19 October 2011

Howzit! I write this not from a stunning beach, but a crumby “hotel” in Addis. The past two weeks have been rather interesting, and pleasantly surprising.

Lets start off with the end of the Kenyan leg, Marsabit to Moyale. You might have heard stories of terrible road conditions, or perhaps, banditry as the reason for us taking a truck on the last 250 odd kilometres in Moyale. Both partially true. The road is no doubt atrocious, and cycling across it would have been tough, but no tougher than the previous stretch from Merille to Marsabit. And as for the banditry, well lets just say we did cycle the really dangerous part (unknowingly) and it was before Marsabit. So why take a truck you might ask? The real answer was time. Time wasted on several prior occasions put in us in a situation where we would be cutting it close with expiry of our Ethiopian visas. So we took a truck. Was it the easier option? I'm not so sure. You sitting in the back of truck on a 20 hour journey as it bounces its way across the landscape isn't really fun. Its especially terrible and downright painful when you have to balance yourself across the tops of steel bars so that you don't actually make contact with the goods (boxes of milk) being transported. But this is what we did. And so on the afternoon of Thursday the 6th October 2011, we reached the town of Moyale and promptly crossed the border into Ethiopia. Moyale is a big town and is odd in the fact that it lies between to the neighbouring countries – one half in Kenya and the other in Ethiopia. After another uneventful border crossing we found accommodation in a cheap “hotel” in Ethiopia's Moyale. A decent place and at 50bir (about R25) for a single room we settled in for the night.

For the second time in my blog writing history on this trip I'm going to change the format a bit. For those of you who want to know the daily itenary it was as follows:

Friday 7th October 2011 – Moyale to Mega
Saturday 8th October 2011 – Mega to Yabelo Junction
Sunday 9th October 2011 – Yabelo Junction to Finchawa
Monday 10th October 2011 – Fincahawa to Gedeb
Tuesday 11th October 2011 – Gedeb to Dilla
Wednesday 12th October 2011 – Dilla to Aawasaa
Thursday 13th October 2011 – Aawasaa rest day
Friday 14th October 2011 – Aawasaa to Bulbula
Saturday 15th October 2011 - Bulbula to Koka
Sunday 16th October 2011 – Koka to Addis outskirts
Monday 17th October 2011 – Enter Addis city centre
Tuesday 18th October 2011 – Addis
Wednesday 19th October 2011 – Addis

Ok, so if you want, check out the map on our website and you can follow all of the above. But for the rest of this blog I'm just going to relate a few experiences.

Ethiopia... Exceeding Expectations

Before leaving Kenya I posted on our Facebook page that we were about to enter Ethiopia, a comment that followed was “Pack a lunch”. For some stupid, or rather ignorant reason, I too expected to find a country in poverty. A country that “needed” outside aid. And of course if one thinks that food is the problem one would expect to find a country that was not fertile. How wrong I was. Yes, the on the first two days I saw more dead animal carcasses on the side of the road than I had in all the other previous countries combined. But this that being said, we had rain on an almost daily basis and no doubt that if this region had been in drought than the situation was quickly improving. If I had to describe Ethiopia in one word – the word “green” comes to mind. Lush rolling hills and fertile plateaus. In fact this greenery together with several lakes and very green mountains make this one hell of a scenic place! In fact its this scenery that helps lift one's spirit when struggling up a never ending hill. Make no mistake this country is fertile. As we got closer to Addis the road became busy with trucks hauling of the latest batch of produce for export.

Proudly South African

Last Sunday, we decided we would leave a little late so that we could watch the Boks take on the Aussies in the quarter finals. There we were, sitting at a roadside restaurant on a cold Ethiopian morning, flags flying proudly off the bikes in the background, having a Sunday breakfast and watching the game like thousands of other South Africans back home. That was cool. Funny how you become more patriotic when abroad. After the the singing of the national anthem Jiten remarked “I just felt shivers listening to that”. Although we lost I still spent the day listening to South African music and feeling very proudly South African. In fact, the more and more we're not in SA, the more and more proud I become of who we are and where we are today as a country. Still, a win would've been nice.

