A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about transportation

One man (a host of Angels) and his chisel

Rachel - Lalibela

Today a bus driver probably saved us from a lynching. On the early bus between Gondar and Lalibela we were woken by the bus going up slightly on two wheels and veering off toward the edge of the road but the driver recovered in seconds. While we were still trying to find out what had happened everyone started to duck down in the aisle but slowly they got back into their seats and we turned to the man behind to explain, although his English wasn’t great and wouldn’t really give a straight answer. It seems that the driver had hit someone and was probably killed. Dave and I couldn’t understand if that were the case why we hadn’t stopped. Ten minutes later the drivers assistant was in the aisle phoning the Gondar office for advice and at the next town we stopped at the police station. There we found out that a girl had stepped in front of a parked minibus and the driver couldn’t do anything. The reason people had ducked was because villagers had been throwing stones at the windows and the driver hadn’t stopped because mob justice in the countryside means that they would probably have beaten the driver to death and the passengers would have been attacked as well. Everyone on the bus who saw what happened said there was nothing he could do and by driving on to the police station he did exactly the right thing to protect us. Poor girl, we didn’t hear whether she survived or not but people on the bus seemed to think it wasn’t possible she had.

I’ve been told since that this happens frequently because people in the countryside aren’t very road aware and in some places it is believed that an evil spirit can be riding on your back and that a fast car passing will knock it off and so people will jump out backwards into the road to get as close to the car as possible.

Everyone waited patiently for a replacement (which we had to pay again for, after much debate in the bus!) and we arrived in Lalibela quite late.

This area used to be completely inaccessible by road and would have taken 4 days to reach by Mule form the nearest large town. The journey in made us appreciate how spectacular that would have been for the town is hidden away in some Tolkein-esque mountains. But nowadays even has it’s own small airport probably only because it’s a must-see on the tourist trail. The area is famous for the result of a wild dream in which the ruler of the time was instructed by Angels to carve churches out of the rock. The result are a variety of some cavernous and some cosy churches carved out of one piece of rock – that includes pillars and decoration inside and out. Some are free standing from the surrounding rock trench and some are cut into the side of the mountain.

To look at, I have to be honest, we were a little underwhelmed by the decoration having been told time and time again how awesome they were. But with a little imagination you could appreciate the scale of human endeavor since each metre square of rock would have taken one man days of chipping with hand tools to excavate. As an engineering task they were pretty awesome. Although the legend goes that it was Angels who did most of the work by night - how's that for credit? The most decorative inside, which apparently has life sized figures of the disciples carved into the walls, barred entry for women with the tenuous reason that Jesus turned away Mary Magdelen upon his resurrection and asked for the disciples instead. Or so our guide says. *sigh*.

During the lunch break, when the priests of the church eat their sandwiches I suppose, we explored the medieval feeling village with unique round, thatched, two story huts. The paths between them were winding and narrow and we had to dodge livestock and streams of dirty water. At every turn greeted by calls of “farenji!” as usual. We were invited into one home for some coffee which we accepted and inside the walls have shelves moulded into the mud walls and pots hang from animal horns embedded into the fabric of the wall. Nice idea. After we politely left we headed down to the market which was also trading livestock and enquired after the cost of the goats, donkeys and oxen there. (5000 birr for a ox which is 200 pounds and a good couple of years wages here)

After lunch we resumed the tour of churches, weed filled baptism pools, dozing priests and mummified remains of pilgrims.

That morning we had been approached by some youths raising money for their circus group. It sounded interesting so we said we’d stop by after the churches closed to see their performance. When we got there we were the only people to come so we had a tour of their office and shown their personal progress reports and little stock cupboard of props. They take their show to the villages and use it to spread awareness about social issues and HIV. Their original teacher had unfortunately died and the group was taken over by an ex circus member now security guard at the bank, but now their training was taken from videos. I wasn’t therefore really expecting too much when they rolled out an old school gym mat on the flat dusty area outside their office and we sat down on a knackered wooden bench just in front of it. But wow, these kids have skills. They were performing routines of tumbles, three person high pyramids and somersaulting off the top, contortionism and juggling (although they’re not so good at juggling yet they say). We weren’t faking the oohs and ahs and gasps. I do hope they find a teacher because they’re all earnest and practice every day, they’re proud of what they’ve achieved and so were we.

Next day we took a break from churches to…climb up to a monastery…cut into the rock. For a change we thought we’d ride some donkeys up in the heat of the day. I decided to walk back cos mine was a bit rickety and the drops to the side were pretty steep. The drivers thought it was hilarious “giggle giggle farenji giggle”.

Our lack of camera confused the priest in charge of the church/monastery and it took us a few minutes to realize that he wasn’t proudly presenting the crosses for extended inspection but posing for a photo. I guess there aren’t many tourists who come without a camera.

