Ethiopia

Ethiopia: The Tribal Omar valley

In this remote corner of the country tribal customs are strong and very visible. Bigger roads, tourists and other outside influences don’t seem to have made much difference to the lives of those who live in the surrounding villages. This area belongs to the Hammer tribe identifiable by the ladies distinctive V shaped leather dresses, shells and hair coated in coloured beeswax.

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Three of us on the road

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Aurelien cycling down hill in the distance.

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No, it’s not a giant upturned bowl of rice.. It’s cotton. Let’s hope they don’t have a strong gust of wind!

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This is where the road starts to get a bit rough..

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It’s for protecting the goats and cows from rival tribes..

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Prices for white people seems to go a bit crazy in this area.. Being charged 5 times the local price is quite common. In this case the ‘hotel’ tried over charge us by some extortionate rate. Even after I pointed out there was no running water or electricity but they wouldn’t budge. Instead we asked a shop keeper if we could camp in his compound – No problem!

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Red flower

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Bumped into two girls from the hammer tribe out collecting firewood

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Out hunting

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These birds kept following us..

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Buying eggs from the Hammer tribes people. They were rubbish! More water than egg white and most remained liquid even after boiling.

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Aurelien contemplates buying a bundle of sticks

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A weekly market is fascinating because it brings out the people who live in the villages some way from the main road.

Bull jumping ceremony
It’s as peculiar as it sounds. Some families choose to open it to tourists, through the owner of a local campsite and the money goes to the various interests. Its not just a show for the tourists, it’s a once in a lifetime event for the participants. The man can only marry if he can cross the line of cows twice without falling. If he falls he must wait a whole year before he tries again.

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Bulls are assembled

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Women relatives of the man wear loud bells around their ankles, blow horns and circle the cows..

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Onlooker watch as..

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..the man runs naked across the backs of a line of cows

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There is also the custom where the men whip the women relatives so they can show their devotion to the jumper. This convinced me it’s not just a show for the tourists.

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Mission accomplished, the jumper donnes a purple shawl and everyone disappears leaving behind a bewildered group cows.

Categories: Africa, Ethiopia | Leave a comment

Ethiopia: Konso and surrounding area

Dorze village
The hills above Arbre Minch have a cluster of historic and interesting villages. A steep climb of 1000 metres ends at one of these villages.

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We camped in a compound where I astounded a crowd with my upper body strength!

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On the road

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Meet the cows…

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Meet the meat!

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Beehives hanging in trees

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Fasting food (meaning vegetarian) on flat bread. Getting this kind of food is quite rare because unless you specify each of the side orders, you just get the dollop of red lentil in the centre. On this rare occasion we made it into the kitchen and pointed at the veg to the lady who was cooking. One of those strange ‘cultural differences’ is that men absolutely forbid us to enter the kitchen. And although the ladies are quite happy to show us what they are cooking it’s not long before some stroppy bloke tells you to get out..

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Lake Chamo / National park

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Drinks and dinner in a posh lodge overlooking the forest and Lake

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Security guards carried sticks to protect us against the baboons

Konso village
Locals had organised themselves into a cooperative where you can get information about the different villages in the area. They give you a guide and together we visited a walled village. Children and adults had also been trained not to beg from visitors, the guide acknowledged this was a very difficult task and at first they enforced it by education and fining the families of the beggar until the message finally sank in. Another problem is that even when asked not to give money or pens to the children some individuals still do it behind their backs. So predictably, when the children corner you and you’re alone, they ask for money and pens.

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Our knowledgeable guide

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Every 18 years a new ‘generation pole’  is added to the bundle. Even though they’ve done this for hundreds of years the pole is entirely devoured by termites in 80 years, hence the different heights of the poles..

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Weaver at work..

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Our guide explains how the boys huts work. Children under marrying age sleep above on mats. Should there be an emergency or fire they are quickly rallied into action. He was raised in this village and slept in one very similar.

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Boys hut from the outside

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Other sights around the area

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Cultural centre. Display of grave markers, this one being from  the time of Derg.

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Local fermented drink made from sourgam?? and drank from a hollowed out gourd. Now I’ve tried it I don’t need to try it again.

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A drink for the masses

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Local market

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‘Money, money, money, money, money, money, money’
‘NO’
‘Money, money, money, money, money, money, money’
‘NO’
‘Money, money, money, money, money, money, money’
‘NO’
‘Pen, pen, pen, pen, pen, pen, pen, pen, pen, pen’
‘NO PEN, NO MONEY’
(and so the conversation continues covering t-shirts, shoes and looping back to money for as long as we cycle uphill)..