Stone throwing kids

Ask any cycle tourist on their thoughts about Ethiopia, and you're bound to hear stories about the stone throwing kids. In fact we've heard of cyclists giving Ethiopia a complete miss for this very reason. We were warned several times. I really was not looking forward to Ethiopia - not only having to deal with steep mountain cycling but then add in some little snot nosed six year old who's determined to smack me in the face with a bloody stone! No, I really was not looking forward to Ethiopia.... and again I was wrong. Yes the kids are there. In fact they're there in numbers, all screaming “you you you you you” as you pass by, but really, most of them just want a wave of hello. You are after all a novelty for them and lets be honest, there cant be too much of excitement in these parts. During the first couple days I did get a bit annoyed with them, one little brat took off her shoe and threw it at me as I cycled by (amateur move – I just stopped, picked up the shoe, and cycled away with it – in hindsight I now regret this – anger can drive you to do regretful things), and some other little brat ran behind me and gave my bicycle a big shove! The nerve!!!! But if I'm not mistaken it was the teachings of Sun Tzu (The Art of War) that say that when things wrong, there's a way to turn them into you favour. And that's the attitude I decided to take when leaving the town of Finchawa early on Monday morning, faced with an agonisingly steep and long uphill I really was not in the mood to cycle (also the fact that all three have us had been experiencing a mild but consistent bout of diarrhoea since Marsabit). And then came the little monsters who quickly surrounded me and became my annoying little entourage as I struggled pushing my bicycle up the never ending hill. And then I thought Mr Tzu and the idea struck me: all these kids really want is to be part of the excitement of this journey, so why not let them have a bit of fun? And why shouldn't that benefit me? With hand gestures (the local language of Aaramic is rediculously difficult to learn, we still know very little) I indicated to one of the little kids that she should feel free to take my bicycle and get it up the hill. Poor kid, happy as she was to take on the task, she almost fell over with the weight of the bike. So I tried a new approach – I took over the handlebars and steered, whilst the many little hands together bushed the bike from the back. It worked! I was virtually running up the hill with the energy of these little, dare I say it, angels! You might judge me, but I don't really care. The fact is that the kids went from annoying little stone throwers to being part of the “team”. From that moment on I looked forward to the kids (especially on the uphills). The truth is most of them just want your attention, a hello. Sometimes we (all three of us have since used the kids to get up several hills) rattle off entire stories which we know they cannot understand but still they love it. You're talking to them. They talk back, but we don't understand, and everyone is happy. We have had a couple stone's thrown out way, but its the odd idiot who does this. And for the most part the kids have done more good than harm and I hope to make use of many more of them on the upcoming mountain passes (again, feel free to judge, you're there, and I'm here). So to all you cycle tourists considering an Ethiopian tour, do it! Though if you want solitude and don't want to interact with the kids as you pass by, I suspect you could expect more stone throwing. Anyway, that's been the experience with the kids so far. We'll let you know if it changes on the second half of our Ethiopian crossing.

Fresh fruit juice

This has really blown us away. Freshly squeezed juice. It comes in a thick pulp like juice that you can either eat with a spoon or drink. Avocado, orange, banana, guava, papaya, and mango have been some of the mixtures we've had so far. Simply delicious! It costs about 10bir for a 350ml glass of goodness.

Good people

I've told you much about the kids. But the rest of the people are also pretty good. We've felt pretty safe and welcome in all the towns we've passed through. In Aawasaa we even met a a really good guy named Gabrielle. Gabrielle had seen us on the road a couple of times on a recent visit he made to Moyale. When we got to Aawasaa late in the evening we met Gabrielle on the side of the road, a pleasant gentleman who offered to help us find accommodation for the night. He took us to a reasonably priced hotel, we said thanks, and said our goodbyes. Twenty minutes later Gabrielle was back at the hotel and treated us to dinner. We now have a new friend. I really hope I do not become jaded when back in the “real” world and am able to show this kind of hospitality to total strangers, as Garbrielle has done to us.

Lost and found

In Kenya, after 7500kms I made my first tyre change. Though there was still plenty thread left on my rear tyre I changed due to an significant hole in it caused by a nasty puncture a while back. I've been carrying a spare fold up tyre since the beginning and used this to replace the old one. I'm now keeping the old one as a spare but due to it not being a fold up tyre, I drape it over the back of my luggage on the back pannier. Whilst cycling down a particularly long, steep mountain downhill a few days ago I lost this now spare tyre – it flew off (my own fault for not securing properly in the morning) and I only realised this at the bottom of the hill. And so with great frustration I turned around and started back up the mountain road. After a while the locals seemed to be encouraging me to go up quickly but due to the language barrier I couldn't understand a word they were saying. However some kids did run ahead in front of me and up the hill, they were too fast for me. After a while I met Imraan who was on his way down, left my bike with him and then ran up the hill (it must be said that our fitness has increased dramatically over the past six months). Not long after Jiten came cruising down, I explained what had happened, and was just about ready to give up when he said that he saw someone carrying a tyre and walking up not too long ago, I kept running up. After what felt like an eternity I ran all the way back to the top of the mountain and into the town. From a distance I could see that a big crowd had gathered and there was big commotion going on with some of the men shouting. However as I got closer, the crowd opened up and there stood an elderly man my tyre in hand and a smile on his face. From what I could gather, I think the following occurred: someone had picked up the tyre and meant to keep it, the kids had run ahead to retrieve the tyre, the guy did not want to give up his find, the people of the town realised this, took the tyre away from him (with several choice words expressed to the finder, for taking what obviously did not belong to him and was that of a visitor), and returned it to me. I tried to express my sincere thanks to all who helped, shook hands with many of the friendly faces in the crowd, and then ran back to fetch my bicycle from Imraan and Jiten and continue the journey ahead. I highly doubt this scene would've played out in the Cape Town CBD.

