Sunday, 28 February 2010

THANK YOU JOSEPH...

Thanks to Joseph a student that have the only computer and internet acces in the small village that they stay. He was so kind to help Gerald to send these photos and the text for us. Nobody else could not have any connection today, even the cell phones are not working well...

South of Addis is far more affluent. Firstly, it is the road that leads to Ethiopia's only port, Djibouti. Ethiopia is landlocked since it splitted from Erithrea. As you can imagine, the 80 km stretch of road we had to use for heading south was extremely busy and dangerous. We convoyed some of it and survived the rest. At km 82, we finally left that main road and turned into a secondary road heading for the lake region. It was a relief...


Normally rest days have been good for me and I have been so much stronger after them, but this time, it worked against me. I got weaker on my rest day in Addis and I was really not feeling well on our departure from Addis. As a matter of fact I was sick and getting worst. Fever, very nasty diarrhea and a general feeling of being weak. On a positive note, it was an easy day with only 100km of cycling and we were heading down as well which would mean more oxygen and a warmer climate. The first two hours of cycling are always hell when you are sick, but eventually your body starts to produce its own chemicals helping you fighting the pain and the bug. I have often noticed how you must go through those first two hours, trying to ignore your body's desperate warnings telling you to stop or you gonna die, but if you keep a reasonable pace and manage to raise your heart rate slowly over that time, there is a point at which you start recovering. Eventually later during the ride, I felt so good that I even managed to get off my bike and chase three stone throwing kids into the bush for over a kilometer.

Camp was along lake KOKA, a old volcano crater, like all the lakes in the region surrounded by very scenic old volcano peaks. The region is very busy, clearly the result of very fertile soils and good rains. I read that this region actually benefits of two rain seasons, what a blessing for crops!

Cycling over the past two days has been a lot easier than what we have gone through in Northern Ethiopia. It is a lot flatter here, relatively speaking of course, and we are already some 800 m lower than Addis which means we have already lost 1500 meter altitude since we peaked at 3100 meters a few days ago. By now, our high altitude trained lungs love it here! Vegetation is also getting so much more diverse with all kind of exotic trees and plants now bordering the roads. Birds also seem to be plentiful and colourful. All in all, I must say, I am really starting to enjoy Ethiopia now. I have managed to get rid of the diarrhea, I am getting stronger again on the bike, today I did the 120 km ride in less than 4 hours and it is so exotic here. By now, we are more experienced with the kids along the roads and we manage to reduce the amount of incidents with aggressions and it suddenly all comes together, what a beautiful country! Ethiopia does not come easy, but it is an amazing place and it will leave a very special place in my heart.

A few days later… further south as we approach the Kenyan border and have had no access to internet or even cell phone coverage….

Just as we thought that we were finished with the climbs, we got reminded the hard way that Ethiopia is NOT a flat country... The first two hundred kilometers south of Addis gave us wrong hopes. Some more mountain chains suddenly popped up in the horizon and we were back at climbing.... Climbing and more climbing. We climbed back at well over 2500 meter altitude. These mountains are now very different, they are so lush, you can see that we are now in a tropical climate. The vegetation has changed to thick green and we have entered the region of Sidamo which produces some of the world's finest coffee beans. It is even more populated as it sustains more people and offers more agricultural jobs, from banana to mango, pineapple and coffee, just anything grows here. For us it means the roads are absolutely beautiful, but also even more dense than previously, hard to imagine, but true... Some of these small towns are so busy, they are a real challenge to get through without being overrun by a truck, a taxi, a tuk tuk, some running goats, stubborn donkeys, and people, so many people. As we make our way south along these Ethiopian roads, one thing does not change, the continuous "You You You!" "WHERE ARE YOU GO?" "Gimme the money" We hear this thousands and thousands of times each day. It is a mental relief when one says something else, like "What is your name," You try to answer of course, but it is just impossible to answer thousands and thousands of children all day long. It is mentally really tiring as well, and as you can imagine, we are not that fresh physically either... They run next to you and can become quite aggressive verbally if you don't give them an answer. That is often the point when some decide to stone us, so communicating with them helps reducing the amount of physical attacks, but it is not bulletproof and we do get everyday a few bastards who hit us straight even before we have a chance to talk to them. By now, we are getting good at identifying them, they are usually in small groups and you see them bending down to pick stones as we get close to them. The best is then to scream loud at them while pointing with our arm and accelerating towards them to pretend chasing them. It usually works well, resulting in them running into the bushes like a flock of bird flying apart. So it takes a lot of efforts to ride through Ethiopian roads, it is not just the climbs, but the amount of attention you have to pay at people, kids and traffic all adds up. As I am writing this, we only have 3 more riding days left in Ethiopia and many riders cannot wait to leave the country. My feelings are mixed, I am also looking forward to get into Kenya, but I have enjoyed Ethiopia. It is really not an easy country, probably the most difficult country I have ever visited, but it has also given me a lot. It is so different and so beautiful, but it faces enormous challenges ahead. One rider today went through one small town and as he couldn't take it any more, he just screamed "Stop making children" I would like to add "and start educating the rest"...