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Ethiopia: Following the lakes of the Rift Valley

New another new team member Thorsten, from Germany.. Found applying for a visa at the Kenyan embassy in Addis Ababa. You can count the number of people per month who cycle this obscure route to enter Kenya on one hand, so to bump into someone with the same idea is very lucky indeed.
The plan was to cycle solo and meet up up with Aurelien and Amalie at strategic points enroute. So now I don’t have to drink my evenings gin & tonic on my own!! Bizarrely you can find this drink in most bars where the usual selection is around 5 dusty bottles on a shelf. It will set you back all of 15p. Another of those bottles will be ‘Spearmint’ (Creme de Menthe) and other will be Ozo. If you like these drinks then Ethiopia is the place for you! Beer is more popular and ‘Jumbo Draft’  is my preferred choice.

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Gin & Tonic.. Cheers!

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Standing Stones
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Gravestones. The number of swords represents the number of enemy killed..

On the road

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The only thing missing from this picture is someone washing their motorbike too..

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I think they are about to ask me for something..


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Cycling past traffic heading to a weekly town market

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A wedding convoy stopped for photos and dancing in the middle of nowhere


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Find the gap..

Lake Ziway

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Lake Ziway

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Marabou stalk and Pelican

Lake Langano
Anything that calls it’s self a lodge tends to charge outrageously high prices. Not wanting to pay more than an upmarket hotel just to pitch a tent, we cycled 100 meters down the road and I asked if we could camp on someone’s land. Problem solved.
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Many of the lakes have all manner of waterborne nasties. This is the only one declared safe. Pity the waters brown.. And cold, hence no pictures of me in the water..

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They are indeed big..

Shashemene and Hawassa

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All four of us on the road together. Good times.. Drinking pint size mango and avocado smoothies.. Mmmm

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Final decent to Lake Hawassa

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Try eating a meal with this many people watching you!

Lake Hawassa fishing Cooperative

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Lake fishing Cooperative

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Seen the movie... Now eat the cast!

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Sat in a waterside bar drinking beer watching this...

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Africa fish eagle in the wild..

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African fish eagle.. But this one it tame and specially trained to stand very still

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Coffee beans before roasting

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To Arba Minch

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When spotted by a group of kids, this is what happens. When the reach you the just shout 'money, money, money, money'. All 30 of them.

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With sudden improvement in the road system came a sudden increase in speed


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Sodo. View from a rooftop restaurant

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Lake Abaya

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Water: when you turn the tap, the donkey arrives

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A very nice meal. Security made sure we could eat our meal without the usual crowds gawping at us.

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Mangos are in full season. Those that are too ripe are fed to the goats. It gives them terrible gas.

Arba Minch
Shown around by a friendly guide who found us in our hotel. Our arrival coincided with a religious festival where all churches in Ethiopia take their copy of the ark of the covenant and parade it around the streets. Arba Minch also hosted a huge outdoor service.
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The procession must follow the red carpet.. Since it was in rather short supply, a bit of quick thinking Saved the day

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Categories: Africa, Ethiopia | 2 Comments

Ethiopia: Cross the Nile to Addis Ababa

Lake Tana
Biggest lake in the country at 70KM wide in places. Bahir Dar sits at the southern end and has a more relaxed feel than most towns. The lake is famous for its many Orthodox Christian monasteries located on a cluster of nearby islands.

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Aurelian and I swap bike for boat to visit the monasteries.

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Paintings depict all manner of saintly martyrdoms. Spot the comfy chair..

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Typical of the style the many rural Christian Orthodox churchs

On the road
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Coffee bread green and yellow..

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On seeing the tank…
Me:”What is it?”
Farmer: “It’s a cows bed”
Me: “I can see that, but why is it here?”
Farmer: “So cow can sleep”
.. so the conversation went on, but the mystery remained.

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Volcanic crater

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Charcoal is much more widely than gas and is commonly sold at the side of the road. This is how they make it.

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Amateur leading a group of Professionals

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Government sponsored bring a cow and get it inseminated road side event with lots of arm inside cow action. You could sell tickets for this sort of thing.

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I have never seen so many cows. They are everywhere. Just in case you feel like purchasing, Here is a quick price guide:
1 egg=9p
Chicken=£2.80
Sheep=£25 pounds
HUGE Cow / Ox =£280 pounds (I hardly saw any ‘normal’ size cows)
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Where does all this cow all go?

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Manually breaking rocks it one of the toughest and lowest paid jobs, although the men here seem to have it easy..

Market day
Foot traffic in and out of town greatly increases and those who live miles away from the road venture out once a week to buy and sell.
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What am I looking at on top of the petrol tanker? (clue.. It’s market day)

Off to a Wedding
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The Nile Valley
At some point we need to cross the Nile. It’s worn down a valley over 1000m deep.
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View from the top
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Down we go…
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Old and the new Bridge

FOOD
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1/2 kilo of cow steak on a charcoal hot plate. I’ve eaten more meat in the 2 weeks in Ethiopia than in all the other countries combined. At £2.50 for a meal like this with unlimited bread, it’s hard not to! Just see me piling on the weight!?

