Ethiopia Update- Part two! March 03 2014
The “Biblical Ethiopia” section of the tour finished on the 27th of February. We have now begun the section called “Meltdown Madness.” The name was given due to the hard core off road this section has; biking through the Dida Galu Desert and the lava rocks that are remnants from a volcanic explosion several years ago. We will reach Nairobi on the 8th of March.
Reflections on “Biblical Ethiopia”
Due to the 81 million people that live in Ethiopia, I am sure the sounds are different then many other countries in the world. There are hundreds of people standing on the side of the road as we biked through their villages. People are generally excited to see cyclist’s whiz pass and often several locals, young and old, are yelling phrases. Some of the most popular are “Where you go?”, “You, You, You”, “Welcome to Ethiopia” then there are those phrases that really have wore on the riders, “Give me money”, “Give me pen”, “Give me bike”, Give me banana”. The constant shouts and screams heard along the way have been very exhausting for many TDA riders. There are different reactions; some riders have ridden with sticks for protection and intimidation, feeling that is their best defense against both the stones and yelling locals; others chose to totally ignore, not responding.
Personally, I have tried to respond with Salemo, (Hello) to anyone, young or small who is calling to get my attention. Although it does become exhausting I have been able to avoid any serious threats or stones hailed my way. I have been lucky to ride with a buddy: Mato, a fifty-year-old man from San Francisco. We have had each other’s backs throughout the passed thirty days riding through Ethiopia. Many laughs and stories have been shared.
Besides the chatter of people we have heard lots of birdcalls, as Ethiopia is home to several species of birds. Often we wake up and fall asleep to the chirpings of nature’s creatures: small sparrows, big vultures, and hornbills. Often we will hear barking dogs or donkeys in the distance!
Since we have spent almost a month in Ethiopia we have witnessed so many different landscapes and scenery. Starting off in Gondar, and traversing the Simien Mountains was mesmerizing. We probably have climbed well over 30,000 meters, both on and off road, and as a result have had incredible views.
Descending after a long climb is very rewarding, and is truly a mountain bikers dream come true. As I pealed down the mountain, I have been totally enthralled by the mountains and the potholes I need to avoid!
After leaving the Simien Mountain range, we descended into the Blue Nile Gorge and quickly proceeded to climb 20km out again. This day had a lot of build up on the tour, as it was both a time trial and one of the main highlights of the “Biblical Ethiopia” section.
As we ventured further south, the landscape changed again to lush green hills filled with local produce: wheat, mangos, banana’s, avocados and sugar cane. As we left the country, our landscape turned into red soil and termite hills, showing signs of entering the northern desert of Kenya.
We have also been very luckily to bike into some of the most historic towns of Ethiopia: Gondar, Axum, Yabello, and Debre Birhan. The ancient importance of these towns has been very interesting for a history buff like me!
Besides the sounds of the children of Ethiopia, the sight of many kids hurdled together was often quite intimidating. I really never knew exactly how they would respond to me. Some of the spectacles witnessed were children doing the Ethiopian shoulder dance in the middle of the road, waving and smiling, running along side your bike, picking up rocks, or just starting in your direction. As I passed the children I found myself turning around to wave Ciao and seen if there were any rocks headed in my direction. Sometimes there were, often times the kids headed in the direction of the next cyclist.
In the rural environment, young children often were dressed in rags and many small boys were naked from the waste down. The reality is that many of these children do not attend school. They are helping out the family by herding the livestock or carrying loads of sugar cane or firewood on their backs and heads. Passing by small children who were carrying water from the community well to their homes was a common occurrence. I often would see people walking from what looked like nowhere towards a vista that also looked like nowhere. As much as there were a lot of people in the villages we passed there was still a lot of open landscapes where no houses were in sight, but many people still roamed.
The tastes of Ethiopian food have been both remarkable and revolting. Fresh-layered juice is certainly a treat. Avocado, mango, papaya, and pineapple topped with a squeeze of lime have been a huge highlight. But it was important to watch out for any water born bacteria that might linger in your juice! How you identify these bugs is by how your tummy feels the next day! Either you won or the bugs did!
The local ingera, in small qualities, with chick pea bean curd or different types of meats had been enjoyed and thrown up by many riders. Clearly, Ethiopia has some bacteria that our tummies are not use to, thus over the course of the passed few weeks, almost every person on the tour has had an upset stomach.
It is amazing how much my butt has been able to withstand long hours on the bike. Each day we were riding between 4 and 8 hours, often only getting off the seat to eat lunch and run to the washroom in the bush! Although there were days when I was tried, I have truly enjoyed each day on my bike and love that I have the opportunity to have visited Ethiopia on two wheels.