Archive for the ‘The Danakil – Ethiopia’ Category

Darren writes 19/29th September (Sorry.. No pics as internet connection too slow)

Into Afra.

Addis had given us rains daily. We had been at Wims restaurant and bar, lodging for almost 3 weeks because of the latest mechanical issues but on the 18th September we woke early to warm sunshine and packed motorcycles. It was time to continue our journey. We had planned a ride into and through the Danakil Depression to see its geological wonders and the last couple of days had mostly been given to preparation for this trip. We were told about the Afar people and the volatile tribal conflicts within their region and of course the area, north, in the Danakil, has remained sensitive since Ethiopia’s war with Eretria. However, at the present time, there’s ‘peace’ within the whole region and so we planned to travel trough from the south, heeding the warnings to avoid photography, gatherings of people and riding after dark.

A couple of hours of crazy congested traffic, descending south from Addis, gradually thinned as we turned North-eastwards and approached the infamous Afar region. We stopped at a small town called Awash, ate some enjura and rested from the rising heat. No real issues here but as soon as we tried to drive out of town a man started shaking an automatic weapon at us. We sped past! As we descended a hill, on coming trucks flashed their lights at us prompting us of something ahead. Before us was a military guarded bridge. They couldn’t speak English but made it quite clear that we couldn’t pass over the bridge that spanned a deep, narrow gorge. We were confused and they were insistent. Other vehicles passed one at a time and eventually someone who did speak enough English for us to understand, explained that motorcycles were legally prohibited from crossing the bridge for security reasons and we should turn back. Even trucks and cars were only allowed to pass one at a time and if they were to stop they would be fired upon. No way had we come this far just to turn back so we found another option was to courier our bikes, one by one, atop of a pickup. Eventually a man called Abdela Mohammed came to our rescue. First he wanted payment but then agreed he would transport our bikes free of charge. It was the first time we had found our bikes lashed atop a vehicle when they were in perfect working order and we were still bemused to the notion of this motorcycle ban. I went first and after being dropped the other side and awaiting Russell, I discovered that the bridge was venerable to strategic strike by the warring factions of the Afar people. The last bombing was by motorbike, hence the 2 wheel ban! Russ arrived and Mr Mohammed kindly warned us to arrive to a village 2 hours north to sleep before sunset as the road became more unsafe to banditry after nightfall.

We became more and more aware of just how volatile the region was as men, young and old, armed themselves with Kalashnikovs and knives. The Pastoralists here are a tall and thin race and though beautifully dressed, appeared a hardened people as was the environment they inhabited. The highway was sporadically peppered with military protecting this logistical route and as we passed we would stand and salute them which was normally reciprocated with respect and surprise. This was the road from Addis to Djibouti and because of its status was protected. Soon we would have to turn off north into the Danakil and into the geographic depression of below 100m.

Samara was the last town and the last chance for fuel before turning off the main highway and into the Danakil. We had to buy it on the black market at 150% of its value and probably 80% in quality. We filled our tanks and our 24litres of containers. The next stop would be Lake Afrera, just over a 100miles away through a scorched volcanic landscape that as we continued to follow dropped in altitude and rose in temperature. This part of road was new tar and could have been an awesome winding ride with sweeping curves and a smooth surface but with temperatures in their 40s we kept our speed to a maximum of 50mph in order to protect our bikes from overheating. 50mph soon was found to be just a little too fast though. The heat on the tyres/ inner tubes was too great and without warning my front tyre burst. I lost all control and after a short fight against the inevitable, I smashed into the rocks that lined the sides of the road. Another dent for my helmet, a few cuts and bruises but by God’s grace, I could stand. The bike, however, looked a bit of a mess! Russ and I dragged it on the road and started the task of making it rideable. Most of the front, around the head light had been smashed beyond repair and various parts were consequently left as a monument at the crash site. With inner tube replaced and my dials taped to the mud guard, we rode on.

The heat was unbearable and the winds were like a million hairdryers, sapping our energy but the rugged beauty of the region and the fascinating tiny villages with their colourfully dressed women and gun clad men kept our attention eased away from the need to drench ourselves in freezing water. We had a hundred more miles to ride before a town where we could sleep. We knew we couldn’t stop and as the sun was falling we agreed to ride side by side by the single beam of Russell’s bike. After an hour of riding by night and only 30 miles to a bed in the town of Lake Afrera , a rope stretched across the road brought us to an abrupt halt. A heavily armed roadblock was our next obstacle and the military and police there forbade us to continue. Not because I was without a headlight but for our own security. They provided us, instead with a patch of ground on which to sleep and a few of the young soldiers made for some interesting conversation.

In Samara, 100 miles south, we were supposed to have bought permits to enter the Danakil but as we knew we were also expected to have a guide and a military escort we had spared the expense. It would have been impossible to carry a guide and 2 soldiers on our bikes and so our plan was simply to try our luck without. To have an adventure under our own steam, though, was soon going to prove to be something more of a challenge and difficulty than almost any part of our whole African adventure so far.

Sandy plains and rocky tracks led us to our final 12.7km to a camp from where we could climb up to Arta Ale, the magma filled creator and highlight of the Danakil Depression. By the beginning of this track were already suffering heat exhaustion and had become low on water which incidentally may have been tea. It was about 11am and the temperature had already been in the mid-40s for a while and the altitude had also been 100m below sea level since Lake Afrera. ‘12k.. we can get there and rest’ ..so we thought! The track had other plans for us! It was a tormenting rocky pass over an old lava flow and required concentration and endurance which was beyond us under the severe sun. With our energy levels at minimum and our continuing struggles to simply to breath, we were forced to seek shade. But there is no shade in this burnt desert. We made shade by sheet tied to the two bikes that stood parallel to each other and under sheet we laid exhausted and breathless! The hot wind was no relief but our motorbike clothing was protection from it.

5 or 6 hours passed, some of which had been slept through and the others were spent wondering what we were putting ourselves through! By 5pm the heat hadn’t eased and our rest hadn’t replenished our energy by much. We contemplated if we could ride the last 6Km or to sleep the night where we laid.

Food, water and morale were low!

To be continued….

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