Part 1 – The Longest Night: Breaking Down in Ethiopia

After an amazing experience of visiting the Danakil Depression, a good nights sleep and the best shower in Africa, we set off from Mekele on Monday morning last looking south and to the final part of our trip in Ethiopia.

I was worried about the bike and keen to finish Ethiopia and head down to Nairobi when it could get a thorough service and the final drive (the part that was worrying me) could be sorted out.  Nothing serious, but serious enough that I was now looking to actively avoid any seriously bad roads, so a visit to Lalibela, the famous site for rock churches was out of the question now, as the road to it was really rough.

The road was good and we were making good progress, when suddenly, with no warning I hear a crunching/scrapping sound and a drop in power.  I immediately pulled over feeling the drop in power and the engine stopping as I pulled to a stop.  Naturally my first thought was oil.  Engines aren’t supposed to make that noise with oil.  So I checked it and found that there was no oil!  I had checked it that morning and it was full when we left.  So in 200km we had lost oil, and I could not see any major evidence of a major leak.  So I filled up again, waited for the engine for a bit longer (the crowds were gathered by this point their curiosity overwhelming them) before trying to start again.

When I pressed the start button, the engine tried to turn then jammed. o-O!  I was straight on the Skype phone to Mick, our mechanic in the UK, thankful that as we headed South and 3G internet had been getting better and better out side of main towns.  A short conversation established that the problem was major and towing would be necessary.  We had passed a big town only 15km earlier, so with the help of some of the male observers, we pushed the bike to the other side of the road to pick up a willing tow.

This is Ethiopia, and the people here are always ready to help a person in need, so we didn’t even wait a second when a minibus stopped with an english speaking driver who took us in hand, called a mechanic, dropped off his remaining clients, and returned to tow us to Kodo which was actually the direction we had been heading in.

The boys at the workshop made quick work of establishing that the left piston was ceased and that we should take the bike to Addis Ababa to get it fixed.  Of course, still not realising that I was in great hands, I wasted the next two hours trying to find a mechanic to go to in Addis, and then a truck to take us there.  This is when the low point of helpfulness came, when it was suggested that they lift the bike on a mini bus, strap it to the roof and Sofia and I ride with the bags in comfort in the bus!  I don’t know why I didn’t crack up laughing on the spot, rather taking it as seriously as it was suggested I said ‘Definitely Not!’

I managed to find an english speaking Italian mechanic, who had a friend with a truck that I couldn’t get hold of, so when my activity stopped, I was approached with a new suggestion, that there was a truck the bike could be pulled onto, and take us to Addis.  I had asked the Addis mechanic, Flavio, how much I should expect to pay, he had said 8000Birr, so when this truck was offered at 3000Birr, I didn’t waste a second thinking about it.

Relieved we were now arranged with a tow and a place to go, I sat back and waited taking in the surroundings, and hoping that an African/Ethiopian 20 minutes would be less that 2 hours, as it was going to get dark soon, and the audience were all steadily chewing their way through a heap of chat (a local plant stimulant much like coco leaves in South America) and drinking beer.   I felt no threat from them, but when it gets dark people change, and I didn’t really want us to be hanging around.

The Crowds Gather Around the Broken Bike – Kid taking particular interest in Sofia

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