Day 45, stage 35, 96km
Start, Arba Minch, Swayne’s Hotel
Finish, riverbed camp
The day started with a couple of km climb and then a great downhill for several kilometres. We then hit the off road section again d everything ground to a near halt – at least for me. Some people seem to be able to ride the off road sections at good speed. They either have bikes made to specialize on off road or they have asses made of steel. I feel everything and the only way I can build up any speed is by getting out of the saddle and riding standing up. But I can’t do this for too long. And when I sit down again the speed goes down as well.
About fifteen kilometres into the off road section I came across a couple of Land Cruisers stopped at the side of the road and half a dozen white tourists standing in the middle of the roadway. I rung the bell on my bike but they didn’t seem to hear me and didn’t move. They were handing out something to a bunch of kids who had gathered round. Two minutes later they were back in the air-conditioned Land Cruiser with the cool box in the back and speeding off to their next authentic encounter 200km way. I was not best pleased. Closer to the road and the people we have to travel through, we are bombarded with the consequences of this type of tourism, the sense of expectations that all tourists are there simply to give things away, and the aggressive behavior that results when they don’t. A few weeks ago Claire had witn3ssed something even more egregious: a vehicle full of white tourists who didn’t even bother to stop and get out of their vehicle but just chucked candies out the windows and then watched as the poor village kids scrambled and fought for their bit of the bounty.
The final section of the day was a hair raising slide down 10km of steep dirt track to our camp in a dried riverbed at the bottom. It had been along and very tough day. I had taken in about 10mlitres f fluid today and still felt thirsty. People were knackered. But the toughest day was yet to come. Once again I took an ORS.
Day 44, stage 34, 104km
Start, bush camp
Finish, Arba Minch, Swayne’s Hotel
After yesterday’s ride I took an ORS sachet – oral rehydration salts. They usually give these to kids who have chronic diarrhea and are in bad shape. But athletes also use them. I had tried to take one the day I got lot on the last off road section. But it tasted so vile it almost made me gag and I never did force it down. This time I put half a sachet in a litre of water instead of a full sachet. And while it wasn’t the best tasting beverage in the world, I could get it down. I am glad I did. After feeling increasingly run down for several days, today I felt much better. While I can’t there was full spring in my legs they were much more responsive and I felt much better generally.
Today was not long but we were off road again. In the Sudan the off road section had been sand, sharp gravel, corrugation and cracked earth. Now we had really bad tracks made of fist sized rocks and larger boulders. Picking a route was tricky. Most of the time I was bouncing over sharp rocks and boulders sitting proud. The going was slow. The wind was also with us in force today. Throughout Ethiopia we have been riding into a headwind. Going uphill on a rocky track makes the headwind even more noticeable. But we also had some sections of tarmac today, which allowed us to ride more quickly. So we had a testing day with a taste of off road again but not a killer day.
We also had a bit of a bonus today. Our campsite was in the grounds of a hotel in Arba Minch so Vince and I got a room and had a good shower. We also decided that not only would we try to stay on track for EFI (every f**^ing inch) but that we would also try to stay on track for that other much coveted award, the EFH (every f**^ing hotel). Not sure there are any medals for this though. There was also a decent restaurant there so we had some beer and some French fries. We get no fried food from the camp kitchen. We get whatever you can cook in a big pot over a Gas ring as well as, from time to time, some meat grilled over a wood fire. So, as dreadful as it sounds, whenever we get the chance for some fried food we go for it.
The hotel and camp site were at the edge of town on top of a hill. We had tremendous views of two lakes we had cycled round today. It was an odd kind of place. We were in a kind of suburb. There were dozens of soviet style apartment blocks, arranged in regimented rows on the roads leading to the hotel. They were obviously fairly new and just as obviously in a poor state of repair. Street life was an odd mix of trying to be swank shops, pool halls, bars, and makeshift kiosks. It was good to get a sound sleep in a bed before the next two off road days.
Day 43, stage 33, 125km
Finish, bush camp
More hills. Ethiopia has been relentless. The hills just don’t stop. Another day of head down grinding. We went through one town, fairly large, just before lunch that was probably one of the worst we have been through. The sides of the road in town were as crowded as usual, but this time they were all carrying farm tools – hoes, diggers, pangas. It was like riding through an armed gauntlet. Towards the end of town a young teenage boy came towa4ds me with a long handled hoe with the sharp blade sticking straight out. I saw his pace quicken slightly as he got closer to me. About five metres from him I put on a slight spurt of speed. I was glad I did. Just as I passed he had thrust the hoe towards my back wheel. Had I been half a pedal slower it would have hit my back spokes. This is insane. My experience was not unique.
