Day 354: Business As Usual

20.12.09: You know when somebody says that something was a breath of fresh air, I can't describe how apt that saying is when it comes to Rwanda. It is there that you find all that Africa could be if only its scumbag criminal leaders would allow it. But there's no time to dilly-dally, I've got a mission and a damn good reason to get to Egypt in 11 days time... Mandy. I hopped a motorbike taxi (and for the first time in Africa, crash helmets are mandatory) to the bus station nice and early and before long I was being whisked out of the country towards Uganda, past the green terraced hills and the cute little villages along the way. Since the darkness of 1994, Rwanda has turned itself around like you would not believe. THAT'S what you can achieve with 15 years of half-decent governance…

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Day 357: The Hard Slog

23.12.09: Any time frame you are given in Africa, remember to add a few hours, or even days. Matt and I got up at 6am, just in time to jump back on yesterday's truck and crack on towards Ethiopia. The Pixies blasting in my ears and the sun rising to our left it was possibly the best trip I've had in Africa so far. However, our man predicting that we'd be at the border at 9am was ludicrously over-optimistic and we arrived sometime after 11am. So over the border and into Nation 129: Ethiopia. A nation that has had its fair share of publicity, but for all the wrong reasons. The only African nation not to suffer the horrors of colonisation, one could argue that Ethiopia proves that Africa would be just as stuffed up as it is now whether the damn whities had bothered invading…

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Day 358: Birdstrike!

24.12.09: Another 6am bus didn't seem like a lot of fun, but the minibus up to Addis turned out to be quite an eventful one, as after just half an hour on the road we hit a massive vulture at 70mph. It totally SMASHED the windscreen to bits and gave us all a bit of a fright, to put it mildly. Silvia turns out to be one of those wonderful sheilas who are more than happy to poke a dead animal with a stick, so she jumped out of the minibus and procured a few feathers for our respective hats. The vulture however, turned into state's evidence and the minibus crew picked it up and threw it on the bus, much to my chagrin, as it was laid out a little too close to number one here for my liking. After managing to get it moved…

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Day 359: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

25.12.09: After a good three hours sleep, I left the Dil Hotel to go and get a ticket for Dira Dawa on the 'luxury' coach. No chance. Sold out. Although the guy really didn't need to be such a swine about it, especially at four in the morning. I pegged it back to the hotel to pick up Matt and get the hell to the main bus station before the scuzzy buses sold out as well. We got there at 5am – just in the nick of time, cadging the last two tickets on the bus. So that's how I spent Christmas Day 2009, on a bus heading across Ethiopia. Well I spent my 30th birthday on a bus heading down Central America, so I guess I better start getting used to it. Not that it's Christmas here. The Ethiopians don't celebrate the birth of that…

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Day 360: Boxing Day In Somalia

26.12.09: This was it. The most critical day of The Odyssey so far – make or break, do or die, cake or death. Dino Deasha, that magnificent chap, had cadged me a lift on the MV Turquoise, a huge container ship affiliated with those good folk at CMA-CGM and bound for Suez in Egypt, due to arrive on the 31st December. But first, I had not just to get to Djibouti City, I also needed to get to Somalia and back. Yeah, Somalia. Don't panic! Somalia is perfectly safe. Well, no, it's not – it's the most dangerous country on Earth. What I mean to say is that the part which I intend to visit is perfectly safe – I'm going to Somaliland. History lesson! (Cos I know you love them soooo...) In the same way that we had British, Dutch and French Guyana and Portuguese,…

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Day 1,432: Badlands

Sun 02.12.12: The ‘badlands’ of northern Kenyan are not so called because they are full of bandits (although there are probably a few still knocking about), but because they’re no good for farming: dry, arid, dusty – you’d struggle to grow a moustache here (speaking of which, mine has gone, Movember is over). I’ll tell you what they’d be great for, Kenya: building a goddamn road. A nice straight road, made of tarmac, from here to the border with Ethiopia. You know, given that the entire expanse is remarkably flat and devoid of mountains/rivers/cities that may otherwise get in your way. If you ever do the drive down from Cairo to Cape Town, this is the *only* major section of dirt track you’ll come across (I can’t say the same for Casablanca to Cape Town, but that’s another story). But like this time three years ago,…

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Day 1,433: Same Same, But Different

Mon 03.12.12: Yet another early start and by 6am we were hurling north towards Addis Ababa on a brand spanking new commuter bus, travelling along Ethiopia’s impressively smooth asphalt roads. The last time I did this run I was crammed into a minibus with Matt the Lonely Planet guy while he continued his quest to find the only bottle of Diet Coke in Ethiopia (it’s Ethiopia Matt, who do you think is going to be on a diet?), this time was somewhat more comfortable. With nothing left to read, the guy next to me speaking no English and the crappy battery on my laptop only lasting an hour or so, I spent most of the day playing a game of shutty-window with the guy behind me (every time I opened the window, he’d shut it) and observing the beautiful Ethiopian countryside. Miles away from the images…

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Day 1,434: The New Flower

Tue 04.12.12: I got a phone call at 4am – it was Isit? calling to tell me that the bus was waiting outside. Crikey: when he said 4am I didn’t think he actually meant 4am. I grabbed my things, dropped the key at the front desk and then spent a good ten minutes trying to suss out how to escape this damn hotel – the front exits were locked (good job there wasn’t a fire eh?). Eventually I exited through a back door and hopped on the minibus. We drove around Awasa for a bit picking up passengers and when we were full, we hit the road. The downside of having decent roads in an African country is that the crashes become more spectacular and infinitely more deadly. The first death of the morning was a hyena, splayed out in the middle of the road, a…

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Day 1,435: Lucy

Wed 05.12.12: Ethiopia is a remarkable place, not least because it was the only African country not to suffer the indignity of colonisation, and not only for its immensely strong cultural identity: a country which boasts not only its own unique alphabet, but also its own unique was of telling the time (“three in the morning” means “three hours after the sun rises”). It, like Kenya and Tanzania, has pretty good shot at being the birthplace of modern humans. The discovery in the early 70s of ‘Lucy’, for a long time regarded as the so-called ‘missing link’ between apes and mankind, in the Afar Valley cemented Ethiopia as the physical anthropology, primatology, archaeology, linguistics, embryology and genetics Mecca for anybody with the slightest interest in evolutionary biology. Any dimwits who honestly believe the world to be 6,000 years old, look away now: Lucy (or, to give…

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Day 1,436: See You Tomorrow, Indiana Hughes…

Thu 06.12.12: Day 7 of my epic journey home from Juba began incredibly well. I called the Egyptian embassy and the nice lady told me that they were going to let me collect my passport with the visa in it this morning rather than this afternoon. I didn’t have to be told twice. Jumping in a taxi, by 10am I was triumphantly marching out of the Egyptian embassy, passport in hand. Even if the Sudan embassy decided to drag its heels and not give me my transit visa until tomorrow afternoon, I’d still easily hit my target of crossing from Wadi Halfa to Aswan in Egypt on Wednesday morning. So it was with a sense of triumph that I arrived at the Sudanese embassy. I know now that that sense of triumph was greatly premature. After all, This Is Africa. After filling out the required forms…

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