The monestary wasn’t a big wow but it was a nice view up there and we had a chance to share some bread and tea with some men from the countryside who had just walked three hours to get to the market and were intrigued by us and laughing at our attempts to fend off the very persistent hat seller. None of us could speak each others language but it was a nice bonding moment in the shade.

Now we had to take a break from our road trip and head back to Addis by plane to extend our visas which irritatingly can only be done in the capital and caused a lot of scratching of our heads to figure out the logistics I can tell you. But we’d had enough of history for a while, it might be nice to be back in the big city.

Posted by rachndave 07:22 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged religion transportation tourist_sites Comments (0)

Up a tree and down a river

Rachel - Queen Elizabeth National Park

Today was a day of ups and downs. We’d wanted to hire a driver to take us from Bwindi, 60km to Queen Elizabeth National Park, via the area of the park where the tree climbing lions are for an hour or so.

Down = worried about my rash in the hospital waiting area
Up = turns out nothing to worry about
Down = battle with a cab driver who was late, was trying to overcharge us because there aren’t many drivers in this part of town, and then his car broke down
Up = managed to find a new cab driver who was being a little bit more reasonable and promised us it wasn’t too late to drive round the national park
Down = we get to the gate and the driver tells us actually the lions probably have come down from the trees by now so we shouldn’t bother going and by the way he wasn’t going to deduct the price of the game drive from our agreed price, and he also wanted to push on so he could get out of the park by dark
Up = the man on the gate said we could go into the park, for free, for half an hour or so and chance our luck
Up = we were lucky! We saw a real life, male lion - Up. A. Tree! It’s the strangest thing and slightly surreal. It made me think the lion had been picked up by a giant bird and dropped there. The park is really beautiful as well, sunny, green grassy savanna land and the first I’d seen properly in Africa. I loved it and wished we could have spent longer there – it was magical in that evening light.
Down = we arrived at our hotel/campsite, as recommended by the guidebook, to find that they haven’t had a campsite area for two years
Up = The manager kindly let us put up our tent in the very posh hotel grounds.
Up = We had a nice chat with a German family who were also planning to visit the chimps the next day.
Up = Woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the park, the hotel being perched on the edge of an overlooking escarpment we had views of the savanna for miles. I could imagine that doing a balloon ride over the parks would be like this.
Down = The guide for the chimp tracking would not go without a taxi to take them to the edge so we had to call a cab and delay
Up = The walk in the forest was very pretty, with a hairy river crossing over a tree trunk where I didn’t fall in! But…
Down = We didn’t see the chimps because tracking evidence showed that they’d left the national park boundary and there’s no refund of your $50 :( We did manage to bump into the german group to warn them but they were going to give it a try anyway.

From then on though it was all “Up”s. We were camping for the night within the park and planned to go on a river trip. While we were waiting for the trip to begin we stopped in a local pub which had it’s own pub warthog sleeping on the porch, and a humongous stork swooped in for a potter about as well, while we sat in the garden and watched the crocodiles in the river far below.

The river trip was very relaxing, as river trips always are, and we saw some buffalo, monitor lizards, elephants, crocodiles, hippos (including some squeal inducing baby hippos), pelicans and lots and lots of different birds - some of them really pretty which we’d have missed if we didn’t have the guide on board. I think we might be evolving into birdwatchers due to an enthusiastic guide. The guides also managed to pick out a lion lurking under a bush which we could just about make out with binoculars, so heaven knows how they spotted it.

We fortunately had an uneventful night in the campsite, uneventful in the sense that we heard lions calling in the night and there were reports of them in the campsite in the night. Thank heavens we didn’t need the toilet! When we woke up there were dozens of warthogs snuffling in the grass outside our tent and some antelope things. We love warthogs. Particularly how they run – they trot in a way that makes me think that they’ve just called out in a camp voice – “I’m coming!”

Our final “up” is that we managed to hitch out of the park with an overland truck from the campsite which saved us lots of bother and cash. I’ve not been in a touring overland truck before. They have quite an impressive set up with all the cooking equipment and tents and comfy seats. But their schedule sounds relentless. Nice group though and we had a nice hour together in the bus…and they even gave us some pancakes and a cup of tea for breakfast. Good to finish on an “up”.

Posted by rachndave 23:26 Tagged animals boats transportation Comments (0)

Q. How do you fit eleven people in a Ford Escort

Rachel - Ugandan Border

The Tanzania/Uganda border in the south is a small hut by the side of the dirt road with a very friendly man inside. I think it would have been possible to walk straight across because noone checked our passports when we walked round the simple road barrier.

