(48) A gorgeous gorge, hyenas and hills
Thursday 21st February
We woke from a deep sleep at 6.30 am at the pension in Gonder; we had got an early night and as we were in a secure compound with other campers it had helped us relax. It wasn’t long before Jamie and Glenda appeared and the kettle was on. It was so nice spending time with such a relaxed, fun, easy-going couple and we were going to miss them. Dutch Tim arrived to pick up his jeep before heading back to Gorgora. We said goodbye and got ready to leave ourselves.
Glen and Jamie and ‘The beast’ as it was fondly known
We headed out of town and soon descended to the junction where we had headed in the direction of Gorgora a week before. It was great going with fantastic views and only the odd request for money from people we passed. We rode along the undulating terrain on super smooth tarmac and looked for somewhere to have lunch. The first place we found was a small shelter but it took less than a minute before we were surrounded by 5 people all asking for money. We rode on and this continued to get worse; then the stones started to fly – fortunately they just hit the road behind us. We made it through a small town picking up a drink before climbing out of a valley to start the first part of a long climb getting increasingly hungry. We rose up above the village and stopped on a bend. There was only one man there but it took a while for the stove to light as it was still on the blink and we were shortly joined by 2 more. We cooked noodles and tried to converse with the men but all they were interested in was ‘birr’, clothes or a pen so were promptly ignored which was a shame.
The view as we rode along
We continued to climb and with the road getting steeper and no sign of the top, we managed to grab hold of a slow-moving truck. The driver wasn’t very happy and promptly forced us off by driving off the road. The second one was more successful but Sharon lost her grip. Tim went on for about half a mile then stopped to see where Sharon was. He soon spotted her on the road below clinging to a small truck.
While he waited about 20 kids stood around with varying requests for money, books, pens, clothes etc. Just then a 4×4 turned up along with some tourists who wound down the window to take some photos. The kids rushed over seeing an opportunity to get money, books, pens, clothes etc resulting in the tourists promptly winding up the window and driving off at speed. Oh how lucky they were to have an engine! Tim regretted not putting in his request for money, books, pens, clothes etc. The kids then turned their attention back to Tim so he pointed Sharon out and they all rushed to watch her arrive and pass by with Tim racing to catch hold. The driver, who had kindly stopped for Sharon to grab hold of the back of the truck, was a little too fast and with nothing to hold on to he dropped off. He resigned himself to having to pedal the rest of the way. Sharon had let go on a sharp bend and we rode the rest of the climb together.
We started the long descent which was one of the best we had experienced in the country for a long time. As we descended we passed a number of rock formations.
Stunning scenery around us
We called this one the ‘willy’ rock!
We finally arrived in the town of Addis Zemen and stopped for a coke. As we rode out of town looking for somewhere to camp, we spotted a sign for ‘World Vision’. We decided to ask if we could camp on their compound to which they agreed. They were such great guys and as we put the stove on they looked surprised that we were going to cook. They invited us to eat with them and for starters, we made them all a cup of PG Tips. We had a lovely evening chilling out in their comfy living room but got an early night as we were pretty tired.
Friday 22nd February
We didn’t get a great night’s sleep and Sharon said she had heard 3 gun-shots being fired during the night but was unsure what it was. We were up by 7am and already packing and ready to leave by the time the others were up. We said goodbye and enjoyed the ride out of town.
The guys at World Vision
The scenery had got much greener this side of the pass but it didn’t stop the kids from throwing stones and asking for money. Even though the going was relatively easy we were still finding the day’s ride tough.
A vast landscape
In one small town we received no hassle at all and were surprised how refreshing it was. We rode out of town and with the temperature now in the low 40’s we looked for a shaded spot. Within 10 seconds of arriving at a tree we could see about 8 kids running towards us. We decided to move on and find somewhere else so rode for about ten minutes and thought we had found a good spot but with it came 4 kids (probably their mates!) They looked at us with wide eyes so as we sat we shared some bread and jam with them. It wasn’t long before a couple more kids turned up and asked for food. We politely declined and rode off and soon started to climb once again. We were both shattered and ready to stop but we wanted to get to the town of Bahir Dar to meet Vanessa and Tom who we had spent time with in Gorgora.
