With the help of the Sudanese Ambassador in South Africa we got a 2 month tourist visa in Addis, whereas normally only a 2 week visa is available. There was some palaver and stress but everything worked out in the end. After 10 days in Addis I'm still unsure if I like the city or not and was glad to finally be on the move again as we headed out to Bahir Dar, source of the Blue Nile.

On the 3rd day out of Addis we hit the Blue Nile gorge, a shear 1300m drop from the plateau and another 1100m rise on the other side. The sweeping landscape from the top as you look down from this dizzy hight is breathtaking, so is the realisation that what goes down must come back up as you look across to the opposite mountain. One would think that the beautiful descent must have been one of the best of the whole trip but in fact it was by far the worst. Free-wheeling down the steep slope takes you to 50-60km/hour. The road was too steep and way too undulating and potholed (from all the descending fully-loaded trucks constantly breaking) that hitting even a small bump at this speed could send us over the edge. We had to slow our descent to about 20-30km/hour and the rims heated up so much from all the breaking that we could barely touch it without burning our fingers. Frequent stops were necessary to cool the rim as overheating could cause our tubes to burst, the 47 degree temperature also didn't help. What made matters worse for me was my fever, despite the heat I was still wearing my jacket because I was freezing.


We eventually reached the bottom and crossed the unimpressive Italian bridge over the somewhat disappointingly small Blue Nile. But we all arrived alive, making it a successful descent. We could not linger though as we still had to get to the top of the other side by nightfall. The 25km ascent is too steep to cycle so we had 2 options: either push the bike up or catch a truck. Imraan and Ria stopped at the bottom of the gorge and waited for a slow, fully-loaded truck plodding up the mountain pass. I decided on pushing and if a truck happened by I'd catch it. Pushing the whole 25km at 3km/hr would take 7 hours. I started pushing and as trucks came past I'd get on the bicycle and try to catch them. Unfortunately I was sick and the slope too steep for me to get enough speed to catch a truck. After about 2-3 hours as I rested in the shade of a tree eating sesame seeds from a passing farmer, Ria and Imraan rocketed past me while clinging onto a truck. This gave me some motivation and the next truck that came by I cycled hard to get and finally grabbed it. But I was so tired by the time I caught it that I could only hold on for a few seconds before I retired to the side of the road, sweating and panting.

I carried on pushing up the hill and as the sun set, knowing I would not reach the top, started looking for a place to sleep. An old local farmer seeing my exhaustion even started pushing my bicycle from behind to help me get up the never-ending hill. I spotted a church and asked to sleep there for the night but was not allowed on account of me being a 'faranji' (foreigner). So I plodded on and found a small village in the dark. A partially deaf and blind old man (93 years, as old as Madiba) offered me a place to sleep. He led me to his house, along a rocky path and showed me to his bed and insisted that I sleep there. I obviously refused and laid my mattress down on the floor at the foot of the bed. The family then came in from the fields and I explained my trip to the son who could speak a little English and relayed the story to the rest of the family. They invited me for supper, which was a simple farm meal consisting of injera and kai wot (a red curry). Unlike restaurant food, this had no meat and the dollop of kai wot was just enough to lend a little flavour to the copious amounts of stale injera. The highlight though was the coffee ceremony. It started off with the roasting of coffee beans over the fire and when ready were brought to my feet so I could take in the rich arouma. After I displayed my olfactory appreciation the beans where crushed with a pestle and mortor and added to a traditional clay pot that was put on the hot coals. Once done the coffee, dark, thick and unsweetened, was served to the whole family. I was woken up twice during the night to the sound of the old man using a piss pot (also available in all 'hotels' for guests)

I joined up with Imraan and Ria the next day but Ria and I weren't feeling well and so we both had a malaria (Plasmodium falsiparum) snap test performed that evening that came up negative. Unfortunately this did not test for the milder, less lethal strains of malaria but did allow us to carry on to Bahir Dar confident we weren't dying.

Resting for the next 2 days at this laid back town, situated on the shores of Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile, was to be our reward after a week of hard cycling. We cruised the lake shore in a boat and visited the remove Lake Tana Monasteries. The frescos on the inner walls of the buildings were stunning, but the high entrance fees and the monks demanding payment mars the sanctity of the temples. My 2 nights of fever and 4 nights of night-sweats finally broke in Bahir Dar and life looked brighter again. I suspect I had  a milder strain of malaria but it could have been anything.

The next day we trekked to the Blue Nile falls, the 2nd largest waterfall in Africa before the hydroelectic power plant sapped most of it's thunder. It was during this walk that Ria noticed a pussy discharge from his ankle, the site of a orthopaedic screw from an operation 2 years back and what probably accounted for his nausea and fever.


I left Imraan and Ria, keen on seeing the famous Gondar castles. Ria saw a doctor in Bahir Dar and  got a course of antibiotics along with a sense of relieve at being told that the abscess was only superficial. A deeper abscess effecting the screw or the bone might have put an end to his Cape to Cairo dream. Imraan stayed in Bahir Dar for Eid as over the next 2 days it was unlikely that he'd find a mosque in this predominantly Coptic Christian area.

