri and her baby, Arbore, Omo Valley
Yabba and Gale, Arbore, Omo Valley
Married women, Arbore, Omo Valley
Kulo, unmarried girl, Arbore, Omo Valley
Back at Antu's hut, his wife, Gido, who is three months pregnant with their first child, serves us coffee made from the shells of the beans in a gourd with still-warm-from-milking milk. It's tasty but I have to watch out for splinters and insects in there.

We are joined by two men from the Hamer tribe who are here to petition government officials for help as the Weyto river is high and has ruined their crops. One of them has lost half his leg to a snake. I listen to the music of their voices a long while. Antu speaks 12 languages and is just starting to learn Italian and Spanish.

Piles of cow dung lie burning cinematically here and there - it wards off mosquitos - malaria is a big problem here. Antu actually lost his father to malaria just 2 years ago and a month after that his mother to typhoid. I think of Tom and his relatively easy access to medical help and realize just how lucky he is.

Not exactly a great night's sleep what with with the heat and goats jangling their bells, bumping into the tent and making really odd noises. I had no idea that goats farted so much. One of them sneezes explosively every so often. The cocks start crowing before 4am. I record the cacophony for professional purposes. I unzip the tent door at 6am and the first thing I see is a young boy asking me for money.
Gido, Antu's wife, Arbore, Omo Valley
We wander the village calling out "Badako umberay" (good morning) I get a closer look at some of the huts - there is a cooler outer section for the daytime and the inner section is divided into left for women and right for men, another area for children and, as in Harar, a special section reserved for newly-weds. Here the huts only last 5 years until the termites win but as I witness later, it takes less than one day to build a new hut.
House construction, Arbore, Omo Valley
Antu has an appointment in town and I spend an hour with six-year-old Birana, daughter of the couple that cook me eggs firfir. She's very bright and we go through my Amharic writings and test each other. When Antu returns, we go to a little shack where everyone is drinking chakka. I mime/chat with Arkulu Ashai, from the east, Koruntet, who used to be a runner but then ruined his form with alcohol. Everyone crowds around to see my photos from Afar. The atmosphere is lovely and the chakka has an especially nice relaxing effect.

We wander to the river and I drink in all the different bird calls and see the little landing strip built by a British oil company. Work on exploiting the oil field here has been halted as it extends under Kenya and they haven't resolved the politics of sharing the profits yet.

Back in the village, they are building a new house. Odd how it's all women. Women do a lot of the work here - carrying water, cooking. The men seem to spend a lot of time just drinking. Occasionally fighting to defend the village. Raids from other tribes are a part of life here.
Antu drinking chakka, Arbore, Omo Valley
Arkulu Ashai, chakka bar, Arbore, Omo Valley
I meet Galano whose torso is covered in scarifications. He is only allowed to do that when he has killed two or more enemies from other tribes. He is a lokomay (hero man)
Galano, Lokomay, Arbore, Omo Valley
We have another calabash of coffee shell back at Antu's hut and Gido also makes danazar - soft breadsticks made from sorghum and maize - we eat them with dayvay - a kind of spinach and arwa - warm milk. I sleep another night amongst the goats. Around 3am one of them trips over and lands on my head, ripping a huge gash out of the tent. One of the stranger awakenings.
Bokay Argory, Siri tribe (Turkana), Chakka bar, Arbore, Omo Valley
Chakka bar, Arbore, Omo Valley
Chakka bar, Arbore, Omo Valley
Sunrise, Arbore, Omo Valley
Gido and Antu, Arbore, Omo Valley


The road over the hills to Turmi is lovely. Rough dirt with lots of little dry stream crossings as it follows the base of the hills, and then it ascends via a gravelly river bed and rocky paths through lush vegetation. It's a few hours before I see anyone and when I do it is some Hamer women, with their braids reddened with insect shells, who smile as I pass.
Arbore to Turmi road, Omo Valley
I stop at one place to eat the hard-boiled eggs that Gido sent me off with and a Hamer girl pops out from behind a hedge. I throw her an egg. She pockets it and stares at me for a while then says "photo?" I dutifully go get my camera but, when I raise it, she covers her breasts with a suspicious look on her face. So what I get is a photo that looks like some pervert jumped out and snapped her while she was dressing. I throw her 10 birr across the hedge anyway which she inspects carefully for tears.

