Nice smile for the man with the AK47… nice smiles all around…

“yes yes nice smiling man with the gun, nice smiles, nice friendly man…”

Is what I heard through the intercom today in a bit of a manic tone as we passed another village full of guys with automatic weapons, who smiled and waved us through.

It’s been quite a day.

It started normally enough in a standard crappy hotel (all of which we now call “hotel Paradiso”, breakfast of egg something and coffee from a stall across the street.

Then we did about 90km with the now normalised northern Ethiopian rock throwing by small angry children as we pass, the odd whip cracked across the bike (and one that got me in the helmet) and some wooden canes swung at us for good measure.

(It’s pretty wild up here, and the kids tending cattle between villages don’t like it if you don’t stop and give them candy or something, no kidding!)

The scenery is really pretty though, rolling hills, cultivated by hand with cows pulling wooden ploughs through the mud, people tending small herds of cows, sheep or goats, donkeys loaded with water or pulling carts, life playing out on the roadway. The houses are made from tree limbs lined up and caked in mud and straw, there’s is no electricity or running water, hence all the donkeys, and not really any shops or industry, just small plot farming.   It feels kind of quaint (except for the rock throwing!), a bit like the hobbit town in lord of the rings 🙂  The villages are usually less than a few hundred metres from start to finish, and seperated by several kilometers.

round mud houses in one small village

We stopped in one large village to compare bruises and to drink another coffee when some guys at the coffee stall told us the only road to Gondar (get it?? Gondor????) anyway… they said it was closed (and the only road out of the country), and that we’d have to stay there in Shitsville until the trouble passed, something about a guy who died in Addis and the people from Gondar being very angry.

Undeterred, and unwilling to stay the night there we pushed on.

The first road block was in a village 20km down the road where a group of people were standing in the road and had a rope pulled across it behind them.

They seemed pretty angry about something, Sal jumped off the bike and went marching down the street to find some police while Matias tried to convince them to let us pass, telling some story about our visas expiring, and appealing to their humanity 🙂

I wasn’t sure who was more crazy! I tried to remain calm while yelling for Sal to some back, but she was long gone.  I tried to inch forwards, but this got people really angry and they started physically pushing me backwards.   This was not good.

In an unexpected twist Matias was somehow successful!  One of the locals decided we didn’t have anything to do with their blockade, so we shook hands with the now starkly friendly mob, and they lowered the rope so we could pass. A hundred metres on I picked up Sal and we continued.

the now friendly group of people waving us away, it looks a bit like a gay pride march with all the men and the almost rainbow the flag! 🙂

“I don’t think that’s the last of it…”

We dodged through a few half assed road blocks made by putting large rocks on the road before meeting another angry mob.

This time someone came over who spoke english and told the rest of the guys to back off and let us through, which they did.   We smiled and said “amasuckinello” (thankyou) and continued.

A hundred metres later someone threatened us with a rock the size of a brick, I feigned riding straight at him and he stepped back, only to throw the rock at Matias instead.

“Guys we need to go straight to the border, not go to Mordor, this is very dangerous situation”

“yes the road to Mordor is very dangerous”

I had earlier suggested to Matias that the town was called Mordor (instead of Gondar), so it was quite hard to keep a straight face at this point (more Lord of the Rings humor.   Yes I am a nerd.)

Matias takes these situations very seriously so we listened to his concerns before explaining that we really wanted to see Gondar and we really thought it would be fine.

“Let’s just go slowly, if it gets serious or we are actually stopped we will make another plan”

The next road block was made from big logs laid across the road, 4 or 5 of them to cross, each about a foot high.

Sal slid off the back and went looking for a way around it while we talked to the mob who seemed more interested in the bikes than the road block.

Sensing some way through (or just ignoring the risks and moving, I’m not sure!), Matias went for it and bounced his way across the logs one by one, sending them rolling back down the road towards me as his rear wheel skidded over them.

The crowd cheered, Matias pumped the air and did a bit of a wheelie before returning to see me come over.

“This is a bad idea”

“Be careful babe!”

And over went Betsy, somewhat to my amazement without much fuss, although the previously ordered road block was now scattered about the place as the logs were shot out the back of the motorbike one by one.  This pissed off a couple of guys (who probably put the logs there in the first place), but impressed everyone else, and we rode away with people mostly cheering and smiling.

