Tuesday, 2 March 2010

So that's it, another green dot on the board, and not just any dot, the dot of Ethiopia, probably the most difficult country of the 10 we are crossing. Northern Kenya will be even tougher from a pure cycling point of view as we have to cross 500 km of hard core dirt roads. But Ethiopia did stand up to its legend and I think that each TDA rider who stood up to the challenge of crossing this country which is twice the size of France can be really proud.

We were blessed with magical landscapes over the last two days in Ethiopia. It was amazing. We have also had a lot of rain and very dramatic African skies shaped by enormous cumulus clouds adding a dimension to the already very scenic backgrounds. Ethiopia was hard until the end, it did get a bit later but we tackled hills until the Kenyan border and I had a last stone thrown at me exactly 500 meters before Kenya... The last 200 km were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. They were also far less populated, giving us a chance to get some real nice moments of solitude. I decided to ride alone as much as possible to enjoy some peace of mind, not having children screaming "you you you" and taking time to enjoy the African nature. It was just perfect, the tall red termite nests that pop up all over this region are so incredible, they really make this landscape, I have seen plenty of termite nests in Africa, but never so many and such perfect straight tall chimneys. Ethiopian termites are world leader in construction! I would advise Ethiopian hotel builders to take example.... The last rest day we had in Yabello was an experience as we all checked in the town's only hotel next to the town only other building, a gas station... The hotel was brand new and the rooms were "luxury" rooms... But it turned out be a disaster... Luxury does not come easy in Africa... I almost got killed instantly as I took a shower straight on arrival. The geyser electrical wiring was hanging free literally in the shower and simply connected by tape. I was wondering what was tickling my toes when I realised there was a fat electrical leak going through my body....

Next surprise was that no switch had been planned for the light in the bathroom, so it was on all the time, resulting in attracting thousand of bugs as soon as night came. The fact that one entire piece of the ceiling of my bathroom was missing did not help either... A bit later a huge thunderstorm broke out and within a few minute my luxury room started filling with water... Luckily it was a double room so I used the spare bed to save all my bags from being flooded... I tried to close the bathroom door but the handle of the door broke leaving me locked inside my bathroom... That is when the leatherman tool I have on my belt came in use for the first time to free myself out of my own luxury room's bathroom... By then, I had had enough and decided to laugh at this and try to sleep. The bugs were so annoying that I eventually dived under the sheet and hide myself completely. The next day I discovered that almost every other rider had had similar experiences, some even gave up that night and pitched their tent inside the room.... This is Africa...

Kenya was immediately a nice surprise. Firstly immigration was efficient, clean and friendly. Then as soon as we stepped into Kenya our cell phones started working again, text messages flowing again into our empty in boxes and even Internet.... It felt like we were back into the 21 st century. It didn't look like that though, the small border town of Moyale is a shit hole with no tar and busy dirty streets, just like all the places we have been through, but the fact that communications are working just makes you feel some much more advanced... This town is clearly a busy place were all kind of smuggling takes place, including some very bad one given the amount of "stop child smuggling" signage we saw on arrival. After much hunt we found a newly build hotel that had a restaurant and I had my first excellent meat dish since I left Europe. We are now back in meat eating country, that's a good sign! Some other riders went on the hunt for Mars bars but had to come back empty handed, we probably will have to wait for Nairobi for that. Ambiance at camp tonight was jovial, clearly everybody (and that is TDA staff included) is relieved to have left Ethiopia and is somehow exited about the Kenyan challenge ahead. Although, during the rider meeting, Sharita reminded us that the next 5 days are considered to the the toughest of the entire tour... "So prepare yourselves to be mentally and physically challenged" she said...

The afternoon at camp was about drying all our tents and clothing which are completely soaked after these last few days in the rain. The dark blue clouds were on our side and did not burst over our heads giving us a chance to dry everything. We also changed our tyres back to dirt mood which means that all bikes have fat large knoblies on, ready to tackle the 500 km of desert dirt roads waiting for us... Apparently the torrential rains that have hit the region over the last few days are not gonna help...

On a positive side, we got our dinner truck back. Remember, it broke down on day 2 in Ethiopia and they had to bring a brand new engine from Nairobi to Northern Ethiopia. Yesterday, we hit a low point as even the back up truck broke down and all rider were left stranded at camp without tents and luggage for the entire afternoon, but there again, I lift my hat to TDA staff who managed to get a plan C in place and organise a back up, back up vehicle to deliver our bags and tents before the night... By now, every TDA rider has understood that in such an adventure often things don't work as planned and even more often things don't work as plan B either. We have this saying "TIA" which means "This Is Africa", so despite the rain and the tired legs after the 130 km long stage everybody accepted the fact that we would have to wait in our sweaty cycling shorts and shirts under a cool and humid weather. It is amazing what 7 weeks does to a group like us, by now we are very different, probably a lot more philosophical about such situations. I suppose that tolerance is something that only comes with life experience and it seems we are taking a crash course here...

                                     The "singing wells", a typical feature of Southern Ethiopia.
                                     Here in south Ethiopia, they dig these huge query looking
                                     wells. Instead of digging straight down they dig a long
                                    descending ramp into the ground until they reach the water.
                                    The people then do a human chain to carry the water up
                                    with buckets while singing.
                            TDA rider overtaken by a bus while heading straight into the rain storm
                            Young boy next to the tall red mud termite nest so typical of this region
                                   Today we crossed magnificent landscapes with dramatic skies
                                   adding to the beauty of Africa...
                                     Typical small village crossing with its share of goats, people
                                     and donkeys to avoid while riding
                                                 I couldn't resist the banana bunch photo
                                  And some riders still wonder why they are getting punctures...

                                 The "brand new" luxury hotel room in Yabello was so bad that
                                 some riders decided to put their tent up inside the room to get
                                 protection from the bug infested bed and from the water leaking

                                              Not a very safe electrical connection in the
                                              shower of that same hotel...
                                 Young boy outside our hotel in Yabello, one of the worst place
                                 I have ever had to spend one rest day...
                                      Finally at the Kenyan border in the small town of Moyalo
                                      and we suddenly have Internet and cell phones working
                                      again! Yes please, VIVA Kenya!
                                                                 Down town Moyale
                                                                      Goat in Moyale
                               The only high speed thing were the buses flying by this Internet cafe...
                                              What did they say about too much information?
                                                        A pre-taste of Kenyan roads...
                                       Riders are changing tyres for the Kenyan dirt roads...

1 comment:

Claudia and Rainer said...

Hi Gerald,
once again we have to thank you for your writings and pictures in this blog. We cannot get enough of it. And thank you so much for publishing a picture of our friend Gisi. One question. May we use this picture on our website, do show all our friends and donors, that Gisi is fine. Off course we will refer to you as author of the picture.
All the best to you. Stay strong, healthy and keep your EFI.

Rainer & Claudia