Just before Turmi there is a river crossing and the bed is more sandy than I realize and I get stuck. Three little boys gleefully wade in and help me push. 
River Keskay, near Turmi, Omo Valley
In Turmi I meet Hailu, Lendele (who likes to be called London) and Getacho, all from the Hamer tribe. Hailu is a lovely woman with scarifications all over her body. She works at the hotel and we have a lovely non-verbal friendship and give each other big hugs everytime we run into each other. I hang out with them in London's little room chewing little parcels of chat wrapped around peanuts that he constructs and feeds to me while showing me endless pictures of himself in traditional dress. He's a musician and dancer and we play each other our songs. The room reminds me vividly of the room in Dharamsala that I spent my fourtieth birthday in with 4 Tibetans and Anna, the Israeli acrobat I caught up with in Tel Aviv. They cooked me Momos and it was a special way to see in my fifth decade. Here is no less special and it is where I see in my sixth. Both London and Getacho flirt with me outrageously but Getacho has more English and does most of the talking. Later, after a table full of beer, London tries to bed me and I take evasive action. A gay friend in Australia later mock-berates me 'what better way to see in your second half-century than with a hot young tribesman?! Well each to his own.'
Lendele, Turmi, Omo Valley
I wander Turmi's atmospheric market
Tobacco seller, Turmi market, Omo Valley
Hamer women, Turmi, Omo Valley
Hamer woman, Turmi, Omo Valley

Market, Turmi, Omo Valley
Hamer woman, Turmi, Omo Valley
Wahto, Turmi, Omo Valley
Hamer men, Turmi, Omo Valley
Animal drug store, Turmi, Omo Valley
Hamer women, Turmi, Omo Valley
and meet Kale Ab who lends money to the locals for market day. We chat about taxes over coffee.
Kale Ab moneylender and customer, Turmi market, Omo Valley
London, Getacho and Hailu all prepare a birthday ceremony for me and give me presents of beads and clothes. Grasses are scattered on the floor and the table is decked with fruit, flowers and popcorn. They make me coffee and cut a delicious fruit salad.
50th birthday, Lendele's house, Turmi, Omo Valley
Lendele, Hailu and Getacho, Turmi, Omo Valley
I take Danya, a local recommended to me by Antu, on the bike, along goat tracks, up into the hills to a tiny village called Balah. We have heard that there will be a bull-jumping ceremony today and I am very lucky to catch this male rite of passage and preparation for marriage which only happens every few weeks. The unmarried girls from the mother's extended family have to show their love and loyalty for their brothers by having them whip them. The men cut whips from the bush and then the women blow horns and dance with bells on their ankles while taunting, teasing and pleading the men to beat them. The beatings leave awful wounds on the girls backs and arms. It's both disturbing and fascinating. There is a party atmosphere and everyone is very happy and drunk on chakka.
Whipping ritual, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley

Whipping ritual, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley

I talk to Dilema. He stands there, in his traditional clothes, brandishing his whip and tells me how he has a university degree in resource management and works in a government office. How he hates this tradition but how impossible it is to change. If you voice dissent you are ostracized and we talk about how culture, mankind's crown jewel, is a system to divide, conform and exclude, however beautiful and irresistible it may appear.
Dilema, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Women dancing, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Watching all this play out in this misty little hill village, far from far away, makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It's just hard to believe I'm really here.