Gondar was only another 15km so we pushed on, thinking we could get a room there and hang out for a couple of days while all this fuss blew over.

That didn’t quite work out.

The roads actually in Gondar were completely devoid of traffic, and it all had this really weird tense feeling with the streets full of staring people and literally no other cars or trucks.  The smiling village people were gone, replaced by staring angry looking city dwellers.   Every few km we had to dodge a field of rocks put on the road, but no one protested us doing this, they just stared at us passing. Then approaching town centre we came to a sea of angry people, some carrying makeshift weapons like bits of concrete reinforcing rod or wooden bats, and we realised we weren’t going to make it to the hotel.

“Please you go now, leave here now, very dangerous here now” said one man pleading with us to go.

Matias at this point wasn’t taking no for an answer, and was already going the other way when we agreed to turn back.  We backtracked our way out of town through crowds of people and rock debris on the road until we reach the outskirts of Gondar and took the main road to the border, unsure whether there would be more trouble.

There were no road blocks going the other way out of town, and it quickly settled back into the normal looking flow of villages, but it was really eerie traveling on a main road without any other traffic at all. Literally no one.  Like some sort of post apocalyptic movie where all the cars are gone and everyone lives in strange round mud houses and donkeys do all the heavy work.  I’m not doing it justice but anyway…

30km further and we started to see people on the road carrying guns, mostly rifles and AK47’s.  The ones not carrying guns were carrying knives, picks or some other wooden implement, which is probably what they carry every day of the year, but when you add all the guns it made things feel pretty sketchy.

We waved, they mostly waved back, and we stopped briefly for some food where more armed people came to say hello… one actually let Matias hold his AK for a photo!  Now it’s not everyday someone offers you an AK, the weapon of choice for militants all over the world, as a photo prop, so I had to get one with Sally too 🙂

To make it all even more surreal, we were now following a storm which had left the road wet, but now it was full sun on the damp road so there was this weird fog rising from the tar, the scene complete with a road full of armed men, donkeys, cows, goats and wild lawless sneering children sometimes throwing rocks and whipping at us as we passed.

We passed one of the larger villages (where the rock throwing would usually stop), and stopped in front of a roadside restaurant to see if they were serving food. The men there looked at us as though we were totally insane and shook their heads, pointing us further on with their weapons.

Further on more guns, odd looks and some smiles.

“Yes yes keep smiling for the nice man with the gun, hello nice man!”

“What the fuck is going on here?!” we were starting to get wigged out.

Another ten kilometres and we reached a long line of oil tankers on the road, ending with a military blockade, complete with an anti aircraft gun mounted to the roof of a Toyota pickup truck!

“Documents, what is in the bags”

We went through the usual questions of where we were going and where we’d been, showed our passports, and asked our own questions like…

“Why are the men in the last village carrying guns?”

Answered by

“You are safe now, you have passed the fighting”

“Oh good.”

It turns out that there were actually TWO different bits of civil unrest going on simultaneously in neighbouring areas here in Northern Ethiopia.

The first was centred on some politician from Gondar who died (or was killed by Europeans we were told at a petrol station…), so the Gondarians decided to block all the roads into and out of Gondar, as you do…  (I’m finding it hard not to make more Lord of the Rings jokes here!)

Then a little way down the road from Gondar there was a tribal dispute that had spilled over and both tribes took to the streets armed with all kinds of weapons… and we’d just ridden unawares from one side of the conflict to the other!  They were all very nice to us at least! (except for the rock throwing children, little fuckers.)

We ended the day 180km from Gondar, 30km from the Sudan border, and just past the tribal conflict in a town called Shitsville, with local people quizzing us about the situation down the road, asking us whether we thought they could safely leave town?!

Turns out we were the only three people to have made it through that area for the last few days!!

I’m writing this from a particularly “Paradise” hotel in a city in Sudan, about 175km from the Ethiopian border.  Happy to be out of Ethiopia.  Unhappy that beer is forbidden in Sudan.

Love to all back home xxoo



Sudan border

Well, here I am, standing at the border between Ethiopia and Sudan after a dodgy money change deal, waiting for Dean and Matias to complete customs for Ethiopia.

