Monday, 15 February 2010


Back on the saddle after a 2 days break in Gondar. There is a part of luck in remaining EFI and it was again on my side. We were supposed to have only one rest day in Gondar, but because our Dinner Truck engine blew, we got an extra day. That was just what I needed to recover from my plumery problems. I would have probably not be able to get back riding a day earlier as I was still pissing blood yesterday morning. But by the afternoon, the antibiotics started kicking in and this morning, I was fine.

The 2 days in Gondar were really fun for everybody. Many riders went to the local brewery who had invited TDA for unlimited amount of free beers. Unfortunately, I had to pass on that one and work on my physical recovery. What all of us did was eat, eat and eat... Everybody has lost weight, some like me who were already thin at the start are now looking anorexic. It was funny to compare TDA riders at the hotel with other Western tourists that had flown in Gondar. They all looked so fat compare to us. I was not the only one to notice that. Jason made a similar comment.

Yesterday, I was so hungry that nothing would satisfy my appetite. For lunch, I had spaghetti bolognaise topped with a large steak with fries. At dinner, a big steak with a double portion of fries again accompanied by another huge portion of spaghettis. In between that, I also downed a full size pot of Nutella in my hotel room and 2 packets of Cajun Nuts. I also drunk about 10 cokes and put triple amount of sugar in my numerous coffees. For breakfast, I had double helpings, ordering an extra omelet which I ate with my marmalade bread. Yesterday, the only thing that would slow down my eating was the size of my mouth...

Everybody agreed that today was the most scenic day of the tour so far. It was amazing! We had 2 big climbs, the first one felt like an Alpine climb with switch backs and a proper col with a technical descent. The mountains of Ethiopia are so beautiful. In between the mountains are large flat high altitude plateaus that give the cyclists a chance to recover before the next climb. The plateaus are full of life mainly farming communities with cattle and a land that looks pretty fertile, but dry at this season. Talking of altitude, now it makes sense why so many Ethiopians win the running competitions. We can really feel the fact that we are at an average altitude that is above 2000 meters. Today during the first climb, I thought the antibiotics had closed down my lungs until I realised that other riders were also breathing heavily. On a positive note, it is also cooler and therefore much nicer to ride.

Kids were still a problem with stones flying at us while some young men were experiencing javelin throwing with their sticks. Everybody walks with a stick here, so it is impossible to anticipate if they might trow it at you. I stopped for a few pictures, but had to get riding again as kids appear from every corner of the bush if you stop, and within minutes it is chaos. Anyway, let's be fair and I would like to remind you that the stone throwing kids are a minority. Most kids are just so exited when they see us, they just go mad because we probably are the most incredible encounter they have with a foreigner. Ethiopia has some tourism, but we are quite unique. Most "normal" tourist visit Ethiopia on air conditioned 4x4 's passing these villages at a lightening speed, giving no chance to interact with them. So when we pass them on our bicycles, we are physically so close that they probably unleash all the feelings they have about the "you you's"

I was still a teenager when I first heard about Ethiopia. It was the biggest world aid effort ever, lead by big names like Bob Geldof, and even I, then gave some of my pocket money to save Ethiopia from starvation. 3 decades later, it seems Ethiopia still survives on foreign aid. At least that is how each young Ethiopian seems to perceive a foreigner; as a donor of something. As soon as they see you, they turn their palms up at you and all you hear is " money, money, gimme money"... Sometimes the more sophisticated children ask for pens or T shirts, but it is definitely a very unhealthy relationship since it is all based on begging. If you are too hard and chase them away, that is when stones start flying, so the trick is to interact with these kids while you are riding away from them. Not easy, especially when you have to do that again and again and again... But today was the day when I had the least problems with stones being thrown at me and that seemed to be the reason. Hardy, a German rider is probably the one who deserves a special mention. Let me tell you about Hardy. He is one of the nicest person I have ever met. Firstly he is a very strong rider, always constant, he rides a very robust (heavy) bike and never drops the pace. He only has positive things to share, and even when the hills are so steep that I cannot get hands of my handle bar, Hardy still salutes every kid and finds the energy to shout a few nice words at everybody. What a nice guy! I am definitely starting to follow his example with kids. They love him, and he seems to have much less problems with stones than most of us.

My plan today was to ride fast and spend as little hours on the saddle as possible in order to give my damaged bladder some relief. So I rode the 117 km in 4 and a half hours including a short lunch break and a few photo stops. My legs were so strong, I could not believe it. The climbs felt easy and when I saw the finish line flag, it felt like the perfect ride, great scenery, good road, nice climbs and it was not too hot yet as time was only half past 12h00. I had ridden the afternoon section alone, enjoying long moments of silence and solitude (a luxury in Ethiopia) between the busy villages.

Camp was another story as all the surrounding kids had started gathering around our trucks. It felt like hyenas and meat, and we were the meat. These kids are so poor that anything we own is worth a fortune for them. Even a water bottle is a loot for them, so it is a new challenge tonight, pack, hide and protect every bit of equipment you own. There are so many of them that you chase a few getting too close to your tent and in the meantime another group uses the opportunity to sneak in. It is annoying of course, but I cannot resist the idea of thinking that if we swapped sides, I probably would also try my luck against "rich foreigners" who put up their tent in my village with treasures such as my laptop worth more money than I would ever make in a life time. The wealth difference between us and them is so huge that I can only forgive them for trying to steal anything. The best is to keep things hidden and reduce the appeal. As I am writing this, you have to imagine the scene. It is afternoon and I am in my tent, which is opened from both sides in order to let air flow and not cook inside. I am the biggest attraction here, first because I have the biggest tent and second because I have been writing on my laptop which is the only electronic equipment I have taken out of the bag. But this already has attracted a crowd of kids of all sizes and ages; Some are half naked, others are wearing broken and dirty rags. Strange feeling for me too, unfortunately, I am not gonna be able to fix Ethiopia's problems from my tent, so all I can do is keep on writing and share this with you.

                   A typical rock formation in Ethiopia. Note the child already running towards me.
                   I tried to stop where ther was nobody in order to be able to take a photo without
                   beeing chased by kids, but within 2 minutes, I was surrounded.
                                                            Ethiopia is really beautiful
                                                 Hold on, what's the solid white line for?
                Our lunch stop under a magnificent figue tree and surrounded by the very surprised locals.
                                              Me, pointing at some remains of some war...
                  I rode with Adam today and he offered to take a few shot of me riding, so here is one.

                   Roads in Africa are busy with all kind of vehicle, people and animals all transporting
                                                      something, somehow, somewhere....
                                                         Kids around our camp

                       We were the biggest attraction in this little place in the middle of rural Ethiopia.
                       Kids watched us building and packing our tents with some fascination. Some of
                       them a bit too interrested about getting hold of anything they could grab, had to
                       be chased away.
                         As I was writing inside my tent for the blog, these more daring kids came to
                        have a good look at what was this misterious black box which I was hitting
                        with my fingers for hours without speaking.... The white man must be crasy....
                             Since our dinner truck is broken, we have a temporary open truck on
                             which we load all our bags. A new engine is on its way from Nairobi
                             and hopefully we'll get our lockers back in a near future.
                             (hopefully before we get to equatorial Africa)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Salut gérald,
un petit message pour te donner tous mes encouragements pour cette periode qui a l'air bien difficile.....continues comme ça pour conserver ton statut EFI, profites bien c'est génial ce que tu fais !!!!!!
guillaume taupenas