(47) The hills are alive with the sound of ‘you, you’
Wednesday 13th February
We woke up remembering that we were in Ethiopia. We had heard monkeys in the night stealing the peel from our papaya fruit but hadn’t managed to catch a glimpse of them. We quickly packed up and ate breakfast, keen to get going. As we ate, villagers past us with oxen and donkeys fully laden but we remained unseen.
We set off on the smooth tarmac taking in the ever improving scenery that rolled away from us. The mountain road began to rise as did the heat and we started to warm up. The temperature remained around the high 30’s as we made our way along the winding road. We stopped in a small village to pick up supplies and Sharon popped into a small shop. She soon attracted attention and a small crowd formed. She came out looking triumphant with a kilo of pasta from a large sack and a few packets of biscuits.
Shaz was inside, she didn’t used to get this response at TESCO…
We really needed some bread so asked around for someone who spoke English – we had yet to learn the word in Amheric. A young boy showed us where we could buy some from a small café and we picked up a large round loaf that weighed about 2 kilos. We headed on up the climb and stopped with the intention of eating an early lunch under a tree. We were soon joined by a family – we assumed father, 2 daughters and son, who sat and stared at us and would smile each time we caught their eye. We gave them a litre of water and said our goodbyes. It felt awkward to eat our lunch in front of them without sharing it but we were unsure when we could get our next supplies.
A bird we had spotted in the tree next to us
The landscape was truly awesome and the people where friendly shouting ‘you, you’ as we passed. We got asked for ‘birr’, the local currency occasionally but there was no aggression behind the request. We stopped to fix a puncture at the bottom of a climb and as usual a small crowd formed. They kept their distance and kept whispering to each other before saying ‘what is your name’ and ‘where you go’?
Shaz on the open road
As we climbed, we were joined by 2 young boys who ran alongside us. They told us they were 10 years old and kept up a good pace for around 45 minutes before stopping when we got to the top. We gave them some water and the thumbs up for their efforts before we headed downhill at a good pace. We finally found a good shaded spot to eat lunch and rested for a while.
An Olympic runner in the making
At the top, still looking fresh!
The afternoon wore on and we started to cover some miles. We were conscious of a large climb that was ahead of us and made the decision to do it in the dark when the temperature was more comfortable. We rode up and up watching the altimeter on the GPS slowly reach 1,700 metres and on the way passing a fuel tanker that had caught fire on the road and had been left in the road for what looked like quite some time.
A fuel tanker that blocked one side of the road
We were grateful not to be spotted heading through the villages but occasionally would hear a cry of ‘you, you’ from somewhere in the dark. We eventually called it a day at about 11pm when Tim spotted a great spot just off the road down a short track. We set up camp and cooked dinner and fell into bed pleased with ourselves for the miles and altitude we had done.
Thursday 14th February
We woke up at 6.30, hearing voices on the road. We were surprised to see people walking so close on the road above but not spotting us. We quietly packed up, eating bread and jam for breakfast and admiring the amazing view across the valley. We had bought some fruit the night before in the dark and it turned out to be rotten which was a disappointment as it was due to brighten up our breakfast.
Our mountain camp spot
We started to push the bikes up the slope to the road when Sharon discovered she had another puncture. We quickly went back to our camp spot to fix it frustrated as the sun had started to rise and it was already warming up. We finally got on the road by 8am and were pleased we had put in such a good effort the previous evening. Villagers looked at us in surprise as we emerged onto the road and to discover we had camped right on the edge of a village. We spotted a village water pump within a few metres and filled our water bag. We had so far been buying bottled water as people were understandably reluctant to give us water from tubs that they had carried from their local well either on their backs or by donkey.
Shaz getting water
Climbing up through the village
We continued to climb from 1,700 metres and after about an hour and a half riding at quite a steep gradient, we finally made it to the top.
Views as we climbed
We had been told about a guest house in a village called Gorgora on the edge of Lake Tana and were heading there for a couple of nights. We thought we would make it that evening but after we realised we were about 20 miles further away than we thought with an added 40 miles of stoney track to thier place, we decided to ring and change our arrival to the following day.
We were feeling tired from the long day before and despondent as we weren’t as far along as we thought and were looking forward to a shower and clean bed which we now had to forfeit until the next day. The going was tough and thinking once we had completed the long climb would be down hill only to find the road continued to steeply rise and fall for the next 40 miles and we stopped in the town of Aykel for something to eat. We were served injera and wot with meat which we think was beef. Wot is a spicy sauce which is delicious and helps with the sour taste of injera which is a type of bread made of a grain called tef which looks more like an old grey/brown flannel that should have been thown away 10 years ago. We heard a story about a tourist who thought it was a napkin and promptly tucked it into his t-shirt when it arrived on the table! We washed our food down with a couple of bottles of coke and started to feel the energy return to our legs.
