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Addis Ababa

Email update February 22, 2012


View Gen's African Cycle 2012 on gennesseb's travel map.

Hullo everyone,

Thanks so much for the updates from homefront. So good to hear news from everyone. Although I am with 40 or so people there is nothing better than to receive news from friends and loved ones. Believe me, none of it is boring, it puts a smile on my face.

Finally here in Addis.....like some many African cities, it is dusty, crowded with vehicles and of course, people rushing everywhere. No doubt, places to go and people to see; just like all of us. Not much to visit culturally. A couple of churches and museum. If you don't know, Addis has the largest market in all of Africa.....but have decided not to go and spend my time updating everyone on the trip since Gondar.

During my clothes-washing duties yesterday, which I did at the hotel's washing area, strictly reserved for the "staff", the head washing lady, who's English was great, advised not to go....."it is full of thieves, the taxi man will also thieve you and the goods for sale are of very poor quality. Even I do not shop there". There are a few items | want to buy before leaving Ethiopia and so she has organised for her sister to take me shopping and will get the right price, otherwise I will pay to much. This morning when I returned for my second load of wash duty, she was showering and we were like two old friends, chatting away, she showering in all her glory and me washing. When finished I was invited to sit in the sun with the other hotel workers and enjoy a cup of black sugary tea (so tasty) and bread. I felt so privileged. Our campsite is in the grounds of hotel, now used only as a restaurant and wedding function area. We have grass under our tents and trees for shade. Shame that not long after we arrived, the water ran out!!!!!! After 5 days on the road what's another night of www (wet wipe wash).....

So, Gondar......a great place to relax, eat and sip those spectacular "juices".....

My friend, Marianne and I took a tour of the three special areas of the town: The Castles, Baths and the Church. The guide was a young man, Philamon. Such a handsome man too. Had originally attended University and studied Law but found it not to his liking and enjoyed tourism more, especially the historical side to share with people from all over the world. He supplements his income by assisting with the running of a guest house. The tour took about 2.5hrs, full of history and fascinating tales of past kings, queens, children and theology. What an amazing country this is....the home of Christianity.....the Coptic church, old testament and the linking of it all with the Jews. The Ethiopian flag includes the 'star of david'. Invasions-English, Italians, Portugese, all bringing their own style of religion and architecture as well as destroying that originally in place. Gondar is 60% Christian, 30% Muslim and10% "doesn't matter". All live harmoniously. The church full of original byzantine paintings, still so clear and well cared for. One side water damaged so rather faded. The church itself is tiny, still open for services but that area was sealed off with curtains so could not view. A verandah had been added around all sides of the church to protect it from the weather. The underside made from bamboo. There were persian carpets heaped over each other on the floor, drums and staffs all with specific meanings. The leather straps across the drums signify the straps attached to Jesus as he hauled the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, the stone inside the drum signifies the soul left behind (Easter). The church is surrounded by a large rock wall and many small rooms built out from the wall house old monks....tiny rooms....they somehow survive. An old monk was sitting on the verandah teaching the bible to a couple of young girls. They were most respectful of him and repeated lines as he spoke. I took a lovely photograph of old and young keeping the tradition alive. The Castle...not at all like the English castles we know.... Shown a "template-type" section of how they tested the way to build the structure before actually building. They originally built with large rocks but found this not structurally sound so built with smaller rocks. Sauna room, bathing area, banquet hall, horse boxes and Queens residence, which is still in use today. So much history, I really need to read up on it all. The Fasil Baths were once used continuously but now only filled for 3 days of the year, over the January 19 period....the date coincides with the baptism of Jesus.
The baths are full everyday for those three days. The city has built beaches to allow more people to watch the ceremony. Big banyan trees surround the pool providing shade for everyone, their root system sprawling across the rock walls. Must be a magnificent sight when in full swing.

