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The Solo Scooterist

Documenting my travels on a Vespa

Date: August 19, 2014

H 2 H via Chiro

After three relaxing days in the lake town of Hawassa it was time to move on to the ancient city of Harar in the East of the country , a ride that would take me two days to cover the close to 700 kilometres . We started off in the cool morning  mist leaving an already bustling town full of people taking their produce to market , the roads full of people , livestock , the gari loaded to capacity being pulled by a couple of bouncing donkeys , the blue Bajaj ferrying the population anywhere and everywhere . In Ethiopia the roads really are full of life of all kinds , one has to maintain very  high levels of concentration to navigate  these roads , focus , focus I keep repeating to myself.

 

Ethiopia full of these beautiful holy places of worship.

Ethiopia full of these beautiful holy places of worship.

 

The ride was to be a very interesting one from a landscape perspective that took me from the lush , green farm lands through  deep black volcanic rock strewn  bad lands ,  then back into the dry dusty arid flat  before being delivered to a place much like Lesotho , valleys , mountains and the deep enchanting Ethiopian green .

On the ride up I passed 5 hyena’s being devoured by vultures roadside ,  in very  populated areas , to many truck carcasses to mention , more  truck accidents to add to the road litter , a whole lot of camels  and a traffic apocalypse involving  hundreds vehicles all stationary  , waiting for a jack-knifed truck to be cleared . How I love two wheels , as we left the tar and went dust side to carry on our journey , hardly missing a beat.

 

Rural villages run alongside Vic and I

Rural villages run alongside Vic and I

 

I made it up to a town called Awash , where I met Doctor Lemessa from Harar university , while grabbing a cold water and filling up Vic , we got chatting and he advised me to push on another 100 kilometres to escape the dreadful heat and dust of Awash to a small town called Chiro , damn glad I did what a reprieve it offered in the lovely tranquil setting.

One has to cross the Awash river to continue up to Harar , unbeknown to me it is a military zone and no motorcycles are allowed to cross unless they have been granted permission and a permit in Addis. I knew none off this so down we rode bobbing and weaving amonst the trucks , dust and chaos we bounced to emerge on the other side , how I managed to miss the two check points is still beyond me , maybe the chaos and bad road condition that gives you the feeling you are in the eye of a dust storm .  As Vic and I came over the rise we where met with very hostile and surprised personal who had no idea how we managed to get across the bridge . Spikes pulled across the road in front of us ,  arms at the ready we came to a very surprised and abrupt halt . The language barrier was again to be an issue . My heart racing I tried to explain who I was where I was going , got all my documents out , finally after a very stressfull time all was sorted out and all parties via various means of communication departed as friends .

Ethiopians seem to love South Africans as our late president spent time here  training and he is highly revered here as in most parts of the world , but Ethiopians seem to have an exceptional love for our Madiba , all know of him and his time in Ethiopia and in a way  , proudly have adopted him into their history  , so between Madiba and that precious green and gold document we proceeded to our destination . So a word of warning if you are on two wheels and by any chance want to go up to Harar make sure you stop explain as best you can , get the authorities to call and get you permission , the other alternative is to put your bike on the back of a pick up and get driven across. This is allowed and encouraged .

 

Exceptional Ethiopia

Exceptional Ethiopia

 

After a few very deep breaths and finding some good music I rode for Chiro Town . A little Oasis it was , great food , very helpful staff in a cool calm setting , so I sat down to dinner to reflect on my very hectic day and was glad to have the sun set on us here , tomorrow we ride for the city of Harar , the place that is home to the hyena men .

For those who rode up to Lesotho earlier this year , I was having flashbacks to those  green wet mountains , those steep inclines that robbed Victoria of her ability to clear the 30 kilometre per hour mark , those treacherous  downhill’s , those sharp curves and those unbelievable views that clear your nostrils and  mind by beauty and  then fear of not making the corner , enjoying a flight unscheduled to a messy landing .