Camp was about a half kilometer off the road in the bush. It was a good camp but there was a lot of traffic on the dirt road that night. Big dump trucks picking up and dropping off farm workers it seemed.
As we came out of the highlands it had started to get warmer. My biggest problem of the day was deciding whether to put the fly on my tent. (our days are not exactly full of opportunities for complex decision making – do I pedal, do I not pedal; do I stop for a coke, do I keep riding). The fly is keeps you warmer and is a little more private. At the last minute I decided it wasn’t quite warm enough to sleep without the fly (weighty decision, I know). And in the end I was glad I did. Not because of the temperature but because it actually rained – the first rain I had had since leaving Tanzania almost two months ago. It wasn’t much of a rain and it didn’t last long, but it was wet. I could hear several others scrambling to put flies up in the middle of the night.
I also went to bed a bit anxious. The next three days would be off road. I am not good off road. It means long days in the sun and the body and bike take a beating. The mend to my rear derailleur – after it had been bent during the last off road section – was working out though. The mechanics had spent quite a bit of time on it. While changes gears was a bit clunky, the gears were holding and I still had the full range. I wondered if they would hold up with all the extra pounding off road.
Day 42, stage 32, 122km
Start, Gogetti camp
Finish, school for the deaf, Hosaina
Today was a much tougher day than yesterday, over 1650 metres of climb (only 1250 yesterday) with some long and steep sections. It was very much a head down, grinder, keep the pedals turning kind of day. It is also getting hotter. I am drinking lots of fluids and taking as many coke stops as I can – this usually means one before lunch and another one or two after lunch. And when I hit a coke stop I don’t just have one. The first one, warm or cold, it doesn’t matter, hardly touches my throat. The next one I sometimes taste. Increasingly I am having a third. All of this fluid doesn’t seem to make much of an impact. I am as thirsty when I leave as when I stop. I find I am drinking 6 or 7 sodas a day. The sugar boosts the energy for a bit but not for long.
Once again the camp was on cracked earth. Where ever we travel we are a bit of circus – big overland vehicles, more than 50 riders. At the school for the deaf camp we were theatre. In Ethiopia our camps are always surrounded by a red rope. It acts like magic. People always gather to watch us. The red rope is the barrier. We are inside. They are outside. Without any instructions, it works. People compete for ring side standing room only space outside the rope and stand and watch us for hours. It is truly bizarre. And the curious think is that they are completely docile. No aggression. No hysterical ‘money, money, money’ chants. No rocks and sticks. Just a silent audience for a reality tv like spectacle. The deaf kids were no different. We were camped in the middle of their school. They then surrounded us and stared.
Vince and I went into town. It was a couple of km away and up a bog hill so we took a tuk tuk. We were in search of cold drinks and chocolate. Found both. Most people stay in camp after we arrive. Vince and I usually go for a walk or loo for a nearby town or village. The drinks are usually cold not warm and half the price. And today we found some chocolate bars. I hadn’t had chocolate in quite a while and as many people know, chocolate is a staple part of my diet. I did four local chocolate bars I about 3 minutes. Couldn’t find any peanuts though. Have been craving peanuts lately.
ay 41, stage 31, 110km
Start, Addis Ababa
Finish, Gogetti Camp
I was up early in the morning and out of the hose before anybody else was up. I went out onto the street and found a taxi around 6am. It was still dark. It had taken about 45 minutes to get to Morag and Malcolm’s when I arrived a couple of days before. This morning it took about 20 minutes to get back to the golf club. The most difficult part of it was explaining to the taxi driver where I wanted to go. I started by saying the golf course. This made no impact at all. It was only when I said golf club that the connection was made and we were off. It is like ordering something in a restaurant. You cannot ask for spaghetti bolognaise, you have to ask for spaghetti and meat. Not meat sauce, or tomato and meat sauce. You have to give them exactly the right verbal clue, without variation.
While we had come into Addis in convoy, we left individually with some rather complex directions to follow out of town. But we made it. It was not a tough day. But it was still hilly. The kids were still very bad – rocks, sticks, slaps, spitting. And they are constantly yelling: “you, you, you; money, money, money’ at the top of their voices in an almost hysterical way. They run after you for hundreds of metres. It is very unpleasant and for some intimidating.
We camped in a farm on cracked earth. Hard to find a good spot to pitch a tent. But we managed. As in most camps some local entrepreneurs showed up shortly after we arrived with crates of soft drinks and beers. In spite of the fact that the drinks are usually warm and double the price you would pay in any shop (camp price) they are very welcome and sell quickly.
