Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Entry into Ethiopia

Our group of 60 odd riders entered Metema (border city of Ethiopia and Sudan) on Feb. 7th. Entering was without the usual bureaucracy; just a stamp here and there, a chat with the police and then a 2 hour wait for the Ethiopian officials to hand-write the information from our passports! Hah! While waiting we enjoyed our first cold beverages since the dry country of Sudan. That first night in Ethiopia was busy; we had to put on knobby tires for the rough terrain, change money, and try and get showers at the local brothel. Yep...border towns are seedy!

The next two days were exceedingly tough and we had all heard from one previous rider that most people lose their EFI status (biking every day during the tour and never hopping on the support trucks) in Ethiopia. All we had to do was to make it two more days until our rest day in Bahir Dar. The scenery is gorgeous with undulating hills, mountains in the distance, curious villagers, and dirt roads. Since my exposure to American media I have always believed that all of Ethiopia is dry, dirty, and extremely impoverished. Well, the poverty and dirt are true and there are the kids that have flies stuck to their faces but it is also an extremely pretty country. Who knew! As we rode along kids would pop out of their houses to run and greet us. It is true though: Ethiopia has a TON of children. The music that you hear as you ride is a cacophony of children's voices that yell "you, you, you," "give me one birr," and "where are you go!" Who taught them English? Several times I would stop and try to teach them the proper way of saying "where are you goING" and to greet us with "hello" instead of "you, you, you" but my efforts failed me! My Amharic is getting better though and I can say "hello" (salaamno), "good-bye" (chiao, chiao), "my name is" (semie Kerri), "thank-you" (amasayganalo), don't throw stones (dinguy atawerewere) and "how much is this" (sin ta know). I try and greet everyone that we pass (and believe me when going through villages this is a lot) because we are tourists in their country and I feel it is polite. I am also hoping to dissuade some of the youngsters from throwing rocks/sticks at us. Yes, we have heard that this is quite common in Ethiopia. And, several of our riders got severely pelted with rocks (lots of bruises and bruised souls) and one rider got "attacked" with sticks by four teenagers while climbing a hill. That's the problem there are so many hills to climb that you are fair game as you just can't go that fast! On the second day in Ethiopia (and the hardest so far) while I was climbing a hill these kids offered to push me, well, they don't take no for an answer. So, while pushing they were also sifting through my bike bag. I realized this too late. A rider that I was with chased them and recovered my pad of paper (Shanna, you gave this to me and it has been invaluable). They got away with my bike lock! Since then, I have become more ingenious with bungee cording my bag and sticking the zipper pulls inside the velcro to make it harder for them. Aside from this incident, I really have enjoyed biking through Ethiopia and find most of the kids and adults extremely pleasant, friendly, and interested in what we are doing.

I do want to describe the second riding day in Ethiopia. It competes with the toughest day in the Nubian desert in Sudan. Right from the get-go, we were climbing. It took us 4 hours to go 30k or approx. 18 miles. If you look at the GPS read out, it goes straight up! I felt surprisingly strong though and although I was slow on the hills, I never once got off the bike! We didnt' even get to the lunch truck until 1:45 pm. At this point, several people decided to get on the truck as the afternoon promised to be tough as well. Well, it was! However, there was still fight in me and I wasn't sick like a lot of people who were suffering from nausea as well as diarrhea. At km 94 we saw one of our trucks. We were speeding down this dirt hill and applied the brakes hard. Duncan, our tour leader was there to give us final instructions! We had another 12km climb to the Goha hotel. And, PAVEMENT! It was a huge relief to hit the pavement and we got a little cocky and got a coke. Hmmm...not necessarily a mistake but what we didn't realize is that these 12k were practically all uphill. And, the last 2k were switchbacks up to the hotel. Seriously punishing, especially after a long day's ride! There were many congrats when we reached the top and people looked truly wasted! That day we were riding for approx. 10 hours. The thing that saved me was the temperature. The heat was killing me the past few days and this day, Feb. 9th we had some cloud cover and it really wasn't that hot, only about 85 F. I still can't believe it was possible to bike for 10 hours with only a 45 minute break for lunch. Still EFI! Our reward was a hotel room and a great Ethiopian buffet!

On a different subject, In terms of what people do here, it seems that most are farmers or pastoralists. I have never seen so many people with stick in hand herding their animals. Lots of donkeys, goats, and cattle. No more camels like in Sudan. Kids learn how to take care of animals early And, lots of road kill. You'll see the odd dog splattered in the middle of the road (so sad-I cringe every time), as well as a donkey that had its last breath and collapsed on the side of the pavement. As far as I can tell, they farm garlic, onions, teft (a grass like product that they make injera (the fermented spongy bread) into), potatoes, tomatoes, and hot peppers. They also have mango, papaya, banana, and coffee plants. Ethiopia is known for its coffee and I must say it is good. It is never served in Starbuck proportions but it isn't that expensive either! It is different from the Sudanese coffee which is spiced with ginger and cardamom.


Anonymous said...

By the way Kerri, I have been told that when those kids say "you, you, you..." they are not saying "Hi". Actually they are saying "Hey! Look! White people!" You are a rare sight for them for sure.

Kerri Finlayson said...

You are probably right! Actually, they are thinking "they are rich, they are rich" Give me money, Give me 1 birr (their currency) to which we reply, it's not cold outside or, yes we would like a "beer". It's all in a day's fun!