We are in our element.
The last days riding south in Ethiopia from Gondar to Bahir Dar have been the most engaging of the tour to date. Rolling hills alternating with cultivated pastoral farmland present periods of exertion followed by the reward of the descent. This has always been our favourite type of terrain. With the museum that is Ethiopia tossed in, we are living the dream.
There are 110 million Ethiopians, 2nd only to the number of Nigerians on the continent. The number of people swarming in villages that look like no more than a handful of streets defies belief. We battle for space to navigate alongside tuk tuks, donkeys towing carts, cows, chickens and bleating lambs being lead to market gripped by a foreleg forcing them to hobble along on the other 3. The streets are thick with the smoke of home fires fueled by charcoal or sundried cow patties. Not good. “Where you go?” We are asked a thousand times. “Addis”, we answer, to be respectful but keep the conversation brief. The capital city of Addis Ababa is 500 km down the road, still 8000 shy of Capetown.
Outnumbering all the barnyard animals, farmers, merchants and TDA bike riders put together are the children. The median age in Ethiopia is 18, and 60% of the population is under that age. By comparison, the median age in Canada is 40. Kids running amuck are part of the frenzy in the towns, but they also materialize in great numbers from the doorways of eucalyptus wall and corrugated steel roof farmhouses. They come at us barefoot from fields, running at full speed waving and yelling a rapid fire high pitched “youyouyouyou” or “money money money“. There is no escaping them.
At our lunch and camping sites we have come to the section of the tour that gave us pause when we first saw the images: it is necessary for the staff to create a perimeter area with ropes to keep the natives at bay. These flimsy barriers are respected. Onlookers take positions just beyond the ropes and observe us like animals in a zoo as we go about our business. Does envy enter into all this, or are we just a peculiar spectacle? This show would even turn some heads back home. Dealing with this is work in progress.
Another disquieting aspect of the tour which every blog or other written account by cyclists who have done distances in Ethiopia touches upon is the unfortunate pastime of stone throwing by (primarily) young boys. It is definitely a thing. We’d rather not dwell on it, but readers who have been on organized cycle tours will appreciate the severity of the problem when we say that none of the well known tour companies could ever operate here. A real shame.
We have 2 days off the bike in Bahir Dar on the southern edge of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. We took an excursion on the lake to get out on the water and (incidentally) see hippos. Last night we dined on the Tana subspecies of Nile Tilapia. We know Tilapia as a sometimes maligned farmed fish, so it was interesting to learn that aquaculture of the Nile Tilapia dates back to ancient Egypt. Today they are not farmed very often because the dark color of their flesh is undesirable for many markets. Breeds which have lighter meat have been developed. We washed it all down with a bottle of Ethiopian Syrah from the Rift Valley. 3 stars.
Tonight we have a group party and have been instructed to dress up in local garb and be creative. We will be looking for material that we can cut into rags later to rid our bicycle derailleurs of African grit. Never a dull moment.
Thanks for reading.