26 novembre 2013

Simien Mountains

On our eventful bus ride to Gonder, we met Aussie couple Robert and Liz and amateur ornithologue John from England. Together, we decided to share the cost of a 5 days/4 nights trek to the Simien Mountains. We dealt Effrem at Lodge Fasil who,  despite being in the mist of becoming a new father, was very helpful in setting the expedition for us. On top of a very fair price, he also provided us with discounted rooms at his very neat and upmarket lodge on our return. We highly recommend his services if this post inspires you to trek the Simiens (+251911017991, beffrem@yahoo.com).

The crew included a guide, an armed scout, a cook, an assistant cook and mule men with their animals. The armed scout is compulsory by the Park authority, but is more for show than necessity. There was no signs of trouble or dangerous animals in the mountains. We doubt that our scout even had a bullet in is very vintage riffle!

The Simien Mountains are one of the most beautiful place we have seen on our travels. It is definitely a paradise for trekkers. The jagged peaks rise up above 4000m and provide an ever changing paysage, making the daily walks interesting. The trek itself is not too difficult: the footpath generally rising or descending gradually. Having our tents and gear setup and a cooked meal at the end of each day also contributed to a plaisant experience. We could have hired the men and the gear ourselves at the Park Headquarters in Debark, but without speaking amharic, it would have been quite an adventure in itself.

The wildlife is abundant and very easy to spot. We could sit quietly in the middle of a group of Gelada Baboons or spot Walia Ibex at only a few metres. The prey birds were everywhere, flying closely below or above us, depending on where we stood on the ridges.

The park is not only a natural reserve, it is also cultivated by people. The landscape is a colourful patchwork of fields on the plateaus below the sculptural summits. Our guide organised an impromptu coffee ceremony in one of the villages along the way. We had to contribute a small fee, but we were glad to pay as the family welcome was genuinely sincere and joyful. Their living conditions are incredibly harsh and we are certain that this little income will be put to good use.

For November, the weather was anormally wet and cold. During the bulk of the day, we had nice sunshine but at the end of every day we had a bit of rain. This usually happened after we reached camp, but on the third night we were hit by a hail storm and ended up drenched and cold. Our tent and mattresses were soaked and we had to find shelter at a nearby lodge.

Finally, a bit of advice if you want to visit the Simien Mountains: bring your own sleeping bags, possibly even mattresses and tent. The ones on offer are very old and not warm enough for the weather. Also, you really want to avoid being covered in itchy bed bug bites like Geneviève! I guess that's the drawback of traveling light...

From left to right: Robert, Liz, Effrem, John, David, Geneviève, Tadro and Zenoba.

Walia Ibex

20 novembre 2013


Continuant notre boucle au nord du pays, nous passons par Gonder, une ancienne capitale Éthiopienne. Nous y avons visité l'enceinte fortifiée au coeur de la ville qui rassemble plusieurs châteaux datant du 17e et 18e siècles.

Pour les cinq prochains jours, nous partons en randonnée dans les montagnes du Simien avec des amis Australiens et Anglais. Cela devrait mettre à l'épreuve nos capacités physiques! On vous en reparle au retour.

Bahir Dar

Note: Nous n'avons pas la patience de traduire toutes nos entrées, surtout que vous pouvez traduire avec l'outil Google dans le menu à droite. Dans un soucis d'équitabilité pour nos amis Québécois et Australiens, nous allons écrire parfois en français et parfois en anglais.

Our first excursion outside of Addis Ababa, towards Bahir Dar, provided us with our first glimpse of the remarkable Ethiopian countryside and our first experiences with transportation.
There are some comfortable air-conditioned buses for long distances and we were quite happy with our ride for the 10h+ journey to Bahir Dar.

For our day trip to the Blue Nile falls (see pictures below), we survived an army of touts at the bus station and waited for a minibus to fill  with locals before finally starting towards our destination. Leg room and comfort was not an option, but it was fun to travel with Ethiopians.

When we decided to go to Gonder, we were offered to join other tourists in a contracted minibus. The price seemed fair and not having to wait for departure was a bonus. The ride was without incident until we got pulled on the side of the road by a police woman. A long argument in Amharic started with our driver and we were finally ordered back to our starting point, to our great frustration and confusion. However, the outcome was not what we were expecting! It turned out that the driver didn't have the proper permit to contract transportation and had overcharged us. We got reimbursed our original fare, asked to pay the much cheaper normal price and got to keep the same private transport to Gonder! Ok, it didn't stop our driver to supplement his earning by taking a few locals along the way. Nevertheless, we learned that officials won't accept unscrupulous individuals who try to abuse our lack of understanding of local pricing! We also learned to ask for the right paper as well.

18 novembre 2013

Addis Ababa

English version follows

Même après tous nos voyages dans des pays en voie de développement, nous n'étions pas préparé pour le choc initial d'Addis Ababa. Nous avons eu une première impression de condition misérable et de chaos que nous n'avions jamais vu dans une capitale auparavant. Heureusement, le délicieux café éthiopien et les gens chaleureux nous ont fait surmonté ces premiers moments difficiles.

Durant les premiers jours, nous avons visité notre ancêtre Lucy ainsi que de nombreuses églises orthodoxes. Il semblerait que les locaux sont des gens pieux et que leurs cérémonies religieuses prennent des proportions épiques.

Even with all our traveling in developing country, we were not prepared for the initial chock of Addis Ababa. Our first impression was of chaos and dismal conditions never seen in a capital before. We got over it, thanks to wonderful Ethiopian coffee and welcoming people.

In our first few days, we have paid a visit to our ancestor Lucy and to numerous orthodox churches. It seems that the locals are very pious and their religious ceremonies take impressive proportions. 

