|04-28-2012, 10:16 PM||#1291|
Joined: Jun 2007
Location: Switzerland, near the border to the BlackForest
All the best and HAPPY TRAILS
Thomas & Andrea
|05-04-2012, 05:57 AM||#1292|
Living on a DR
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: riding around India
Ethiopia, Part 4: The Semien Mountains, The Roof of Africa
July 9 - 10, 2011
North of Gondar lies the impressive natural landscape of the Semien Mountains, a large expanse of volcanic origin. This rugged area is a part of the Ethiopian Highlands, which began to rise up 75 million years ago and subsequently got eroded as the East African Rift opened up along with the natural erosive forces of wind, snow and water. The landscape is dotted with the exposed cores of old volcanoes that make for epic vistas.
Surrounding the Semiens are savannah and deserts, so this unique environment has many endemic species of wildlife, like the Gelada Baboon, Walia Ibex and the Ethiopian Wolf. As this landscape rises so dramatically from the depths of the Afar region and the Sahara to the highest peaks past 4,500 m (14,760 ft) the Ethiopian Highlands have been dubbed the Roof of Africa.
Showcasing the best of the highlands is the Semien Mountains National Park, accessed from the town of Debark. I over-nighted in the park on my way around the northern loop through Ethiopia and got to see lots of Gelada Baboons, Lammergeyers (vultures), some deer, bear tracks and lots of impressive views from the steep escarpments that define the park.
I had breakfast at the outskirts of Gondar and enjoyed watching people streaming past with their livestock and other goods to sell in town, as it was Saturday, which is a major market day in Gondar. The road was packed with cows, goats, shepherds, villagers carrying grain and donkeys carrying firewood. It felt like the road wasn't really for motorized traffic, but more for hoofed traffic.
A few kilometers north of Gondar the asphalt ended and I smiled when I lowered the air pressure in my tires and stood on my pegs.
The Ethiopian Highlands. The landscape is jagged and endless. I was salivating for the views that I was told about further north.
The route climbed up from the 2,100 m (6,890 ft) at Gondar past 3,050 m (10,000 ft) with lots of elevation change in-between. The Tracks4Africa mapset contained the dirt road that I was on and even the major towns along the way, which helped me in my day-to-day route planning.
Running into Laurens and Emma, whom I met at Tim and Kim's a few days ago. They were on their 90 day honeymoon from London to Capetown. They are both management consultants, working in New York and bought this fully-equipped Land Rover Discovery from Footloose expeditions. They were coming back from the Semien Mountain National Park and told me they were side-swiped by a local bus on a narrow road.
Passing through the busy town of Debark, from where the turn off to the national park is. I'm sure I look like an alien to the locals with all my gear, but hey, safety first.
Picking up an armed scout at the entrance to the Semien Mountain National Park. It's park regulations because the animals (namely the baboons) could possibly attack, which I don't think really happens. I had to leave behind my back rest to create space for him.
Within a few kilometers of entering the park, I was greeted by the sight of numerous Gelada Baboons or simply Geladas.
Geladas are unique to the Ethiopian Highlands and can be identified by the bright-red patch on their chest.
An adult male gelada and a youngster sneaking into the photo. Elevation was around 3,200 m (10,500 ft) and the winds were cold and strong, but the gelada is well-suited to this environment with its shaggy coat.
A gelada patrolling his territory, unfazed by the strong winds of the Semien Mountains.
A close-up of the unique mane of the gelada.
They forage on the tops of the plateaux during the day and retreat to the cliffs at night where they sleep. Since there aren't that many trees or abundant food sources, geladas are unique among primates in that grass makes up more than 90% of their diet. This means they spend a majority of their day picking and chewing grass.
A male gelada showing off his pink chest, necklace and his exposed penis.
Riding on further into the park, I came across this dramatic U-shaped drop in the escarpment. Just like the Grand Canyon, the layers of rocks from different eras are visible due to erosion. The layers at the bottom are older basaltic lava flows, which are covered by more recent flows. Standing on the edge of the cliff, I felt a rush of air rising up the steep sides down from the valley below.
The dirt track that winds its way along the escarpment deeper and deeper into the Semien Mountains National Park.
A boulder, sitting on the edge of the cliff, with great views of the valley below.
Trees clinging on to the steep sides of the Semiens. The dirt track is visible in the distance as it rides the ridge towards the first encampment of Sankaber, where I would be spending the night.
The national park is inhabited by locals and children came running up to my bike whenever I stopped.
My armed scout in the Semien Mountains National Park. He was very friendly and told me where to stop for good views.
My lodge at Sankaber, where I got a bed for 80 Birr ($5).