Cows out for a stroll
We rode on into the heat of the day. The going wasn’t hard but we were both shattered and there were a couple of small climbs. We reached the last hill and descended the 7 miles into the town. We easily found the hotel with the help of the GPS and checked in. By the time we were shown where to camp Vanessa had arrived and after a good shower we joined her and Tom for a beer and went into town for dinner. We had one of the best meals so far in Ethiopia and it was a lovely evening but we were both shattered so after a beer back at the hotel we headed to bed.
Saturday 23rd February
We woke early before the alarm with the call for prayers ringing around the town. It was like the Mosques and Churches were competing with each other. We got up and had 2 bread rolls we had brought back from the restaurant. We knew it wasn’t enough but needed to get going as it was already 9am. Tom and Vanessa had already left early to go site seeing. We left the town thinking perhaps we should have stayed another day to see the sites but with our Ethiopian visas running out on the 4th March, we had to get to Addis to extend them.
After about 5 miles we spotted a nice looking restaurant on the side of the road so led by our bellies we headed in. We had a meal of eggs and bread, served with delicious coffee and strangely popcorn. We enjoyed chatting to a group of young men who were Architect students at the local college. They spoke positively of their future and were confident there would be jobs for them when they qualified. We wished them all the best and got going, feeling better for refuelling.
Coffee and popcorn
After we had covered 23 miles on undulating roads – which definitely had more up than down – we started to look for a spot to stop for lunch. The morning had gone well with very little hassle, no stones and only the odd ‘you, give me money’. We passed through a small town with a very busy market and stopped briefly to take a photo.
The town market
Soon after, we spotted some wood land and sneaked in. There were people walking past but they didn’t look in. We moved back further into the wood and hung up the green tarp which hid us from the road and meant we could dine alone for the first time since entering the country. We finished our noodles, packed up and re-joined the road. We both felt hungry and tired, thinking we probably weren’t eating enough and this was affecting our energy levels. We arrived in a small town and picked up coke, a bag of sweets and some biscuits and noticed our energy levels pick up (no surprise really…)
As we were riding along we incresingly noticed barren areas of land where woodland had once been. It was slowly being stripped for the ever increasing demand for wood.
The hills are being slowly stripped
Tim still smiling
We started to look for water as dusk was approaching and spotted some ladies at a water pump. We rode down and said hello. They were lovely and let us fill our water bag before them. As we were getting ready to leave, one of the lady’s invited us for dinner at her Mum’s house. We made our way up the hill along a narrow, winding dirt path through some trees and found a few small round huts with some people inside. It was great not only to meet everyone but to see inside one of the huts. It was nice and cool and decorated with posters of Ethiopia and a large cow hide. It made a very comfortable home. They gave us some coffee and injera with watt and we chatted to the family with the help of a 16-year-old boy whose English was good. Children kept appearing at the door and were invited in; we were told they were all family. We thanked them and made our way back to the road.
The very hospitable family with Tim
Outside saying goodbye
The father tried getting on Sharon’s bike to have a lift into town but soon realised this was not going to work! It was now dark but with a full moon so we rode through the town without many people noticing us and disappeared out the other side to find a camp spot. We rode for around 5 miles before sneaking off across a field and found a great spot next to a hedge. We had to be quiet as we could hear voices moving up and down the road and we really didn’t want to attract attention. It had been a good day but we were once again shattered.
Sunday 24th February
Our camp in the bushes
We both slept well knowing we couldn’t be seen as the tent looked almost invisible from a short distance. We were both surprised at how close people walked to us without spotting us. Sharon said she could hear a hyena in the night followed by dogs barking. We got on the road after finishing last night’s leftovers and at first the going was good. This is Ethiopia however and it soon started to climb. After long climbs and many short descents we topped out at 2,660 metres. It didn’t end there and the road continued to rise and fall until we rode into a small village.
A beautiful ride
We stopped to pick up some biscuits and spotted a great shaded area next to some bamboo trees. We asked if we could rest there and we sat down in the shade and were soon surrounded by kids. It felt different today, everyone was friendly and no one had thrown stones. As we had lunch we tried to entertain the kids by singing and they started to dance but were soon incessantly asking for money encouraged by their parents. Tim started making chicken noises, imitating the many chickens that were scratching around close-by which seemed to distract them for a while. He also sang ‘Dominic the donkey’ to which they started to perform a local Ethiopian dance – quite surreal really but also hilarious. We said good-bye and took a short descent until climbing up into the town of Injibara.