Debre Libano
Important religious centre constructed on the orders of Haile Selassie.
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Addis Ababa
A great place and not too big. Loved the vibe and the fact you don’t have to look hard for a shop sells something you need or want.
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First view of the city
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Stationary traffic is not dangerous
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A friend, Anne, kindly let us camp in her compound while she was away. It is an oasis compared to what’s outside. We are happy for a new member of the cycle gang: Amelie, Aurelien’s girlfriend and also a keen cyclist. She actually owns has more bike that him – and he has a lot..

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I think this acreage of tarmac is the city centre.

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Worth a trip to see this alone. University grounds have giant tortoises in action.

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Meet the famous ‘Lucy’ in the museum.

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Super restaurant that had a menu!.. and more that half the things on it can be prepared for you! You don’t find many places like this outside Addis.

Categories: Africa, Ethiopia | 1 Comment

Ethiopia: The North, warts and all

My cycle buddies, Aurelien and Thorsten add positively to the whole experience. It’s great fun to figure things out together, discuss thoughts and experiences and relax in the evening without the feeling like you should be doing something.

Ethiopia is richest country I have visited in Africa in terms of water, soil quality, forests, land suitable for agriculture and cattle, mineral wealth and a huge workforce (albeit an underpaid one). There are pockets of dry rocky and barren land in the north east that people remember from the TV during the famine but that does not represent the country as a whole.  Much more interesting cycling is to be had due to the mountainous terrain and being higher up, it’s cooler too.
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Unlike more developed African countries there has not been a migration to the cities to seek employment which means there is still a high rural population density. For the most part roads are lined with little homesteads and lots of people. Heads bob up from bushes as you go by and when you stop in the middle of nowhere small crowds start to gather.
There are a couple of problems faced in Ethiopia which are well known and considered a ‘rite of passage’ for anyone who cycles across Africa.

Sorry if what follows sounds like a bit of a rant. Did I enjoy cycling through Ethiopia? Yes. There are so many positives such as the culture, dress, way of life, landscape, religion. All the things that endless occupy my thoughts just like the other countries which I talk about elsewhere, so I’m not going to repeat it here. The problems are a bit of a slap in the face and the scale of the problem is unique to Ethiopia.

Stones
This gets the most press. Occasionally kids throw stones at you and teenage girls seem prone to do this, but it’s well known to be a problem so it’s something to be expected. They don’t want to knock you off the bicycle and it’s just an impulse reaction to get your attention. Nearly every time they miss, which is deliberate because pinpoint aim is something they do have after years of practice herding goats (by throwing stones). It doesn’t bother me.
This need for your attention is also shown by both adults and children by the fact when you pass a pedestrian, a person working in their field or just sitting around watching the day go by they shout “You! You! You! You! You! You! You! ”. If they get your attention the next question is “Where you go?” Occasionally they’re happy with your answer and reply with “OK” and a smile. Quite often it leads to my next subject.

Begging
For a country that has never been under colonial rule for any period of time and is very proud of how it has kept it’s independence we are surprised how often people expect us (obviously representing white people in general) to fix their problems. The solution (their eyes) is for us to hand out money, pens and clothes. Here I disagree with the majority view. My jaded view of the subject is it’s not the responsibility of the white man to spoon feed Ethiopia, but for Ethiopians to pick up the spoon in front of them and feast on what they’ve got.


A short video clip. Pursued for 5 minutes by these kids asking for money I had enough. I wanted to see their reaction when I turned a camera on them. They stopped immediately. Imagine the first 2 seconds of this clip and loop it in your head for 5 minutes. Imagine the whole day being punctuated with long periods of begging and multiply it by time taken to cycle the length of this huge country. In short, it grinds you down.
Constant begging by both adults and children is much harder to deal with that the hills and It’s a problem for some Ethiopians too, especially business owners.

Business Opportunities Galore!
There are also huge business opportunities to be had here. Everyone complains about the price of chickens and eggs, but I’ve not seen a single chicken farm. I met a group who made a major detour with their car because they could not bargain down a price to cross a small river to less than $300USD. Travel is difficult due to a shortage of minibuses and everyone is waiting for transport after lunchtime. Many basic goods such as biscuits, chewing gum and jam are imported through Djibouti from Jordan, Saudi Arabia or further; that can’t be cheap??
In small towns and villages, cafes advertising delights such as cakes and pastries rarely have anything to offer. On the occasions we did find (edible!) snacks, they are busy and selling like, well, hot cakes..
On the plus side there seems to be investment in schools, clinics, hospitals and roads by the government that is very visible even especially in the rural areas. New buildings are springing up and I’m constantly told things are much better than just a few years ago. Without such infrastructure, it’s difficult to industrialise although telecoms and electricity are down more than up outside Addis Ababa. In a country that is experiencing rapid growth and has the potential of sustaining this for a long time to come, why is there the common aspiration to move to Europe to make money? I explain Europe’s economies are stagnant and (in my opinion) the best and easiest place to start and grow a business is on their own front doorstep. The biggest barrier I feel is the sense of apathy that prevails in the rural areas from those who beg. It’s like they too have been ground down over time.