My bed for the night, which came with lots of warm blankets.
I asked the scout if I could take a bath somewhere and he directed me to this open shower. Using development funds from Austria, they've built a small tank and tap system using the nearby stream.
I got my loofa and camp towel out and...
...prepared for a cold, cold shower in the forests of the Semien Mountains. I enjoyed it and thought about the cold showers I took when I was riding through the Andes in Peru. Even if it's freezing cold, splashing water on my body at the end of the day has become a required ritual.
The views from Sankaber as heavy clouds rolled in over the Semiens.
Deep valleys cut by water and ice. During the last Ice Age (which ended around 12,000 years ago), the Ethiopian Highlands were covered in glaciers that left their mark on the land in the form of U-shaped valleys.
That evening, the heavy rains came with hail, but I was warm in the blankets.
Sunrise over the Semien Mountains.
Silhouettes of flora as the sun rose over the eastern edge of the Semiens.
My scout took me for a walk just after sunrise and we came across some bear tracks.
Beautifully captured paw prints in the soft mud near my lodge.
I felt like my scout could've taken me to the animal whose prints these were. He was connected with his landscape and felt at home in the Semiens.
An epic vista that my scout brought me to, just as the sunlight was slowly working its way down into the valley.
I sat on the edge and enjoyed the rush of air up my pants.
Sitting on the edge of the escarpment in the Semien Mountains National Park. I felt like a bird and wished for a hang-gliding wing to jump off and soar like...
...a Lammergeyer. These Bearded Vultures soar the thermals that come rushing up the steep sides of the escarpment. They are scavengers like other vultures, but their diet consists mainly of bone marrow, which requires them to drop big bones from height onto stones, exposing the nutritious marrow.
A Lammergeyer coasting on the thermals with its wings at full span, reaching around 2.5 m (8.2 ft). Its raised left wing tip aides it by reducing lift-induced drag and smoothening the vortex energies that form at the edge of the wing. This feature has been adapted to newer airplanes to reduce fuel consumption, among other benefits. When people question what's the point in conserving habitat for some random bird, they should be reminded of the lessons that nature can teach our technically-advanced society. And hopefully that will also instill some humility towards our place in nature.
Enjoying the steep cliffs of the escarpment in Semien Mountain National Park.
The exposed cores of volcanoes that define the landscape of the Semien Mountains.
Walking back with my scout, who blends in with his natural camouflage.
A small antelope among the grasses on the plateau of the Semiens.
A sign board requesting respect of nature.
On my way out of the park, I came across more geladas grazing in the morning sun.
The morning time is for socializing and foraging.
Since they primarily eat grass, geladas have developed the grasp needed to clump grass together and pull it.
Aww, who's got a mouthful of good eats?
Grooming is also part of their morning routine. Since geladas sit on their bottom for much of their day, it's become hard and callus, unlike other baboons who have a colorful bottom.
As geladas graze on open ground, they need a sentinel to keep guard of swooping lammergeyers and other predators.
The sentinel sounded the alarm and everyone looked to him.
But this little bugger isn't bothered by some false alarm. He's scratching and enjoying a good rub.
He looked like he was up to something, so I kept an eye on him.
He climbed up this rock and when he picked out his victim...
...pounced and grabbed his buddy. Score!
He might be cool on the playground but mom needs to groom him now.
A shepherd and his sheep in the national park. Many locals live within the park, as they have for generations, but now there's conflict between conservation of the fauna and flora in the park and the livelihood of the local inhabitants. They complain that the geladas come and destroy their crops and harass their livestock. And the conservationists complain that diseases spread from livestock to the wildlife. A compromise is needed to keep this situation sustainable.
Horses grazing right next to geladas in the Semien Mountains.
I only had a short visit to the Semien Mountains National Park but managed to get an appreciation for this unique landscape, the Roof of Africa. Steep escarpments with grazing gelada baboons and soaring vultures - the park showcases the Ethiopian Highlands in all its glory. Next up was a few days of riding north of here through similar landscape that could all be a national park.
|05-04-2012, 06:54 AM||#1293|
Joined: Dec 2005
Location: San Diego, CA
|05-07-2012, 02:08 AM||#1294|
Joined: Jun 2005
Thanks for this excellent ride report. I met you on the flat four tour if i remember correctly. I used to work with Tim Carey and he introduced us. Good to see you are still Jammin.
|05-07-2012, 08:26 PM||#1295|
Joined: Jun 2011
Location: Apopka, FL
Interesting piece about Ethiopa and their Geladas. I saw an episode on Planet Earth on the Discovery Channel about them and how the locals were having a lot of trouble with their crops. As always great update! Stay safe in your travels.
|05-08-2012, 08:25 AM||#1297|
Living on a DR
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: riding around India
Good to hear about new transport to Egypt. Hope it works out when you guys get there.
