Saturday, 20 February 2010

ETHIOPIA PHOTOS while waiting for the text... + TEXT

Here is some photos of Ethiopia, Gerald is on the EFI club only 12 remaining. The connection is very bad so these photos was sent by one of his friend who unfortunately got sick and had to carry on by car. The text is still missing but while waiting have a look of these...

I think we all have been waiting for the text on these beautiful photos that Gerald took. He write the text and send the photos to me and I will put them together, because it will take hours to post everything on the blog if Gerald does it from Africa with a slow Internet connection. Ethiopia has been very bad with any kind of connections, it has been two days that he hasn't got any of my messages, I got few from him. So here we have the latest news...

                                         The sceneries we are riding through are just magical.
                                    Today, Rick got hit by a stone so hard he had to be stitched.
                             This is the impact of a stone.... Wearing a helmet is not just for falling,
                             it can be useful against stone throwing kids as well.
                                    My bike also got hit badly with stones, here are two examples

                                             Typical village side street running off he main road

                                    As I reached the top of one of the big climbs of the day,
                                    I walked into one of the small workshops that border the
                                   sides of the road. Here they transform the grains into flower.
                                   Inside this packed little atelier were about 10 people busy
                                   with the process, most of them women.
                                                   Me and a very happy chap along the road
                            Camp in a beautiful background. Nice after a 162 km mountainous stage.

                            No privacy for TDA riders. Within minutes our camp (fenced by a rope)
                            is surrounded by amazed locals and exited kids, so the "you you" carries on...
                            Even when you want to go to toilets, they follow you... In the pic, Sam and Dana
                                 Today in the mountains, we came across these Ethiopian riders.
                                 Their horses are decorated and in good shape. First decent
                                 horses we saw in this trip.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Bahir Dar.... Have you ever heard of this town before? Well, what a nice little surprise. This small town situated along the shore of lake Tana has a good vibe with its palm tree bordered streets, its civilised traffic, its numerous terraces packed with well dressed locals and its cool breeze coming from the lake. Bahar Dar is also the capital of bicycles in Ethiopia, the reason is simple, it is flat! All this makes it pleasant and relaxing to wonder along Bahar Dar main streets under the shade of the palm trees and without having to look for dangerous taxi drivers trying to kill you. Even the numerous Touk Tuk drivers here are more relaxed and more friendly. I could not believe my eyes when I saw that every vehicle was stopping at the traffic light yesterday when we arrived in town. This was the first time I saw that since I left Europe 5 weeks ago.

Here also, no harassment from kids, no "you you", just a normal life.... Great relief for our minds after a week in Ethiopian countryside.
David, one of the riders found this unbelievable resort next to the lake. About 10 of us have booked ourselves into the ultimate luxury. This place is just like the South African 5 stars resorts I have experienced, but for a third of the price. It is a piece of heaven, what a change after living in our dirt filled tents for a month. If luxury ever felt good, now is really when it feels best. The 150 dollar tariff includes a magnificent room with 2 beds, one inside the room and one on your terrace hanging over lake Tana. It also includes, dinner, breakfast, a full body massage, a pedicure and a manicure. The room has a fire place, an enormous bathroom, the mini bar has a full size bottle of Johnie Walker black label.... What else do you need in life?

So, what do riders do on rest days? Well, despite resting, they update their blogs, go looking for food to stock for the coming days (nuts, chips, dry fruits and so on), they clean and oil their bicycles, they also wash everything they own. So today, I used the opportunity of having a huge bathroom with unlimited supply of hot water (something difficult to imagine in Africa!) to wash all my big items. So I washed my tent, I washed my mattress, I washed my sleeping bag, I even washed myself... I have now turned my terrace into a semi professional laundry operation... My tent was the worst, the colour of the water after the first wash made me feel that it will be half a kilo lighter once dry...

I used the morning remaining free time to visit the local market. What an interesting place. The streets are filthy, but everything that this region of Ethiopia produces is been sold there, more or less directly by the thousands of small farmers who make their way to town in early hours of the morning. The outskirt of the market is filled with trucks, donkeys and horses who carried in all the products on old broken down trailers. When I say that the streets are filthy, it is a bit of an understatement. As I was making my way through this mess, I noticed 2 children who were busy having a crap in the middle of the street. Obviously Ethiopia is not equipped with public toilet facilities, but it is always a shock when you see humans doing their thing in the middle of a busy street.