The fruit juices: I thought we had it made with our tropical fruits, but these guys have created a drink to rival them. I spoke about these in an earlier email, but finally went into a kitchen to see how they were created. They peel the avocado, mango, pawpaw, pineapple, guava then puree separately. The drink is a spooned layer of your choice, no liquid added....served with lime quarters, straw and long spoon. To die for!!!!! Never thought I'd experience avocado in a juice, but it is a "wow" taste sensation. Had three in one day....all that goodness in a glass and even the locals indulge.

It was so good to relax in Gondar...my legs were so tired, even walking up steps kind of exhausted me... This wonderful hotel atop the world full of Tda bikers lounging around the reception area, all with their computers, Iphones, Ipads, I, I, I......so out of context when you look outside..... Women working on building sites, carrying heavy loads of sand up walkways to higher levels. No flash prebuilt cement walls here!!!

Rest days always involve doing domestics.....this time I washed the outer fly of my tent....OMG.....so much dust....turned to mud...and still not clean....oh well, many more months of dust to come for sure....Nice to have sleep in, listening to the 2hr of prayer calling from a distant mosque, reading a chapter or two of my book, snoozing.....such a change to actually get out of tent at 8.30am instead of 5.30am...

As always, rest days end and back on the bikes. Only a couple of days to Bahir Dar and another rest day. TdA found from previous trip that it was better to enjoy Bahir Dar for an extra day, than doing it in Addis Ababa....

Weather so pleasant for riding...busy city morning with people off to work, children lined up for school, road workers busy at it...essentially the same process as in your own town/cities....just a little dustier I'm sure and to expect a pedestrian, truck, donkey cart or herd of goats to leap out in front on you at any time......In Africa, the pedestrian owns the road.....

Across the valley floor passing tiered cropping; coffee bushes mixed with mango and pawpaw trees. Havent seen a banana tree or plantation since Egypt...but we have bananas everyday for breakfast and lunch and they are always available in the small villages we pass through....mmmmm...

First sighting of monkeys.....how amazing...right there on the road....silky grey with white bums.....all along the hillside close to the road...wanted to take photos but was invaded by hordes of children....money, money, money....touch, laugh.....how to move on through them all...? Big climbs with spectacular views to the Tana Lake, so close yet so far away....we had to get to the other side....where's a ferry when you need one!!!!! Campsite at Bahir Dar, top story of the hotel....three flights of stairs, no lift!!!

Bahir Dar famous for being the "source of the Nile", several ancient monastries out on islands in the lake and an hippo...maybe the latter a "loch ness" look alike, and Blue Nile Falls. Unfortunately the Falls are not as fabulous as in previous time as they have dammed the area for irrigation and so the water flowing over the falls are limited even when the wet season is on. Bahir Dar also a University town so lots of younger people. Unfortunately the tourism hasn't utilized the lake shore and most of it fenced off or has a government building blocking a wonderful vista.....slowly slowly. A couple of restaurants doing well, but the Sheraton resort was closed....something about "going bankrupt"???? Wandered around the Kurift Resort, bougainvillia vine growing over private rock-built villas, sparkling large swimming pool with views out to lake....not that expensive really...$229 executive suite/night, included all meals, massage, pedicure and manicure..... Indulged myself with an hour of full massage....oh...how many lumps and bumps can one person have in their shoulders/neck? Pain and pleasure for $15. Spoke with Dutch man who organizes motor bike tours of one month duration through Ethiopia....Clients were booked in at this resort...a nice way to travel staying at good hotels (well the best for each area), yet experiencing the splendid rolling hills (read mountains) from an engine-powered bike. He had ridden the route several years ago, on bicycle carrying panniers and tenting it....Motor bike a much better way to travel..... Muslim religion more obvious here, two mosques.... so morning prayer alarm back on the program. Spoke with a client, woman from USA who has lived in Bahir Dar for 7 years. Went originally for 3 years, volunteer and work on her PhD. Now lectures in English and linguistics to graduate students and is married to the University President. His story so special. Came from tiny village, all siblings bar youngest, illiterate. He was a shepherd but kept sneaking off to school. Finally the teacher went to his parents and told them he was very bright.....Happy ending. The local market quite different from what I'd previously seen. Wandered down narrow alleyways full of men and women on sewing machines....."sweat shop"??? Sewing curtains, clothing, Manchester etc. Another area specializing in goods made from rubber tyres,shoes, thongs etc. Utilizing the product readily available. Spice and bean section. displayed in big hessian sacks, so colourful, stall after stall, all selling the same product and all staffed by women.....Unfortunately we could not take photos of any of what we saw. Many hands shaking at us whenever I lifted my camera. Such a shame, written reminder and memory only now. Traditional coffee making ceremony: who would have thought that our current "coffee lounging/indulging ritual" originated from this..... It is a traditional woman's meeting. The hot water and coffee is boiled three times before being poured, bread is cut and passed around and then coffee poured. While all this is taking place the woman talk. It is a time for woman to stop and chat and relax.....yeh.....The ceremony is performed by a woman in traditional white cotton dress, the edges trimmed in the Ethiopian colours...It is relaxing just watching it all being prepared before the coffee and cake is brought to you. Had a long chat with a local man who had spent many years in the USA as a social worker....he eventually had to return home as the stress of the job effected his health. He changed his career and began introducing solar panels to the villages. He began with his own small village, connecting them to the grid and bringing electricity into their lives. Word travels fast even when there are no phones and so little by little other villages are following suit. He such a proud man. We spoke of religion and hardship, pleasure and pain that both bring.

