Tough Trucks Ethiopia Backgrounder


In this episode Zay Harding travels by truck across one of Africa’s toughest and most spectacular countries, Ethiopia.  Starting his trip from Ethiopia’s border with Djibouti, Zay hitches on a goods truck across the burningly hot Afar Desert, one of the hottest places on the planet, across which more than 95% of Ethiopia’s vital imports are transported.


Climbing out of the desert through the dramatic landscape of Ethiopia’s central highlands, Zay travels on to visit Ethiopia’s ancient capital Lalibela, home to some of the world’s most extraordinary churches, carved out of solid rock.  Continuing his journey through Ethiopia’s highlands in a classic 1950s FIAT truck, so tough that they were once popularly nicknamed the ‘Lions of Africa’, Zay heads on to the even more revered ancient Christian site of Axum, where he visits the shrine that’s said by Ethiopians to be the true home of one of the world’s most fabled religious objects, the legendary Ark of the Covenant.


From ancient Axum Zay travels to Ethiopia’s modern capital, Addis Ababa, where he checks out one of the city’s numerous garages where trucks are transformed into public buses.  (There’s no bus factory in Ethiopia, and rather than importing ready-made buses, it’s cheaper to create custom-made buses from modifying imported trucks.)  Catching one of these custom-made buses out of the capital, Zay heads on to Harar, said by Ethiopians to be the fourth holiest Muslim city in the world.


After exploring the well-preserved medieval city of Harar, Zay then has a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with some of Africa’s most dangerous wild animals, hyenas.  Meeting a local man who claims to have semi-tamed a pack of wild hyenas, Zay helps the man to hand-feed these ferocious predators just as if they were a group of cuddly puppies.


Just outside Harar, Zay then visits the small town of Awaday, home to the world’s busiest khat market, from where vast quantities of this culturally accepted and locally legal drug are transported by truck every day all across Ethiopia and to neighbouring countries.  Once khat leaves are picked, they dry out within a few hours, and their psychoactive ingredients then stop working, so the khat is sped out of Awaday by truck drivers notorious for driving dangerously fast.  Hitching on a khat truck speeding to Djibouti, Zay ends his trip clinging on for dear life as he heads back full circle to the border from where his journey started.


When To Go: Month/season (max.  50 words.)


The best time to visit Ethiopia is between September and January, when the weather is cool, and many of the country’s most interesting festivals take place.

Getting There: International/domestic travel by air, sea, road  (max. 100 words)


Ethiopian Airlines is considered by many to be Africa’s best airline.  After flying in to Addis Ababa’s international airport, many travellers find it most convenient to fly between domestic destinations, since Ethiopia is a big country.


Must See and Dos – e.g. attractions or activities along the way(max. 10)

1. Lalibela

2. Axum

3. Harar

4. Danakil Depression


List any hotels, guesthouses, hostels, B&Bs featured or stayed in along the route:


1. Lobelia Hotel, Addis Ababa

2. Sora Lodge, Lalibela


Websites used to research show – include tourist office, museums, galleries, iconic buildings etc.




List any books you used to research/prepare show


1. Bradt Guide to Ethiopia

2. Rough Guide to Ethiopia

3. Lonely Planet Ethiopia & Djibouti