khartoum to gondar.
Khartoum to Gondar
“Our money got stolen, we have no food or water…” – wade
So we are currently in the western highlands of Ethiopia enjoying a rest day (possibly 2) after our latest efforts. I can confidently say highlands as we had to ride up to them.
Since leaving Khartoum we say good-bye to our beloved companion, our guidance and one who supported us over several thousand kilometers… the wind. We pushed our way like a struggling sailboat in an eastern direction for several hundred kilometers. Once leaving the capital the greenery in the way of irrigated bits of arid land were evident although beneath the surface the dust was still prevalent as I am sure is a constant throughout the entirety of Sudan. Although leaving the famed Nubian hospitality we still managed to get fed for an entire day by individual locals – my breakfast quote of ‘there is nothing better than free donuts for breakfast’ was updated at the end of the day to include the additions of lunch and dinner. Besides the big km’s on these days most finished with a stay in a lukinda (hotel) which we soon found to translate as ‘travelling guest house’ which was defined by a bed (mattress if lucky), window (some shut) and the occasional door. Either way for us it was fine and a better option than camping due to the populated lands.
Our last day in Sudan was defined by the term ‘mad dash’ as we aimed to get to the border prior to the individual sets of gates shut for the day. To enable this our coke stops were kept to a minimum of four and just short of the border an English teacher asked us to stop to chat although with the sun setting, 160km done for the day and the thought of a beer on the other side we politely declined his invitation in our 7 words of Arabic all whilst flying past.
So into Ethiopia it was where the differences were noted early from one side having rubber stamps for travel permits whilst the other utilizes finger scanning. Other perhaps more important differences include Arabic to Amharic languages, Islam to Christianity religions and finally one eats beans (and not much else) whilst the other offers some variances i.e. meat and vegetables. First night was stopped at the delightful border town Matema where I am pretty positive my ‘hotel’ room’s wall was the actual border. It was a typical border town with ridiculous amounts of people, touts and as per norm looked a lot better at night all made more eventful with the introduction of alcohol.
So from the border our introduction to Ethiopia from a cycling perspective was hills hence the earlier term of highlands. Considering our trip to date has been relatively flat it was a point of difference for legs in the not so good way. The second day to reach our current destination Gondar was literally the hardest day that I’ve spent on a bike, a comment echoed by the other guys. Justin not in a good way decided to hitch into town with bike for an extra days rest. The hills (I prefer the term mountains) kept going up for kilometers at a time accompanied by ridiculous heat and in the end totaling 2500 meters of climbing for the day. It’s never a good sign of speed when local kids are asking for money as they walk alongside you for several hundred meters. To add a little more mental challenge to the day we had no money and no food or water. Our last meal of pasta with delightfully tasty tomato paste which mainly just offered some colour to the dish was watched by 30 something locals hoping to engage with 3 completely physically and mentally exhausted cyclists – we didn’t get past ‘we don’t speak English we’re from Norway’ . So 36kms into the ‘mountains’ we passed through a decent town which offered our first opportunity to change some money, I took the first chance with a passing landcruiser blurting out of momentary desperation the statement as listed at the top. Fortunately the ‘whitie – german man’ changed some of our dollars for local currency which allowed our forever eclipsing ‘best coke ever’. So day finally done certainly something I will reflect back on when having hard days on the bike i.e. it couldn’t be harder than that day in Ethiopia… I can already hear the yawns. It was also a good opportunity to practice on being in the ‘moment’ rather than focusing on the future and perhaps not appreciating where you are… I’ll be honest I didn’t take in all of the panoramic views which is probably due to lying where ever I could find shade hoping that the hills where done. Well evidently they are for now.
Today on our rest day we ventured out on a day trip to the Simien Mountains (playground of the gods) which was a bone rattling 5 hour trip in a 1980’s landcruiser that possibly still retains its original shocks. The bitumen lasted for an entire 5 minutes before being replaced with a rock (boulder) strewn path. We passed tiny villages, ad-hoc games of soccer and large efforts to update the roads. These works were managed by Chinese works where my cynical side asks the genuine reasons that their country is undertaking the works (as over large parts of Africa) in comparison to my selfish side which wished for my ass’s sake they had them completed a little earlier. Once up at elevation (3260m) we were greeted by panoramic views of towering granite pinnacles offset with eroded green valley’s all finished off with a background of this continued into the far distance. Continuing along these elevated paths we were fortunate to encounter a large family of gelada monkeys going about their daily routine of eating and grooming one another with no interruption to acknowledge our presence, why would they!
So from here it’s further south (as dictated by our north-south route) on the road to Addis Abada, the capital.
Again thanks for everyone’s comments, always good to hear people’s thoughts. I will continue to poorly describe the trip as we continue riding taking in more countries, people and cuisines. We are also updating our twitter ‘@ridetocapetown’ pretty often if you get a chance.