Ethiopia Thursday, 22 May 2008


Thats 'how are you fine?' in Amharic - or Ethiopian.

I was feeling particularly fine after escaping Khartoum and being even closer to non-desert terain & conditions. The long ride from Khartoum to the Ethiopian border of Metemma was on relatively good tarmac, but that's where it ended. Civilisation seemed to be notched down one level in this part of Ethiopia, where the roads were appalling rocky tracks and the immigration office was a dung-walled shack (pictured to left). The local customs office was closed so I had to ride 50km further to the next town to get my bike allowed into the country. The road consisted of almost perfectly placed tennis ball sized rocks, which made the going pretty tough, but there was the odd diversions off the road & into the bush, which was pleasant.

After getting my bike stamped in I went over to the best residence there was to offer (tin hut pictured to right) in this very dirty & uncivilised town. This was feeling more like propper Africa to me. No sooner had I checked-in & completed a thorough flea inspection than I was invited to join a coffee ceremony. The Abyssinians invented coffee (they say) and place a high regard on the preparing & drinking of their coffee. The coffee lady (pictured to left) first roasted some green beans in a pan over a coal fire, then crushed them using a mortar & pestle, and finally boiled the granules for a short while before straining & serving. It was one of the nicest espresso's I've ever had, however after the alcohol prohibition of The Sudan I washed the coffee down with a quick succession of Ethiopian lagers. My company for the evening was a couple of water engineers staying at the hotel & working nearby. I joined them for a meal of fried goat (called Tibs) and a sour pancake-like bread (called Injera). This was the best meal I'd had on my trip so far - but then it was always going to taste fresh as the goat was still breathing and tied-up next to my bike when I arrived earlier.

The next day I held a small coffee ceremony of my own (thanks for the espresso pot Mom) and then hit the same bad road Eastwards towards the Ethiopian highlands. As per the previous day it was a slow & rocky dirt road but the horizons were slowly unfolding into large hills and then even larger green mountains. It took a concerted effort to keep my eyes on the gravel. By midday I reached tarmac and the town of Dongola where I started hunting for fuel station which had petrol in stock (this was to become a popular pastime in Ethiopia). I saw two bikers with very interesting looking number plates in going in the opposite direction so followed & stopped them. One was an Eastern Cape EC plate and the other a Gauteng GP one and they were heading North the way I had come. I also bumped into Gary & Joan (from The Sudan) who were taking a different route through Ethiopia.

I stopped at this shady looking tree for a bite of local bread & processed cheese. This flock of shepherds appeared so I fed them too. The little guys had never seen laughing cow cheese (melrose) so I had to open the foil cover for them. The taste was most displeasing so they wrapped & returned the cheese and scoffed down the bread. My route continued Southwards (on tar) to Lake Tana, where I camped on the shore. The bird life at the lake was incredible.

The following morning I was woken by a couple of noisy fish eagles perched in the tree above my tent. Not an entirely unpleasant alarm clock chime. I took the morning off to visit a monastery on an island on the lake. The monks were a pretty laid-back lot and totally self-sufficient on the tiny island. The monastery seemed as old as time, and the goat parchment books & helmets pictured below are well over 500 years old. (Thats St.Mark in the middle - still some beard growing to go for me I think)

After the Lake visit I hit the apalling track to the Blue Nile Falls. Although impressive they have lost much of their water due to a hydro electric plant just to the left out of the photo. The rest of the day was spent riding on pleasant tarmac roads Eastwards in the direction of the Capital. In the afternoon the skies opened and I was treated to a hail storm and didn't at all mind the cool bullets that were hitting me, with the Sahara in the back of my mind. Shortly after the storm I encountered my first of the famed Ethiopian stone throwing kids. Although I had ridden through a few unsuccessful strikes before, this time a large stone hit me on the left-hand. Thanks to the storm I had switched to my thick & heavy waterproof riding gloves so the impact wasn't too bad. They say that Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity as it boasts the oldest remains of (un)civilised man. I can only assume that these stone throwing kids are a very direct relative of the stone throwing neanderthals that roamed these parts in by gone days.

The next day was to be the final push Eastwards to the Capital Addis Ababa. The highlight of the day was the Blue Nile gorge (to left). The gorge is 20kms of winding road down a 4000ft drop and then another 20kms of road winding up a 5000ft ascent on the other side. Although half of the distance is dirt road the tarred corners were great fun. The rest of the road to Addis was a good surface but the going was very slow passing through little villages every 20 minutes. I had to keep my litchis peeled for stone throwers and devise a technique for slowing down to run off the road & towards any group of youths that didn't have empty hands. The only hit was a harmless one on a luggage bag. The country side was almost artificially green, as per this shot to the right. After a long slow days riding I reached the Capital, Addis Ababa, baby.

I didn't find anything particularly interesting or pleasant in the Capital but had to stay for a day to repair a broken chain and effect a few other minor repairs to the bike. I also spent a great deal of time hunting down an internet connection, with little success. Like the lack of fuel in the rest of the country, the availability of electricity in Addis was very rare (sound familiar?). During my day there we had none from 7am till 10pm. Although there were many more sights to see in the North of Ethiopia I had experienced enough of its ghat chewing people and also wanted to conserve mileage for my next bike service in Nairobi. Ghat is a mildy narcotic legal drug that is chewed in the form of a green leaf, and to my observation renders a large proportion of the population terribly lethargic and disengaged from reality.

I left Addis after my day off and headed South towards the Kenyan border, passing through some of the countries famed coffee plantations. I became a bit of a coffee snob in London and my favourite coffee on the planet is from a place called Yirge Cheffe in Ethiopia. I diverted via this town in search of some of their finest but it was unobtainable. This coffee is extremely rare in London so I suspect that every little bit is exported. I did however manage to buy some green Yirge Cheffe beans from a little general dealer on the outskirts of the village (to left). I shall attempt to roast them myself on a braai sometime. As I headed South the terrain was slowly becoming less populated with homosapiens (as per the little warriors to the right) and more so with fauna & flora. It also boasted some very high ant hills. I spent the night in a small one-horse town in the South, leaving only an early morning 200km run to the kenyan border the next day.

Stay tuned - Kenya update coming soon!

# posted by Mark @ 07:23