We also meet thousand of nice kids along the road, they run next to us just for fun, some ask for money, but most just want to have some fun and chase us bare foot uphills... Some are so fit they manage to hang over a kilometer. Where I find Ethiopia difficult is in the complete lack of privacy it leaves you with. You cannot stop anywhere without being crowed by people within seconds. People here have no understanding of what the word privacy might mean. They gather around you, kids and adults and touch you, stair at you and follow you like you were the messie. It is hard to cope with that for 3 weeks when the only piece of privacy is your tent and even so, they still shout at you when they can't see you. Last night, some of the local village teenagers were getting pretty aggressive and starting shouting "Fuck you white man" for quite some time.Our camps are always guarded by armed guards and a rope limits the physical area of the camp, so each night, it has been the same scenario, hundreds of people gather around the rope and the "you you you" from the kids continues.... I am really glad I have my ipod, that is the only way you can disconnect from this crazy world and relax mentally.

One of Ethiopia's big challenge for us cycling this country at an infernal pace is not to fall sick. Well, that is just impossible. Everybody got sick. We have all been washing our hands religiously before eating anything, we have also been careful with what we eat and so on, but everything here is so dirty that there is no way to avoid it, we all got sick. Start with the money, the euro bills, they are filthy, and we have to deal with that all the time. The Birr can be given the title of the dirtiest currency in the world without hesitation. It also perfumes your wallet with an horrible smell of rot. Ethiopian money probably carries more bugs on it than an average European dustbin. Actually, the Birr are so dirty that some bills are just black or dark brown. only the size tells you what bill it is.

Then of course, everything else is so far away from the hygiene standards we are used to at home that it is impossible to stay healthy. Diarrhea and stomach problems in general are unavoidable. So many people have had to ride the truck simply because of such problems. An average day of cycling in Ethiopia is 6 to 8 hours long and includes well over a 1000 meter of climbing, actually we have climbed well over 2000 meters on several occasions. Now, doing this with a strong diarrhea is hell. You are weak, feverish and of course dehydrating. Usually the running stomach cuts your appetite so it means energy does not replenish your muscles and you feel powerless. You also feel cold and dream of a warm bed.... My worst day was when we had to go over the 3100 meter level. Even now, with some time having passed, I still think it was hell.

Usually at breakfast you quickly see who are the latest stomach bug victims, as they already look miserable and tired at the porridge queue... The non EFI' ers usually insist no further and get on the truck but for the few EFI left (we are now 10) there is no alternative, if you are serious about staying EFI, then you have to face it, it is going to be a very unpleasant day, but a day on your bicycle...

To add some more spices, we have also had rain over the last couple of days. After realizing how miserable camping can turn when it rains an entire night at an altitude of 2600 meters, I told Paul the race director that it felt like playing a video game. Each new level just gets harder with new difficulties being thrown in. Today it was the rain. I had never packed my tent under pouring rain; normally you wait for the skies to clear and you let the tent dry a bit, but at TDA, you pack your tent every morning between 6h30 and 7h00 am raining or not raining, because at 7h30 you are on your bike riding south....

Unfortunately that evening at our next camp, it also rained, so it meant sleeping in wet cold tents for most of us. Rain also brought its share of falls especially within the guys racing. Nothing serious, but from here on, every injury, even skin injury will be long to heal as we are now entering tropical areas. So you might not brake a bone, but you are opening the doors to infections that will be slow to fix. The older riders have had a more mature approach to this and have seriously slowed down especially on the downhils over the few rainy days. Over 12000 km the time you gain for racing downhill is so insignificant, but the impact of a crash can be devastating for the remain of the tour. Talking of the remaining part of the tour, we passed the one third mark this week and are now focussing on the midway point which will be Nairobi, 2 weeks from now.

With only 2 days left in Ethiopia, it is time to start wrapping up some thoughts about this country. Well, we saw Ethiopia like very few westerners get to see it, sweating each hill, or should I say "mountain" rather. We saw it at human speed, having a chance to interact with its population. I have met in the past 3 weeks more children that I have in my entire life, and I don't even have to think about that statement, it is true! I have met some of the most beautiful and some of the most brutal kids ever, I have seen misery and hope minutes apart. I have had days when I ranked this country at the bottom of my list and others when I saw a glimpse of hope, but I can only admit that Ethiopia is facing an enormous challenge with a fast growing generation of children completely lacking parental education and basic rules. I often felt that I was doing the job of Ethiopian parents when chasing some kids that had attacked us in front of the annoyingly unresponsive adults who just watch and smile politely. There is also this very disturbing vision that Ethiopian youth has about us the "rich whites" which is to see us as donors. Donations of pens, donors of money, donors of  T- Shirts, whatever, it has been from north to south the exact same thing everywhere. Ethiopian politicians and head of state have a big task ahead and I am not sure honestly if they are up to it. Some alarming signs of corruption and lack of democracy are just about everywhere. Lastly, I would like to remind you that our Ethiopian friends will not be able to read these lines blogspot.com has been blocked by the Ethiopian authorities since other people have also expressed their concern about the lack of ability of the present government. Well, if these authorities could use these time and efforts to improve internet speed and distribution across the country rather than spending time banning blogs, that would already be one step further towards improving things for Ethiopians. But that requires courage and transparency, clearly not yet on the agenda of Ethiopian politicians....


