5:00 AM. Wakened by the alarm after a comfortable night for sleeping. The altitude has us back in the sleeping bags which were given a rest during the recent hot streak. Our desert camps in Egypt and Sudan were necessary, and we abided them happily, but the Adirondacks is our DNA, and our tent sites in Ethiopia have reminded of that. Who knew?
Next. A walk into the woods to heed nature’s call. Armed only with the communal shovel described in an earlier blog, tripped over the leg of one of our Ethiopian facilitators who sat slumped against a tree, asleep, with a Kalashnikov across his lap. This same fellow had been the beer sales entrepreneur the previous evening – just sayin’.
Security personnel are with us, in part, to ward off the locals who seem to materialize out of thin air, at any time, in the most unlikely places. There is no policing outside the roped off area in which our tents are pitched. This is where we walk in the woods. A thorough quadrant search is required to ensure an uninterrupted moment. Life TDA style leans toward the primitive side.
Firearms and a lack of plumbing aside, some readers who commented that “envy” is no longer a reaction to our chronicles may soon reconsider. This account of our day cycling through the Blue Nile Gorge may be a start.
Within 30 kilometres of its source at Lake Tana, the Blue Nile enters a canyon about 400 kilometres long, flowing through a series of virtually impenetrable gorges cut in the Ethiopian Highlands to a depth of some 1,500 metres. Blue Nile Gorge is the world’s 2nd largest canyon. It is an awe inspiring sight.
The 50 km to lunch on this day were typical of our cycling patterns, with G. falling behind L. and the other riders we began the day with as the photo opportunities became impossible to resist. The photography itself accounts for only a fraction of the time lost. In the seconds it takes to ready the camera, a handful of locals will approach, with the usual “where you go” lead in to an English – Amharic disconnect. We’ve taken to beating them to the punch by asking where they go, to which the lack of response has led us to conclude that they have no idea what the question even means. Still, with effort, more often than not something clicks, and a hand offered for shaking is always reciprocated with gratitude. After these exchanges, fellow cyclists are long out of sight.
There is no hurry on days like this (lots of climbing but moderate mileage), when we are confidant that we will have time to set up camp and relax before the rider meeting and dinner. There is no masseuse waiting there for us. No Starbucks. No Netflix. What awaits is soup. Soup. But the School of Ethiopia is open, and tuition is free. So we take our time, savour the ride and enjoy the lessons. Today we learned about the eucalyptus trees we have noticed riding through the countryside.
The prevalence and importance of eucalyptus in Ethiopia becomes quickly evident when looking at the building materials of simple homes and scaffolding used on construction sites. Astute Kiwi tour participant and former farmer Phil pointed out the many plantations which supply lumber yards where piles of eucalyptus are stacked according to circumference – no uniform 2×4’s in sight. For background on what we had deciphered in our own, we went to Google which taught us that in 1894 Emporer Menelik ordered the construction of a new capital at Addis Ababa. There was a great need for timber so Menelik endorsed the introduction of eucalyptus to Ethiopia from Australia. He encouraged its planting around Addis because it is fast growing and when cut down it grows up again from the roots. It can be harvested every ten years.
There is much to be learned peddling across a continent.
Lenore was pulling out of the picturesque lunch location as G. pulled in with the camera shutter button as hot from overuse as the disk brakes on the bike after only a fraction of the descent into the gorge. The rest of the way down was a bit taxing due to the poor quality of the road. The views, on the other hand, were stunning. As advertised, we happened upon Baboons sitting roadside at the bottom of the canyon. We had been warned that these animals are several times more powerful than the average male rugby player, and that coming between a mother and its babies could be asking for trouble. We saw several of those babies, and did not hang around for their mothers to announce themselves.
We actually like to climb hills on bicycles, so the the real fun began at the base of the canyon – at the (no photographs allowed!) military bridge over the Blue Nile itself. From there it was 1360 meters of vertical over 20.05 km with an average grade of 6.8% (with several stretches of 10%+). A formidable climb in the afternoon heat.
G. caught Lenore about half way up (at the coke stop) and we rode the rest of the way together, feeling strong.
The camp offered stunning views over the canyon and the group could look over the rock face to cheer on later arriving riders as they negotiated the final switchbacks that stood between them and . . . soup.
A day to remember.
Here is a short video of what it’s like to cycle in Ethiopia. Thanks for indulging us.