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Pole to Pole

Day 80: Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleWe reach the junction with the main Addis road after six hours of bumpy but uninterrupted progress, and are soon descending through a patchwork of green and yellow fields into the Blue Nile Gorge, where the south-flowing river has cut a mile down into the rocky massif before slowly turning west and north into the Sudan.

The heat rises, trapped by towering red sandstone walls. When we stop for lunch beside a lazy waterfall my thermometer shows 100 degrees and the cool, clear air of the highlands is a just a happy memory. As we dip once more into our dwindling supplies of peanut butter, Treacle Crinkles and Fruit Rustics, we are not alone. From somewhere on the cliff wall above us come high-pitched, almost human cries and an olive baboon lopes away along a rocky ledge. Graham says that there are few wild animals left in Ethiopia now. They have been hunted to extinction.

At the bottom of the gorge a single-span steel bridge crosses the Blue Nile, flowing fast and muddy below. This bridge, a vital link between the north and south of the country, has apparently never been filmed. Under Selassie and Mengistu it was strictly out of bounds. It is our good fortune to have come along so soon after the liberation, and instead of hostility and secrecy we are greeted with curiosity and co-operation. This EPRDF army seems to feel so secure in its achievements that there is no need for striking poses of aggression or intimidation. It must be unique in the world, an army that smiles.

Taking full advantage of their helpfulness, we end up driving across the bridge four times. The soldiers look increasingly bemused as we keep coming back through the checkpoints, grinning manically.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 80
  • Country/sea: Ethiopia
  • Place: Bahir Dar
  • Book page no: 177

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