The rain comes and we all squeeze, and I mean shoehorn, into a hut. The chakka is passed around and we talk as much as is possible with the limited common language. Bodies all crushed together. I have the strongest sense of my companions as individuals. An intelligence and strength radiates from their eyes. They know what they want from life and value the bonds that unite them. They are curious about my life but do not envy it.
Hamer women, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Women dancing, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Hamer women, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
I sit next to a woman who sings of her family and her brother's new love in exquisite acapella. Goosebumps.
Women singing, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
I rode here by a shortcut. A few hours after me, just in time for the final ceremony, a second foreigner arrives. She is a large american lady travelling in a landcruiser. She has a driver, a tour-operator and a guide with her. She came from Addis in a helicopter. All the locals assume we are married.
Hamer women dancing, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Women being whipped, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
 The 'uncles' arrive. That is the father's side of the family who are greeted with chakka and chilli (gin)
Greeting uncles, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
Greeting uncles, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
 Coffee shell and a porridge made from sorghum are served.
Making coffee shell, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
 A goat is slaughtered
Slaughtering goat, Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
And the boy whose ceremony is today sits with the previous 'jumper', legs interlocked, the whips are gathered and enclosed in bangles which are thrown into the air. The blood of the goat is spread on his chest. In this way permission to become a man is granted.
Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
At sunset, 10 or fifteen bulls are dragged into a line and the naked boy jumps over the line. If he falls, he does not become a man and will be disgraced. If he makes it, he has to repeat the trick 3 more times. My boy makes it thankfully and his name changes from Walay (white) to Derembe (red)
Bull-jumping ceremony, Balah Village, near Turmi, Omo Valley
We ride back in the dark and when we reach the Keskay river, which was a trickle when we crossed a few hours earlier, it is now thigh deep and moving fast. Even with Danya off, I start to drift downstream and he rushes back in to help push. He is totally soaked in freezing muddy water and his teeth chatter loudly as we continue. I buy him gin and wrap him up in my winter jacket when we reach the town.


The road to Omerate is smooth new tar and I fly past the mottled bushes punctuated by giant termite sculptures. The soldiers send me to immigration. I put off my exit formalities until tomorrow as I am still trying to find out the state of the rivers around Lake Turkana. The journey into Kenya by this very remote route has been in my mind since I first started contemplating riding through Africa. I am intimidated by the idea of a breakdown or getting stuck with zero support and where the one water source is an undrinkable alkaline lake. In addition there are numerous river crossings that are highly unpredictable as they are flood rivers and my recent experience with the Keskay does not bode well. A large part of my schedule to date has been built around the idea of threading myself through the moment before Ethiopia's rains and after Kenya's. But it's been quite wet in Turmi. I had always said I would not attempt Turkana solo but all my attempts at joining forces have not panned out, the last being Tom who has now finally officially declared his bike Frankie dead.

But, as with all the challenges, I take it one step at a time, gather local information, talk online to other travellers and methodically weigh up the risks. The alternative is a lot of backtracking and a relatively boring ride through the border at Moyale along a brand new Chinese road.

While I am making my final decision I visit a local village called Demich. Here the tribe is the Dassenach. In the fifth language in a week I greet them with Komzap (how are you?) Yamzap (good!) they reply. The men are off working (drinking) so the village is populated entirely by women who are collecting water, building shacks, preparing food and looking after children.

While sitting in a tiny hut I learn a bit about their animism. There are 8 clans but only six have powers. One has the power of scorpions and can cure a scorpion bite by a ritual involving sprinkling tobacco on the ground. This clan has the power of water which is just as well on the banks of the unpredictable Omo. Mostly I just enjoy the beautiful light in here and the warm curious smiles.
Demich Village, near Omerate, Omo Valley
Pregnant woman, Demich Village, near Omerate, Omo Valley
Demich Village, near Omerate, Omo Valley
Demich Village, near Omerate, Omo Valley
Demich Village, near Omerate, Omo Valley
Demich Village, near Omerate, Omo Valley
On the way back to town we pass a mother and daughter. The daughter dances around the bike and teases me playfully.
Near Demich Village, near Omerate, Omo Valley
Sorghum fields, near Omerate, Omo Valley
We wander into a sorghum field and I chat with a lady sorting the crop. There is a whole discussion about whether she should jump on the bike and come to Kenya with me. She asks me how many cattle I have and looks down her nose at me when I admit I have none. But I have a motorbike.. She is unimpressed and I leave her to await a better-heeled suitor.
Sorghum fields, near Omerate, Omo Valley
Sorghum fields, near Omerate, Omo Valley
 I wander the market in town.
Tobacco seller, Market, Omerate, Omo Valley
And drink chilli, also known as areki, local moonshine gin in a lean-to and chat with an old lady.
Areki shack, Omerate, Omo Valley

Dassenach woman, Areki shack, Omerate, Omo Valley
In the morning having talked through the weather and river issues with a knowledgeable local, gathered 14 litres of water, 28 litres of blackmarket petrol, Kenyan shillings at an abyssmal rate (and after a long palava of negotiation) and way too much food, I set off to the immigration to make my exit from Ethiopia.

