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Part 2 – The Longest Night: Breaking Down in Ethiopia

The sun was going down and I must have smoked 10 cigarettes whilst we waited.  Sofia was quietly playing on my phone, and a nice young guy who taught mechanical engineering at a local college was chatting to me in his best English.  The 20mins wait for the truck was about an hour in standard time, and the signal of its arrival was the sudden flurry of activity.

The Bike Successfully Relocated onto the back of the Truck
It was a standard transport truck, of which you see many on the roads here, and I became hopeful when something that resembled a ramp was pulled out, thinking that yes our bike would be pushed/pulled up onto the truck.  This hope was soon dashed when I saw it being folded under the truck.

I asked what was happening and was neatly told that they were going to lift it by hand.  Any subsiquent protest from me was ignored as they wheeled the bike out and discussed how it would be easier to get the front wheel up first.  There was really nothing I could do but stand back and watch, and so I quickly whipped out the phone to film as they hoiked it up, with all it’s bags on, with about 10-15 men trying to get the back end up and onto the truck.  It was hard to watch, but they managed it!  I can’t imagine how they thought they were going to do this on a mini bus!

The bike was on the truck  tied down with string (calling it rope would be a stretch, but it seemed secure) and it was time to go.  The driver, a young chap, clearly meant business and I was assured that the road was good all the way to Addis.

Obviously Sofia and got into the cab, the helmet promptly removed from our clutches, I kept saying no, it is safety equipment, but they insisted there was room ( I thought there was plenty!) and so the helmets where secured (jammed) into the bottom of the sidecar.

There was some cuffuffle about seat arrangements, and then it all became clear.  The driver, Sofia and myself and an extra body, all jammed into the truck cab!  Well, if we weren’t getting enough adventure, I’m sure this arrangement was going finish us off!

We said our good byes to the guys who had been so nice and helped us, and the parting ‘good luck’ from their mouths, I can’t say was entirely appreciated on the one hand but made me laugh on the other  (why did we need luck?)

A terrible picture of Driver and extra body crammed into the cab with us
We hadn’t got to the end of the road when it was clear that we were in good Ethiopian comapany – the Driver and character in his own right already, was already on the phone telling his mates something to this effect:

Yes yes, I can’t talk right now I’m on very important ferengi business (hahaha) yes, I am taking ferengi motocycle to Addis (hahaha) 3000Birr (HAHAHAHAHA!) – you could hear the laughter of said friend on the other end of the phone and words to effect you lucky b***d were probably also uttered – Yes you see I’m important now, bye!

These phone calls went on for an hour or two, with intermittent conversations in broken english along the lines of :

Driver – Where are you going?  (a favourite question in Ethiopia)

Me – Addis – Where are you going?

Driver – Addis

Me – Great!  I’m on the right bus then!

Driver – HAHAHAHA!

This joke had several iterations when it became clear that he actually wanted to know information in the more general sense.

Clearly he was a popular chap and had a string of contacts on the route, as we dropped off wood here, and picked up letters there, bags of stuff, the odd person (extra body got chucked in back as a better english speaker joined us in the cab) The music blarred with Ethiopia’s best talent, food ordered ahead of arrival, and the boys chewed their chat and chatted the night away.

At about midnight, Sofia and I were falling asleep, I think Sofia managed it fairly well, however, the ‘good road’ was only half good, and if one wasn’t holding on for dear life around the hair pin bends, it was a case of mastering rocky roads, pots holes, or simply no road at all, and various animals, people and other vehicles seemingly oblivious of the imminent danger they may be in.  Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep.

I must have nodded off at some point, as I woke up and checked out location on google maps and suddenly we seemed alot further down the road.  The extra body, despite having chewed a ton of chat was now dropping off, whilst the driver chewed on the dregs left in the bag.  I asked him if he was ok, and he had that classic, over stimualted, clenched teeth wide eyed look, when he turned to me nodding with a smile.  I could have got worried about it, but really I was too tired to care and instead teased him about it for a while.

