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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
I rise at 5 in the morning, long before sunrise. It’s still a balmy 79F (26C), and I know I’m in for another scorching day. After thinking about it all night I decide to back track the ten miles and take the turn that goes West, across to the Lake.
This track is obviously more-commonly used, and I can see tire tracks in the sand showing at least one vehicle has been this way in the last few days.
On and on the track winds, with sand becoming more and more common as I approach the lakeshore. Finally I hit the lake and swing North, now crossing many sandy dry riverbeds and washouts. Hour after hour I continue, slowly moving away from the lake and up a huge rocky hill high above the lake.
I pass through the last town in Kenya where I see people for the first time in at least 150 miles.
Watching the GPS carefully I cross the dotted line on the map, though there is absolutely nothing to indicate I have crossed into Ethiopia. There is no Police, Customs or Immigration here, and there is no sign.
I tentatively start driving on the other side of the sandy track, and again feel a bit uncertain when the first vehicle for many days approaches. I notice the steering wheel is on the left – something I have not seen since Rwanda – and the license plate has characters on it I have never seen before. They are clearly not English.
Driving on the right appears to be the correct thing to do, and I navigate a series of deep mud pits as I approach the paved road that leads me into Omorate, the first sizeable town in Ethiopia.
Some of the first people I see are men guarding their herds of cattle and goats, all of who carry AK47s. I stop to chat to one group who are very happy to pose for photos, obviously as happy to see me as I am to see them.
After over two years on the continent it’s finally time – the man hands me the AK47 without worry, and I’m finally able to size up the rifle properly. It’s much shorter than I expected – both the barrel and stock are much too short for me to hold comfortably. It’s also much lighter than I expected, and doesn’t actually feel very sturdy. The man moves the selector switch between “Safe”, “Semi Auto” and “Full Auto” while I hold it, pantomiming the result of each different possession.
Only afterwards does he check – not only is the magazine full, but yes, there was a round in the chamber the entire time.
Customs and Immigration are both straightforward, and I’m given a sixty day Temporary Import Permit for the Jeep without an issue. I had to get stamped out of Kenya back in Nairobi, and at the time I guessed what date I would cross the border. I have to laugh that my passport is stamped into Ethiopia a day before it is stamped out of Kenya.
Gas is for sale in containers here, and I’m extremely happy to fill up, having less than thirty miles of range remaining. I knew I was going to push it close – and I did.
I’m even able to change some US Dollars into local Ethiopian Birr, which makes life easier.
I camp the night in Omorate, and in the morning move towards Jinka in the Southern mountains of the Omo Valley, and one of the reasons many people come to Ethiopia.
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