I need to brush up on my Portuguese and the French...
Haha, no worries, enjoy the Heidenaus
|05-08-2012, 08:26 AM||#1298|
Living on a DR
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: riding around India
Ethiopia, Part 5: Off-roading in the Highlands
July 10 - 12, 2011
North of the Semien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia, it gets remote. Most tourists turn south and head back or fly over to Axum to view its historical stelae. But since I have my own rugged transportation, I am free to wander remote paths through less-visited areas. With sanDRina chugging along in fine form, I set off to cross the Ethiopian Highlands from Debark to Shire and into Axum.
This stretch of the northern loop is the last bit to get paved over and I was glad to experience it before asphalt tames the ride. Construction was on-going and that meant there were a few diversions and loose rocks and sandy stretches to cross. The rainy season had properly started and I was bit hesitant about tackling the muddy tracks, but my mud-riding skills were up to par.
I stayed in small towns and was treated to epic landscapes, especially around Adi Arkay where I saw Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia in all its glory on a clear day.
Fueling up in Debark with black market petrol, since there's no regular petrol station around. Regular petrol price in Ethiopia is Birr 22/L ($5/gal) and I paid Birr 32/L ($7.32/gal) here. The last regular station was in Gondar and the next one is in Shire, 300 kms (186 mi) away. I could easily do that stretch with my massive Safari Aqualine tank, but there was lots of elevation change coming up and I knew there'd be lots of first and second gear off-road riding, which greatly reduces fuel efficiency, so best to top up.
My route through northern Ethiopia. From Debark, I spent the first night in Adi Arkay, then the second night in Indabaguna before rolling into Axum. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.
I was in for a treat. This road was constructed by the Italians in the 1940s, during their brief occupation and the grades, switch-backs and routing was excellent.
This is what sanDRina was waiting for. After two weeks of downtime at Tim and Kims and months of asphalt riding through Europe, Egypt and Sudan, we were finally on an off-road trip, at least for a few days and that too, in the mountains!
Twisties in the mirror and straight sedimentary lines in the mountains.
The road was well-built with retaining walls and the surface was hard-packed gravel and mud with excellent drainage. It rained heavily at night but I could hardly tell.
Cliff-riding. I felt like I was back in the Andes, riding the death roads of Peru and Bolivia. Yes.
The road wound down from Debark at 2,850 m (9,350 ft) to a river in the valley at 1,250 m (4,100 ft) then climbed back up to 1,800 m (5,900 ft), back down to 1,277 m (4,188 ft) then the day ended in Adi Arkay at 1,500 m (4,920 ft). All this in just 75 kms (47 mi).
Looking out across the fertile Ethiopia Highlands from a high vantage point.
I am most happy riding on roads this like: hard-packed mud, great views of mountains and no traffic to speak of.
Um, yeah, there was some traffic; the occasional bus and lorry.
I had great views not just of the scenery but also the beautiful road winding its way up and down the mountainsides.
Riding under shady trees.
Being close to mountains makes my right brain content. But those dark clouds were worrying my left brain. And then I have to tell myself not to worry because the rains are so timely here that I can be sure it won't rain until late in the afternoon.
Riding downhill switch-backs. I prefer uphill ones, as I have more control with the throttle, rather than letting gravity dictate your speed on the way down.
The Heidenau K60 Scout tire was gripping well in the first proper off-road test for me. The road was covered in loose rocks, gravel and sand but it was hard-packed just below all that, so with enough speed and the right air pressure in the tires, the riding was a pleasure.
The afternoon sun lighting up the verdant hills.
A small village surrounding their sacred peak and using terraces to farm these steep hillsides.
A warning sign to watch for falling rocks. I usually ignore this sign, but here, I was on the look-out.
A landslide just waiting to happen with the next heavy rains. I guess the civil engineering flair of the Italians didn't make it out this far.
Yup, that looks like a recent landslide. I had to wait a bit for a bulldozer to clear a path.
As I was waiting, I turned and saw this old tank slowly being reclaimed by nature. Ethiopia has had a rocky military past with heavy fighting during the Derg years and then the extended war with Eritrea.
Hitting the river at valley bottom before climbing back up.
Looking back at the route as it descended to the river and then climbed back up.
Beautiful colors from the exposed sedimentary layers in the hillside. The red bands are probably copper, laid down millions of years ago at the bottom of a sea and now in 2011, exposed on a hill in Ethiopia.