The hours slipped by, and finally the Diver announced we were in Addis! just like that, our 11 hour journey was coming to an end and the discussion started as to where we were being dropped off.  I had no idea other than some vague directions and, regardless of the hour (clearly my situation could be classed as urgent) I called Flavio, the Italian mechanic.

The truck had a drop to make and in the process of trying to find the location, a stone had got caught between two tyres.  That was when I decided to help with a torch, and realised that the tyres on the truck were completely smooth!  OMG! so glad I didn’t know that at the beginning of the journey!

The Driver Catches a Kip in the Early hours as we Wait to Make contact with Flavio
The drop done, the Driver pulled over to catch a kip, whilst I was still trying to get hold of Flavio.  Suddenly at 8am, driver was keen to get going again, so they asked if they could take me to another mechanic.  At this point, if Flavio wasn’t answering, he clearly wasn’t helping so I agreed, and sent Falvio a message to say we were now going somewhere else.  Amazing the effect that had, as he texted back immediately to apologise and to let him know how it went.  The driver and his friend, who has been busy arranging things, were wondering why I didn’t call Falvio, and immediately asked his number and called themselves.  These were clearly nice guys and concerned about our welfare, and knew that a ferengi sticking to ferengi contacts may be preferable regardless of the greatness of the place they were taking me.  The call connected, and once it as established that they were calling on my behalf, Flavio immediately said, I am busy! and hung up.

The poor chap was lost for words, asking what we should do.  I shrugged and said he is Italian, he clearly not interested, and lets go to the place they were recommending.  Personally, I was horrified and so glad that these guys had an alternative option at the ready.

The Sun Rises over the Bike in Addis
It took some time and a round of fresh mango juice on me, when we finally arrived in a semi- shanty town area, down a road that only passes for a road because there is nothing else on it, and is used by cars to connect to main roads.  We stop out side a workshop clearly for bikes as there are many, and the first thing I see is 4 Ural outfits sitting there – I was speechless!  Somehow, we had managed to find a mechanic who actually had some Ural experience!  turns out various people had brought them for fixing, but cost of spares or lack of spares had resulted in them just being left there, never to see the road again.

Now was the time to get the bike down, only this time I insisted we take the bags off the bike, because now it was half the number of hands and actually this could be a more hazadous task.  it was also at this point that the phone had not recorded the loading of the bike, so this time, I made double triple sure that it was recording this.

Now the Bike needs to be taken off the Truck!
I can’t say the bike was dropped, but there was a moment where it didn’t look good as it rested on the spare tyre and with too much angle, but somehow they managed it, and the video has the appropriate shakes and movement of a camera person who is more interested in saving the bike than taking the film!

The bike off the truck, more good byes, and here we now were in Addis.  At least, we were told, with the best mechanic in town – Mohamed.

I wish I could say our night ended at this point, but next on the list was find somewhere to stay – this ended up with a long walk that took us through a shanty town area and up a steep hill being guided by a young chap from the workshop doing his best to find us something in our price range.  To cut another long story short, mission was accomplished, Sofia was parked and left to catch up on sleep whilst I returned to the bike and started working on a plan.

I’m not going to put too finer point on the fact that as I worked, I thanked my lucky stars over an over.  Never once were we met with anything other than concern, and a desire to ensure we felt safe, even the workshop where the bike now rested, could not have made us feel more welcome and looked after.



Part 1 – The Longest Night: Breaking Down in Ethiopia

After an amazing experience of visiting the Danakil Depression, a good nights sleep and the best shower in Africa, we set off from Mekele on Monday morning last looking south and to the final part of our trip in Ethiopia.

I was worried about the bike and keen to finish Ethiopia and head down to Nairobi when it could get a thorough service and the final drive (the part that was worrying me) could be sorted out.  Nothing serious, but serious enough that I was now looking to actively avoid any seriously bad roads, so a visit to Lalibela, the famous site for rock churches was out of the question now, as the road to it was really rough.

