We arrived in Addis Ababa on Feb. 18th! Surprisingly, there was quite a climb throughout the day to reach the meeting place where we assembled into a convoy to begin our descent into the city. The fastest cyclists arrived at our meeting place at 11:30 with the last one arriving at 2:30 pm to the roar of cheers from other riders and the Ethiopian riding team. The patriotic Ethiopian cycling team led the way down to Addis with their flags draped around their bodies. Before our group of 60 left we enjoyed taking pictures with them.
We spent two rest days in Addis before our 8 day trek to the border of Ethiopia and Kenya. Rest days are really not "rest days." They are filled with chores like: laundry, internet, cleaning and fixing your bike, and repacking. However, we do enjoy the more relaxed pace. The highlights of the rest days in Addis Ababa were a fabulous Indian restaurant and a massage. The massage was unlike any other massage I have received in the past. You first jump into a huge bath tub (Mom-my first bath in Africa!) and they fill it with hot spring water. You sit there soaking and then this lady comes in and uses a high pressure hose to give you an underwater massage-feels good on your pressure points. Afterwards, you are led to the massage table where you receive a full-body massage. I was in heaven! She worked hard on my cycling legs and I could feel a difference afterward!
From Addis Ababa we traveled 1166km or 722 miles to the border town of Moyale. To me, I enjoyed this section of Ethiopia the best. The views as you ride are just amazing; once you get up one hill you usually have a wickedly fast and curvy downhill which is exciting, it is totally green (unlike Sudan), and there are lakes in this region. The soil color changed a bit to this deep and rich volcanic red which made the landscape more brilliant. And, the people changed: we saw many different ethnic groups as we passed through the southern section of Ethiopia: the Borno and Sidamo. As someone interested in anthropology, I totally enjoyed witnessing the differences in dress (long pieces of fabric draped around them), jewelry (lots of beaded necklaces with metal watch bands hanging down the center), hair styles (short braids on the top and long braids from their neck on downward) and behavior (much more reserved) than other groups located in the north and west. I also got a chance to see a World Heritage Archaeological Site which consisted of a group of upright slab stones with symbols of axes, headdresses, and circles carved on them.
One highlight in this riding section was going an extra 2km down a dirt road to visit a crater lake (Ara Sheta). It is like a hidden jewel of this small village. We biked up the dirt path to the top to see a huge crater filled with bright green water. Wow! Some people went down the precipitous path to enjoy a cold dip, others biked around the crater, while some of us were content to gaze down upon its beauty. What had just preceeded this beauty was a terrible event.
Apparently, one of our female riders crashed into an Ethiopian girl. The TDA (Tour d'afrique) staff told us that every year one of our riders "takes out" an Ethiopian because there are so many of them to begin with, lots of them can't hear us coming, and some plainly step into our path. Our fellow rider was badly shaken, ended up having to have stitches put in by our team doctor on her arm and leg: she couldn't ride for 4 days. The TDA staff had to pay the girl's family $100 birr which is about $11.00. Things got a little harry because people want to cash in on this mishap and soon there were lots of people who had NOTHING to do with this girl surrounding one of our trucks with big rocks threatening to smash the truck. It was at this point that Duncan, our tour leader, showed up and told us to leave the crater immediately because he didn't want us getting stoned. Stoned! What? But, you know mob mentality and things can happen quickly. In the end, everyone was ok except for some bad road rash. The Ethiopian girl was ok too.
So, this is our 2nd serious injury of the trip. As I mentioned before, all of us have been subjected to rock-throwing children. A couple of people have incurred large and deep bruises and hurt egos. Luckily, I was never hit hard. It is a weird thing for all of us to comprehend, this rock throwing. We don't know why they do it as this is the only country that we will go through where this happens. Our tour director even went on national Ethiopian TV one time and talked about how dangerous this is to our riders. Even from the Ethiopians that we ask we don't really get satisfying answers; they say, well, those people are not educated. The kids don't know where we come from so it can't be animosity towards the U.S. Perhaps they are bored or angry at their deprived conditions. What I try to do whenever I see kids or adults (which is the majority of the time we are riding) is to say "hello" in their language and "how are you." This seems to disarm them for a while until you can safely pass out of rock throwing distance.
Some of the pictures I am posting are of the Ethiopian cycling team and me, me with a bottle of Tej (traditional honey wine that men drink by the gallons), residential huts which is the main architectural style for homes, the stone slabs from the world heritage site, the crater, kids, and "qat"-a plant that the locals chew and swallow which acts as a stimulant.