Getting close to Adi Arkay and getting my first glimpse of the most enigmatic part of the Semien Mountains, the home of Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia.
The peaks of the Semiens dotting the landscape.
An enjoyable day of riding dirt up and down mountains.
I rolled into the village of Adi Arkay around 3:30 pm and was glad to have made it to shelter before the evening's rain.
I stayed at the Ras Dashen Hotel and parked sanDRina in the restaurant. Upon meeting the manager, I told him not to give me the farenji (foreigner) price, which prompted laughter. It's very common in Ethiopia and many other countries to have separate prices for locals and foreigners and this is fine with me for national parks and historical sites but not for food and basic hotel rates.
I walked next door for dinner and halfway through the meal, the winds picked up and heavy rain ensued for more than an hour. It was intense. Lightning and thunder followed each other closely and it felt like artillery fire at times. The pounding of the rain was deafening on the thin metal roof and that's when I discovered the reason for ear lobes - to help us close our ears.
All the restaurant patrons had finished their meal and we patiently waited inside for the rain to subside. I only had about 20 m to get to my hotel but I knew I would be soaked to the bone if I ventured out during the downpour.
The morning after in Adi Arkay, looking bright and clean after heavy, long rains during the night. My strategy was to wait a few hours before hitting the road to allow the strong sun to dry the road a bit and also to allow a few buses to run the route and splash the water from the road. I like slow mornings.
Breakfast of scrambled eggs with chilies, fresh bread and tea for Birr 13 ($0.77).
Hand-washing apparatus outside the restaurant; a truck's fuel tank converted into a water holder.
My bed at the Ras Dashen hotel, which I got for Birr 50 ($3). Note the electrical socket hanging on the edge of the chair. I always check to make sure the electricity is safe to use by plugging in my camera battery charger first (since I have a spare) and if that doesn't blow up, then it's all good.
Causing a scene upon my departure from Adi Arkay. Everyone loves the strong pulse from my exhaust. It even scares grown men, hehe.
A beautiful shot of Ras Dashen and some photogenic clouds.
Ras Dashen on the left at 4,550 m (14,928 ft) is the tallest peak in Ethiopia and fourth tallest in Africa. According to volcanologists, Ras Rashen is the eastern peak of an enormous volcano. Wow. To me, this cathedral of rocks reminded me of my visit to Torres del Paine in southern Chile - lone towers of rock in remote areas, surrounded by beautiful nature.
Playing with contrast and highlighting a natural 'W' in the mountain profile.
The prominence of Ras Dashen. Its original name in Amharic is Ras Dejen, which means the general who fights in front of the Emperor.
The heavy rains from the previous night had left the road soggy and sanDRina was getting a mud bath. She loves it.
Hmmm, soft mud pools waiting to suck us in. Since I travel solo, I take extra precaution when coming across terrain that could potentially strand me. If I can't go around the mud pools and it looks dicey, I'll walk through the pools and make sure there are no hidden holes or soft mud that could trap the rear tire, especially one that is under this much load.
The Heidenau K60 Scout doing just fine in the muds of northern Ethiopia. It's rated as a 50/50 tire but its tread is quite deep and proved sufficient for mud riding, which usually requires a more aggressive tread pattern.
Soupy mud just before an incline. I had to make sure to get enough revs and keep the momentum up to make sure we could climb out without getting stuck, which we did.
All this mud riding was going on in the shadows of the epic Semien Mountains. Ethiopia truly is an adventure rider's paradise.
A farmer tending to her field with a fantastic view of Ras Dashen.
sanDRina coated in mud and satisfied.
Happy to see shiny fork tubes while riding in the mud. SealSavers doing their job of keeping debris away from the fork seals, which have never leaked on this trip. Also happy to see how little mud was on the oil cooler with my cut fender, because if mud gets lodged into the fins of the radiator, the engine oil wouldn't cool down sufficiently. This bike is built tough.
Muddy boots and pants. Yay.
The route flattened out as I headed north and I passed the Adi Harush refuge camp, which houses refugees from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. I have the fortune of using nature as my playground, yet I am aware of the struggles that my fellow man faces as he is exposed to all of nature’s wrath.
It was 3 pm and I was heading north into that darkness, where the rains have been unleashed. I was waiting at this construction site for a bulldozer to clear a path for vehicles and I wondered how much wet mud riding I'd be doing because of this hold-up.
Yikes, biking and lightning don't go together. Although I've done a lot of that, so no worries.
Another tank left to nature's whim.
The sharp creases of shale rocks, which were blasted to make way for this road I'm riding on.