I am their only customer this week so the queues are short and emigration goes quickly. However, when I go to do my customs document there is a problem. The big stamp is locked in a desk and the guy with the key is away for the day. To begin with they say I will just have to wait and I have itchy feet and want to get going before the weather turns against me. I chat with them and after a lot of friendly banter they decide to break open the drawer.
Breaking open the customs drawer, Omerate, Omo Valley
 Such a fitting end to the surreal oddness that has been Ethiopia.
Immigration officer, Omerate, Omo Valley
Customs officer, Omerate, Omo Valley


The smooth tar out of Omerate abruptly becomes a little sandy track when I turn south for Kenya.
Trail to Ileret from Omerate
And just around the border - not that there's anything to tell me there is a border - I slither through a patch of mud but remain mostly upright.
Trail to Ileret from Omerate
The first big river crossing is dry. At this point, my backup plan was to return to Omerate and continue around to the west side of Lake Turkana, but now I am committed.
Trail to Ileret from Omerate
I make Ileret mid afternoon but tired from the physical labour of slithering through the mud and sand I decide to stay the night.
Ileret, Kenya
I go to the police station to register myself. Christopher, the chief, says I will have to do the immigration and customs formalities for Kenya in Nairobi. Then he plies me with gin, teaches me some Kiswahili and feeds me fish and ugali, a Kenyan staple somewhere between bread and cake made from maize.
Police Station, Ileret, Kenya
I go to the mission where Father Florian lets me stay the night. He's from Bavaria but has been a missionary in Kenya since 1984. He's a keen mechanic and what he doesn't know about Land Rovers and improvising repairs in Africa isn't worth knowing. He has been in Ileret since 2002 and what he has built here out of nothing is astounding. He despises what he calls the 'hit-and-run' NGOs who make the challenging journey here every so often, give out some charity such as buckets or even, as is the current fashion, cash, take a lot of photos and leave.

At the mission, 20 or so local boys come most days to work in the repair shop and learn practical mechanics. He understands that education is key to development and has developed a whole new way of teaching that dovetails with the local nomadic lifestyle. It is partly borrowed from an Indian system and loosely Montessori in concept. The kids learn through play and they are given objects, made from familar local materials such as beads and animal skins that help teach the alphabet and numbers and such things in three languages, Dassenach, Kiswahili and English. The main thing that the locals want is that they don't lose their children and if they have to come to the villages to go to school then that is exactly what happens, they don't return to their pastoral nomadic life. So they are training teacher-trainers so ultimately all the teachers will be local nomads, teaching 1 on 1 with the kids.
Father Florian, Benedictine Mission, Ileret, Kenya
Workshop, Benedictine Mission, Ileret, Kenya
Workshop, Benedictine Mission, Ileret, Kenya
Nomad teaching materials, Benedictine Mission, Ileret, Kenya
Father Florian and staff, Benedictine Mission, Ileret, Kenya
I take a day to learn more about the mission's work, tend the wounds on my legs I got from falls on the way here and spend a couple of lovely evenings under the stars talking with Father Florian about life, the universe and everything.

I walk to the lake and the wetlands bordering it.
Track to Lake Turkana, Ileret, Kenya
Track to Lake Turkana, Ileret, Kenya
Lake Turkana, Ileret, Kenya
Lake Turkana, Ileret, Kenya
Lake Turkana, Ileret, Kenya
Dassenach hut, near Lake Turkana, Ileret, Kenya

Sibiloi and south to Loiyangalani

After clearing the town, I find myself well and truly alone. I don't see another soul for the next 24 hours. I find a track into Sibiloi National Park and head south. I am very heavy with all the water and extra fuel, having picked up more benzine from Father Florian, and, in the soft sand and rocks like ball bearings, I fall several times. I luxuriate in the wildness and solitude. By 4.30pm I am exhausted from picking the bike up and make camp. I am well-supplied and can just stop and sleep wherever and whenever I feel like it. I'm certainly not in a hurry. I just have to avoid the lethal-looking thorn trees.