The road was good and we were making good progress, when suddenly, with no warning I hear a crunching/scrapping sound and a drop in power.  I immediately pulled over feeling the drop in power and the engine stopping as I pulled to a stop.  Naturally my first thought was oil.  Engines aren’t supposed to make that noise with oil.  So I checked it and found that there was no oil!  I had checked it that morning and it was full when we left.  So in 200km we had lost oil, and I could not see any major evidence of a major leak.  So I filled up again, waited for the engine for a bit longer (the crowds were gathered by this point their curiosity overwhelming them) before trying to start again.

When I pressed the start button, the engine tried to turn then jammed. o-O!  I was straight on the Skype phone to Mick, our mechanic in the UK, thankful that as we headed South and 3G internet had been getting better and better out side of main towns.  A short conversation established that the problem was major and towing would be necessary.  We had passed a big town only 15km earlier, so with the help of some of the male observers, we pushed the bike to the other side of the road to pick up a willing tow.

This is Ethiopia, and the people here are always ready to help a person in need, so we didn’t even wait a second when a minibus stopped with an english speaking driver who took us in hand, called a mechanic, dropped off his remaining clients, and returned to tow us to Kodo which was actually the direction we had been heading in.

The boys at the workshop made quick work of establishing that the left piston was ceased and that we should take the bike to Addis Ababa to get it fixed.  Of course, still not realising that I was in great hands, I wasted the next two hours trying to find a mechanic to go to in Addis, and then a truck to take us there.  This is when the low point of helpfulness came, when it was suggested that they lift the bike on a mini bus, strap it to the roof and Sofia and I ride with the bags in comfort in the bus!  I don’t know why I didn’t crack up laughing on the spot, rather taking it as seriously as it was suggested I said ‘Definitely Not!’

I managed to find an english speaking Italian mechanic, who had a friend with a truck that I couldn’t get hold of, so when my activity stopped, I was approached with a new suggestion, that there was a truck the bike could be pulled onto, and take us to Addis.  I had asked the Addis mechanic, Flavio, how much I should expect to pay, he had said 8000Birr, so when this truck was offered at 3000Birr, I didn’t waste a second thinking about it.

Relieved we were now arranged with a tow and a place to go, I sat back and waited taking in the surroundings, and hoping that an African/Ethiopian 20 minutes would be less that 2 hours, as it was going to get dark soon, and the audience were all steadily chewing their way through a heap of chat (a local plant stimulant much like coco leaves in South America) and drinking beer.   I felt no threat from them, but when it gets dark people change, and I didn’t really want us to be hanging around.

The Crowds Gather Around the Broken Bike – Kid taking particular interest in Sofia

Memories of Sudan

We only left Sudan a week and a half ago, and yet already it feels so distant.  Sadly it is a country of restrictions and I wasn’t able to publish any posts during our time there, so now I am playing catch up and will try to give as much of our experience in one short post.

Top memories included:

Staying with a Nubian family on the banks of the Nile.  It was only for one night, and even though we became the local attraction, it felt like all the people who stopped by to meet us became instant friends even though we didn’t speak the same language!  Our hosts where generous to a fault and will be one of our strongest memories of this trip through Africa.


Visiting JebaBerkal in Karima was like stepping back in time and exploring an Egyptian archaeology site 100 years ago.  The temples were only half excavated and the one cut in a rock needed a torch to see the paintings on the wall.  Karima itself was a lovely town with a colourful market and is where we spent our Christmas day.


Khartoum ended up being a 2 week adventure for us and included such delights as visiting a school for autism (will do a separate blog about it), staying with Hiba, the founder of said school, and her family for several days and going to a pre-wedding party that absolutely rocked


The desert wind was relentless and unfortunately not suitable for desert camping.  We did manage one night, our last night, and Sofia loved it so much she is always looking for an excuse to do it again.  The funniest thing though, was several people passed us and stopped and asked if we would prefer to stay in the local village (at least that is what I surmised) and they just couldn’t understand it when I kept saying no and walk away looking utterly baffled.


There are many things I’ve not included here that won’t be forgotten, like the USD story and the broken wheel rim, which have otherwise been faithfully recorded in Facebook.