Visit Ethiopia

I dont think that I'm the only one ignorant about the situation in Ethiopia. Come here. Visit this spectacular country. It really is a wonderful place and getting better. The road infrastructure is good (what a pleasure to be riding on tarred roads again since leaving Kenya), the people are friendly, the prices are excellent (8 birr for a draught!), the history unbelievable, the food excellent, and the weather great... just come and see for yourself. Oh yes, and Addis is a very modern city with impressive buildings, restaurants, and even bus lanes.

Leaving Ethiopia

[edited 25 October 2011] Its Tuesday, the 25th of October 2011, we've changed hotels and now in a somewhat nice place – they have hot showers! Yesterday we received our Egyptian visas and today the Sudanese Embassy approved our visas in a matter of hours! From what we hear this is certainly not the norm. A massive thank you to the Sudanese Embassy in South Africa – they really did go out of their way to help us and we now have a two month visa for Sudan! Although our stay in Addis has taken longer than planned, tomorrow we will hit the road again and make haste for the border. Addis has been fun, lots of good food, salad, and fruit juice but its time to keep moving. We secretly hope to be somewhere decent for New Years – hopefully Cairo!

Hot Showers

Just a quick one on this: for some odd reason the concept of a hot shower is still take off in Ethiopia. Its not because of a lack of facilities – they have running water and electricity but for some reason, apart from tourist hotels, cold showers are the norm!

Before I leave you, the second half of the trip has been the most difficult so far. Since the desert dirt roads of Kenya, through the energy sapping hills of Ethiopia, we've all been thinking a little more about the good life we have back home. The list is some of things we look forward to:

  • Opening a tap and drinking clean water

  • Opening a fridge, and drinking clean ice cold water

  • Not having to get up and cycle 100kms with a fully loaded bicycle, up mountains, and with diarrhoea that's been going on for several days.

  • The ability to eat a variety of different foods (which include but is not limited to the following: Nandos (yes, grilled chicken and in a range of different flavours), sushi, breyani, bunny chows, all other Indian dishes, steak, ice cream, and salads). NB. I really could go on with an item by item listing of the many foods we will not take for granted ever again!

  • Not having a stone, shoe, stick or any other object thrown at you

  • Not having diarrhoea

  • Clean toilets

  • Sitting on top of Lions Head and having a beer at sunset

  • Sitting on the grass outside Blue Peter and having a beer at sunset

  • Falling like a brick

  • Flying like a jet

  • Chilling and having fun with the many friends we have

  • Having a cold coke from a fridge and not a warm one from the shelf of a little shop on a day when the temperature is 47 degrees celcius

  • Sleeping in a bed without fleas

  • Having a shower

  • Having a shower with hot water

Now at this point you must think that we've had enough. Not quite, for as there are many things we may miss right now, we know that there'll be many things that we will miss once this is over. Such as:

  • Cycling on the road, in the quiet cool of the morning, watching the sun rise over the a nearby lake, mountain, or other spectacular piece of scenery that surrounds us on a daily basis on the road

  • Sunsets with boabab trees in the foreground

  • Sunsets over lakes, mountains, ….

  • Having a dozen little smiling faces helping push your bicycle up a mountain

  • The kindness of strangers

  • The smile that lights up on a wary strangers face when you greet him in his local language

  • The sense of achievement when you look back into the distance and think to yourself, I covered that distance today with my own strength

  • Sleeping under the stars in the African bush

  • The respect given to you by a Maasai warrior after he's realised what you have done to get here

  • The many many friendships made on a daily basis

  • Cycling in the cooling rain on a hot day

  • Cycling alongside the tracks of a lion in Kenyan wilderness

  • Seeing a wild elephant on the side of the road not in a National Park

  • The thrill of cycling in Africa where one has to consider the real possibility of attack by a wild animal

  • Smiles, smiles, and even more smiles by people of different ages, colours, tribes, and backgrounds

  • The encouraging hooting and waves of support from passing truck drivers

  • The happiness evoked when meeting a dutchman on the side of the road who says the word “lekker!” like only a dutchman can

  • Sitting under the shade of an Acacia tree and really appreciating it being there for you to sit under

  • Visiting islands, swimming in lakes, and watching the sun rise from below you at the top of Africa's highest mountain

  • Sailing on a dhow

  • Eating export quality fruit given to you by the farm owner

  • Having the time to read (I've since read more than fifteen books from the start of this trip)

  • Having the time to think, reflect, and hopefully improve as a human being

  • Not knowing what tomorrow will bring

  • Living the dream


Have a very happy day (we are)!.

Stay safe