The flavours rising from the spices of the many stalls brought my attention away from the 2 kids and I started shooting photos of this amazing festivities of colours that these pigment powders are displaying. Farmers sell their freshly picked piments directly to some local small factories based on the outskirts of this gigantic market (it covers several street blocks). These small workshops dry the piments directly in the street in front of them and then process them into powder in a room filled with a stingy smell of pigment that got me to sneeze instantly as I took a few shots inside. The workers must have their lungs completely eaten by the pigment powder that floats in the air. Nobody was wearing any kind of mask or protection. I noticed that I was not alone at coughing, most of the employees also did.

We are now 5 riding days away from Addis Ababa. These are 5 straight days of pure climbing. We have some serious challenges ahead as we will be going over 3400 meter high passes. Looking at the map, I can already say that the next rest day in Addis is going to be looked forward. Addis will also be our first bike donation occasion and I will of course do a detailed reportage about that on the blog. Thanks to many of you who have contributed, I have raised money to donate 109 bikes during this tour. There will be 8 donations places in total.

At camp, 2 nights ago the TDA staff gave us a formal apology about Dinder park and confirmed that they were also taken back by the difficulty of that park crossing. Most riders appreciate this and it felt good to hear that it was not just us being tired, it was hell and somehow we went through it. On the other hand, such challenges are what make Tour D Afrique so unique. It is not a leisure tour, it is a physical and mental challenge that will take us all to our limits. In real life, we never get to push ourselves to such extreme conditions and for so many days, so it is also a great way to learn about ourselves and how we cope under very tough conditions. Lets just not make it a routine....

There are now 13 people remaining in the EFI club. Pressure to remain EFI is clearly being felt as technical questions were raised about the exact rules on when does one loses its EFI and so on. Basically, you lose it as soon as you cannot complete a stage. Paul told us that they would now enforce a stricter policy about that and would force late riders off the road as soon as it would get dark. Up to now, they have been quite accommodating and have allowed some riders to finish in the early hours of the night if they could be followed by a safety vehicle. So, no more Mr Nice Guy for the few EFI members left.... We have been warned....

                                        Sugar cane farmer selling her cane directly at the market
                   Inside the piment manufacture, employees fill the bags by hand without any masks
                                                   The poultry section of the gigantic market

                                 This is a pile of "TEF" a tiny grain used to produce the wheat for
                                 making "Injera", a kind of thick wet pancake on which you place
                                 several other food such as lentils and other vegetables on fasting
                                 days. On non fasting days, some meat is added as well. It is delicious!

                                    Even in the dirty streets of the market, Ethiopia is colourful...

                                                     The flavours are just as colourful

                                                         Young boy delivering sugar cane
                                         This is the grain they use to produce home made beer.

                                 The streets of Bahar Dar are pleasant and traffic is relatively calm.
                                                Lake Tana view from the lodge restaurant
                                      The luxury lodge in which 10 of us have booked ourselves
                      The piment manufacturers dry them in the busy streets outside their workshop.

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)

Sunday, 14 February 2010


Gondar was the Ethiopian capital for 200 years in 17-18th century. The imperial city is now protected by Unesco since 1979. It is made of several castles and palaces built between 1632 and 1770. The castle of Fasiledes is the most impressive one, it was built between 1632 and 1667. It is impregnated with Indian, Portuguese and Morie architecture.

           Gabriele tasting a typical local fresh juice made of Pineapple, Mango and Avocado.... Delicious!
                               In Gondar you can find some left overs from the Italian period.
                               This bar is a good example, nothing has changed in over 50 years,
                               it is like a museum. Great atmosphere!
                       Me connecting to Internet in Gondar's "fastest" Internet cafe in order to update
                       you guys on the blog. It took one and a half hour to send 15 photos....
                      Couldn't resist that one... This box wine was next to my breakfast table at the hotel...


                              The directions to the border post office between Sudan and Ethiopia
                           It is not just TDA riders who broke down on Southern Sudanese road
                                              Fixing punctures during the Dinder park convoy
                                                           Soft sand of Sudan dry river beds
                                                                  Free roaming camels
                              Each village we crossed in Southern Sudan turned into a local celebration