This was one of the last big hills before a long decent. As we left the town and rounded a few corners the scenery dropped away revealing an amazing view. We descended a short distance and climbed up a few more hills each time enjoying the descents. We stopped on one decent as we had reached our 9000th mile.
Striking a pose – celebrating our 9,000th mile!
Chuffed to bits we descended into the next town to have a snack. We were both starving and tired. On the descent a kid rolled a loop of metal out in front of Sharon who promptly stopped and had a heated conversation with the only adult around who kept saying ‘he is only 5.’ Sharon is not convinced he realised how dangerous this was. We stopped and ate whilst winding down and rode on with 1 ½ hours of light left. As we descended the views became more and more amazing and there was hardly anyone around so we quickly decided to camp in the field away off the road under a tree. Both tired we pitched the tent while Sharon put the kettle on. It had been a good day with much less hassle and we congratulated ourselves on finding such a great spot.
A great spot
Monday 25th February
As darkness fell we started to hear the hyenas. They make a strange whoop sound which is quite distinct. They were certainly far off but no doubt were getting louder. We had heard mixed stories about hyenas. We’ve been told by local people and some other cycle tourists that it’s safe to camp when they’re around as long as you leave your rubbish bag tied in a tree so as not to attract them. Attacks on humans are pretty rare and we are always safe inside the tent before we hear them calling.
We were so tired from the day before that we didn’t bother setting the alarm and woke up naturally with the tent getting warmer from the sun at 7am. We started to pack up, we ate breakfast and the odd person would pass by and acknowledge us with a nod or a wave. No-one came over; they just carried on their way. We found a better track off the field to the road and as we were still high up we enjoyed a long descent. We coasted through a couple of villages stopping to get bread in one and soon covered 15 miles.
Enjoying the good road
We had a long climb ahead and decided to stop in the town of Dembecha near the top. We ate eggs and bread while chatting to the owner and it was nice to relax and enjoy the peace.
Goods for sale at the café – Ethiopian lunch boxes (on the left hanging up)
and seats made of goat skin
People continued to be friendly towards us as we left the town and had another long downhill before yet another climb. We collected water at the top from a village pump. We were always amazed at the distances people had to walk to get water to their houses.
Enjoying the stunning scenery
Tim working hard
We started to get tired again and as we passed through a number of villages, the stones started again. They would hit the road as we cycled along, narrowly missing us and our bikes.
As we approached the town of Debra Markos we decided to camp just before as we thought we were about 5 miles away but as we rounded the corner there was a town sign and heaps of people walking along the road. Not wanting to head back, we decided to ride through the town which existed on a long hill. We continued to climb through the town for what seemed ages and stopped at a small shop to pick up supplies for dinner. It was the best stocked shop we’d seen in ages and we bought bananas, peanuts and pasta. We spotted a great looking hotel with over-lander’s vehicles parked outside but resisted the temptation motivated by our limited budget and headed on into the dark. We eventually came to a vast moorland area to our left and some woodland. We pitched and ate dinner, listening to the hyenas down in the valley.
Tuesday 26th February
We both woke in the night to the sound of the wind picking up and as we were just inside the woods we could hear the cracking of branches. The annoying thing was it sounded like someone was moving the bikes. We would both stick our heads out of the tent to check but it was always a false alarm. We could hear the hyenas get closer but they would only come as close as the small village a few hundred metres away.
We woke at 6.30am but as we were tired we granted ourselves a lie in and didn’t get up until 7. We noticed the road went round the back of the forest so with a short cut through the wood we were soon back on the road. We started to climb and then descend and then climb again keeping us at around 2,500 metres. We had a strong headwind which made the going tough and with the road constantly dropping a few hundred metres then climbing again we were starting to struggle.
We descended a hill and noticed the road turned into a rough track that led up to a village. We stopped to fix a puncture on a downhill much to the entertainment of a group of very well-behaved children and were soon slowly moving along the very rutted track. The road continued to have sections of either stony, dusty track or deeply rutted tarmac.