 

You do feel speck like as you ride in this place

You do feel speck like as you ride in this place

 

The ride up from Awash to Harar  takes you through Oromo country , where you are privileged to experience the magic colour and incredible beauty of these people while you ride the snake and ladder like roads .The woman definitely do all the work , at best I think the men leave the shade of a tree to relieve themselves and then return to the tree. The woman on the other hand tall , elegant and beautiful , dressed like a celebration , fill the land in their bright colours hard at work , doing everything from tilling the land , tending to the livestock , collecting wood and water , so we rode amazed by the beauty , touched by the people and inspired by their cultural magnificence , still so intact and practiced .

 

Wheels down in Chiro Town

Wheels down in Chiro Town

 

So well fed and less frazzled  off to bed , for tomorrow Harar .

Until we meet again.

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Cultures , Coffee and CHAT .

The 200 kilometres to Harar took just over 4 hours to navigate  the  roads ,  highland winds twists and turns . We arrived in this ancient walled city where I was going to experience a way of life frozen in time , blended with the new world of construction , tech and commerce , where within one city different  religions and cultures  walk free and proud all wrapped in the fabric of what it means to be  a citizen of Harar .

 

The road to Harar .

The road to Harar .

 

Smaller villages one passes through en route to Harar . Still very busy .

Smaller villages one passes through en route to Harar . Still very busy .

 

I met up with Dr Lemessa who kindly introduced me to the hotel staff and who asked the hotel to find me a guide to enrich my time in the city and to show me a little of their world , so by 16h00 I was with Tedy Zion  my appointed guide touring the city both old and new .

 

The new .

The new .

 

The old and my first gate

The old and my first gate

Once you enter the old city  through one of its five gates , you are transported back in time , you expect to look down , see your feet in sandals , your clothing transformed to rough spun cotton or your body  caressed by fine silk  , your coin bold and brass , the  weapon at your side  forged by hammer and  flame , adorned with a  jewel  encrusted handle , so  your life is thrown back hundreds of years to a lively rich  place . Trading , living and eating on the street , your world protected  by an ancient wall . Your life free  , your senses full of scent and spice , your eyes adjusting to the frenzied  activity , your step more cautious  to the cobbles and narrow  alleys , your space and movement robbed by congestion  , you come alive , with your mind imagining you here in this old place living in the time of  kings , prophets and warlords . So I took my first breath of old .

 

First breath of this ancient place.

First breath of this ancient place.

My excitement feverish I tried to take it all in , my eyes unable to settle or focus , always being shown something new , bigger or  brighter , a scent takes them from trade to seek its source  , a bump , a touch , a face , eyes meeting and moving , I was less than 100 meters in , so let me take you visually through these streets before we meet for coffee down an alley in a home ancient in construction as condition where I will tell you more .

 

The colour of heat .

The colour of heat .

 

Pastels and print .

Pastels and print .

 

Colours of Harar

Colours of Harar

 

One of the magnificent restorations in the old city . Rimbaud House.

One of the magnificent restorations in the old city . Rimbaud House.

 

Second of the five gates as we walked the streets.

Second of the five gates as we walked the streets.

 

Third , two to go .

Third , two to go .

 

The fourth

The fourth

The last , not the least .

The last , not the least .

 

The main road tat leads you in and out of the walled city.

The main road tat leads you in and out of the walled city.

 

So I emerged in a home for the age old tradition , the coffee ceremony , to take an hour of my time yet give me insight into a tradition that holds the old ways fiercely in a miniature cup of deep and black liquid extracted by art and ritual from the  bean  we all know as coffee . So it began with preparing the charcoal that would provide the flame and heat . Next the beans washed and placed over the heat to roast , the heat the first turn of the key to unlock the aroma hidden within .

 

Preparing the bean for pounding .

Preparing the bean for pounding .

 

Aroma to tease .

Aroma to tease .

Then the pounding and crushing of the roasted beans , followed by placing the freshly ground powder into the pot , placed on the coals to heat , before the first of three are poured , to gift you with , peace , then love then the third for peace and love . Do you think John Lennon and Yoko Ono drank too many cups of Ethiopian coffee ? I wonder .