A fancy dress night for the family....Whitney Houston dies.....so it was a "remember Whitney" theme and the You You, You call from the kids......The local market did well out of us.....what a laugh....people in white outfits, cotton wool for frizzy hair....big red lips.....and this was on a guy..... He was "shadowed" all night by the minder (movie: Bodyguard)....so aptly portrayed by one of our US riders, from Austin, Texas.....he was perfect....had somehow managed to fit his sports coat into his luggage.....and how useful was his Ipod, as the security ear device....The German boys drew on white t-shirts - Uncle Sam with the pointing finger....Wants You, You, You.... The youngens danced and drank until the wee hours of the morn.....Oldies, like me, went to bed and slept through their laughter and "sneaking quietly....." back to tents.... So just a snippet of my days in Bahir Dar.

Many people sick and not able to ride....mainly diahhorea and vomiting....luckily still free of both, except for my one stint of vomiting from real exhaustion....Some staying on an extra day or so to recuperate and catch a taxi to next ride stop.....

Big days of climbing ahead....Leaving Bahir Dar fresh from lay days and massage....especially stronger in my legs...how exhausting is all this riding!!!! Now weight 59kgs....very skinny arms and legs, my bike shorts legs have nothing to grab onto, and my ribs stick out.....bit ugly really....many of us older woman looking the same....sagging skin at arms and inner leg. For those who live in Townsville, I resemble the old lady who walks her dog along the Strand (one of many she has had over the past 20 years), always off lead, and up through Gregory St to Alexandra St.....just take a closer glimpse of her wonderful tanned but saggy legs and arms.....that's me!!!!

Climb of 1631m....so much for a rest day!!! The day was a 167km number..... Many villages involved with timber (gum trees) milling, quite lucrative for them....but all lengths cut by hand saw.....and hand loaded onto trucks, donkey carts, new and old.... Donkeys stagger with huge black plastic bags either side full of water....how do they last going uphill to their villages? Quite painful to watch, sadness wells up inside of me...the master does not seem to care.... More donkeys lined up outside a building where the grain is being poured into bags....you can hear the generator clacking away, unsure of its job, but possible to move the grain along a conveyor belt and into the hessian bags.....then hoisted onto either side of donkey and another on top.....off to home with the grain for a family....Here the donkey is the workhorse, it is not ridden, the owner/family walk behind....and more landscape as a patchwork quilt of agriculture.....

Kids go to school for half days.....one lot in the morning, another lot in the afternoon. So the herding and tending of cows, goats etc still happens. While kids in school either morning or arvo, the father tends the herd....

