5th Nov ’12 Debark to Axum
Today was the mega long road journey to Axum. The road that runs up and down and winds through the Simien Mountains (and was featured in the TV series The World’s Most Dangerous Roads) is being widened and re-surfaces which means that it was rough, bumpy and with lots of roadworks and the 250 km drive could take up to 12 hours to do! In fact we made it in 11 hours – a long haul but in spectacular scenery, towering jagged brown peaks, forested lower slopes, lush green valleys, a winding river, sheer drops and hair pin bends all added a bit of spice!
There were hold ups while bulldozers moved towering piles of stones or flattened sections of road before waving us on and the speculations as to how long we would be held up kept us on our toes.
At the top of a mountain pass we stopped to take pictures and two young boys appeared from nowhere. I thought they were about 5 and 6 and was shocked to find out one was actually 8. They were bare foot wearing patched together clothes that were falling apart and it broke my heart when they asked for a t shirt. They were full of life, friendly and curious and all they wanted was some clothes. As I was wearing layers I wanted to give them my t shirt but as the tour leader pointed out to give just one t shirt wouldn’t have been fair. I agreed with what she was saying but I was really choked up about it and it brought home to me just how much we have and take for granted and just how little others do, yet they still have big smiles and big hearts.
Our drink stop was in a small town where local children instead of begging make drawings to sell and some of them have real talent, lots of sales were made today.
Dropping down into the Tigray region the landscape became much flatter and more arid. We passed through a small town and stopped on its outskirts at an Eritrean Refugee Camp. This camp is now a very large established one where people no longer live in tents but have more permanent dwellings. Sue knew the people who run one of the bars there and we went there to eat our pack lunch and to buy drinks.
The people were really welcoming and we were the only group who do this. It isn’t allowed to walk around the camp and it might seem a bizarre thing to be doing but it felt right and at least we could give them some business and by being there acknowledge their presence and situation. A young lad wandered in dressed in rags with terrible scars on his legs, he was acting quite strangely but just sat with us and we shared our food with him. Apparently he is just one of many many young refugees who have seen and experienced things that no one should have too. We left a lot more food behind to be shared out.
A final drink stop and then we rolled into Axum 11 hours after we started. We got a tantalising glimpse of the Stelae field before driving up to the top of the hill to our hotel.
We were staying there rather than right in the town centre as Axum is full of churches whose priests like to try and outdo each other with the old chanting on the loud speaker system right the way through the night!!