Sunday, 26 December 2010

Up up and beer...

Crossing the border through a metal gate the streets were suddenly filled with people, shelters, shops, kids, animals and music. We arrived in the evening and were taken to a very cheap hotel given local food and beer and asked for money! Was this the start of the hassle and haggling of Cairo? No it was the start of something much worse – lively begging kids!

As we cycled upwards into the hills and farmland of Ethiopia there is a significant temperature drop and the energy of the people heightens. People no longer stay still to conserve their energy in the 40 degrees heat, they spot us from miles away and run the fields chasing us on our bikes. The kids often have no shoes and still manage to keep up running alongside the bikes. The steeper the hill climb, the slower the bike speed and longer the kids ran next to me shouting “pen, money, clothes” any item the NGOs kindly donated to the people to start this wild begging culture.

My white mask is once again in full show to everyone who asks and expects donations. People do not understand that we have to carry minimal kit on our bikes to make sure we can reach the top of the climbs. We have mastered precision packing, with each item in the correct pannier and we have thrown away many unnecessary items. Then suddenly these kids spot something they would like and next thing you know they are running the opposite direction back through the fields with your lunch or cycling top! We soon learned to keep a very close eye on all belongings and as the flocks of youngsters gather in town I made sure they stood behind the invisible 1 meter line. We also made a rule in the very early stages in Ethiopia never to give any items, biscuits or money so the Ethiopian people do not expect anything off future tourists. This was very hard when eating lunch with two cute thin kids staring but leaving you in peace to eat your lunch. As always there are exceptions, some of the kids have manners not all of them are rascals!
Rough and Ready

We seem to have perfected our rough camping spots or we are very lucky we have not been found! This could be because Ethiopia has so many people everywhere any noise in the fields is never blown into a full investigation. We have only camped a few times in the midsts of the trees and vegetation as hotels are cheap as chips; cheaper than chips, a meal often costs more than a room for the night.
Most hotels for 1 english pound give you a bed, a cold bucket of water to wash yourself with wash facilities and a communal hole to unload after a meal. For 2 english pounds you get an ensuite with a seated toilet and hot water in the shower providing there is no power cut or no water left. In some small towns water is collected in a storage tank in the evening once a day which is then used for the 24 hour day. This is the only water if it runs out you must find other sources like a river!

It is all in the mind; I struggled up slopes but often thought about the training process, the time and effort organising the trip. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy ride and I kept telling myself I would get fitter each hill I climbed and that I was ready.

SLOG often came to mind when the pressure of the hills attacked my legs. A few thoughts continually went around my head;
• When reaching the top it is pure Satisfaction
• The length of the hill is forever winding, Long
• What made me take on this Outrageous challenge?
• Healthy lifestyle, beautiful views, Good times

This is when I was really thankful for the Ethiopian kids that decided it would be great fun to push us up the hills. I also need to thank the slow lorry drivers (some who obviously invited us to have a ride) for keeping the same pace as our bikes so we could grab onto anything possible to allow us to slowly manoeuvre with the motor and rest the legs.

In Gondor we took a car (luckily too high and unpaved for bikes) into the famous Simean mountains and saw baboons and colombus monkeys.

Being an obvious tourist target we were picked up by some local guys who we happily let show us around the town. The rising cobbled streets were packed with families and cute children who loved running after me to say hello, shaking my hand.

We were invited for local homemade beer, tela and followed the guys into this dark dingey house of 9 children and 2 parents. All the kids were so excited and happy and the proud father was merrily joking around feeding beer to everyone. Ethiopia is a developing country so houses are formed from any material lying around. The shelters / homes are built with timber frames and layered with mud, rammed earth, sheets of aluminium and all types of material.

After Gondor the roads were smooth sailing, almost flat which was a real blessing after the initial 1300m rise into the highlands. I watched the herds of ox’s and wondered what age kids were given the responsibility of tending to the cattle.

Bahir Dah was a memorable place for me. The wildlife and trees are stunning around Lake Tana and the town feels like a relaxing seaside town. The Nile is never going to leave me, the Nile spilts into the Blue Nile which we have followed in Ethiopia and refound in this region. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and there is also a stunning waterfall that we climbed rocky paths to find.
I stupidly decided it would be fun to do some off road riding so Steve and I agreed to take the ‘short cut’ to Addis Ababa. The pleasant rural side to life was seen as soon as you disembarked the asphalt but I did not prepare myself for the cycle to come. The steep gradient slopes and loose stones falling beneath my back tyre was so hard. As soon as I reached a downward slope I had to be very careful not to hit a huge rock or loose balance or grip so the descent was not enjoyable either. We were off road for 3 ½ days in total which was great fitness preparation for the infamous Blue Nile Gorge to come. Back to SLOG the Blue Nile Gorge was painful. My legs were tired from the off road trek and now I had a 2500m road going all the way up in one go!! Again there were kids that pushed us up and I became more comfortable at latching onto lorries and slowly gliding up!

Merry Xmas

We didn’t make it into Addis Ababa until xmas day. I realised it wouldn’t feel right not cycling for a bit to clench your appitite and fulfil the enjoyment of a big xmas meal.
When cycling you never know what is around the corner. The gradients are forever changing it is a real test and is sometimes very hard to keep your head down and let the legs spin to reach the top of the neverending mountain. This is reimbursed with an unexpected downhill which goes on for miles, taking you, letting you feel energised and alive and boosting the distance travelled for the day. The final downhill 10 km into Addis Ababa went exactly like this. I was so tired and the final leg was pure satisfaction.

We soon noticed the different types of restaurants and splashed out with a two course meal with plenty to drink all for 10 english pounds each. I did say merry xmas to a few random Ethiopians on the street, in Amharic (the local language) but all I got in return was “bring me money”!!
The atmosphere and people are so vibrant. Twenty years ago Ethiopia was a communist state and there were soldiers shooting anyone stealing the lives of thousands, this was called the Red Terror Regime.
I am definitely becoming more aware of how privileged I am coming from a peaceful country growing up in towns with good infrastructure, water, electricity and freedom.

The darkest thing about Africa is our knowledge of it. So many people told me not to cycle Africa and said I was crazy. Ethiopia is a great country and is one that has lifted my spirits. I expected famine but I cannot even imagine it. I have seen the land full of crops, barley and wheat providing enough Injeera (local bread made in the fields) for all. I have learned the government are making sure 40 percent of students are being trained in construction and that UNICEF are handing out scholarships to support Ethiopian people to study medicine due to the lack of doctors in the country. As I cycled I observed groups of students, farmers, merchandisers; people enjoying the fresh air, running around; free.

Enjoy the festive season; if anyone thought twice about where I was or giving me a xmas present please donate to

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