Making better progress than us along the dirt track
We picked our way along at a snail’s pace and collected water from a communal tap in a small village. We stopped on a brow that over looked a large wide valley – it was stunning. We ate our lunch with the drivers tooting their horns and waving as they passed us.
With lunch over we followed the rough road down along the wide valley over a couple short hills and along sections of non-existent road and stopped for a coke before heading into a gorge. We had been keeping in touch with Vanessa and Tom in the hope of meeting up with them once again as they were heading this way to Addis. We were feeling shattered but needed to keep going and continued past a busy cattle market. We passed many people herding their new purchases along the road as they walked them back to their villages.
What a beauty!
Taking their new purchases home
We also passed fields where tef had been harvested.
Tef once it’s harvested
We passed a small herd of cattle being herded in circles
preparing tef to make injera.
We got to the last town before the long descent and stopped for a cold drink of water and picked up some peanuts. As we dropped over the brow of the hill, the gorge appeared – it was amazing, like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon. We hadn’t expected it to be so spectacular.
Tim going down into the gorge
The road dropped almost a mile down to the Blue Nile. We slowly descended as there were massive lumps of tarmac which had been pushed up by the trucks. It was soon clear that the road was slipping and we picked our way along.
Even though the road was dreadful, the scenery was stunning
After an hour or so we arrived at the bottom and stopped for a cup of tea. There were a few monkeys around which entertained us while we drank but we didn’t stay long as we wanted to start some of the climb. No sooner as we had climbed a hundred metres, Vanessa and Tom arrived. We arranged to meet them further up the gorge and as they were ahead, they would find a suitable place to camp. As we climbed, they texted to say they had found a perfect spot about 3 miles on and would keep an eye out for us.
As we laboured up the hill a car pulled alongside us and asked if we needed anything. Wossen and Wabshet were driving to Addis and Wossen was a keen cyclist who had completed parts of Tour D’Afrique. They handed us some cold water and as we were chatting a truck pulled over and asked if they could help us. After some discussion with us being adamant that we couldn’t get a lift in the truck, we agreed to the offer of a tow where we could still sit on our bikes and pedal. Wossen and Wabshet drove behind with their headlights on full beam to help guide our way. After about 3 miles we still hadn’t seen Vanessa and Tom so kept going, only to be then passed by their Landcruiser. They had assumed we were getting a lift to the top where there was a town and hotel but this was not the case. By the time we had asked the truck driver to pull over so we could call them, they were already in the town and it was too much to expect them to come back down. It was a shame but we hoped to meet them for coffee in the morning. Sharon’s arms were beginning to really ache despite still pedalling and the strain on our upper bodies from holding onto the truck was starting to become too much. We were told there was a small village ½ mile ahead where we could camp so we clung on until then. Wossen and Wabshet were great, arranging a good place for us to camp. We chatted to them for a while and arranged to meet up for dinner once we were in Addis. We set up camp and hungrily ate our dinner of pasta, onion and tomato paste.
Wednesday 27th February
We woke a few times during the night more to do with the coffee we had drunk before going to bed than concerns about security. We heard people passing but it was clear that we weren’t being spotted. About 6.30am we heard voices close by and a lady started to hit the tent with a stick. Tim shouted for her to stop and you could hear a rather surprised reply. It seems she didn’t know what the tent was and was probably even more surprised to hear people inside – we had a good chuckle to ourselves!
We set off and within a hundred metres Sharon discovered a flat tyre. We pumped it up hoping it was a slow puncture but it soon went down again and Tim changed the tube only to find a split in it. We dug out another tube and got on the road again. This was frustrating as we were keen to catch up with Tom and Vanessa before they left and had run out of phone credit so couldn’t let them know we were on our way. It took us a couple of hours to climb out of the gorge but we enjoyed the fantastic scenery. The road wound its way up and there were many hairpin bends but better tarmac this side. We watched as the lorries struggled towards the top.
Finally at the top
We called in to the Blue Nile hotel where Tom and Vanessa had been staying but had unfortunately had missed them by 30 minutes. We decided to stop for a quick break and Tim purchased a scratch card for our phone which had an Ethiopian SIM card.
