Sunday, June 15, 2008

African Adventure: Ariving illegally in Ethiopia, a comedy of errors with the Landy, and the struggle for visas. (June 2-14)

Current Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Highlights: Getting legal with Ethiopian immigration, dealing with the Sudan and British Embassies, what seems like an eternal string of problems with the Landy, and a nut that will NOT come loose!
Upcoming: Visiting some of the tribes in southern Ethiopia, and just wait until you see the Merci people with their huge lips plates inserted into cuts made in the lower lip.

After our encounter with the guy with the AK47, we headed on north. All the roads for the next several hundred kilometers were just gravel and dirt tracks, but the scenery in this part of Ethiopia was outstanding and on we drove. Our major concern now was fuel. We filled up the last time south of lake Turkana and figured at a push, we just had enough to get us to a small town called Konso, the first petrol in Ethiopia. We met several people in Nairobi who didn't like the Ethiopian people and warned us that we would never get a moments peace or privacy so were somewhat apprehensive of the people we saw. It seemed that every stretch of road and every part of the forest and mountain had people. We found a really nice spot under some old acacia trees and pulled over into the bush thinking we had not been seen so we could bush camp. However, within a few moments we were surrounded by about 8 people from the local tribe. We tried to communicate, but even by sign language it was difficult to impossible. To give you an example, they kept scratching their hair just by their temple. We had no idea what this meant, but have since found out that it means they want something from you. They appeared fascinated by the Landy and anything on the inside or outside and peered in through the windows, pushed us aside when we opened a door to look inside, and just stared at us. We decided that we couldn't bush camp here, so I made a cup of tea instead as I was curious about these people and wanted to see for how long they would stay around us. After about an hour they were still around us, so we decided to leave to find a more deserted spot. Just after it became dark, we turned off the road into some thick bush just after the "town" of Wayto, turned off the car and lights and waited to see if we had been noticed. After about 10 mins we set up the tent, made another cup of tea and settled down to our first night in Ethiopia.

The next morning we drove to the nearby town of Konso where thankfully they had petrol in 80 gallon drums. We filled a jerry can and left for Arbor Minch, the first large town we would hit on the way to Addis. The area we were now in and had just traveled through was particularly beautiful, very hilly, almost mountainous with acacia trees all around and charming huts dotted on the hillsides next to corn fields. It was difficult to believe that this was the epicenter of the terrible famine that hit Ethiopia in the 1980s as it was so lush.

Arbor Minch was quite large and surrounded by mountains. We changed money, bought petrol, and had a delicious meal of fish from the lake we could see down in the Rift Valley. We also encountered the beginning of what was to become one of Ethiopia's annoyances: people that yell at you, call you, whistle to you, and come up to the car to beg from you. For example, we drove along the street almost to a chorus of "you, you, you" yelled out by the kids mostly but also older people, and to an assortment of gestures I couldn't interpret. As we left Arbor Minch, we were still running on petrol from Kenya and decided to see how long it would last: just as we left Arbor Minch the Landy started to splutter so I switched to a full tank and off we went. Just after nightfall, we managed to find an isolated side track and turned off to bush camp again. The next morning we were woken up with a start as the Landy was jarred sharply. I looked out the side mesh window and realized that we had partly blocked a side track and a guy in a horse drawn cart had knocked into the Landy while trying to squeeze past! So we packed up quickly, said goodbye to the assemblage of 10 or so people who gathered round and went on our way. Before long, and after a terribly pot-holed stretch of road and some spectacular new stretches of road build with a grant from the European Union we arrived in Addis Ababa. I must admit, I was expecting a really run down almost derelict city, especially as all you see of Ethiopia in the media is starving and dying children, but Addis is quite a nice place with Internet access, shops filled with cloths, food, and just about anything, restaurants with great food and any drink you might find in any large city, and crazy roads full of cars, mostly blue and white taxis being driven like maniacs. But best of all, Addis is full of pastry shops that serve coffee drinks. In fact, I bet there are more espresso machines in Addis than the whole of Seattle! A guy called Bob Taylor who is a missionary working here had found our web site and contacted us offering us a place to stay, so our first job (after a coffee) was to get in touch with Bob.

We were incredibly busy over the next few days: We went to Ethiopian Immigration to tell them we had entered Ethiopia at an unofficial border and had no entry stamp. They were quite nice about this and we had a letter from them within 24 hrs. We attended a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony where the beans are roasted over a fire, then ground, and coffee made in a clay pot. We also had to do some work on the Landy.

After lots of rough roads I decided to adjust, re-grease, and tighten-up the wheel bearings and look at the front swivel pin housings. I also decided to try and fix the shock that broke (or at least which I discovered was broken) in Arusha, Tanzania. This went OK, but took almost a full day. We were in a hurry to head back down to the south to see some of the tribes, but on the day we decided to leave, we thought we would try again for a visa for Sudan. So we went to the Sudan Embassy. They needed a complete application form, no problem, two photographs, no problem, and a letter from our embassy. Oh no I thought, this is not going to be fun. So at about 12.30pm we located the British Embassy and I went up to gate. Sorry we are closed they said. But I only want to ask for a letter I said. Come back tomorrow they said. But I am about to leave town I said. Sorry they said, come back tomorrow. In the end I asked to speak to someone inside and after some convincing they agreed to let me in and apply for the letter. To cut a long story short, they said they would write the letter and that I could come back at 3 pm to collect it after paying a fee of 35 pounds (about US$50). If having to pay $50 for a letter is not bad enough, you actually have to pay in local currency. They said this was 490 Birr (8.23 Ethiopia Birr to the US$) which is based on their exchange rate of 14 Birr to the pound. This exchange rate is ridiculous and impossible to get at any bank. Based on their exchange rate, the letter actually cost US$60. What a scam. I had just basically been ripped off by my own embassy!