After the usual border rituals of changing money, dodging a very persistent tout and finding out about transport we decided to take a shared taxi to the next town rather than wait for an hour for the bus. Shared taxis here, as in the other countries we’ve been, leave when they’re full and the car already contained one young man so we thought we’d be off pretty soon – we only needed one more person after all. But we sat waiting for about an hour while they crammed person after person, and their luggage, into every nook and cranny of this averagely sized car. To answer the question raised in the title of this entry you fit eleven people in a car by squeezing seven people in the back sitting on each other’s knees, and four side by side in the front with the driver driving at an angle. We thought this was perhaps because we were in at a border but this is actually the norm in Uganda although we haven’t beaten eleven people yet – the average is about eight passengers. I now try to make sure I sit in the front of taxis because there’s usually two or three people in the front but you get a little bit more air.

All the action in Uganda is focused in the south eastern corner so we left the cab in a buzzy shopping town of Masaka. We had read in the guide book that during the rainy season the place is inundated with grasshoppers which the locals catch and eat. The rainy season was over so we thought we’d miss this treat but by the side of the street people were selling de-legged-and-winged grasshoppers by the bucket load. Not knowing whether they were cooked or not we left them be but luckily in the bus station there was a lady frying them and so we managed to taste a few. They’re crunchy and kind of sweet – not bad at all. I was a bit put off because I didn’t realize they were cooked while still alive - they’re sold in the street without wings and legs because they don’t want them to get away but actually they’re still alive and the lady selling them in the station had a fresh batch so she chucked them into the hot oil with legs and all and they were jumping around in the pan…..eesh. :(

We’d been traveling non stop for over 24 hours now: first the ferry, then a taxi, a minibus, taxi, minibus, sitting on the back of a motorcycle taxi and finally the coach. Not a bad set. Long day, but we forced ourselves out for a beer and a game of pool with some Swedes we’d met on the coach to finish the day with something pleasant. Pooped.

Posted by rachndave 02:46 Archived in Uganda Tagged food transportation Comments (0)

What is Rule #4??

Rachel - Dar to Mwanza and the MV Victoria

You find our happy travelers back in Dar es Salaam for the night, checked into the YMCA having a beer in the garden with a tray of stew and rice and a beer on the table in front of them. When who should do a double take and say hello but Tsur and Ido, some Israeli friends we met in the Mzuzu Zoo and again in Nkarta Bay (We’ll be seeing them again hopefully because they plan to be in Ethiopia the same time as us). A lovely turn up for the books because we were only planning a quiet night before our planned 16 hour bus journey the next day.

The journey wasn’t as dull as it could have been because the driver was some sort of madman and Tanzania seems to have sabotaged all of their good asphalt roads with foot high speed bumps which, no exaggeration I promise you, necessitated the seatbelt because every 2 miles or so you would be lifted high out of your seat to the ceiling and to the accompaniment of sounds, depending on the drivers speed ranging from grunts of discomfort, shouts of annoyance and squeals of fear. Dave was in the front (for leg room) and was witness to the countless near misses so his journey was not a dull one either. Actually this hasn’t been our worst journey but boy I was glad when it was over.

Mwanza is a largish city at the southern tip of Lake Victoria and from there we could make a pleasant overnight shortcut to the west coast near to the Ugandan border on the MV Victoria ship. Of course the first and second class sleeping berths were full so we did as the guide book suggested and bought third class tickets and would take our chance that we could find somewhere comfortable to sleep in the bar.

This was a day of indecision. First we debated staying in Tanzania to visit the Serengeti and Ngorogoro crater which were pretty nearby. And then we made serious consideration to making a detour to visit the Congo to camp by the crater of the active volcano just over the border near Goma. This is one of Dave’s burning ambitions and we had met Dean and Layni who had just returned from doing the same. But after an hour in an internet café we found a UN report of (still only) rumours that “something” was planned for late November and general warnings that the situation in Goma gets worse close to Christmas (Christmas looting for the holidays….for real) so in the end we decided that we’d feel like idiots if we got caught up in something and glumly, cursing the lack of reliable information, we settled for cheering ourselves up by playing pool in the next door bar instead.

Stepping on the ferry we were ushered towards first class by all the staff who seemed most puzzled that the mzungus would be in anything but. The main third class area was in one hard room that must have been above the engine room it was noisy, sweltering and cramped. So we went to explore the outside areas when the inspector, ignoring our assurance that we were in third class, insisted we followed upstairs and finally lead us to the quiet first class deck. Not a bed but it was breezy and deserted and best of all had access to the first class bar.

