I climbed 1800 m today! Most of it out of the Blue Nile Gorge. It promised to be spectacular and we had all been looking forward to the day. As one would expect when crossing a valley it started with a descent - 20 km freewheeling to the bottom of the gorge. I was worried my break pads would melt. Then the flipside - the 20 km climb. I used every trick in the box: pedaling, swearing, more pedaling, sulking at the side of the road, more swearing, squeezing my gear lever to see if I could get a 28th gear out of it, and then even more pedaling. All of this finally got me to the top. I won't tell you how long it took though. Needless to say the views were breathtaking.
Another day of rolling hills took us to the highest point of the tour today - 3100 m. I can feel the altitude in my lungs when climbing; and also in my inability to sleep properly. Also, I fell victim to one of the stone throwing kids today. The sweetest little girl, maybe 8 years old, she was smiling and waving at me from the side of the road, then lifted her hand and hauled a fist sized stone at me. Well aimed - she hit me on the thigh and left a big bruise. We have tried to find an explanation for this behaviour since it started but simply can not. Stoning of cyclists must be a local custom.
One needs to go to sleep early in Ethiopia. That is because one is woken up very early. Every village we have camped in so far has at least 3 monasteries. They all start their chanting rituals at 5 am (and at 3 on Sundays). This is not syncronised in any way at all. 3 priests/monks and their numerous followers sing and howl via loud speaker for at least an hour. At the same time we try to cling to the valuable state of sleep before starting the morning routine. Some of us have blamed their malaria medication for their funny dreams but this nightly activity might be responsible for the strange dreams.
Praise the achievements of civilisation! If you thought this trip would teach me to appreciate the simple things in life you are mistaken - it's rather the opposite. I have never really valued the little luxuries we take for granted in day to day life. Things like a hot shower (or even a decadent bath) - not to mention clean towels or even TV. Most camps we stay at have no facilities at all, but the ones which have usually provide one shower and toilet (combined in one room/shack) for more than 60 people. Imagine how these look after we have been through. So, when we arrived in Addis Ababa we did our sight seeing from the bike while riding into town in convoy and some of us booked straight into the Sheraton. (According to the lonely planet guide - one of the most elite hotels in Africa.) What bliss: big rooms, privacy, room service, swimming pools - you get it. I did not leave the hotel at all while we were in town. Those of our group who decided to camp for the night, invaded the Sheraton's breakfast buffet in the morning and stayed for most of the day as well.
23 &24 Feb
I am taking a holiday from my holiday! Starting with a domestic flight with Ethiopian airlines early in the morning. It's rather like a bus service; one plane leaves Addis in the morning and stops at every place with an airport. I was bound for Lalibela and we had 2 stops before we got there (funny enough they were Bahir Dar and Gondor - we had cycled through both). Now I am a proper tourist; sight seeing in the morning; lunching & resting; some more sight seeing ... etc.
25 &26 Feb
Am visiting Aksum in the far north of the country now. I have a car with a driver and a guide who go by the names of Mengistu and Haile Selassi and fulfill my every need (almost). There are lots of tombs and temples in the far hills, and huge obelisks. No-one knows how they were created. The Ethiopians (and several others) strongly believe that Aksum is home to the ark of the covenant. It is hidden in a little chapel and can not be seen by anyone but a single monk who guards it, but I was told that pilgrims from all over the world visit the place just to feel the vibe. So, I set out to see if I could feel it too. I found the chapel which is a 1960's nondescript construction, and I saw the guarding monk who was sitting outside on the 'stoop' chatting to the monks in the neighbouring monastery. There were sheep grazing in the yard and the washing was hanging outside. As for the vibe - I don't seem to be very perceptive in that regard :-)
I am travelling across Ethiopia. South east first, then far into the north, and now I'm following the tour into the south where I will meet them in Yabelo tomorrow. I was driving down the rift valley today. One impressive looking lake after the other. Unfortunately all full of crocodiles and bilharzia. Staying the night at Awasa, a surprising resort like town with lots hotels, restaurants, street cafés and a nice vibe (at last :-)). Unfortunately it is raining cats and dogs. (C&M - please stay away from the forecast!) I will move back into my tent tomorrow and hope it will be dry again
And a ps for the update: my sms is working again.
And a pps: good luck to the ones who are going to brave sani2c next week. Will be thinking of you when I will be taking on the lava rock of northern Kenya.
How long does it take to drive 200 km? I had met up with Michelle and Andre, a South African couple on the tour, so didn't have to face this part of the trip on my own. Shortly after we started our supposedly short drive we discovered a leaking tyre. Several attempts to pump it up failed so we stopped at the little town called Dilo to have it fixed. While we were waiting in the car the local population arrived. First the kids demanding money, cool drinks, pens, cigarettes and whatever else they could spot in the car. Next came the men chasing away the kids in an attempt to earn a tip for protecting us. The whole thing ended in a serious fist fight about the protection rights. At that stage we had barricaded ourselves in the 3 wheeled car... The 200 kms appeared to be much more. The road disappeared amongst potholes and the journey continued all day. Lalibela is known for it's rock hewn churches and it was absolutely amazing to see them. The town is buzzing with activity both of tourists and pilgrims who come from all over the country. It is also very high up in the mountains, and while I thought I was used to altitude living from Joburg - I am running out of breath quickly when walking up an down the steep streets.