I make a leisurely meal of dahl and rice and drink in a beautiful sunset followed by some stargazing. The Southern Cross is much clearer here and I have a beautiful view of Scorpio, Centaurus, Alpha Centauri and Leo. Jupiter is very bright above me and on one horizon I can see Saturn, Venus on the other.
Track into Sibiloi National Park, near Lake Turkana, Kenya
Bushcamp, Sibiloi National Park, near Lake Turkana, Kenya
Sibiloi National Park, near Lake Turkana, Kenya
The second day continues much the same. I can feel some of the stresses of Ethiopia leaving me. In particular, a feeling of space that I was missing is returned to me.
Sibiloi National Park, near Lake Turkana, Kenya
Sibiloi National Park, near Lake Turkana, Kenya
 I do feel confronted by the idea of a breakdown. I either have to deal with it myself or I have to walk. And it's a long way to the nearest water.

I am pondering this as I slither along a short muddy section. I get stuck and mentally prepare myself to take all the luggage off. Then I glance in the mirror and see an army truck. The only humans I have seen in 36 hours and they arrive just then. The road provides! They dutifully hop out and give me a very welcome push. Steven the commander chats with me a bit and I make them all laugh by demonstrating the tiny bit of Swahili I have learned napenda ugali! (I like ugali)
Kenyan soldiers, Sibiloi National Park, near Lake Turkana, Kenya
Sibiloi National Park, near Lake Turkana, Kenya
Sibiloi National Park, near Lake Turkana, Kenya
After about 8 hours I reach the southern park at Karsa. The two guards are lovely and give me a tin of pineapple and take selfies with me. I get some 'green' water from their tank.

Ten miles later I hit yet another in a line of heinous rocks. This one causes the bike to die abruptly. Uh Oh.. I go sit in the shade of a thorn tree and try to figure it out. It's probably an electrical issue and to do with the clutch switch, the gear position sensor... 
Fixing electrical problem, south of Karsa Gate, near Sibiloi National Park, near Lake Turkana, Kenya
Finally I figure out it might be the sidestand switch and, when I go and investigate, I find it smashed to pieces. A scrutiny of the wiring diagram and I work out a way to bypass it. The engine springs to life! Onwards.
East of Lake Turkana, Kenya
The repair has taken me the best part of a couple of hours and I soon come to an especially beautiful area with silvery grasses. A pretty half-fallen acacia beckons to me. I camp in the crook of its arm.
Bushcamp, East of Lake Turkana, Kenya
Sunrise, Bushcamp, East of Lake Turkana, Kenya
The sunrise is beautiful but the wind is up and I have to hold on to everything as I pack up. The road gets more rocky and it's pretty exhausting. Where I can, I ride alongside the road but then you have to look out for hidden ditches. One I only just manage to avoid but end up dropping the bike. It takes every last iota of my strength to pick the bike up and then somehow it gets away from me and falls over the other way! I am really getting a workout here.
East of Lake Turkana, Kenya
I have a GPS position for a well given to me by my friend Jordan who came through here a couple of months ago and, lo and behold, there it is, 40 long kilometres later. There are a couple of locals filling containers and they kindly pass water up for me. It makes me smile to see my bike parked amongst a line of their donkeys and camels drinking from a trough.
Well, Bushcamp, East of Lake Turkana, Kenya
On one particularly inhospitable and empty section of the Chalbi desert I suddenly come upon another biker! His name is Enok and he's from Estonia. He has a jeep with four guys in it! We have a surreal chat and then part ways.
Crossing paths with Enok, Chalbi desert, Bushcamp, East of Lake Turkana, Kenya
Bushcamp, East of Lake Turkana, Kenya
A few hours later, after crossing a moonscape and then some high plains that remind me of Bolivia, I come to a long descent that brings me back to Lake Turkana. After so much desolation, the hard green-blue shell of water with its herons and huts is startling.
Lake Turkana, near Loiyangalani, Kenya
I reach the little town of Loiyangalani and find "Palm Shade Camp" which has heavenly cold Tusker beer and great food. I feed little chunks of fish to an ungrateful cat who bites me when I stop. It's roasting hot here but the wind picks up at night making it almost bearable. I talk to a driver called Daudi who lives in Marsabit next to Melvin, the pilot who delivered two teachers to Ileret. Next day I wander the town and meet a priest called Francis who knows Father Florian. Large distances but small world here. I walk to a little spit of land that projects into the lake and do a lot of staring. So pretty here. One guy has a tiny shack here on his own and I try to imagine what his life is like.
Loiyangalani, Turkana, Kenya
Loiyangalani, Turkana, Kenya
Loiyangalani, Turkana, Kenya
Cold Drink Hotel, Loiyangalani, Turkana, Kenya
Main Street, Loiyangalani, Turkana, Kenya
Turkana women, Loiyangalani, Kenya


I head on down the road to Maralal. More breathless beauty.

