Baboons, Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

Settling into Ethiopia

| Ethiopia

Children peer through the chicken wire mesh walled customs house, watching me eat my ‘Happy Cow’ cheese sandwich, sitting on a wooden plank waiting for the usual one hour Sudanese breakfast break at eleven in the morning to be over, before starting the customs paper work to export my bike out of Sudan. Eventually, I was told to head down a narrow overgrown path to a small office building at the back of the compound. I tentatively poke my head into the building and see two empty broken plastic chairs. I ventured further into the cool room, finding an open door with a man in a uniform fluffing around behind his wooden table.

‘Salam (Hello), Customs?’ I ask
‘Na’am’ (Yes) the officer replies.
Great, do you speak English?’ That’s the problem when you show off you can speak a tiny bit of Arabic, you then cannot follow through!
Yes, I speak English, Carnet?’ as he held out his hand and I passed the yellow booklet to him.
He started scribbling down on a receipt page, calculating an export fee. Even though it’s only $10 I am frustrated as I had to pay the same fee when I entered the country and 13 days later I have to pay it once again!  I grudgingly hand over the money and watch him stamp my carnet. At least it’s not a bribe. I do receive a receipt for my troubles.

I wandered over to the market and started poking my head into the different stalls, calling out for a money exchanger. I heard a reply from the back of a small shack with piles of drums with USA AID cooking oil written on the outside. As soon as I entered the shack, the room fill’s with locals trying to see how much money I had to exchange, but I quickly shooed them out and told the guy if he wants to make some money to make sure they do not come back into the room.

We eventually make a deal after I had to do some hard barter – I couldn’t believe it, at first he only wanted to give me 50% of it’s actually value. I didn’t even respond and just started to walk out when he called me back. Seriously, does that work on some people, I wonder? I still lost some money, but no matter what you do, you always lose out when exchanging money.

I crossed the tiny single lane bridge to Ethiopia, where I was shocked to discover they had just started their three hour lunch break. One guy got off his wooden bench under the shade of his tree and stamped my passport into the country. I left my bike and walked over to the makeshift customs office in two containers. I sat down in the shade on a string bed that cut into my knees, I was sweating, I cannot believe how hot it got so quickly! Two guys came along and sat down on the string bed opposite me. Within a few minutes they had asked me the one question everyone asks me. ‘Are you married?’ but this time, when I replied ‘yes’ they then asked ‘Who proposed?’ Oh shit, now I have to elaborate on my lie! Wondering how I was going to pull this off, I remembered every young girls dream about a handsome guy getting down on one knee and proposing to them. They loved my story so much they went to wake up the customs officers and told them they needed to process her, she has to get to Gondar before dark.

Gondar Castle
Straight away, I noticed a difference in the scenery and the people. Suddenly everyone is super friendly and yelling hello and waving madly at me. My arm was getting so tried just trying to wave at every single kid in the 10 villages I passed between the border and Gondar. That’s when I thought of the Wobbly Hand I needed to attach to my barkbusters.

After a couple of days adjusting myself to new food, culture and money, I decided to head north to the famous Simien Mountains for a night in the park. But after three hours of a bumpy dirt track I was told I couldn’t go into the park without a scout, in other words, a man with a massive weapon to scare off the animals. Alone, and no possibility to take someone on my motorcycle, I decided to carry on north and camp somewhere.

As I pulled into a restaurant car park I was approached by David Watts, who works for Wild Frontiers, a tour company started up by Jonny Bealby. This guy happened to be someone (besides my father) who inspired me to go to Africa when my father gave me a copy of ‘Running with the Moon’, a great book about Jonny’s adventure around Africa in 1995! I cannot believe the chances!

David, after hearing about me being disappointed about not been able to visit the Simien Mountains, invited me to join their group and take a two hour walk through the mountains and see the baboons. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but spending the afternoon with everyone surely made up for it!

Babbons in Simien Mountains