Monthly Archives: February 2011

Exhausted in Ethiopia

We are now in Arba Minch, a lakeside town, at a hotel/campsite which scores highly on the exotic: baboons, frangipani trees,  maribou storks. But which fails dismally on the necessities: water, power and food.

I am in an internet cafe – crammed in with my fellow TDA riders – yup we are an Acronym – catching up and trying to get a quick blog in before dinner.

We’ve been in Ethiopia for about 18 days now and on every day’s riding have climbed more than the height of Snowdon. We have had several – 1750m + days and one memorable 2502m climb – the last two metres counted! Up till yesterday it was all on road with the usual distances 100 – 150km, averaging around 120km. Yesterday was off road, 106km but only 997m climbing which was great.

So, basically, I am knackered. The scenery has continued to be amazing and beautiful. It has transformed to red dirt, small farms and banana plantations and much more dense forestation.  We are here for another three days and so it should change again.

The children are still a problem. Yesterday, I had a bad half an hour going through small villages – rock in the face, lots of hard slaps, and three boys masturbating at the roadside – although that was actually really really funny.

Back on the bike tomorrow morning, trying not to think about it as we have a seven day stretch with no breaks. We are almost in Kenya where we encounter bad roads and rain. That should add to the “adventure”. The staff here use the word adventure as a double up for extreme hardship….

Photos will have to wait till Nairobi as access is pretty slow. Off now for food and rest.

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Amazing Ethiopia

The minute we crossed the border from the Sudan into Ethiopia – everything was different. The people are smaller and slender with bright, sharp eyes and a quick energy. Everyone is an entrepreneur. And as one of our riders wryly commented, our first step into Christian territory gave us beer and brothels.

The country is stunningly beautiful. I’ll be putting pictures up but they don’t really capture the golden glow of the huge fields of grain. In the morning light, the scenes are almost biblical. Farmers are using the same methods they must have used centuries ago. Ploughing with wooden ploughs, women carrying buckets on wooden yokes and threshing by hand. Livestock is plentiful with large herds of cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and horses.

Everyone walks everywhere. So, instead of our traffic rush hours of the west, you have people rush hours, where hundreds are walking to market, work or school in the mornings.

The landscape veers between rolling hills and vertiginous gorges. Lots of cultivation and then wooded areas and some big slabs of bare mountain.

Then there are the different smells: eucalyptus, jasmine (or something like it), atan – the incense that is burned everywhere whilst making coffee.

And the children. A tiny minority of them plague us. They throw stones and rocks at us, slap us if they get close enough and even use the whips and sticks they have to drive the livestock. It is really difficult when you are tired and sore not to let it get to you, but you have to accept it and try not to let it mar the enjoyment of this wonderful place.

The riding has been really intense. We have done 10km of straight up climbing since we got here – and my back is screaming for mercy. Rest day is nearly over, and we still have some way to go. I’m looking forward to it.

Hotter than hell

After Khartoum, the temperatures soared. The beautiful desert of the north gave way to scrubland and with 8 days of riding ahead of us, I was pretty apprehensive about what was to come. Rightly, as it turned out.

The first day was a shock. It was 150km and all on tarmac. But after lunch, at around 11.30,  the temperature rocketed. That first day it reached the late 40s but later in the week it actually went up to 51 C.  I had always thought I coped quite well in the heat, but not in this. It sucked all the energy out of my legs, and my head felt like it was going to explode. By the time I got to camp that night, I was shaking, couldn’t speak and had goosebumps all over. Basically, dehydrated and knackered. Ruth has my undying gratitude for putting my tent up!

Things then got worse when we hit the dirt. It was good to get off the beaten track and to be right out in the wilderness riding through tiny villages and compounds and fields of sorghum but the road surface was brutal. Corrugated ruts or sand and sometimes both. Add in the long distances and the heat, and sprinkle in a bucket load of African thorns – giving one rider 10 punctures in one day – and the whole group was pretty beaten up. The truck got full.

The law of diminishing returns came strongly into force. The hotter you are, the slower you go, the harder the ruts are, the more your saddle rubs and rams, the tireder and less skilfull you are and you fall, hurt yourself, unclip and go even slower. 

I got through it, but very, very painfully.

But, as with everything, there was an upside and that was the incredible support, good humour and camaraderie of the group. It is not often that after a mere couple of weeks’ acquaintance you can ask someone to inspect your bottom for saddle sores….thanks, Ribka – and yes I had some good ones.

Tanks moving north

It is really strange cycling through this part of the world in a news vacuum when all hell is letting loose next door. Because we have being heading south at a fair old click through the desert, we have had no access to TV or radio till Khartoum – and if the staff in the trucks had it they didn’t share the news. Not it seems that there was much except continuing riots.

All I could gather was from guys selling cokes in tiny stalls at the side of the road who were minded to play the whole revolution in Egypt thing down. Baseet (simple/nothing much) was the universal comment with a certainty that it would all be over pretty soon.

A more worrying sign was a convoy of tanks we saw moving north the day before yesterday. But all IS quiet here in Khartoum. A protest scheduled for today didn’t appear to materialise and life is going on pretty well as usual.

As for the Tour – well, 3x 150 km days did knock me about a bit. But am getting into it now and am focussing only on the next 25km and a break! I rode with a much faster group on the third day and that was fun – hell but fun.

Things to see included a long line of dead camels in the desert, goats climbing trees, and as always the most spectacular stars at night.

Khartoum is a great city and I wish we had a bit more time. The suq is amazing – stuffed full of everything from gold to hair gel and bikes to bukhoor. Tomorrow is looming with 8 days of unbroken riding ahead.
For pix click here:

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