Saw my first "servile" cat....unfortunately, partially squashed on the road. It is a local wild animal rather like a wild feral cat, with orange/black dots.....very beautiful markings....haven't seen another....Lasted 100kms that day before flagging down the lunch truck.....There goes my timing.....if you don't finish the day (clock in and out) you are automatically given a 12hr day.....even if you have only ridden 6hrs...So if anyone is watching my times.....you can see when I "hop the truck"......if it is a " mando day" and you get in the truck, 16hrs are added to your time...... Change of campsite, from bush to forest.....literally in a forest of pines.....the locals are kept back by a thing layer of rope.... We are quite a scene for them....crazy looking people on bikes, staggering around putting up tents, laughing, crying, aching...rushing to wash hands, grab dinner plates, eat....wash up, stagger back to tents....maybe a www, or just crawl into sleeping bags and snore.....

Two more days of big climbs....1805 and 1881m..... Early morning beauty of valley veiled in mist....read smoke haze....the trees glistening through the sunlight and peace and quiet everywhere as we glide down the hills and up the ascents....Palm trees growing along the edge of creeks....first since Egypt....not sure what type, look like date palms...Huge vultures, brownish and menacing, feeding on a carcass in the field....shivers up my spine as I pedal past, alone......Villages getting bigger, always on a hill and I pass through breathing like a train!!!! kids yelling at me....how can I answer when I can hardly breathe???? They play "chicken" games as you creep along at zilch kms/hr.....I don't cares if they don't move......suffer the consequences.....ooops, ran over a foot!!!

Worst feeling is being pulled backwards while struggling up a hill.....the kids take full advantage of your inability to "shoooo" them off.... I get angry, yell and gesticulate....they laugh and run off....I'm left to readjust my bag and struggle on upwards, always up.....

Come across kids selling "whiskey".....oly 50Bir....about $3.... apparently made in a bathtub out of local grain and can send you blind.....no purchase....instead Iindulge in two delicious mixed fruit juices, only to get indigestion at 94km mar, walked for about 4km....too much pain to ride....flagged down the truck...again...lay on floor of truck till camp....ouch the pain...and so.another 12hr day....

Finally the day of The Gorge ride has arrived.....only 89kms today. When you read the white board each evening and the kms are low you know there is going to be pain and hills......and so it is for the 1881m climb....and also a time-trial. If you are "racing" then you must do this leg.....ah...competition... The early morning ride is across the plain...what a change, no rolling hills, just flat, flat, flat....wheat plains either side. Round bales of honey coloured wheat piled high spread for kms across the plains. Lines of men and women trekking across the plain carrying smaller bales to the bigger bales.....no donkeys, no tractors, just human carriers.....like ants across the sand...How do the bales get so high.....closer inspection as people cross the road carrying their loads....ladders. The smaller bales are dropped and then transferred by hand up the ladder, layering as they go.....a human conveyor belt!!! Women carry the bales on their backs, so they are bent over yet their head is up.....how crippling can that be? Men carry on their heads, one hand holding and they walk as if they are doing a "marathon walk"....hips swinging and their feet gliding, nearly running..... Just like the kids who run alongside you up a slope.....you are doing 16km and they are keeping up with you, yelling and laughing..... The country needs to harness both the hip swinging men and fast running kids for athletes....they'd win hands down everytime!!!!