                                              Little girl collecting left overs from the fishermen

                                                There are huge catfish in lake KOKA and the
                                                 local fishermen make a living out of it.

                                                               Camp at lake KOKA

                                    At each coke stop, the kids want to see and touch our bikes
                                    with amazed looks on their face.

                                  Laura along the road fixing a flat and already a crowd gathering

                                                                            Lake Koka

                                                        Farmer's kids around our camp

                                       Me and Peter from South Africa making our way uphill
                                       between trucks, dust and people

                                  Typical rolling hills full of traffic and people that we have been
                                  riding on for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers now

                                   During a climb in the middle of this lush jungle, I spotted this
                                   guy sewing outside his house. It is his business.

                                           We have been cycling in the rain the whole morning.

                                      Kids and the rope that is supposed to mark "our" camp limits

                                    At the lunch truck after a very difficult morning full of climbs,
                                    rain and kids....

                             Adam and Dave at lunch... The reason for Adam's face being so clean..
                             he didn't ride today...

                                   I wanted to take shot of the smoking hut along the road, but the
                                   15 seconds it took to get my camera out of the waterproof bag
                                   was just too much and by then, I was already surrounded by a
                                   sea of Ethiopians...

                                                        Coffee bean seller on the road

                                    No, these huts are not on fire, they just don't have a chimney,
                                    the smoke goes through the thatch roof.

                                 See what I mean about no privacy... This is camp, where we are
                                 supposed to relax after a long riding day... It can eventually get
                                 to your nervous system...

                                      Eric, buying a mango from a street seller ate one coke stop.

                                     In this part of Ethiopia, some houses are decorated with
                                     wall paintings such as this one, beautiful!

                                               Another common decoration for this region

                                   Ethiopia is not a flat country... Today we did over 2200 meter
                                   of climbing in a 105 km long stage... (most of which has been
                                   at an altitude above 2300 meters)
 
                                    Ethiopian notes are so dirty, on top a typical one Birr note
                                    as you get them in the street and underneath a new one still clean...

                                                      Ethiopian woman at one coke stop

                                       Kids gathering around me at the coke stop wondering
                                       at my self portrait photographic technique...

                                                       Self portrait while having a Coke

                                      This Southern Ethiopian region we crossed today is home
                                      to giant 10 meters tall termite nest

                                   Kids carrying wood along the road instead of being at school,
                                   an unfortunately far too commun scene in Africa

                                     I did ask this hunter for permission to take his photo first as
                                     he could have killed me in one hit, but he turned out to be
                                     a charming old man, happy to have a chat...

                                        Ethiopians are the masters of building anything with sticks
                                        from wheelbarrows to houses.

                                  Depart from camp at 7h30, the sun is back after 2 rainy days.
                                  We are still trying to figure out what these road wood gates
                                  are for, but nobody seems to care anyway...

4 comments:

Jennifer said...

Gerald, I want to thank you for all your hard work on this blog. My girlfriend Jennifer Crake (who I believe is known as "duderella" - so true!) is on the tour and I have been following the adventures daily. At times (including today), your blog is the only connection I have with her. I really appeciate all the updates and photos. They are beautiful and a way for me to keep track of her when I cannot otherwise reach her. Thank you so much for all your effort, and I look forward to reading more!

All the best,

Jen Fultz

Rainer & Claudia said...

Hi Gerald,
thank you so much again, for sharing your impressions of your ride through Africa with us. Meanwhile we are nearly adicted to all the different blogs of the TDA-riders. But your blog-entries are always a highlight.
After reading your last entry I felt, like I have to brush away the dirt from my T-Shirt :-).
But there is one thing, we have very rarely read about in all the riders blogs. Living in the camp. Maybe you find some time to write a little bit more about camplife and social interactions in between the travelling group.
We hope, you don't become ill any more, you keep your EFI until Capetown and you keep up your spirit for ever.
Your fans
Rainer and Claudia

Debbie said...

Hi Gerald!

I want to echo Jen's comments. We have a friend, Jason Becker, on the tour & this is our primary source of information about the adventure he is on! We are thrilled we found your blog.

You are a gifted man - athletically, verbally & photographically. We are certainly cheering for you & your EFI status all the way from Ohio! As we read your blog, we cringe or laugh or shake our heads in amazement at what you are enduring! And finally, your photos are stunning! We are enjoying the visual aspect of your ride immensely!

Thank you for taking us along with you!

To Capetown!
Deb & Craig LaVoie

Inge said...

Hi Gerald, I was telling Felix on Friday that "by chance" I finished reading "The long way down" last week and it was intriguing to see how similar some of your experiences have been - their trip just much quicker ;-) Good luck - I love reading your blog. We are waiting for you - go full out to maintain your EFI status. PS. your blog is much more interesting compared to Ewan and Charlie's writing!