We continued on but the feeling of tiredness soon returned. Alongside this the kids started to get more and more intense with cries of ‘you, you’ and demands for money and pens. We had heard from other cycle tourists that the kids throw stones but hadn’t encounted it so far. As the road rose and fell we could see a large groups of kids spot us and run towards the road. We escaped on the next down hill only to see another 10-20 kids approaching the road in front of us. The stones started flying towards us, fortunately with no great aim so none hit us. It didn’t stop there. This was unbelievably tiring with the steep climbs combined with the altitude, the many kids grabbing the bikes, watching for stones and trying to spot where we can buy food before being mobbed was unreal. We were so disappointed that the stories were true as we had had such a positive experience until then and desperately wanted to not believe that this actually happened. The stones were clearly aimed at us but fortunately none hit us or the bikes. It was pretty much uninterrupted as we rode along so we stopped for a break under a small shelter. Within minutes a child approached us asking for money and when we told him no, he started to touch the bikes making us think he was looking for something to take. A man had joined us and told the child to go. We tried to relax but the man just stared asking for clothes and eventually we moved on. The temperature was 46 degrees – we thought it was supposed to be cooler in Ethiopia! This didn’t help our mood, neither did the following climb and we stopped to pick up some more water. Sharon asked if she could leave the empty bottles behind and as she put them down the large crowd of children that had formed fought each other to grab them.
A place of worship on the mountain side
It was getting late and we were close to the junction where we would turn off for Gorgora so we started looking for a camp spot. We spotted a small shop selling sweets so stopped for a ‘pick me up’ and were able to charge Sharon’s phone. As we waited, dozens of school children walked down the road towards the shop. They all stopped to get a look at us and before long there was well over a hundred staring at us. We weren’t sure if we should get up and do a dance but as they were looking at us as if we were from another planet, we thought this might confirm their suspicions.
Attracting attention in town
We rode on, still attracting a lot of attention from the kids who would grab at our bikes and demand money. We saw a well so went over to fill our water bag and noticed it had a small leak. We made a mental note to fix it when we got to Gorgora. We rode on spotting great camping spot but there was always someone in the field. Eventually too tired to care too much we pulled over on what looked like a large area of moorland. We cooked dinner quite close to the road and were amazed no-one spotted us. We moved further away from the road and set up camp next to a dried up river bed. It was a great spot but in the moonlight could see a row of houses close to where we were so we had to remain in silence.
Friday 15th February
We both kept waking in the night as the wind flapped against the tent. We had put the bikes at the end of the tent which didn’t help us relax. We woke at 6.30 and got up listening to the chattering of voices not far away on the road. We were surprised how long it was until we had a group of onlookers who were clearly transfixed with what we were doing. We pushed the bikes into the road and within minutes were asked for money by some passers-by.
Not knowing how far the town of Azezo was where we would turn off for Gorgora, we were pleased to see it was only a couple of kms away.
Riding down to Azezo
We rolled into town and spotted a café so ordered tea and scrambled eggs with bread. The eggs were served with chilli and were delicious. We felt the energy returning to our bodies and then rode a short distance into town to pick up supplies. Sharon went off into the market and came back with packets of biscuits, pasta, tomato paste and onions. Tim had drawn quite a crowd whilst keeping a close eye on the bikes but the shop keeper had kept them at bay.
We headed off in the direction of Gorgora spotting a sign which said 59km (about 40 miles) and were soon on a dirt track. It was pretty good going to start with but Tim soon got a puncture, the usual crowd formed and the temperature began to rise. We covered only 10 miles before stopping for a cup of tea under a tree. We soon had a group of about 20 children around us and we enjoyed chatting to them and showing them how the stove worked. After about half an hour we resigned ourselves to the fact that we had to keep going. We got chased by groups of kids throwing stones. Tim stopped and shouted at them. At the same time an older lady came over to see what was happening and Tim explained. She immediately picked up a stone and threw it at the children who promptly ran off. Throwing stones was clearly part of everyday life.
Tim being chased by some little darlings…
We kept going but as the track got worse, so did Sharon’s back ache. As we were going to be heading back on the same track in a couple of days (and therefore would not be cheating) we managed to flag down a passing truck who took us another 10 miles before dropping us off in the middle of a busy town about 15 miles from Gorgora. We were so grateful and stopped at a café for a cold drink where we chatted to some young people who were football mad and very excited that we were from the same country as Manchester United. We continued on but stopped again for a break under a tree after a few miles. Just then a 4×4 passed us with Swiss number plates. They stopped and introduced themselves as Tom and Vanessa who were father and daughter on their way to the same guest house (it was the only one down this track!) They soon kindly offered to carry our panniers the rest of the way and gave us cold water. We readily agreed and we made quick progress (although a little wobbly without the weight).