It’s been an interesting few days, more of which Dean is in the middle of writing a post about but we’ve had to leave Ethiopia earlier than planned.

It started in Addis where both Dean and I got sick from something we ate (it could have been the plate of raw meat we ate the day before but Matias was fine) which resulted in me spending the day in bed. Thankfully the room was clean and the toilet was nearby – it could have been so much worse!

The next day we headed north out of Addis towards Bahir Dar. The road was beautiful. Stunning scenery, so green and lush. As always, lots of animals walking along the road but unlike the south, the people seemed less friendly. We experienced the stone throwing we’d heard about but also some whipping!

Animals get treated pretty rough here and it seems kids are given whips at a very young age to pretty much do what they want with. Usually they whip animals for no real reason other than they can, however some children (and adults) seem to also like whipping motorcyclists! Thankfully nothing got us but the bike got a few whips. It makes it really hard to enjoy being in a place when you feel so much aggression coming from the people, especially when you dont even know why.

We stopped off for some lunch and as we pulled up we got the usual crowd of locals staring.

We usually sit where we can keep an eye on the bikes however the owner of the restaurant who was sitting outside told us to go inside and he would watch them.

Whilst sitting inside eating, one of the waiters gave Martias a nudge as he passed him. None of us understood why but Dean decided to go outside and stand by the bikes just in case. Two kids on a small motorcycle had pulled up close to our bike and were parked there for a while, staring with everyone else.

Suddenly they screeched away really fast.

‘Sal, where’s your helmet?’ Dean asked

‘On the bike where it always is’

‘No it’s not’


By now there are about 100 people crowding around the bike.

I start to lose it.

‘Where did my helmet go?’

‘The guys on the bike, who knows them?’

‘Take us to them’

I just received blank stares. Maybe nobody understood anything I’d said but I’m sure they picked up that I was mad. It was clear they all saw it happen and knew the guys who took it.

Matias started to have a go at the owner

‘You said you’d look after our bikes! You told us to go inside! Why did this happen?’

By now we had about 200 people staring.

‘Dont worry, we’ll get your helmet back, I’ll go to the police’

We all know how effective the police are, especially in these countries…it didnt fill me with encouragement.

Nobody really spoke English except for the waiter I’d been dealing with in the restaurant so I went back to look for him, sure that someone in the crowd knew where these kids lived.

I finally found him.

‘Please, that kid took my helmet, someone must know where he lives, please get my helmet back, I’ll pay money’

‘I know, I’m trying, I’m trying’ he said, looking obviously distressed and ashamed.

He disappeared. The police stood around talking for a while, not really appearing to do anything and then they all got in a ute together and drove off up the road, no doubt for some lunch.

‘So, I guess we wait’ said Dean ‘We give it a few hours and if nothing happens we’ll have to go back to Addis and buy another helmet’

‘No way, I’m not going back, I’ll ride without a helmet if I have to’

‘No you won’t Sally. You’re not leaving here without a helmet. Start looking in Addis for a place that sells helmets’

He can be such a dad at times.

Addis was 200 KMs back. I hate going back, and I knew there was no way I was going to find a good helmet in Addis. NOBODY wears helmets in Ethiopia and this was MY helmet, it had been everywhere with me, I couldn’t bear travelling any further without it.

I started reluctantly looking for helmets in Addis for about 5 minutes….

‘Sally!!! Hijo de puta!!!’ yells Matias

The waiter had ran back with my helmet – camera and intercom still attached.

‘I paid 500 birr for it’ he said ($20)

‘No problem, thank you so much, you have no idea how important this is, thank you.

Dean started to count out the money to give to him when the owner of the restaurant appeared

‘Whats happening here?’ he said

‘I paid 500 for the helmet’

‘What?!!!’ the owner was furious and pointed to Dean

‘You, no money’

He then pulled out his own wallet and counted out 500 birr and threw it at the kid.

‘There’s your money, now you come with me and we are going to get that money back’

He was so mad and stormed to a car with the kid following.

‘I’m so sorry, I just want to say sorry’ he said to me as he passed and then got in the car and drove away.

There were now about 300 people crowding around, we couldn’t even see the bikes anymore.

‘Lets get the fuck out of here’ we all said to each other

The people seemed happy that we got the helmet back. I even had one lady shake my hand.

