Monday 4th February - 7th We went back to the desert again. Mudhut cafes are every 10kms or so and they break up the monotony of the landscape. I drink about 10 pepsi's/chi t's a day. We are covering 420kms to the Ethiopian border.
A distance like that would have scared me off 6 weeks ago but seem like a trip to the shops right now. I can reach speeds of 35kms an hour on the desert roads as they are paved. The desert scenery is gradually getting a little more tropical. Baboons and snakes are becoming travelling companions as I look around. There are also a lot of trucks with 2/3 trailers. These can be a great ally with unpredictable desert winds.
As they approach cycle faster. Get right behind them as they drive by. You are now "drafting". Riding their Eddie waves. You can keep the same speed as the truck and move along the back and to the side of the vehicle. It's possible to reach speeds of 80kph doing this !
The buses in the desert are wreckless. I was cycling with my ipod on. I was looking at a dead camel on the roadside. As soon as I turned around there was a bus on my side of the road. It never even beeped at me. I had to jump clean off my bike greazing myself pretty bad. These buses don't care and it's obvious from all the dead animals all over the road.
I stopped by a tiny village near the border of Sudan and Ethiopia where I saw a group of children playing soccer. I tried to organise a game (they had a pretty good ball and pitch with goalposts) however they were so ecstatic to see someone in cycling gear with a fancy bike that it was like being swarmed by a group of hungry journalists. Everyone was crowding around my bike asking what everything was for. These people are the poorest I have encountered to date. The amazing thing was that not one person asked for money and I went back to drink some chi tea at one hut, then we had a game of "in the middle" with a soccer ball. This was a great way to leave Sudan, the most hospitable place I have ever been fortunate enough to visit.
I had a few friends cross the border with me so we decided why not see Ethiopia at night. Every bar wanted to get us in there drinking.
Ethiopia is all about the agriculture and as you pass each kid who is either jogging to school or to work on the farm they shout at you "You You You, where you go??". It's impossible to stop and talk with every kid so as you cycle by they throw rocks at you.
Rock throwing is a part of their culture especially rurally as it is a way to control animal herds on mountain tops and I understand we've all been kids and done silly things. The inspiring thing is if you confront them and get off the bike the kids will stand toe to toe with you and look you in the eye. A true sign of proud people not witnessed anywhere else in Africa on this trip. No matter how many Amharaic words you learn like Salam Habasche (hello Ethiopian), ish ish (cool cool), Tao (stop) or Hedge (P*ss off) they are relentless rock throwers.
I would imagine this is how they got rid of the Italians after less then 6 years ! I can't imagine anyone successfully conquering this country of hills, mountains, thin air and heat only to face an array of stones.
As I stopped in for a bottle of coca cola on my way to the old capital of Gondar my camera was pickpocketed in a local village. This was very frustrating as all my photos were on the camera. Everyone was friendly in the village- but that didn't bring the camera back. I searched all the mudhuts and found a girl who spoke English. She said she knew who stole the camera but wouldn't grass on him as she would get in trouble once I left- pretty understandable as I am only passing through and she must live here so shouldn't upset their local balance.I offered to wait a few kilometers uphill and pay money to a 3rd party to deliver the camera, no agreement was reached. These negotiations took almost 3 hours, were inconclusive and were a disappointment as alnmost all pictures from Cairo to this day were on it. Onwards to Gondar.
One kid ran almost 4 kilometres with me talking in pigeon english all the way. I didn't realise however that he had removed my spare tube from my saddle bag as he jogged just behind me. I chased him but he got away ! The people are extremely fit here. They don't smoke and everyone jogs everywhere - school, work, home. To them uphill makes no difference.
10 February 2008 It was a relief to finally reach Gondar. A town of 6 castles and a lot of history. It was made built at such an elevation so to keep mosquitos and malaria away. As well as being a great viewpoint for invaders. You can visit where England carpet bombed the Italians (during their brief occupancy) and there is a great bar scene.
After a day rest we set off toward Bahir Dar. There are lots of eagles, wolves, hyenas and baboons on the roads and of course children.