In a nutshell though, Sudan is an interesting place that feels like a bit of a time warp.  On the one hand modernised, yet on the other hand, still some where stuck in the 70s and unable to move forward.  What was really nice was the people. So hospitable!  I have never felt so safe anywhere and leaving Sudan I was keenly aware that we would never be so safe again on our journey.







Visit to Egyptian Autistic Society

On our 4th day in Cairo, Sofia and I went to visit the Egyptian Autistic Society to find out more about autism in Egypt.  We were welcomed by Dina, who runs one of the class rooms at their centre just outside of central Cairo.  She showed us around, and in fact there are only about 5 classrooms in total at their disposal, and an occupational therapy room, however, currently they don’t have a trained occupational therapist so often the room is used as a play area, assembly room, or when a child needs some time.  Children will often spend half their day at the centre and the other half in their mainstream school, as the centre doesn’t have the resources to provide a full time facility, and are usually referred through the main stream school, or by the parents initiative.  When they come seeking help they are assessed, and based on that assessment it is decided what support is needed.  With such a small facility, an outreach program is run in the local schools, and generally the more severe cases will come to the centre to receive extra attention and a structured development plan that is regularly assessed.


The primary goal is to enable to children to work in a mainstream environment as much as possible, and as such, many will often be going to international schools, so the requirement is often to learn the language of the school they will attend.  This was fascinating to me as Sofia started preschool in France and struggled, not in a language confusion way, but she intrinsically wasn’t understanding language as a concept itself, it was just sounds to her, to which she ascribed meaning based on a situation she had seen.  For example, when she was 3 years old, just before we moved back to England, she watch 101 Dalmatians.  In this movie one of the puppies constantly stops, and when told to hurry up, he replies “I’m hungry”.  For Sofia this meant that the phrase “I’m hungry” was refusal, so when she wanted to refuse she would say “I’m hungry”.  Of course this would get confusing when she was refusing food!


It was fantastic to see such amazing care and attention being given to the children at the centre, and the results of their success where evident in the classroom we visited with after our tour.   But the challenges are evident as well.   Autism as a condition, flies in the face of the face of cultural understanding and traditions regarding children in Egypt.  Parents struggle to come to grips with the idea that changing parenting style can have an enormous impact not only on the out comes with the child, but that those more positive outcomes result in a  far more content home life as a whole.   I say this is a cultural thing, however, this is something that all autism parents struggle with, I think in the UK we just have higher level of awareness for the condition and therefore a greater potential to accept and make changes for autism.  The centre obviously works with the parents and does what it can to help the parents make the adjustment.  Sadly though, there is no training at this time or groups where parents can support each other, a very key aspect to parental survival!


Harder than the parents however, is the training of staff and carers who find it harder still to change their ideas of what is good for a child.   The support teacher in the class was in training, and as one of the children took a piece of bread from another’s lunch box, she took it back and returned it to the lunch box.   Naturally.  Dina stepped in and returned to the bread to the boy explaining that it was good that the boy had taken the bread and was touching and smelling it, particularly because the boy had a severe sensory issues around eating.   The trainee, accepted this, but for her is was clear that it would be a long road to accepting that the sensory needs and development of a child were a higher priority than manners and social order and be able to work with it.


Ultimately though the biggest struggle is getting the education out there to parents about autism, and giving them the strength to not only seek help but to cope with the attitudes of society around them and deal with the isolation that often comes with having a child that behaves differently.   Talking about autism to a friend we made in Alexandria, he said that he had two cousins with autism who were now adults.  His uncle solution, was to keep them indoors and not let them out.  Indeed, the younger (a girl) had not been out of the house in the last 3 years.  A sad story, and likely not uncommon.  It is through awareness that we can start to change these ideas and give opportunity.


We only had a few hours at the centre, and it would have been wonderful to have spent an entire day.   Sadly we had to leave though, as a long awaited camel ride that had been promised to Sofia, needed to take place before we hopped on a train to Alexandria where the motorbike awaited us.

Please help us to raise awareness for autism – click to donate

If you would like to learn more about autism in Egypt, or to support the Egyptian Autistic Society, who provide their services, training and education for free – please visit their website