The landscape starts to lift and I start to see misty mountains. I pass little villages whose inhabitants gape at me and wave. I stop at one point and a landcruiser comes up behind me and hands me my water bottle that I didn't even know had fallen off asandisana! (thanks very much!)
South of Loiyangalani, Turkana, Kenya
I make the one street town Baragoi around lunchtime and find the first fuel since Ileret 520km earlier. I have one litre to spare. Actually I think I could have found some jerrycans in Loiyangalani but it was not something I was able to rely on. I eat a meal of chewy meat and chapati for 150 shillings ($1.50) and chat with the men sitting opposite. They are from Nairobi, working for a development organisation trying to improve the living standards for the Turkana tribe to the north and the Samburu to the south.
South of Loiyangalani, Turkana, Kenya
 I start to see some wildlife.
Road to Baragoi from Loiyangalani, Turkana, Kenya
I come to an army checkpoint about half way between Baragoi and my destination Maralal. I have a friendly chat with the soldiers. I go to start the bike but get a dismal clicking sound.

Oh well, lucky to have this happen in a very safe place. Twenty soldiers cluster around me while I take off the luggage and try to do some diagnosis. They keep asking me questions and eventually I have to ask them to leave me alone so I can concentrate. I suspect the starter motor relay and open up the panels to test it. I try to bypass it but the starter motor barely moves. I get a passing landcruiser to give me a jump which works but the electrical system in the bike is dead and so the fuel pump doesn't work and the engine soon stops.

It's not far from dark and the landcruiser driver, Andrew, offers to take me to Maralal so I accept and we load the bike onto the back. I ride next to my baby to supervise. The landscape is gorgeous mountain scenery and I feel good just feeling the wind and my good luck.
Broken down, Army checkpoint, between Baragoi and Maralal, Turkana, Kenya

We make Maralal in the dark and Andrew kindly drives me to an ATM so I can finally get a decent chunk of Kenya currency, to a mechanic who can charge my battery overnight and then to the campground I had planned on. The campground turns out to be abandoned and so he drives me to another motel he uses. I pay him 1400 KSh for the whole debacle and buy him and his friendly passenger Fred, a biology teacher, a beer. The bar has Guinness! Now I know I am back in the civilised world!
Maralal, Kenya
Maralal, Kenya
In the morning I go get my charged battery. I admire the lovely hand-painted lettering on all the stores straight out of Once Upon a Time in the West. Back at the hotel, I take a methodical look at the bike, checking the charging system carefully. I find the connector that was sent to me in Gondar has melted.
Burnt-out alternator wiring, Maralal, Kenya
I chop it out, rewire and hey presto, working bike!

So now Nairobi! I set the GPS without thinking too hard about the route and soon I am going along some of the roughest tracks of the journey! They get smaller and smaller until finally I get stuck in a bog.

Luckily a couple of locals are nearby tending their goats and give me a shove.
Stuck in the mud, Road from Maralal to Nanyuki, Kenya
 More wildlife appears along the roadside.
Zebras, Road from Maralal to Nanyuki, Kenya
Road from Maralal to Nanyuki, Kenya
Near Kirichu, Road from Maralal to Nanyuki, Kenya
And near the little village of Kirichu I start to realize there is no way I am getting to Nairobi today. Even Nanyuki on the main road would be a stretch. And I have plenty of food and water so why not enjoy the beautiful countryside and make camp.
Bushcamp, Near Kirichu, Road from Maralal to Nanyuki, Kenya
The next day I see lots of wildlife and gradually the track turns from something goats would baulk at to merely rough. I stop by a bush and then realize there is a giraffe grazing the other side.
Giraffe, Road from Maralal to Nanyuki, Kenya
Road from Maralal to Nanyuki, Kenya
...and finally I pop out onto actual asphalt. Weird alien stuff. I cross the equator at Nanyuki and in a couple more hours I am battling the godawful traffic of Nairobi.