In Our Element

Children along the road to Bahir Dar.
A painting at every turn.

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. 

Onlookers at lunch stop.

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.  

Lenore with her flock.
Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. 
Strapped in.
A cyclist’s dreamscape.
Gallery at the “definitive” coke stop.
Spent some time with these 2 after a climb.
Loading up.
Part of the 60% under 18 demographic.

Author: Gerry

Gerry & Lenore have 3 daughters who they thought might want to keep track of their parents as they travel - hence the blogging. Oh. . . . we hope to put up some content worthy of your consideration as well!

27 thoughts on “In Our Element”

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your adventure with us on your creative and interesting blog!👍
    Our good friend Vikas Patel is also riding with you to Capetown and we are following his Instagram photos and BC Cancer blog updates. If you read this on your trip, please give him our best!😀
    Also, accolades to your photographer for the fantastic photographs that make us feel we are a part of the adventure!📷🎞
    Heather and Dave Miller, West Vancouver


  2. That landscape is absolutely spectacular, beautiful pictures! Watch out for the Hippos, they are dangerous fat bastards.

    “The hippopotamus is the world’s deadliest large land mammal, killing an estimated 500 people per year in Africa. Hippos are aggressive creatures, and they have very sharp teeth. And you would not want to get stuck under one; at up to 2,750kg they can crush a human to death.”

    Stay safe. Godpseed.


  3. You had me at “painting”. I look forward to each chapter of your story, and so far, they have all lived up to expectations. Great writing and great photos, each one better than the last. Thanks for all of it.


  4. Most interesting! Thank you for all the details (nothing is trivial) and the great photos! Isn’t the African sky amazing? Something you will never forget, take my word.
    Looking forward to photos of your fancy dress party!
    Louise & Tom


  5. 110 million people in Ethiopia?! I am constantly reminded of how little I really know about the world. Thanks for educating me.


  6. Wonderfully descriptive. Saw your mother walking the dog today and told her how much I am enjoying your descriptions of the journey. She looked well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s