Chapter 6
Helga: German and functional

Helga: German and functional

'Zis iz ze real Afrika'


The landscape of Ethiopia from the air looks like the design of camouflage fatigues, brown and dark yellow, interspersed with black and greens. It was, figuratively and literally, a breath of fresh air. The scenery is superb. So varied... arid high plateau to alpine pastures to rolling countryside to jagged cliffs. At night millions of stars as there is no pollution in the air.

To coin a phrase over-used in the past: 'Zis iz ze real Afrika'. (Hi Curly!) The 'you you you' takes a bit of getting used to. To the western ear it sound rather aggressive. It is rather aggressive! People here, no matter how friendly they appear are only associating with you, because they want to share your wealth. I met nobody who was helpful, who didn't want money.


I took a day to get the wife out of Ethiopian customs. I paid a grand total of 8.70 Birr (US$1) to the Ethiopian Treasury. A slight contrast to Egypt...

In places, the road from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar was, shall we say, rather poor. The rear sub frame decided to break for the first (of 4) time. I found a man who did some rather dubious welding. The sparks from the welding kit and the angle grinder worried me. Something to do with 30 litres of fuel in the tank being in rather close proximity. Not that it wouldn't have made a good story for the diary!

The roads made it all worthwhile. 'It' being the stress in the UK and Egypt. The ultimate... speeding along at 50 or 60 km/h over gravel piste with the biggest dust cloud behind and nothing but friendly faces and great, in places, breath-taking scenery ahead.


In Bahir Dar I visited some monasteries on islands in the middle of Lake Tana. The lake and the scenery are tranquil. Everywhere birds of all sizes and colours. In the morning there were ten pelicans swimming close to the shore in front of my tent.

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The road from Bahir Dar eastwards is called the Chinese Road. A great piste: long straight, flat, niccccccce... 3400 metres above sea level, the roadside littered with abandoned tanks and rocket launchers from past happy Ethiopian get-togethers. Avoiding the ‘youyouyou’ types and beggars was difficult... some others were more friendly. There are absolutely no western tourists here. Wars (presently with Eritrea) tend to make your average punter run a mile. The only evidence of the conflict that I witnessed, apart from the biased anti Eritrean rhetoric in the papers, was the many army trucks and a few low loaders carrying large covered objects, the silhouettes of which looked remarkably similar to tanks.

The road to Lalibela was out of this world. Great piste through remarkable terrain. It wasn't really my scene... 'The second Jerusalem' etc etc. So, what's wrong with the first one?

I learnt many things on my travels around Ethiopia's roads. Trees disguised as people, trees disguised as donkeys, as trucks, as camels, as anything... Particular care should be taken with suicidal death-wish donkeys and gormless goats.

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Golden Boy


I can now change a front tyre blindfold. Of the 6 or so times I did it, once was even in the dark (on Christmas Eve!). I put on the well-known brand 'Golden Boy' to get me to Kenya where I could put on a decent Michelin. The back Bridgestone is holding up OK, but you should never say never, but I will never put a Bridgestone on the front again! It lasted 3000km and was beginning to disintegrate from the inside. This caused the punctures.

Lake Langano was excellent. Very relaxing, lots of beering, fooding and chilling. I spent the time hanging out with Guy and Marlene from Belgium, travelling RTW on a R1100GS. We debated a name for my bike. I suggested 'Janice' (as in Joplin: too nice a name!?), they suggested 'Helga' (German and functional...). An Ethiopian policeman said that BMW stood for 'be my wife'.... so the bike is now called 'wife' or 'wifey' or whatever.


At the lake there were also conference delegates discussing solutions for the AIDS problem in Ethiopia. Our suggestions were quite straightforward, but cannot be printed here. One delegate also had a puncture on his moped. He thought it perfectly reasonable that we should repair it for him as he was, he told us, a high government official. My straightforward thought (also a cure to the AIDS problem) to this demand also remains unprinted. He probably took the bus home.

The border crossing to Kenya took 40 minutes. Half an hour to get out of Ethiopia and 10 minutes (of which, 5 were swapping pleasantries with the customs and immigration officers) to get into Kenya. Why isn't it always this easy?

The 'adventures' of the road from Moyale to Isiolo and the rest of Kenya follow next.

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