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Ethiopia

(716km -  15days)

 

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9 November - 15 November

I flew from Amman, Jordan, back to South Africa with my sister Amanda, as I was in desperate need of a new passport. To my surprise, Ernest was also back in Cape Town for different reasons. He, however, left most of his belongings in Addis Ababa. After a month of eating and drinking with friends and family, I collected my shiny new passport, this time a maxi passport with more pages. After much deliberation, Ernest and I decided to cycle together once again, and both of us flew to Addis Ababa. I was happy to be back in Ethiopia. Not only is Ethiopia home to some of the fastest marathon runners in the world, but it is also a country with a fascinating history and religion. The majority of Ethiopians belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, who claims to possess the Ark of the Covenant, which I understand, is currently kept under guard in a treasury in Axum. Ethiopia is also where one can find the famous rock-cut churches of Lalibela dating back to between the 7th to 13th centuries. Legend has it that, with the help of angles, the churches with carved out of the mountain within twenty-four hours.

 

It is also the home of Haile Selassie, who is seen as a messiah among followers of the Rastafari movement and Bob Marley always considered Ethiopia his spiritual home. Most of all it is home to excellent coffee and the injera. Coffee from the Ethiopian highlands and injera a traditional sourdough type flatbread or pancake. Traditionally made out of teff flour, but I think any grain can be used. The flour is mixed with water and fermented for several days before baked into a large flat pancake with a slightly spongy texture. Usually, a variety of small amounts of stews are scooped onto the injera, and by using one's fingers, small pieces of injera are torn off and used as a utensil to scoop up the food.

 

We spent an entire week in Addis organising visas for both Egypt and Sudan. Addis was a blaze of colour and light as the Ethiopians were celebrating the millennium. We seemed to be back in the year 2000 although it was 2007. The Ethiopian calendar is a solar calendar that begins the year on August 29th or August 30th in the Julian Calendar.

 

While in Addis I also bumped into Wondey, one of the guides of Tour D'Afrique. What a small world it is.

 

16 November Addis – Muka – 80 km

It was 16 November by the time we cycled out of Addis. I was surprised at how unfit I had become. The hills we encountered cycling out of Addis killed me, and I was half dead by the time we reached Muka only 80 km away. The countryside was colourful with the farmlands different shades of greens and yellows, November is such a good time of year to visit Ethiopia. 80% Of the Ethiopian population are farmers, and we cycled mostly past farmlands, where people still farm in an old-fashioned way with oxen and wooden ploughs.

 

17 November Muka – Fiche – 38 km

It was only 38 km to Fiche, but my backside was not used to cycling anymore, and we made it a short day. As can be expected the people we met along the way were fascinated with us while children shouted, "You, You, give money", and if ignored, the stones would come flying! Yes, the kids do throw stones at cyclists, but I don’t think it was ever intended to hurt but more as a way of getting your attention. The kids are pretty good at aiming stones, and if they wanted to hit you, they would not have missed.

 

18 November - Fiche – Goha Tisy – 76 km

The 76km to Goha Tsiy was wonderfully colourful, hilly again and therefore fairly slow going. We soon reached the famous Blue Nile Gorge where we overnighted on the rim of the gorge, one of Ethiopia’s most dramatic scenes. The Nile is considered the longest river in the world and consists mainly of two tributaries, the Blue and the White Niles. The Blue Nile begins somewhere in Rwanda or Burundi (no one seems to be quite sure of the exact location) and the Blue Nile at Lake Tana in Ethiopia after which it flows through the Sudan where it meets up with the White Nile and then into Egypt.

 

19 November - Goha Tisy – Debra Marcos – 70 km

On 19 November we descended into the Blue Nile Gorge and to our surprise found the road half paved, with the result that the section leading down into the gorge was a piece of cake. The part out of the gorge was however still under construction and workers had just put down a thick layer of gravel, making cycling somewhat tricky. As I have already cycled this section previously, I saw no need of doing it again and got a lift with a truck up the Gorge. Ernest, however, cycled all the way up with a loaded bike and all! Our next stop was Debra Marcos which was about 70 km away, where we arrived early and had plenty of time to go to the market. We found dried beans, potatoes, onions and chillies. Ernest made a mean bean stew - something different to the injera we have been eating almost every day.

 

20 - 21 November - Debra Marcos – Finote Selam – 85 km

From Debra Marcos, it was 85 km to Finote Selam where we found a room with a piping hot shower for 30Birr ($1.13)!  Fruit and vegetables seemed hard to get hold of maybe it was the wrong time of year, at least there were always bananas and oranges in most villages.

 

22 November - Finote Salam – Dangla – 99 km

On 22 November we cycled to Dangla (100km) where we once again enjoyed the local food. Firfir, my favourite, is Injera fried in butter and a hot sauce. But by the time I went to bed I knew it was a mistake! It was with the greatest of difficulty that I reached Bahir Dar the next day (will not go into detail). The eighty km to Bahir Dar felt like a lifetime. 

 

23 - 24 November – Dangla – Bahir Dar – 80 km

On reaching Bahir Dar we found the Gioa Hotel, which also offered camping on Lake Tana, but we opted for a room. We spent the next day in Bahir Dar as it was a beautiful spot and as I was still feeling weak.

 

25 November - Bahir Dar – Addis Zena – 88 km

Our next stop was Addis Zena at the foothills of the Simien Mountains and the start of the very impressive Ethiopian highlands. The road to Addis Zena stretched along Lake Tana and was therefore flat and scenic. We found a room and this time decided to make our own spaghetti and sauce (I was not yet up to the local food).

 

26 - 27 November – Addis Zena – Gondar – 100km

Spectacular views greeted us as we cycled the 100 km to Gondar. We spent the next day roaming the streets of Gondar, as there was quite a bit to see and it might have been our last chance of to buy some essentials before heading for Sudan. Gondar is an old and historic city and was once the capital of Ethiopia (1632-1667) with the result that there are plenty remains of old castles and fortresses. We visited what is known as Gondar Castle, a complex of castles and palaces. The complex measures 70 000 sq metre and contains numerous castles and places that have been restored, and that is today a UNESCO world heritage site. 

 

28 November - Gondor to border

Ernest headed for the border on the 28th, but I decided to stay another day and take the bus (no one needs to cycle the Simian Mountains twice in a lifetime!)

 

29 - 30 November - Metema

The next day I took a bus to Ethiopian/ Sudanese border and the border town of Metema and what an experience, or shall I say rip off. First, they charged me for putting the bike on the bus, and later they charged me for taking it off again. In the end, I arrived in Metema dusty and maybe more saddle sore than on the bike, as the bus seats were rather hard! We overtook Ernest along the way, and by the time the bus broke down, I was sure Ernest was going to catch up with us.

 

Metema was a real border town dirty, dusty and a place where every second hut is a pub/brothel. I found accommodation consisting of a mud room with a bed and electricity that comes on when the generator comes on and goes off when they switch the generator off again. No individual switch here.

 

Ernest arrived the next morning, covered in dust and sweat, and we found another room, not much better but at least a bit more spacious. We enjoyed our last beer for a while as Sudan is a conservative Muslim country where alcohol is not allowed. 

 

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