The Gorge ride is this magnificent descent to the Nile river floor.....takes 45mins to descend....what a view...inbetween dodging bumps, slumping road, broken-down trucks, pedestrians....down down down, while also looking across to the opposite side....up, up, up.....Time trial begins at bottom of Gorge....it is 12.15 or so when I'm flagged out...."mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun" comes to mind as I head up the first hill, no breeze.....first bend....stop...a family of baboons sitting on the rocks.... How amazing, happy mum with baby in lap, dad lounging on a boulder nearby, another investigating the inside of a plastic bag....Upwards and upwards....third corner....boiling, steaming, sweating....off and walk....and so it goes for the next 4hrs. Others pass by with words of encourgement....I laugh to myself....I can walk quicker than I can pedal on some stretches. Pass a patch of damp earth, water dripping....head under drips, dip my scarf in the clear pool and wring it over my head....ah...how cool can I get? More walking, another rider walks with me, but falls behind..cannot keep my pace....Another spring, this time from a pipe....yeh...sitting down I fill my water bottle and drink the cold, cold, clear water...then pour it over my body.....I become the filler of bottle to pass up to the girl riders as they stop....such a welcoming sight for them.....they push on, I stay and indulge myself with another bottle....The lunch truck passes....lots of bikes on top. I keep on walking. Just when you think it's the top, up it goes again....the valley floor getting further and further away.....Meet up with girls at coke stop....yeh....Here we encounter the local kids playing with a small chameleon on the hot bitumen road.....We gather the bright green creature on a stick and I walk with him for a short way. She happy to be safe. Finally I begin to ride and still this beautiful green creature sits on the stick...the kids are left behind and "carmen" (as we nik-named her) begins to climb along my hand and up my arm....whoops....keep pedalling. And so she stays for about 5kms, happy on the outside of my sleeve, away from the sunshine. Changing colour to blend in with the black/grey of my jersey, she goes from lime green, to shades of grey and lime green....what a vision, I pedal on watching this display, and so distracted from the climb.....finally I give her to a small bush, splash her with water and hope she survives her new surroundings! the distractions on a climb make for a happy Gennesse.....I stopped many times to view the scene passing below....levels of farming, richness in the green pastures, rocky cliff faces of coloured rock....wild, beautiful and peaceful, how good is life? Lots of walking, I arrive last into camp to cheers and clapping....but did it..and a welcome "cold beer"..... I pitch my tent alongside a very small banana tree.....I think of home and am happy to be where I am.

The record time for the climb was set in 2009 at 1hr19mins.....the boy racers go, go, go......Paul from Norway, (obviously a man from hill country) breaks the record with 1hr 17mins.....how good is that???

Another day of short kms.....more hills....didn't sleep well, and no energy.....Fancy that!!! My heart sings as I pass through a village lined with silky oaks.....an avenue of them....most times early early morning is so good going through small villages. People oblivious of you passing... The word "ciao" is used constantly....a hangover from the Italians and WWII....passed on down through the generations....Women carry umbrellas....how smart....to hide from the sun.

The kids are good, but out of nowhere comes a rock.....I turn and two young girls are laughing.....I instantly turn my bike around and ride back towards them....they run into their community compound...I drop my bike and chase them....through their wooden gate, along the rocky path, round houses made of dung and thatched roofs confront me....I walk back to the road, villagers have gathered...I wait outside the Australian gum timber fence. The girls appear and I chase them again....this time they run into a house and close the wooden door....there is a lock on the outside, I push, they are holding it closed.....I push harder and force my way into their home....it is dark, no windows, the light from behind me shines on two frightened faces, hands up in horror at this crazy white woman in lycra......I see a small goat and baby kid sharing the inside of the house, a few pots and pans.....A mother comes past and signs that it was not her children.....the culprits ran that way.....a likely story, but I retreat outside to the now larger crowd that has gathered.....I tell people "loudly" that stone throwing is NOT GOOD.....I pick up a rock and throw it on the ground....NO, NO, NO...... Finally a man with some English asks "what is the problem".....I give up.....go back to my bike (which could have been plundered and/or pinched during the debacle), hop on and ride away......I guess I lost my temper.....

The upshot of all of this was that most riders had a terrible day with the kids......I think we are all "over the stone throwing, whipping and pushing and pulling".... Tomorrow will be a better day.....