Crowds
You are never alone or short of people to talk to. It’s a blessing and a curse because you have no choice in the matter. I’d hate to be famous. An empty cafe on the outskirts of a village looks like a good place to stop for a ‘Marinda’ (Fanta) and a bite to eat. Soon 2 inquisitive heads become 4 becomes 8 becomes 50. They are never aggressive. Occasionally it becomes lively and rather animated. The quiet stop boost the flagging sugar levels and rest from trials of the road both physical and psychological end in you not being able to hear yourself think. I prefer to eat without an audience. Thoughtful owners often assign someone as ‘security’ to watch the bikes and tell people to clear off when crowds start gawping. It’s not a problem in towns or cities.
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I quiet cafe springs into to life
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Ferengi on bicycle. Fascinating.

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An audience gathers to watch the most mundane of things..

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Even when behind closed doors..

Don’t touch the bikes. A hand on the handlebar, quick test of the breaks, changing the gears, trying out the saddle for comfort and pleading to take it for a ride up and down the road. This proceeds lengthy discussions where you try to explain it’s a bad idea to ride a fully loading touring bike to someone who will never understand. This inevitable sequence of events conveniently nipped in the bud by a firm but polite “Don’t touch” when the first finger touches the bike. Problem solved. Besides, Aurelien’s bike is not very stable on its stand and can crush a small child should it fall on them, which it did once when we weren’t looking. No permanent damage was done, not sure about the child though.

Metema
In the Sudan half of the town you have Sharia Law, in the Ethiopian half you have rows of bars and legalised prostitution. What a contrast! I had visions of Mexico border towns but Metema was pleasant and surprisingly quiet. Alcohol is now back on the menu!!

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What a welcome sight after 1 month of Sharia law.

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Traffic

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Small Northern hotels. Sadly often infested with bed bugs, fleas, lice and rats.. This one scored 3 out of 4.. (there were no lice!)

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Pit stop, the heavy traffic was not moving very fast.

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Where to get water

Gondor
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Former capital of Ethiopia. The royal palaces can still be visited.

Christmas Eve
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Involved a night of local singing and dancing after our Christmas meal.

New Years Eve
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Drinking honey wine followed by a successful hunt for rum and coke. The bottles do look like medical samples jars..

Lalibella
The famous rock hewn churches and UNESCO site. Our 3 hour visit cost $50USD each, which was a bit of a surprise. This doesn’t even get you a leaflet, guide or escort around the site. We did this as a side trip from Gondor. Travel down by minibus taxi involved an overnight stop and a 4×4 for the last leg of the journey.
Getting back was more problematic.. After midday there is no transport out of Lalibella. We hitched a ride on a vehicle that was going for some welding work. Then negotiated a long stretch of the journey in a 4×4 that was going in our Direction. Then that driver managed to get us on a truck transporting eucalyptus wood to the outskirts of Gondor. We jumped in a Tuk Tuk for the last leg back to the hotel. It took 12 hours, None of it on public transport (shared taxi minibus) because they had all finished for the day when we arrived at the various destinations. More memorable than the visit to the churches!!

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Most have now been given a roof for protection against sun and rain

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The famous St Georges church

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Very much a working church. Fortunately the faithful do not pay the same fee as the tourists..

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Inside are paintings, treasures, priests, the faithful and the smell of burning incense.

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On the road again..and climbing.

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Stop off for tea at one of the road side chapels. They kindly shared their food with us.

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Going to church and collecting donations at the roadside

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It’s always the women who do the hard work.

Food
One of the biggest rewards when cycling..
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By far the most inedible dish of the Ethiopian menu, beating even raw mince meat (which is actually quite nice if you ignore the fact it’s not cooked) is this, batter. That is flour batter (dough), uncooked, served warm and floating in oil. Even I could eat a quarter of it without feeling queasy. It like eating raw bread mix in great, which is exactly what it is.

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A typical Ethiopian dish and our main diet. The table cloth thing it rests on is a sour bread called injera.

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Another delight. I’ve eaten 10 times more meat in Ethiopia that in all the other countries combined. At £2 for a half kilo of ox, cooked and served on a hot plate with spices and bread. Meat eaters eden!

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Various bread snacks and coffee make a good break, and of course, the famous Mirinda (over sweet Fanta, not shown here)

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