As soon as you cross the border the road starts to raise, the landscape changes and the temperature drops dramatically. This was a most welcome change.
Ethiopia, 13 months of sunshine the slogan reads. The date in Ethiopia today is 22/03/2006. They have a 13 month calendar, 12 months of 30 days each and one month made up with the spare 5 or 6 days depending on whether it’s a leap year or not. The day begins at 6am but to them it’s 0 o’clock, makes sense really. Ethiopia is a land shrouded in magic and mystery. Over 80 million people live in this land locked country and I reckon most of the population must be under 15. There are children and animals absolutely everywhere. It’s almost impossible to find a secluded spot anywhere in the country. I can stop in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road and within minutes there will be a crowd around having a good stare. Ethiopians give the people of India a run for their money for sure.
The first ride from the border took me to a place called Gondar high up in the Simien Mountains. The roads are ok but there are people and animals everywhere so it’s best to keep the speed down. Around every corner you come across either cows, donkeys, goats or camels being herded mostly by children. Along the way to Gondar I stopped to chat with some cyclists along the road. These guys are cycling from Cairo to Cape Town and have been on the road about 6 weeks. There is one Spanish guy, one Irish guy and two Irish women. How they made it through Sudan in the 40 + degree heat is a mystery to me. They plan on being in Cape Town in April. All I can say is good luck. Their website is www.rotharafrica.org if you’d like to see if they make it all the way.
From Gondar it was off to a place run by a Dutch couple, Tim & Kim’s on Lake Tana. This was about 80km away mostly on dirt roads so it took a few hours. I arrived at Tim & Kim’s just as they were finished chopping the head off the biggest pig I have ever seen. The blood was still dripping from the headless corps as I pulled up. I had been told beforehand that’s its best to let them know that you’re coming so they will have enough food for you but I could see this wasn’t going to be a problem. I got myself a bungalow and settled in for a massive feast that night. I ended up staying there for two nights because the pig was so good although I wish I had spent more time there.
From Tim & Kim’s it was off to Lallibela to see the stone churches carved from the rocks. Along the way I met up with Gianni and Fabi again. The ride was exhilarating to say the least. The last 48 km was on a pretty bad dirt road that meandered around the interlocking spurs on the mountainside. It took us 3 hours to go 50km but it was a very enjoyable ride.
The stone churches of lallibela are dam impressive because many are not carved into the rock, but freed entirely from it. They are then hollowed out from within. They are still used today as places of worship and well worth a look.
The next morning we took the road towards Woldia which was supposed to be shorter that the dirt road we entered from but it ended up being almost twice as long and in a lot worse condition. I loved every minute of the 3 and half hours it took to ride 60 km. Along the way the mountains are dotted with mud hut villages. When you ride in to the villages the kids coming running out shouting either “you,you,you” or “money, money, money”. Some of the adults are shocked to see white people on these roads. I went to shake a guy’s hand in the middle of nowhere and he jumped back with the fright. I feel very privileged to have seen those villages.
When we reached the tarmacadam road again it was getting late and the weather had turned. It was the first rain I had since leaving Italy. We ended up in some dump of a hotel in some little town. It really was disgusting but the food was good. I actually think the hotel may have been a brothel. After little to no sleep we departed at 7am heading towards the capital, Addis Abba. It’s tough riding in Ethiopia and takes all day to go a few hundred km so we never made it. We ended up in a little town called Debra Bashir for the night. The poverty here was something else to see but the people are fairly happy. I was feeling guilty for walking down town in a decent pair of shoes. There are guys wearing combinations of shoes and people wearing no shoes at all but there are shoe shiners everywhere. It seems to be a pastime to get whatever you have covering your feet polished.
The next day took us to Addis Abba, the capital of Ethiopia. It was only a short trip of 200km or so and took 2 hours to reach the city. Addis is having a new metro installed and instead of constructing it in stages the Chinese constructors decided to dig up the whole city at once. The traffic is chaotic. There are dead ends everywhere and giant 20 meter deep holes in the roads. It took another hour to ride the 6 km to Wims Holland House where we stayed for 2 nights. Here I met Ron again, the butcher from Tim and Kim’s. Ron is also a mechanic and everything else you can imagine. I spent 2 days here and serviced my bike; I also change my new front tire back to the old one. I couldn’t ride with the bulge anymore. The old one only has to get me another 2000km to Nairobi, Kenya where I have a new one waiting. Wims Holland House is owned and run by Wim, a Dutch guy from some other lifetime. It’s a great place to meet other overlanders and get some info. I met a few people going north and we were able to swap information about our prospective routes.
The day of departure I struggled to mount the bike and get out of the city. I was sick as a small hospital again. It was a real hard day and a real hard ride of 350km to Argash lodge in Yirga Alem but it was certainly worth it. The lodge is run by an Ethiopian/Italian couple. It was full but they let us camp in the grounds for a small fee and did their utmost to make us welcome. Here I saw eagles, Vultures and for the first time live Hyenas in their natural environment. It’s been one of the nicest places I have stayed so far on this trip.