A Letter from Ethiopia!
Ethiopia is a land that will take you by surprise: incredible beauty, amazing scenery, and mountainous landscape and…oh, so many people! We have been riding through the countryside for the last few days and have been enjoying the rolling hills, trees, birdlife all the while dodging small children, kids that have an aim and throwing arm that would rival any outfielder in baseball or cricket (depending on what country you come from)! The increase in altitude over the last few days has provided both breathtaking views and a drop in the temperature. This was a relief after the Sudan where we felt as though we were either being deep fried or baked, depending on if there was wind or not!
The first thing that caught us by surprise was the hills…there are lots of them and they rise up as soon as you cross the border. It seems rare to find a village that isn’t situated on the side or top, but never at the bottom, of a hill. The roads we have been following weave a path through the mountain ranges, climbing rapidly, and descending just as quickly! Most of the riders have a huge grin on their face as they talk about the turns and the speed they pick up and nowhere in those conversations do you ever hear the word brake. In contrast to the Sudan, trees are everywhere and, even though it is winter at the moment, everything is green, birds are plentiful and there areinnumerable cows, donkeys, goats and sheep.
The next thing that caught us by surprise was a nasty little bug that had been quietly traveling with us since Egypt. As we crossed the border into Ethiopia at the border town Metema…it decided to party and has been moving relentlessly throughout the group. The two days rest in Gondar were a bit of a welcome relief for many of the riders, most of them having come down with some form of stomach compliant. Elaine, the tour nurse, has been kept busy as her list of patients grew and grew. There were even repeat visits, riders coming back for a second of third round. (We think that it’s because she is such a sweetheart!) Here’s hoping we have turned the corner as we head into another rest day in Bahir Dar, a small town situated on Lake Tana.
The third thing that took us by surprise and possibly the most exciting, depending on how the riders approach it, is the sheer number of people. They come out of nowhere. You can be riding along a stretch of road without anyone in view but when you stop (whether it’s to fix a puncture, have a rest or go for a pee), there they are. I can understand why Ethiopia boasts some of the world’s great distance runners. They start at a young age and, believe me, these kids can run! They will run with you as you are panting up a steep hill, along a flat stretch of road, and even while they are running, they are calling out “You, you, you” or “I love you” or “you, where are you going?” or “where are you from?”. They have incredible smiles and cute little faces (no, not innocent, but cute all the same) and despite the obvious language barriers many a rider has been able to play with the kids and communicate with the adults.
Miles, our resident Tour D’Afrique chef, has been whipping up a storm in his little outdoor kitchen. No one can complain about the amount, quality and type of food that he produces. You only need to spend some time with him in a market to realize that the guy has the imagination and talent to use the local produce, creating some delicious meals including: curries, meatballs, spaghetti, barbecued chicken, pancakes and so much more! We are just waiting on him to bake us a chocolate cake. Then he would become the most loved person on the tour (if he is not already)!
In the last few days we’ve managed to climb up and around mountains, enjoy some spectacular scenery, have monkeys wander into our lunch stops, fight off tenacious stomach bugs, enjoy cold beers, rest, visit castles and churches that would rival those in Europe, mingle with the locals, play with the children and get used to the fact that no matter where we go or what we do…we are going to be closely examined by the locals while in Ethiopia. (We even have toilet tents to avoid having the locals pop up when you would least expect it). Ethiopia is proving to be a hidden gem and that has been the biggest surprise to most riders. We are sitting back, enjoying the ride and looking forward to our Valentines Day Party!