Over the next 2 days to Gonder I got more stones thrown at me than in the whole preceding trip. Needless to say I was getting more and more weary of cycling through Ethiopia and wanted nothing more than to get out. I met up with Ria in Gonder the next morning who had cycled in with a German couple cycling a similar route to us and a South African cycling from London to Cape Town. We toured the grand ruins of the Gonder Royal Enclosure where the Kings and Queens ruled.

On our cycle out of Gonder we happended upon the Dashen Brewery beer garden. Ria and I sat down for a well deserved beer. Before we knew it, a local had organised a free tour of the brewery. The personalized tour was the best tour we've been on in the whole trip. A microbiologist took us through the whole process from barley to beer. The different beer types, the cellar draught (unfiltered, unpasturised and only consumable within 24 hours), the draught (pasteurised at 67 deg for 60 sec then put in a keg) and the bottle (bottled then pasteurised for 1 hour at 66 deg). We saw the lab and the effluent treatment plant. The sun was setting and we needed to find Imraan and arrange a place to sleep for the night so decided on just having 1 more beer before leaving (it would be wrong not to after such a comprehensive tour). Matters were not made any easier as some locals insisted on buying us beer. Before we knew it, it was dark, we were eating meat and dancing with locals in the classical shoulder shaking Ethiopian dance. Communication in Ethiopia is hopeless but luckily Imraan had my Ethiopian sim car and we were able to meet him in town a little further down the road were he had gotten rooms. We cycled, or meandered rather, in the dark towards town as one of our new found friends drove slowly behind us to light the way.

From Gonder, another 2 days of cycling took us to the Sudanese border town of Metema. Imraan and I lost Ria along the way and met him again at the border. We were surprise and impressed that he'd done 155km in hilly terrain but knew he couldn't get far as he had no Ethiopian money left.

A typical local Ethiopian hotel (or at least typical on our budget) - R10

We were glad to finally be out of Ethiopia. It is a beautiful, unique country that should be visited, just not on a bicycle. There are the Simien Mountains with Walia Ibex and Galadia baboons. There are the highly endangered Ethiopian wolves. There are the impressive rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Tigray and remote monasteries. The monastery of Debre Daom is built on a cliff top and only asscessed by an old, fraying rope. There are the tribes of the lower Omo valley with the famous Mursi lip stretchers and various other tribes that decorate their bodies with elaborate scars. There are the laval pools and camal treks that can be done with the notorious Afar tribes. On a bicycle and on a deadline we could do none of these. Instead we got stones thrown at us, tough mountains to cycle up and constantly witnessing how foreign aid saps the dignity from a once proud people. These were the same people who resisted colonization, the only African nation to do so, yet now it struggles. The older generation are kind, generous and tough. While the younger generation are used to hand outs and expect something for nothing. 

What happens when you don't use sunblock (note the sandal and glove tan and the typical expression of a cycle tourist in Ethiopia)

Like the orbits of celestial bodies, cycling followed the same eternal pattern:
- Wake up at dawn and scratch the numerous flea and bed bug bites
- Need to dump but decide to hit the bush while cycling after seeing the writhing mass of maggots in the toilet
- Cycle till the next town
- Look for the elusive bush, but fail to find it
- Get breakfast (either fool, shiro, egg or tibs and a machiato - see below for explanation)
- Cycle a few kilometres up a hill
- Try to ignore some kids who threw stones at you
- Cycle a few more kilometres up the same hill
- Put iPod in ears to drown out the children shouting “you, you, you, you, YOU”
- Start pushing up the same hill as it becomes steeper
- Turn iPod up
- Try to figure out why EVERYONE asks the exact same phrase “where are you go?” when you know no-one even knows what it means
- Try to hold onto a truck going up the hill
- Hit a pothole while holding onto the truck and get cheese-grated on the tar
- Still looking for the bush to use for the call of nature
- Stop for lunch at top of the hill (pasta, tibs, bayanetu and a machiato - see below for explanation)
- Cycle a few more kilometres and realise that was not the top of the hill
- Chase some kids who threw some stones
- Realise you can't catch them as they dissappear into the fields
- Start swearing
- Start cycling with a stick to hit anyone who gets to close and starts pulling on the bicycle as you cycle
- Smack a kid in the face who gets too close
- Find a small isolated bush, surrounded by open fields but use it because you can't wait
- Wonder where all these children came from and why they are staring at you as you still squat behind the bush
- Cycle a few more kilometres
- Can't camp because there are no isolated spots, so stop for the day in a village
- Find a cheap room in a 'hotel' and get the option of taking it for the night or by the hour
- Realise it's a brothel and it's pointless looking for something else because all the 'hotels' are the same
- Start scratching as the bed bugs and fleas start feeding
Over a month! We followed the same pattern for over a month!

Injera: a sour, fermented pancake eaten with most meals
Fool: a chickpea dish eaten for breakfast
Shiro; a chickpea putree
Tibs: Fried meat cubes
Kai Wot; a spicy red curry
Misto: stewed meat cooked till tender
Dubo Firfir: Pieces of bread mixed with wot
Fruit juice: Fresh thick juice served in colourful layers (usually avocado, mango, guava, pawpaw and orange)
The Italians came to Ethiopia and introduced pasta and coffee. Even back end villages and tea houses have fancy coffee machines that churn out expressos and machiatos)