A man approached us and read out the number for Sharon to put into the phone – he was insistent about helping. As he told Sharon the number, Tim noticed a group of children who were translating the numbers into Amharic and another guy who was putting our credit on his phone! Tim shouted but it was too late, our credit had been taken and the kids scattered. We were so annoyed as we had limited cash. Tim saw the boys behind a lorry and sneaked behind it and took chase after one of them. It was like a chase scene from the film Point Break, running through a house before he caught him. The parents looked concerned and Tim explained what had happened. The police were called and it wasn’t long before the child that Tim had chased was telling all to the policeman along with another child that he had ‘dobbed in’. The policeman handed Tim the cash to buy another scratch card assuring us he would get the money back later. We left the town feeling happy that justice had been done.
The road continued to steadily climb and Sharon’s tyre once again became flat. We decided to stop for a cup of tea to calm down after all the excitement and fix the puncture. Tim found a tiny hole and we soon had the usual curious crowd around us. We rode into the next town and after much excitement from the villagers due to Tim did his chicken impression to indicate we needed some eggs, we found ourselves surrounded by literally hundreds of school children. We managed to escape and rode on to the next village where we spotted some doughnuts. We were so hungry we bought the lot – about 20 of them! We sat and cooked an omelette for lunch and chatted to a local teacher and the shop owner.
As we rode on we dropped into a small valley and got loads of hassle from kids asking for money. They started to run after us and grab at our panniers so we spotted a tree away from it all and had a break. We had been there just a few minutes before we were spotted by some other kids who just stood and stared. We lay down but didn’t close our eyes for fear of them taking something from the bikes. Suddenly we heard a crack of a whip and a man approached us saying something in Amharic whilst aiming the whip at us. He came very close so Tim got up and told him to go. He wouldn’t so Tim gently guided him away and he eventually left, walking up the road we were about to ride. We lay there for a while longer and the kids starting hassling us for money, pens, books etc so we decided to leave. They ran after us shouting ‘you, give me money’ and a vehicle stopped to ask if we were ok. We asked him to tell the children to leave us alone which fortunately they did. It appeared they had respect for their elders.
As we climbed we eventually came level with the guy with the whip who promptly went for Sharon as she held onto the back of a passing truck. Fortunately he missed and then went for Tim who stopped and grabbed the whip. He tried to throw it but the man stopped him. Tim then tried to snap it but failed but managed to throw it some distance resulting in the man chasing after it. It was a very strange experience and one we’ve not been able to make sense of even talking to other Ethiopians. Maybe he just didn’t like the look of us!
It was sad to be passing through areas where we just didn’t feel welcome but we really relished the areas where people were friendly. We reached the top of the climb at 2,800 metres and passed through another area where the kids were holding onto our bikes and shouting at us. We climbed once again and in contrast rode alongside a great group of school kids who helped to push us up the hill. They were so polite and we enjoyed spending time with them chatting about their school and where they lived. We finally reached the summit at 3,160 metres and saw the landscape dropping away from us.
It was an amazing climb and the landscape gave us the impression of the Mongolian plains with its wide open areas. We descended past a cement factory which looked completely out of place and stopped for a cup of chi before looking for somewhere to camp. A child threw a stone that hit Sharon on the foot and she stopped once again talking to an adult who kept saying ‘they are only children, they don’t know any better’. It was the same frustrating story.
Farmers herding their cattle back to the village
We eventually found somewhere to put the tent as it was dark but the temperature had dropped significantly as we were still above 3,000 metres. We shivered cooking tea – Tim let Sharon wear his warm Polish hat (which is carried for moments such as these to ensure Sharon continues cooking). We ate in the tent having to remind ourselves that we were in Ethiopia! It had been a very long day.
Although we woke a couple of times to check the bikes, we slept better than we had in ages. It was 6.30am when we woke but we decided to have another 15 minutes as the sun rose. We knew it wouldn’t be long before we were spotted as we had put the tent in the middle of a large field. We managed to get nearly everything packed away before we were surrounded by about 20 people. We said hello and they were warm and friendly. We decided to go on to have our breakfast further along the road.
Still being above 3,000 metres it was fresh but the scenery was spectacular. We continued to descend gently for about 12 miles passing through small pretty villages. Everyone was friendly and not a stone in sight.