12 novembre 2013


Après quelques jours à Dubai, nous sommes finalement en route vers l'Afrique. C'était un bref séjour, mais nous avons bien apprécié le luxe de la place.

After a short stay in Dubai, we're finally on our way to Africa. We really enjoyed the luxury of the place.

11 novembre 2013

The essentials

David talked about blogging light in his last post,  but beside taking as little technology as possible,  we also like to travel with small backpack. This wasn't always the case has I remember carrying 60L rucksack in Peru and Galapagos Islands. We have learned from our mistakes and nowadays,  we much prefer 20L carry-on bags.  We don't need to check them in airplanes, it's easier to keep an eye on them in crowded buses and they don't break our backs.

A lot of people have asked what we bring with us for a 6 months journey. Since our long trip in South East Asia and other shorter travel,  we made a list of what has proven useful for us and this is what is coming with us this time. This gear is all we need to cover the activities we like to do when traveling: sightseeing, casual dining, bush walking,  canoeing.  For activities that requires more equipment like scuba diving and longer trek,  we rent what we need as we go.

- 1x hat
- 1x good walking snickers (much lighter than hiking boost,  yet sufficient for long walks)
- 1x sandals
- 1x soft shell jacket (light and water resistant.  If we do feel like getting out in torrential rain,  we can always add a plastic poncho over)
- 1x long sleeve fleece
- 2x long sleeve t-shirts
- 3x t-shirts
- 1x trouser (confortable enough for hiking,  but also wearable in the city)
- 1x bermuda (more appropriate than shorts in more conservative country)
- 1x long dress / shirt (for more dressed up occasions)
- 1x swimmers
- 6x underwears
- 4x socks
- 1x small headlight
- 1x spectacles / sunglasses
- 1x pareo / lightweight travel towel
- passport / travel documents / vaccination booklet

Between the two of us,  we share:

- point and shoot camera
- small first aid kit
- toiletry kit (we buy all liquids locally to avoid hassles in airport)
- malaria pills
- Android tablet
- guide book (David would love to have a digital version,  but I like the paper copy)
- reading book (I know... I could save some weight or carry a dozen digital books like David,  but I love exchanging my paperbacks with other backpackers')
- deck of cards
- notebook and pen

That's it! Total weight: 6.5kg for Geneviève and 7.2kg for David.

08 novembre 2013

Blogging Light

This is it, first entry into this blog for a long time!

French disclaimer: Desolé pour les francophones, mais après 7 ans en Australie, c'est beaucoup plus simple pour nous d'écrire dans la langue de Shakespeare. Vous trouverez l'option pour traduire avec Google Translate à droite de la page.

I thought it would be appropriate to start this blog by describing the set up we will be using throughout our African trip. I have long been an adept of traveling light and I couldn't see myself lugging a heavy laptop in our small backpacks (see Gen's entry soon about that). However, in 2013, it is almost inconceivable to embark on any journey without that essential piece of technology.

The compromise was to go with a portable tablet and I have found the perfect one in the Nexus 7. It is fast, has a great form factor and light weight, and best of all, it is relatively cheap. That way, if something happens during our trip and it gets broken or stolen, I won't cry as much as if it was a 2000$ toy from a certain fruit company!

There are a few drawbacks from using a proper laptop and I'm already experiencing the first one: typing is not as easy. I have splurged(!) and got a mini keyboard case from Minisuit which helps a bit, but it is still not the same. It does auto-complete through the SwiftKey app, which is awesome at typing prediction, so I might be enjoying that part of it. Another advantage of the bluetooth keyboard is that the whole screen of the tablet can be used to see what I'm typing, instead of having the bottom half taken by the virtual keyboard.

Anyway, the real test will be when Gen types her entry later on. I will have to make sure there are no sharp objects nearby!

Photography is an important part of traveling to keep memories and share them. We have opted to use a point and shoot camera for this trip, the Sony HX20V. We already did great shots with it during our trip in New Zealand that you can see using the Photos link at the top of the page.

The sharing bit is where things become tricky. We wanted to be able to upload our best shots to the cloud, but tablet and app makers are expecting photos to be taken using the device's camera, not to import them via an external one. Not phased by a challenge, I did find a workaround that seem to work quite well so far. It simply involved rooting the tablet (not so hard with all the guides online) installing Stickmount and finding a microUSB to microUSB OSM cable. The later was definitely the hardest part, although I did find one on a Canadian hacker tools site online.

In hindsight, a wifi camera might have made all this much easier, but this setup does offer the advantage of selecting the photos on a bigger screen. Plus, with apps like F-Stop, we can rate and tag the photos directly on the simcard so when we import the whole lot at the end of the trip, it will make the sorting much easier.

Ok, I promised myself I would make short entries for this trip... Oh well, maybe next time!

The last thing I wanted to touch on was some technology security features that we will be trying in the next few months. First one was turning on the Android Device Manager on the Nexus 7. This will allow us to remotely lock or erase the tablet if it gets lost.

Also, since we will be on shared wifi all the time, and we're not sure how much we can trust those in Africa, I did subscribe to a VPN service: HideMyAss. It's one of the best rated one, with the most servers and reliable speeds. For those who don't know what a VPN is (like me, not that long ago), it creates an encrypted tunnel for Internet traffic to go through between the device and their server. Amongst other benefits such as hiding the user's identity, this prevents anyone from snooping on communications along the way, thus keeping those banking passwords safe.

Alright, that's enough for me today. I am planning on keeping this entry up to date with our experience with this technology. Fellow geeks / travelers, please enter your tips and suggestions in the comments or feel free to ask questions if you want.