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Pole to Pole

Day 80: Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa

The Blue Nile Bridge, Ethiopia 
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The Blue Nile Bridge - as never seen on television.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAbout 3 o'clock in the afternoon we drive up the steep hairpin bends to the south of the gorge, and take one last look at the Nile which has led us two and a half thousand miles into Africa. Once over the mountains and beyond Addis we shall pick up another natural route - the Great Rift Valley - to push a thousand miles further south, into the heart of the continent.

As we near Addis the road surface is increasingly cracked and broken, the result of the enormous movement of troops down from the north in the last months of the war. A lot of military hardware, mainly personnel carriers, armoured cars and tanks, has been left by the side of the road. With the sky darkening behind them, a hyena loping across the road in front and lightning once again splitting the western horizon, it is an apocalyptic sight.

Darkness falls, and it is after eight o'clock when we first see the lights of Addis. The drivers have been at it for thirteen hours, which is quite a feat of concentration on damaged, unlit roads.

The last plateau we crossed was at 10,000 feet and Addis Ababa, at 8000 feet, is one of the highest capitals in the world.

There is a smell of wood smoke in the air, and for the first time in Ethiopia I notice private cars. A burned-out tank, slewed halfway onto the pavement outside the Presidential Palace, is a reminder of the resistance the EPRDF encountered when they took the city. Between two and three thousand were killed here when the presidential guard put up a last fight.

Culture shock as we arrive at the Addis Hilton, into a world of white faces, blond hair, thick legs, full bellies. Curfew from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m, but telephones and mini-bars. Gorgeous, sensational and wonderful shower. The dust runs off in muddy channels. My eyes are red-rimmed and sore, and I have picked up a cluster of flea bites from somewhere but I suppose that's a small price to pay for what we've just been through.

Can't help noticing that the only postcards available here carry fine colour photos of the Blue Nile Bridge - the bridge no one had ever filmed.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 80
  • Country/sea: Ethiopia
  • Place: Addis Ababa
  • Book page no: 179

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