A place of worship high in the mountains
We climbed again but only to 2,700 metres and the roads continued to rise and fall. On a descent we saw what looked like a great lunch spot but soon discovered that it was used as the local toilet which explained all the flies. We moved on and were soon enjoying our lunch elsewhere.
Cow poo drying which is used for cooking and heating
The road continued to rise and fall with many steep sections and we stopped for a cuppa at the bottom of a climb with just 30 miles to go to Addis Ababa. We sat and chatted enjoying the view. The clouds building added to the dramatic scenery and we could have sat there all evening. We wanted to be within 20 miles of Addis in the morning so we rode up the climb to a water well where a group of kids were filling water tubs tied to the back of donkeys. They were lovely kids and Tim juggled stones much to their delight. It was getting more and more built up but one benefit was that the shops stocked more things. We found a tin of tuna much to our delight – we hadn’t been able to get any for ages. We never thought we’d get excited about a tin of tuna!!
Cattle grazing as the sun sets
As the road was quite built up we asked if we could camp behind someone’s house. They quietly watched us set up camp when a lady came over insisting we stay at her father’s house where there was a bed. It took a lot of persuading that we wanted to stay in the tent and it clearly didn’t make sense to her but we explained that it would take a lot of time to pack up. We were concerned it might lead to a late night and lots of people around and we were feeling like we just wanted to be alone. We ensured we showed our appreciation for her offer before they left and we enjoyed a peaceful evening.
It was still chilly – about 8 degrees but knowing we would warm up we enjoyed the unfamiliar feeling of being cold. The road was relatively flat with a few short steady climbs. We soon arrived in another town and were glad we camped where we did. The road soon got busy and we stopped briefly for a coke and biscuits listening to the usual chant from the children ‘you, give me money’. Tim found an approach that worked by handing them a stone to which they would reply ‘no stone, money.’ They would look confused and then start giggling. If it was a request for a pen, he would hand them a stick! It worked and would usually end in laughter rather than us getting annoyed.
We climbed a short sharp hill and stopped for a drink at the top. Sharon asked where the toilet was and they clearly didn’t understand. Tim did some actions and sound effects (which we won’t describe here!) and they immediately fell about laughing and led her feeling embarrassed to the toilets. We could hear them giggling in the kitchen for ages afterwards! We continued to climb through the wooded hillside. Tim managed to hang on to a truck but Sharon was too tired to do anything but continue pedalling.
The final climb with the roads getting busier
The road wound up and up and we wondered if we would ever make it to the top. We finally did and what a view.
What a great sight – the city of Addis Ababa in the distance!
We descended 300 metres from 2,700 down to the city and we cruised through the streets taking it all in.
Rock carvings on the way down to Addis
We descended 300 metres from 2,700 down to the city and we cruised through the streets taking it all in. Addis Ababa means ‘New flower’ and has a population of around 4 million people. The city sprawls across a hillside and sits at 2,400 metres. We soon arrived at the German Embassy where we would be staying with our ‘Warm Showers’ hosts Gina and Tony and had arranged to meet them for lunch. We were over an hour early so sat in the shade drinking coke and eating doughnuts whilst reading. Sharon read her Kindle while Tim finished reading our local paper the Crediton Courier that Tina Bowyer had sent out with the bike to Khartoum. He enjoyed reading about Cider festivals and WI meetings (Women’s Institute) making him feel proud to be a Devonian. He would like to add that he has more experience with the Cider festivals than he does with the WI! He came back to earth with a bump at lunchtime and we headed to the Embassy to meet Gina.
We were immediately taken for lunch and met Tony who is English and their son Connar. It was so great to be in Addis and chat in English to people other than each other! During conversation it transpired that they could help us get a new crank arm. Within an hour of being back at their place, Addis a local cyclist arrived with the correct part and fitted it. Sharon contacted Neil Munro (our Scottish friend from Khartoum) who we had spoken to earlier in the day – the new crank arm from Halfords had only just arrived that day in Scotland and as there was no-one heading this way for a few weeks, he was planning to get it shipped to Addis at a cost of £90. We stopped him just in time which saved all of us money. We were so grateful to Neil and his friend Martyn for all their help and were sorry they had such a nightmare sourcing the part.
We were made to feel instantly at home and enjoyed a quiet evening in, watching a film after eating Heinz baked beans on toast with cheese – heaven!
Thanks for reading!