A local bus waiting with me at the construction site. Note the goat on the roof. I wonder how the locals perceive me.
Our small convoy of vehicles making it down the newly cleared road. The surface was loose and I was wary of sharp rocks as I didn't want a puncture with heavy rains coming. The darkness loomed to my right.
In the name of progress and development, we humans push nature to the brink, strangling her and not leaving her space to breathe. That tree looks like it's ready to commit suicide, which will probably happen soon as the land gives way during the rainy season onslaught.
Slowly inching our way behind a bulldozer over the loose and rocky surface. There was a scary moment when the dozer started backing up with me right behind it and shouts from people around alerted the driver and gave me some time to get out of the way, which was not easy with a heavily-loaded bike on an incline over a loose surface. At least it wasn't raining.
I made it to the small town of Indabaguna just as the rains started and was glad to be done with the tension of riding through precarious construction zones.
Parking up at Global Hotel for Birr 40 ($2.37).
Nice accommodation with a mosquito net that came with lots of holes but I had a mirror in the headboard, oooh.
Getting some breakfast at a nearby restaurant of...
...injera with tagabino for Birr 14 ($0.83). It doesn't exactly look appetizing to western palates, but it's oh so tasty. Tagabino is similar to shiro, which is made from ground chickpea (garbanzo) flour, the basis for hummus, to which fried onions and Ethiopia's unique berbere spice mix is blended in. This is the cheapest and most basic food of Ethiopia, their staple.
Within a few kilometers of rolling out of Indabaguna, the off-road ended as I had met the reaches of asphalt. It was time to air up the tires with my mini electrical air compressor. sanDRina loves a good audience and these three guys appeared and just stared and wondered.
A sign board indicating that the construction work from here to Adi Arkay would be complete by October, 2012, which I highly doubt. I talked to a civil engineer at breakfast in Adi Arkay and he said they planned to have the entire route paved from Shire to Gondar in about five years. So, there's still time to experience the untamed northern highlands of Ethiopia.
Rolling into Shire and happy to see sanDRina's life line, a proper petrol station. The conflict in Libya was raging full-on and I was wondering if I should have any moral issues about filling up with Libya's oil at this moment. Oh and remember not to confuse gasoil for gasoline, which refers to diesel.
I enjoyed these two days of proper off-road riding in the remote highlands of northern Ethiopia. I knew it would be worth it just for the epic views of the Semien Mountains, not counting the great joy of motoring through beautifully-built roads into the mountainsides. I feel in my true essence when I'm out, away from civilization, and content that I have the right tools to enjoy and thrive in such situations.
|05-09-2012, 12:57 PM||#1300|
Joined: Mar 2007
Every time I read a new installment I am awed by the sheer number of places in this world I hope to visit. Keep it up!
|05-11-2012, 05:26 AM||#1301|
Living on a DR
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: riding around India
|05-11-2012, 05:32 AM||#1302|
Living on a DR
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: riding around India
Video: Jammin thru Ethiopia | Off-roading in the Simien Mountains on a Suzuki DR650
Here's the latest release from Jammin Vidds Production > a video of my off-road ride through the Ethiopian Highlands. I rode the Simien Mountains from Debark, north to Shire, gaining and dropping lots of elevation. It was the rainy season and there was ongoing construction, so lots of muddy crossings. The video starts off with some cliff riding on the beautifully built road near Debark and then slows down for some soupy mud before picking up the pace towards the end. sanDRina was running in top form
We be Jammin, so turn up the volume and enjoy some funky Afro Beats from Femi Kuti
|05-11-2012, 06:12 AM||#1303|
Joined: Oct 2005
Location: Santa Fe, N.M.
Imagine, traveling among some of the oldest cultures on earth. Did anything you encountered in Ethiopia give you a sense of history?
In spite of the rains on your route, I was under the impression that this was a drought year in Ethiopia. Did you see evidence of this?
If you wouldn't mind an equipment question, may I ask which compressor you're using to air your tires.
KLX 400 dual sport
Tune in, turn on, drop out.
|05-13-2012, 09:53 AM||#1304|
Not so Gnarly
Joined: Aug 2010
Location: DDR c/o Honecker
This is one of the best motorcycle travel threads ever on any site. Thanks for sharing. I made a small donation and wonder on which part of the trip it was used. Hopefully for some gas in a remote location!!!
Rock on and ride safely. I am hoping to do a similar trip in the future.
|05-15-2012, 09:32 AM||#1305|
Joined: Jun 2011
Location: Turkey, Erzurum
Thank you for sharing
Thanks for sharing so kindly and greatly.
Now, all my trips look like a walk to buy some eggs from the shopping mall around the corner.
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