 

More coffee foreplay . Smelling the freshly ground , my nostrils alive , please hurry .

More coffee foreplay . Smelling the freshly ground , my nostrils alive , please hurry .

Finally my first cup is handed over with a humble pride and a knowing  smile that tells me before my first sip , that this is going to be a life altering event  in my coffee life . First the aroma fills the deepest of recesses , trying to prepare you for what you are about to receive . The liquid gold touches my taste buds they can’ t understand what is happening , spontaneously I feel them doing the Mexican wave in my mouth , I hold the temptation to swallow , I savour the flavours , close my eyes so I have an extra sense on hand , let the liquid rest on my tonuge , I gently swallow to complete the ceremony , yes truly the best I have ever had .

While at the coffee ceremony , I was educated about the  Chat universe , not a physical enlightenment  but a verbal account of its tradition in Harari culture , the addictive nature of the plant as well as the mind altering properties it holds within its leaf , to be extracted by chewing on the leaves . Hallucinations , alertness and various other advatages Tedy tells me . You are able to remember what you have forgotten , not only that but it helps you think twice , helps you think twice I repeat , yes he tells me , no further explanation offered . So now with my education well underway  Tedy  explains the different grades , experiences to be had and how Harar chat is the best in the world . Should he get some for us to enjoy after coffee he asks ?  Having noticed the effects of chat on the Harari people I had to decline , but damn that coffee will live with me forever .

So next up to the view point to enjoy Harar at sunset before we head for the hyena’s and the men that feed them .

 

Tedy Zion , always the guide with funky hair .

Tedy Zion , always the guide with funky hair .

So the sun down we made our way out of the old city to the outskirts where the hyena men are . It starts with him calling them by name , apparently , I am told around 30 or 40 live around Harar  , and are basically fed in one of two locations . When I arrived about 10 hung around waiting for their commands . These predators , very obedient I thought ,  maybe to much so . I went down on my knees to await the beast to mount my shoulders and feed , so gently I felt her paws wrap around my shoulders while her weight pushed them down slightly , she turned her  jaws to devour the meat dangling above my head , so gentle she was , the command given , she left . I traded cash for experience and left back for the hotel , overflowing  with the intoxication  bottled in Harar.  I had met a couple from the UK earlier , John and Charlie , so we shared our travels over that superb wine the Rift valley produces and off to bed .

 

Easy tiger .

Easy tiger .

The next day , Tedy arrived to take me around further Harar highlights and delights , back to the old city to look at a few museum’s , shops and the tomb of the last King of Harar . Tedy not as attentive as the day before , I was coming to realise that Tedy  like a lot of Harar really enjoyed his chat , so the second day out was like been guided by the Duracell bunny , and chat did not help Tedy remember twice , actually not even once , yet I still really enjoyed my time hanging with Tedy Zion not from an educational perspective but the ability to enjoy a city with a citizen .

 

Breakfast on the street , boiled potato , fresh tomato , onion and chilli , special spice and coffee for three Rand .

Breakfast on the street , boiled potato , fresh tomato , onion and chilli , special spice and coffee for three Rand .

Interior of an Harari home.

Interior of an Harari home.

 

Resting place of the last King of Harar.

Resting place of the last King of Harar.

So my day and time in Harar was coming to an end , we started our exit from the city when a young woman called out, for  us to come back , she invited me in, to see her home , offered me some chat and coffee and so I sat down to enjoy the company have a chat without the chat . The conversation polite and enquiring , then was I married came up , after my answer so came the proposal to get married , I politely declined to laughter and banter all around , the last proposal was just to provide a child , as she told me , she has two breasts one for her existing child the other for the one I should provide  her , so amongst the chatter and  laughter I said my goodbyes with a heart full of joy for what Harar had shown me .

 

DSCN4888

So my final  night was shared with Dr Lemessa for a coffee and goodbye , then Charlie and John for dinner before I ride North and they fly South . I start my trip back to Addis , the two day return with another crossing of the bridge .

 

The Ras Hotel

The Ras Hotel

Ancient city with ancient ways thank you for the privilege .

Until we meet again.

 

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