Next we went to the USA embassy so Aaron could get a letter. He emerged in less than 10 mins with a letter which cost nothing! So we went back to the Embassy for Sudan, gave them the letters and off we went with fingers crossed. It was too late to leave for the south so we decided to impose on Bobs hospitality for one more night and leave the next day. That evening I decided to locate the cause of a strange rattle I first noticed in Malawi but ignored at the time it in the hope it might go away which of course it did not. The strange rattle I now found out was because of worn water pump shaft bearings. You could rattle around the fan and although it was not leaking water, Bob (also a mechanic) suggested we should replace the pump. So the next morning, instead of departing, we hunted for a water pump ($50) and fitted it. At the same time I thought it might be a good idea to grease the U-joints and the splined shaft on the propshafts. However, upon closer inspection, I decided to remove the front propshaft and replace one U-joint and clean and repack the other. This went reasonably smoothly although the joints were very difficult to remove. I left the rear shaft and thought I would attend to this later. When Bob returned home, he was ill and in fact was admitted to the hospital that evening with a suspected Staph infection that resembles the flesh eating bacteria.

The next morning we were prepared to leave and Gena called. Apparently my mother was ill and Gena was going to try and do a 3-way conference call in about an hour when my parents would be awoke in the UK, so I could talk to her. In the meantime we visited Bob in hospital. In fact it was a Staph infection and they had Bob on IV antibiotics and he was doing better. When we emerged from the hospital we noticed water dripping from under the Landy. Oh great I thought! After a quick inspection, I found that it was just a hose clamp that I had not tightened enough. Now we were late for the conference call with my Mum and Gena so we raced back to Bobs. I called Gena on the satphone and we went ahead with the conference call. Now we were ready to leave. We drove out the drive way and up the hill but the Landy just had no power and I could not drive up the hill. Great I thought, what now? So back we went into Bobs driveway. I had an idea it was the points gap, so I filed the faces down and re-set the gap. Then I noticed oil leaking from the rear diff! Good Grief I thought. I had a spare seal and it is not difficult to replace, so I thought we should replace it before we left. So I took off the rear propshaft and realized that I did not have a socket large enough (1 1/4 inch) for the nut. I tried and tried with the vice grips and adjustable wrench, but the nut would not budge. While the prop was off I decided I might was well repack and grease the U-joints on the rear. These joints were terribly difficult to remove and in the process we lost three of the needle bearings. It was just our luck that these needle bearings were of different size to any spares I had so we were stuck until we could get to a parts store which would not now be until Monday, today being late Saturday. On the off chance I could find a spare U-joint and a correct size socket, I wondered the parts store area of Addis on Sunday, in the process evading a blatant and aggressive pickpocket attempt, but my wonderings were in vein, no U-joint and no socket.

On Monday we decided to try and loosen the nut on the rear diff to replace the pinion seal. We managed to borrow a socket and rigged up a 6 foot lever on the socket handle. To stop the pinion from turning, I used a tire lever wedged between two propshaft bolts braced against the 6 ton hydraulic jack. Now the nut MUST come loose. This was the moment. The lever was lowered, the diff shaft rotated and the tire lever started to bend! But the nut did not budge. So we jacked up the jack hard against the tire lever to take all the rotation out of the shaft, applied the Landy brakes, and again came down on the lever. Once again, the shaft rotated as the study tire lever actually bent! To get more movement on the long lever which stuck out the side of the Landy, we dug a hole in the ground and once again stood on the end of the lever, this time the shaft rotated, the tire iron bent and the Landy was actually lifted 1/2 inch or so into the air. This nut was not going to budge! It was time for professional help. I put the propshaft back on and we drove it to a garage. They used a torch to heat the nut but it only loosened on the third bout of heating. In the meantime I found a new U-joint and off we went home to replace the seal and replace the last U-joint. It was at this time I noticed that the other shock, the one I thought was good, was actually broken. So I had to get this one fixed. This is how I fixed it. The problem was that the chrome shaft had broken off from the head. So I cut the sleeve off from the head and took the three pieces: the main body with shaft and hydraulics, the head, and the sleeve to a little shack on the road side that did welding. I also took a large nut. First I had them weld the shaft to the nut, then weld the nut to the head, then weld the sleeve back onto the head. It looked terrible but worked great, in fact it was now stronger than the original. So back I went and fitted the shock. Just as I was tightening the last shock bolt, I noticed that the rear wheel was cracked. No I'm not kidding. The wheel rim was cracked and had to be replaced. Believe it or not, Bob had a spare rim so we set off for the tire place and had them swap rims. This was the second cracked rim we had. It looks like good ole Rob Leimer's junk parts had surfaced again. Today was Tuesday 13th.

We actually managed to leave for the tribes in the south on Wednesday 14th, but not before I noticed a cracked steering stop and had it quickly welded up!

The next diary entry will be on the Merci Tribe who have huge saucer sized clay plates in their lips. Its actually very grotesque, but nonetheless fascinating. Just wait and see. We have pictures and a video clip. I suggest you copy the video clip and send it to your friends as its almost unbelievable.

No comments: