Ethiopia Ends / Into Sudan
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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
Moving down from the mountains we camp a night in the parking lot of a hostel in bustling Gondar, where we also wander around and re-supply everything we need. Town is still hopping from the recent religious celebrations, and Ethiopians certainly get rowdy.
In the morning we decide two vehicles will continue on while one stays in town attempting to replace a destroyed tire. I move South and setup camp on the shores of stunning Lake Tana where we will relax for a couple of days. In the late afternoon our friends arrive with bad news. Their vehicle we surrounded by men who were yelling and screaming, and they hit it with sticks hard enough to dent the steel and break headlight covers.
An extremely scary experience, and something none of us has ever had before anywhere on the planet.
In the next couple of days we learn of a nearby bicycle traveler who is hit in the head with a rock badly enough to require stitches, and then only a day later is violently attacked and almost has his entire bike stolen.
Our host at a campground quietly tells us a foreigner was beaten almost to death just a month ago.
Ethiopia has been a very difficult country for me – in all my travels it is the only one I have felt unsafe and in fact unwelcome. Backwards to everywhere I have ever been, the cities are mostly OK while the rural areas feel very sketchy.
Someone explains that rural Ethiopians are sick of tourists, because they bring a lot of money that all winds up in the hands of educated city people. So although the tourists are passing through their towns the rural people get none of the money.
Whatever the reason, I genuinely feel foreigners are not welcome in Ethiopia, and unfortunately I can’t recommend it as a destination. I know lots of people have enjoyed Ethiopia in the past, though I think it’s an utterly different experience when you’re on a guided tour and hustled from tourist enclave to tourist enclave.
I really think they need to solve their internal problems before they can properly accept tourists.
I feel disappointed for a country to have gone this way, but feel helpless to do anything about it. While sitting in a small town in the drivers seat of the Jeep multiple men grab at everything on the jeep, try to forcibly open the doors and even try to open the gas cap – while I’m clearly visible watching them.
I’m furious they have no respect for my stuff, and again, this is the only country I have ever been to where this happens.
The only road from Ethiopia to Sudan is notorious for armed conflicts, and in recent weeks it has been extremely bad. I bumped into a couple who were caught in a gunfight, who saw burning houses and even dead bodies on the street. I’ve been keeping my ears to the ground for a long time trying to get all the information I can, and eventually it’s time to simply go for it. It’s important to note all of this trouble is within Ethiopia. Sudan is perfectly fine.
It’s about 100 miles of tense driving in convoy with another couple as we drop down out of the mountains to almost sea level at the border of Sudan. We see multiple military posts with armed men, burnt out vehicles and even villages that are burnt out, but fortunately we don’t see or hear any actual problems or violence.
The border is the usual affair of getting myself stamped out at Immigration, then cancelling the Jeep paperwork. I lie to the Immigration officer and say I have enjoyed my time in Ethiopia. The temperature is a scorching 110F (43C), and a handful of men continually hassle us to change money with them.
To be honest I breath a huge sigh of relief when I drive out of Ethiopia, for once happy to be done with a country. I am happy to have made it out safely.
On the Sudanese side the paperwork begins, and friendly people continually pop-up to help us along the way. We previously got visas to enter the country, though it’s also required to “register” as a tourist here, and happily we can do it right at the border. With Immigration all done we move onto Customs, where most of the men have already gone home for the day.
Again everyone is very friendly, and we are finally free to drive away from the border just before the sun hits the horizon.
It’s hard to believe I only have to do that one more time on the entire expedition. We push on a handful of miles and dive off the road into the scrubby brush, getting far enough from the road to feel good about it.
I have been told endlessly that Sudan is possibly the safest country on the planet, and I’m perfectly safe wild camping, so with little choice I put it to the test on the very first night!
Sudan begins – country number 34 – a county I have been looking forward to for a very, very long time.