Ethiopia to Cape Town 2013

8 months - with Gitane - Toyota Hiace 4x4 van

Introduction to Ethiopia

October 7, 2013  —  Ethiopia
Border - Ethiopia
On the Kenya-Ethiopia border.

Hurrah! Ethiopia! On the photo, we are at the border of Kenya and Ethiopia (according to the GPS). What a road! But great scenery!

We didn't reach that point without problems. At the beginning, I was telling you that many people told us that we could not pass with our car. On that specific point, we didn't have any major problem. The only weakness of my vehicle is the fact that it does not have a very high clearance from the ground. It is better than a small car, but it is not as high as the typical 4x4 used on such trip. Thus, we had the bottom of the car touching the ground in quite a few places. We had to watch for rocks and sometime drive on the side of the road. It means that fuel consumption was higher since the ground was much softer. Otherwise, the road was fairly easy to handle.

Ethiopia
Termite mound.

On the mechanical side, the vehicle has not been up to the task. The morning, before reaching the border, we were bush camping. When it was time to start the car, the battery was dead... Shit, we are really in the middle of nowhere.

A local person arrives and sees that we have a problem, but he doesn't speak any English. With signs, we manage to understand that there is probably one or more cars in the tiny village that we see further away. Thus, I start walking to the village while Gitane stays with the van.

I reach the village and eventually I stumble upon a young man that speaks English and who is also a mechanic. He came to the village in order to repair a Land Rover vehicle that has a clutch problem. He tells me that when he is finished, he will come to help me. I wait for one hour or so before he finishes his repairs, but after he is done, nothing works on his side. I wait another 30 minutes before I decide to look elsewhere in the village for help. I am negotiating for someone else to help me when, surprise, I see Gitane coming in the village with the van.

When I was waiting for the mechanic, a 4x4 has arrived where Gitane was waiting and the driver helped her to start the van for almost an hour. It didn't work with the boosting cable, but the good Samaritan took its own battery to put it in our van and took our old battery to recharge it in his own car while he was driving. So, Gitane arrive in the village with the van and the good Samaritan's battery.

Ethiopia
On the road.

Finally, by switching batteries from one car to the other, we succeed in getting both cars running and we can therefore leave. The problem is that our battery is dead and must be replaced. Since we have an automatic car, we can't start by pushing it. Thus we have to reach a place where we can find a store to buy a new battery. We are told that we will find one in Omorate, on the Ethiopian side. We then start an odyssey in order to find a new battery... and it will take a long time.

At this point, when we reach the border, several hours have passed to get the van running and get back on the road. We must not turn off the van. On the road, we ran out of fuel and we must refill the van using the jerrycans that we have on the roof. Local people are surrounding us and are asking for all kinds of things, but we don't really understand anything of what they are saying. We reach Omorate where we get the passports and Carnet de Passage stamped. The custom officers are very friendly, and all goes very smoothly. All the time we are stopped at the custom office, the van is running... What a setback, we are told that they are no battery in this village. We must reach Jinka.

Arba Minch - Ethiopia
Arba Minch town.

Our odyssey is long and goes on like that for a few days. In Jinka, there are no batteries and after several hours trying to start the van, we go to Arba Minch. There, we manage to find a battery at an exaggerated price, but we have no other choice. But wait, the story is not finished.

The battery is working well and we go for a visit of the Dorze and Chencha region (will be in the next blog). All is well for one day only. At the end of the day, after visiting Dorze, all the lights are lit in the dash board (oil, battery, engine, coil heater...). I check the alternator and it isn't working anymore; it decided to break down. In Nairobi, the alternator was replaced for a new one. Unfortunately, the part we got at Jungle Junction's was probably a low quality one. We sleep in Dorze, and early in the morning, we leave for the city of Awasa where there is a Toyota dealer.

Once more, we can't turn off the van, but this time even if the battery is good, it is not recharged by the alternator. Thus, we drive for a long time to reach the city. On the way, the van begins to overheat. We don't know exactly why. After a time, the temperature sensor reaches the red zone and we immediately stop the van to avoid damaging the engine. Again, we are in the middle of nowhere and this time, we are very upset by the vehicle's problems. We even think that we will not be able to complete the trip. Then, we wait for the van to cool down and during that time an Ethiopian man arrives with his car and asks us if we need help. He inspects the van and notices that we are low on cooling liquid. He offers us water and tells us to wait for the engine to cool down before putting water and starting the engine again. He lends us a cell phone so that he can contact us and check if all goes well. We will give him back the phone when we reach Awasa.

Arba Minch - Ethiopia
Arba Minch town.

We manage to go again, and on the way, strong rains start to fall. We must use the wipers with the side effect that the battery is drained completely (and the alternator is not working). We manage to reach Awasa, but unfortunately, it is Saturday afternoon and the Toyota dealer is closed. We take a room and we wait until Monday before the repairs can be started. We spent a week waiting for the repairs and it is not going well.

At the dealer, there are no spare parts for my van, so I must find a used part. Next Tuesdays is a holiday, thus it is another day lost. For the cooling problem, the Toyota dealer refuses to check the van because they don't have spare parts. In the end, the alternator is repaired as well as the battery 'open circuit'. For the rest, we probably lost all the cooling liquid because the thermostat was not working well since there was no electricity (charging circuit was broken). We are driving with success using water as cooling liquid and we control the engine temperature by leaving the heating on in the van. When we go up a hill, we must put the heater and the fan on maximum and it works well... However, it is sometimes very hot in the van, but since we are at altitudes of 2000 to 3000 metres, we handle it quite well since it is not too hot outside.

The van I have is not available in Ethiopia, thus in this country, there are no spare parts. It is a major problem, but we should be able to hold on until we get back to Kenya.

Arba Minch - Ethiopia
Arba Minch town.

Here it goes; it is how we started our trip in Ethiopia. More or less 2 weeks driving (almost 700 kilometres) in order to find a decent enough place to have the van repaired. We saw magnificent landscapes, but we didn't stop very often to take pictures or simply to enjoy our time. We didn't visit the south of the country and we really started our trip in Ethiopia from Awasa. We will visit again the southern part before going back to Kenya. We have also gone from the desert to an area with rain (in the south of Ethiopia); what a change.

At the time I write this blog, the alternator has been repaired and we left Awasa some 15 days ago. The van is working well with water as cooling liquid. The engine temperature is controlled by using the heating and ventilation in the car.

The adventure continues!!! More coming soon...

Arba Minch - Ethiopia
Baboon near Arba Minch.
Arba Minch - Ethiopia
Baboon near Arba Minch.
Awasa - Ethiopia
Lake Awasa.
Awasa - Ethiopia
Roundabout in Awasa.