Each evening after the rider meeting, we have the "Golden Bicycle Award" presentation. Many weeks ago the girls, I call them the "rat pack"....four youngens, ranging in age from 22-30, have bonded together and are the clowns and partygoers....purchased a gold medal with a bicycle embossed on it. A blue ribbon and so we have the daily "golden bicycle award" to a rider for special deed, be it helping another riding who has had a fall, breaking the Gorge record etc, etc..... So yes, on February 19, 2012 at the top of the Rift Valley Gorge in a campsite of rocks....I am awarded the prestigious prize.....for being bold enough to enter a local's house to admonish children.....hopefully I haven't damaged them for life!!!!!

The campsite, although rocky, offers the most peaceful of nights....Before sunset I sat on a tree log, wrote my diary and watched the rocky cliff walls change colour as the sun made its was to sleep.....Looked across the campsite to the coloured tents of my "family".....everyone in their own place, one couple had made a rock perimeter entrance around their tent....a special touch amidst the black rock and thorns.... It was another 12 hr day for me....a truck ride, indigestion again, maybe altitude as at 3122mt during the day...Am I on a bike trip or walking tour......? The richness of patchwork fields passed quietly by the window, both sides of the road, rich brown soil. A country so agriculturally rich...and, at the highest point (3122) a "cement factory" belching smoke..... I wondered what was happening elsewhere in the world.

Peaceful night, but the church bell ringing and prayer calling that followed for 3 hrs....was rather excessive. Previous day the campsite was blocked by the local priest, and a guard with a Kalashnikov rifle..(do they still make bullets for such a rifle?). They wanted all of us out of the area......Maybe the priest and the muslim mullah got together and organized the extra hour of prayer calling and the 3am church bell ringing....

So finally to Addis Ababa.......Everyone excited, another short day, (read rolling HILLS....) and a convoy into the city.Race is to lunch only.
A beautiful ride, early start on my own, my eyes watching the morning shape itself...the colours of the fields, the long climb up from the campsite, smoke haze, small roadside stalls selling coptic-style crosses, religious artefacts but not yet open..... So silent is the hour. Pass houses with cacti rock walls...piles of donkey dung, built high like a haystack....dried and ready for sale....used instead of wood for their cooking fires..... Wonderful downhills.....pleasant grind uphill.....made 64km/hr on one descent....wheeee.....eyes streaming, the road to myself..... Treeless plains, difficult for a "P" stop.....another cement factory, abandoned...through villages where the dung walled houses are painted in colours....pink, green.....most attractive....!!!!

Stopped for a drink, was actually a family home....TV on, benches inside, cold drink...chat with young boy, english very good, learns a lot from TV, wants to be a dr.....mother brings freshly made bread....crispy, freshly dipped in oil. Yummmmmm.... the kids ask for "1 bir" (money). I laugh and ask for 2 Bir.....they have mobile phones, I point and say "you rich....have phone", we all laugh. The climbs keep coming, the downs, mean up....Finally, the lunch truck. Others ride on and do the big climb to the 97km meeting point. I opt for the truck to meet up with the convoy and ride into Addis..... I spend 20mins watching our lunch cook, Noah, take the leftover bread and food across to the "rope barrier", He has the children sit down and quietly and slowly he fills each roll with food and passes it to the children, smallest first. Their beautiful big eyes watch as he repeats each movement, waiting for their turn to receive. Noah is a soft, gentle soul. I like him very much.

So guys, it is Addis and time for me to go to bed.....I haven't responded to anyone this time...but thank you for keeping me on your radar....another 6 days before next rest stop......maybe internet, who knows. There are noisy boys playing pool outside the internet door....the traffic is still going and it is about 9.30pm.....my messy tent awaits....back to repack my clean washing, clean my teeth and sleep.....One of our girls fell again and broke three ribs....she is flying back home to recuperate and will rejoin us in Nairobi.....

I have yet to learn how to upload my photos.....I took several shots of the inside of my "home" (tent)....my golden bicycle award lying on my pillow.....my life in a 6x4 space.....how easy is that.....

Take care everyone. Keep happy, hug your friends and laugh lots.

Luv to my Mum.....xxxxxxx

Posted by gennesseb 23:02 Archived in Ethiopia

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