While we were poking about the front of the boat one of the crew must have been impressed that we were taking so much interest in the ship so he beckoned us to follow upstairs and into the darkened bridge. In the end we were kicked out for asking too many questions and distracting the clearly passionate crewman who was explaining the rules of the lake, prompted because he’d mentioned in passing that having two extra staff on lookout to potentially overrule technological misinformation was “Rule number 5”. So of course we asked what were the first four rules? The captain threw us off right at the end of the explanation of rule number 3 so we never did find out what was rule number 4! FYI, rules 1-4, 5 are:

1. The following rules apply to both sea and lake sailing
2. The captain is ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING that affects the ship
3. definition: The “draft” of a ship is the length from the bottom of the ship to the waterline and a ship with higher draft has priority over a more nimble ship with lower draft.
4. ??!
5. Two people must always be posted as look out

It was a fascinating insight, watching the radar and GPS and looking at the charts. These guys really have to know their stuff because it’s a shallow lake with lots of hidden islands and other ships. Hats off to you guys. We arrived at the break of dawn and a beautiful morning with birds squawking and shouts of the port crew unloading the cargo. Bus 0 – Boat 1.

Posted by rachndave 09:06 Archived in Tanzania Tagged transportation Comments (1)


Rachel - Ruarwe

We had read about yet another eco-conscious set up on the remotest shore of the lake which was also a challenge to reach being completely inaccessible by roads because of the surrounding mountains, and the boats all finished about 4 hours walk short (although it suggests you can speak nicely to the captain to take you the rest of the way). Ruarwe village is so remote that the lodge in question was originally named “Wherearewe” We had originally planned one of the other options to hike along the lake shore but so soon after Nyika we decided to get there by boat instead and maybe hike out. We had prepared ourselves, and were even welcoming, a bit of a battle to get there but after Steve from the Mushroom Farm gave us a lift down the big hill on his way to the market in town, and then we caught some easy minibuses to the closest harbour. We had a small wait for the boat but the captain offered to take us all the way without us even having to ask and even offered a reasonable price so after five breezy hours on the boat we arrived, not tired out in the least (other than a very numb bum).

The next day we walked a few hours round trip along the river past the waterfall and up to a gap in the mountains accompanied by the resident dog who had shared our dorm. And when we returned we hoped to find some more people to chat with but it was pretty dead with only three volunteers who were helping to build and run the local education centre who were cooking their own food and so weren’t really around much. So Dave and I asked someone to finally teach us the local boardgame: Bao. We must be very well matched or are missing a key rule because we’ve now played that game three times and we always have to give up because it doesn’t seem to finish!

That was after we borrowed the dug-out canoe and tried to balance ourselves by straddling an end each while I paddled us around for a bit. Those Malawian fishermen must have ore muscles of steel, we tried all sorts and it just felt so unstable, although we only had one fall overboard so I think we can take some pride in our wobbly efforts. Although by this point we were starting to worry about our earlier decision to hire a canoe with driver the next day to take us round to the next big town where we could get back to the main road. Three people and more importantly our precious bags wobbling about sounded risky but the manager assured us the bigger canoes were much more stable and the idea of canoeing out was too romantic to pass up.

We hung out with the three volunteers that evening, one of whom was leaving the following day and they were killing and cooking a goat in his honour. He was going to carry out the slaughter himself for idealistic principles after being a lapsed vegetarian and ex isreali army recruit and wannabe student doctor.

So the next morning, after the rain and choppiness had passed, we packed our things in plastic, secured them in the boat, took up the paddles and headed out along the coast. Even in a canoe people will shout hello from the shoreline so whoever wasn’t paddling was on waving duty and the three hours pretty much flew by while we sang all the sea/ship/water related songs we could think of to I think the bafflement of our main paddler in the back Adamson. We were told there was little chance of finding a scheduled pickup truck lift before morning so we struck some luck when a passing pickup said we could jump in while we were walking to the town.

We had to wait 2 hours for them to load mountains of fish and flour sacks onto the back from one of the visiting cargo boats while entertaining a relentless crowd of children. They wouldn’t stop staring or calling out and trying to get a reaction from us no matter how boring we tried to be and after our efforts this morning we really just wanted to zone out and wait peacefully but eventually after they were acting out the Macarena (of all things!) for us I jumped down and tried a round of hokey cokey. Fortunately at this point we were about ready to go and to a final farewell parting chorus of “give me money” we were off.

It’s a pity really that it was dark by this point because the road from the coast back up the valleyside must have been spectacular with narrow hairpin bend after hairpin bend and glimpses of the sheer drops and open views to the other side of the valley occasionally hinted at by the headlights and fires burning miles away. Our driver was a motoring whiz but still had us clutching the side of our seats and praying, not only for our lives but for the dozen or so people who weren’t in the cab with us but clinging to the mountain of sacks on the top! But thanks to the driver we all arrived alive in Mzuzu. Our inward journey to Ruarwe had been so easy but we felt like we had earned our rest today.

Posted by rachndave 12:35 Archived in Malawi Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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