‘You need it more than him’ she said with a smile

We were all shocked and weren’t quite sure what to feel. We’d experienced negativity and theft and then kindness and support.

I was so lucky.

I’ll let Dean write about our remaining few days in Ethiopia in another post.

We’re now about to embark on possibly a week of no alcohol (unless Martias manages to smuggle a bottle of gin across without getting 40 lashes), lots of heat, sand and Islam.

Believe it or not I’m looking forward to new food – it didn’t take long to get sick of bread and dips – a good dose of food poisoning helped that!

Ethiopia started out being my favourite country in Africa so far however now it has to go down as the most interesting!

Wish us luck!

Don’t believe the hype…

Before entering Ethiopia, we’d heard some horror stories.

Other travelers had said that children throw rocks at motorcycles as you pass.

We were told there were millions of displaced Somalians along the main road to Addis who frequently blocked the road stopping all travel for days.

A few days before we were due to cross Matias read an article that 50 people had been killed at the border we were due to cross at.

‘We can’t cross here, we need to change our plans’ Martias said, slightly desperately

‘But there’s no where else to cross Matias, except one remote crossing with no fuel and 9 hours of rocks and sand’ we tried to explain ‘and we don’t know if that will be any better’

‘You don’t understand, if there is trouble at a border, you don’t cross, no way, we get a plane if we have to’

‘Well, if there have been killings, there will be more security. If it’s that dangerous they will close the border, if it’s open, we’ll be fine’ Dean and I explained

‘You guys are crazy’

‘And anyway’ Dean said ‘ they won’t want to kill us, they’ll kidknap us first and hold us for ransom’

Matias looked genuinely scared. He spent the rest of the day trying to ring shops, hotels and immigration on the border to get more information…he didn’t get much of a response but one guy from immigration said there was no problem, so short of going alone across the other border he seemed to reluctantly accept that.

We were more concerned the country would be more Muslim and it was going to be hard to get a beer…how wrong we were.

Ethiopia is the oldest Christian country, second only to Armenia which means, they like to drink. Jesus turned water into wine, he liked to party! 😁

So we crossed the border first thing to avoid all the crowds.

The border was empty.

As always it was easy to exit Kenya. Upon entry to Ethiopia our temperature was checked for Ebola (all good there) and we proceeded to the immigration counter. The guys behind the counter were super friendly and apart from having to provide details of a hotel booking (which I’d cancelled after we received our visas) it was a quick and easy process. Customs for the bike was also easy and free!

So one hour later and we were across…getting ready to deal with the millions of Somalians and nasty children throwing rocks….

We experienced nothing except smiling and waving children and adults and very quiet roads.

Nothing of what we’d heard was true…for us…on this day. Obviously these other reports were true (some only a week prior) but things change so quickly and you need to see things for yourself. If we’d followed everyones advice over the years we never would have left Australia (as happy as this would have made our mothers!)

As soon as we crossed the border the food changed. After two months of eating nothing but rice/ugali with beans and tough inedible meat we were given lots of different dishes all served on injera bread (a local steamed kind of flat bread) and coffee!

Actual coffee that has caffeine in it….pretty much exactly like an Italian stove top espresso however prepared in a different way.

And they love to drink. If they’re not drinking coffee, they’re drinking beer. They even drink beer for breakfast. Ethiopia makes their own wine too which I can actually stomach drinking!

The people here look less ‘African’ a little more Persian/Egyptian….slightly lighter skin with softer hair, which means there are some pretty cool afros…and more western dressed.

We still get children and the occasional adult ask for money which seems pretty standard in Africa as soon as they see white skin but we can only blame the west for that.

The country is green and mountainous with hundreds of donkeys, cows, goats and sheep wandering on the roads.

Donkeys are used for pretty much everything and they are worked hard. There aren’t many cars around, just a few Toyota LandCruisers and crammed buses. The people are so eager to please and go out of their way to make us feel welcome.

We are currently in Addis Ababa organising our visa for Sudan.

Again here we were expecting a complete headache due to things we’d read but so far it’s been the easiest visa we’ve applied for so far. We dropped our passports today, paid the money and apparently….tomorrow at 2pm, they will be ready….let’s see!