Many people are still ill. Illness seems to be more prevalent in Ethiopia than in the Sudan or Egypt. I think it is probably that people are just a little more run down and susceptible. Although I have not been ill yet I am feeling more and more run down. I am finding that I never feel fully recovered, even after a rest day, and that I am never at 100%. My legs are still willing to come out to play and can still make the running but they don’t have that fresh snap to them.
Camp is a little subdued this evening. Everyone knows that this was only the first of six consecutive days of riding, that there would be lots more hills, lots more kids with stones and that the last three days would be off road. People are already saying they will be glad when we are out of Ethiopia. Staff try hard to jolly people on. They almost all say that Ethiopia is their favorite country. We all wonder how they have come to this conclusion. While the landscape is fantastic and the parts of the country we have travelled through re very fertile (it is also harvest season) the aggressive kids and casual acceptance of violence have soured it for many.
Day 40, Rest day in Addis, Morag and Malcolm’s
I slept well and was up early. It was nice to be in a house and not a hotel room or a tent. Malcolm made a great breakfast, about 6 eggs scrambled, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, mounds of toast. It was great and a very welcome change from the routine on the road. Malcolm makes kids toys and play furniture out of wood. He was currently working on some go carts – very cool. While he went out back to work, I went into the front room and started updating my blog and trying to catch up with emails. Impossible task when done once a week or every ten days.
At lunch we went to the Sheraton for a pizza then drove around town a bit. The Sheraton in Addis could be in Miami Beach. It is a huge complex with half a dozen restaurants and 5 star public spaces. Apparently the night before about a dozen riders from the tour had gone to the all you can eat buffet there and stripped the place clean. Eight straight days of riding leaves a big hole.
In the evening we had a bar-b-q – big steaks and fresh fish. It was great and set me up well for the next day when we would begin a new stretch of six days of riding.
Rest days are not really rest days. They are catch up days and are as busy as riding days. You have to get the clothes washed, the bike tuned and cleaned, the blog updated and eat as much as you can. Then you can go have a look around.
Claire also brought a Mac book. Her Mac book died a few days after mine with exactly the same symptoms. She found a shop in Addis that thought they could repair it. In the end they could because they didn’t have the necessary parts. But it turns out the problem is that the hard drive has died. The memory is recoverable though. She also found out that there is an Apple store in Nairobi, so hopefully we can both get our laptops fixed there. Here’s hoping.
Day 39, stage 30, 110km
Start, river camp
Finish, Addis Ababa, Morag and Malcolm’s
It was bloody cold this morning. It went down to zero over night. Alex swore there was frost on his tent. Enthusiasm was hard to come by. We were all beat up after four tough days and had one more to come. The only bright spot was that Addis and a rest day were at the end of the rainbow today. But try telling that to fifty freezing riders trying to warm frozen fingers on porridge bowls.
We knew Addis was at a lower elevation than our camp so expected, unrealistically as it turned out, a less hilly day. By lunch we had climbed over 1000 metres. And these were not rolling hills. We were chasing up and down steep hills into tight valleys one after another. And the head wind was still with us. It took me close to 3 ½ hours to ride the 66km to lunch. Even on the rare flat sections, with the wind, I found it a struggle to maintain 18 or 19 kmh. After lunch was more of the same with the promise of a steep 3km climb to a hill overlooking Addis where we would gather for our convoy into the city.
The only unpleasant part of the day was being donkey whipped. Every day you have rocks and sticks thrown at you. Some hit. Some don’t. Some hurt. But today was a bit different. There are lots of donkey carts here. The drivers carry whips to keep the donkey going and use them freely. At one point as I was cycling along I saw a 9 or 10 year old girl at the side of the road slowly flicking a donkey whip back and forth. I didn’t think much of it. Just another kid. But as I was passing she reached back and whipped me right across the chest. Unbelievable. Where does it come from?
When we got to the top f the hill there was a celebratory mood. We were there. We had made it. It was all downhill into Addis. Everybody had arrived at the top by about 3pm and we were off, accompanied by several riders from a couple of Ethiopian cycling clubs. We raced down the hill until we hit the ring road, joined it for about 10km until we reached our destination, the golf course. You could see on people’s faces that this was one rest day that was needed.
I sorted out my bike and kit and got a taxi to the British Embassy, where Malcolm picked me up. He and his wife Morag had kindly offered to put me up while I was in Addis. Their reception was fantastic: a cold beer, a hot shower, a big load of laundry, stuffed squid with rice and lots of fresh vegetables, a big bed with crisp sheets and a warm duvet. I was in heaven, or vahalla or something. At any rate it all felt good.