Stunning trees along the way
Shaz riding unladen
We passed through the village of Gorgora and found our way to ‘Tim’s and Kim’s’ resort. We had arrived in paradise! Tim and Kim were a Dutch couple who had built the resort from scratch over the past 5 years. It was an amazing achievement and a very relaxing space. There were a number of grass huts and a lovely outside space next to the lake.
Arriving in paradise
We found Vanessa and Tom in the restaurant and joined them for a cold beer or three (or maybe in was 4…) before having a shower and setting up our tent. We ate dinner in the restaurant and soon realised we were staying with a great group of people including an English couple called Glenda and Jamie and a German couple called George and Andrea who had driven in 4×4 vehicles from Cape Town. We slept well and looked forward to having a rest day.
Saturday 16th February – Tuesday 19th February
A couple of nights turned into 5 as we were having such a great time! We spent many glorious days enjoying fantastic company, drinking tea/beer and generally catching up with ourselves and listening to the adventures of the others, the routes they had taken and the places that were worth seeing. We felt so lucky to have arrived at the same time as the others which made our stay more fun and relaxing.We also enjoyed a swim in the lake also home to hippos (but unfortunately not in the area we were) and managed to locate the tiny hole in Tim’s Thermarest.
While we were there George had been stung by a small black scorpian that had been hiding in the sink overflow, he said the pain shot up his arm and remained numb for several days with each day a little more feeling coming back. We had seen a few small scorpians while we were there but didn’t manage to get a picture or get stung!
We also got to meet Richard who was a good friend of Neil from Khartoum and was working in the area. Richard had been able to keep us up to date with Neil who had been trying to source a left hand crankarm for Tim’s bike which kept coming lose. He had flown back to Scotland to visit his family and said he would pick one up. He had gone to Halfords who quoted £20 for the left arm or £360 for the complete set which should have cost around £50! They had ordered one but it ended up getting lost in the post so it was then going to be sent to France to be brought out with a college of Neil’s. Something that should have been simple was now turning into a nightmare for Neil as the people at Halfords had messed up order numbers and prolonged the whole process so the outcome was still unsure.
One night we were sat around having dinner and it turned out Dutch Tim shared the same birth date as Sharon – 11/12/75 and they were born within 2 hours of each other! This resulted in us drinking a few more beers. Kim was a great cook and we enjoyed many evenings eating and chatting over a glass of beer. George kindly helped Tim with his GPS which would make arriving in large cities so much easier.
Dutch Tim was driving to Gonder (6 miles north of Azezo) on the Wednesday so we blagged a lift in his truck. He could fit the bikes on the roof and our gear would go with Glenda and Jamie who were also leaving the same day to go to Gonder. This saved us riding the dirt track again and gave us more time there!
Our camp spot under the trees
A relaxing space
A great bunch – left to right:
George, Andrea, Jamie, Vanessa, Kim, Tim, Richard, Tim, Tom, Glen, Shaz
Glen, Vanessa and Shaz
Wednesday 20th February
We set the alarm for 6am and had packed most of our stuff the night before. We said our goodbyes and headed off in Tim’s truck .
Tim and kim and our bikes on the roof of the truck
The road felt so much easier by truck but the 40 miles still felt a long way. We were able to avoid the children who just stared as we passed.
Checking the bikes on route to Gonder
After about an hour and a half we passed the junction we had turned off on days before and would pass again tomorrow after a day in Gonder. We had arranged to stay at the same Pension as Glenda and Jamie and were looking forward to looking around the town. We could camp in the courtyard for 81 Birr (£3). Jamie and Glenda put the kettle on and we relaxed for a while before heading into town.
We visited Fasil Ghebbi, a fortress-enclosure also known as the Royal-enclosure which expands across 70,000 square metres and hired a guide to show us around. Its high stone walls line the streets making it an impressive feature of the town. Fasil Ghebbi served as the home of Ethiopia’s emperors in the 17th and 18th centuries. It includes a castle, palace and beautiful gardens. There are influences in the architecture from India and Portugal as well as Nubian. The site was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and hence most of it has been restored.
Glen and Shaz gettting some shade
Tim, Shaz, Glen and Jamie outside the 32 metre high castle
A very impressive structure
We spent a lovely afternoon pottering around buying fruit and bread and eating a rather spicy lunch! We all went out for dinner in the evening with Dutch Tim who had spent the day in Gonder getting supplies. We were sad to be heading off the following day in a different direction to Jamie and Glenda as they were heading to Sudan. We were heading to Addis Ababa which would take about 8 days. It is always hard saying goodbye to new friends but we promised to meet again 🙂 We had been able to swop valuable information about the road ahead and had really enjoyed our time with them. We fell asleep in our tent in the courtyard listening to some other tourists chatting about their Ethiopian adventures and for a few hours drifted off to the land of dreams ready for our next adventure.
Thank you for reading!