(50) ‘We are ferengies, get us out of here’
Monday 11th March
We woke at 7am at Gina’s house in the German Embassy compound and continued to pack. Connar came in and we played a bit before he had to leave for school. It was sad to say goodbye and we would both miss him. We continued to sort our things and we were almost done packing by the time Gina came back from dropping him off. We felt reluctant to leave such a lovely home. Gina had given us so much food to take with us, it was making Tim’s rear tyre bulge. We rode down to the gate and Gina’s office to say goodbye. We were so grateful for the time at her place and felt so refreshed after a rather tough journey to Addis Ababa and her generosity and kindness was truly amazing.
We rode out to a roundabout and joined the Addis ring-road which Wossen had shown us the day before. It was invaluable information as the road was good, not too busy and best of all easy to navigate. There was a lot of downhill and we enjoyed it while we could. The smog got worse as we started to climb around the city and along with the high altitude it made for hard work. We managed to find the correct exit of the ring-road and any worries we had about riding on it disappeared when we joined a herd of cattle blocking 4 lanes. We slowly made our way out of the city finding the quieter back road towards the town of Butajira. With a few climbs completed, we descended part of a short hill before stopping for a snack of warm Pepsi, chocolate ball balls and a chocolate Father Christmas – which were gifts from Gina.
Does she know it’s not Christmas time?
We got going and the scenery changed to vast flat lands out to the west and the hills were less frequent. We climbed one long uphill whilst ‘taking a deep breath and counting to 20’ with some persistent kids who cried out ‘ferengie, ferengie’ which means foreigner. We stopped near the top to find a tree to shelter from the sun next to a radar base.
Still going uphill
It was guarded by armed guards so we wouldn’t be disturbed and could enjoy our Heinz baked beans in peace – another gift from Gina and Tony. We got back on the road and climbed a bit before enjoying a long but very gradual descent. It was great to descend but after every descent came a long gradual climb. The scenery was amazing and with only one badly aimed stone we could relax a little.
Stunning views and a nice downhill
As the day wore on, with every climb we got slower and slower and stopped for a breather in a small town. Our mood lowered as the kids became more demanding but we managed to keep our sense of humour.
We needed to find somewhere to camp and we were thinking about asking to camp in someone’s garden but were soon asked for money, so we went on and found a small track that led us down to a dry river bed across a field. We were spotted but no one followed us so we pitched the tent and soon got the stove going. We were nervous about the hyenas as we were cooking in the dark and we promised ourselves to cook earlier from now on. We heard a noise and Sharon shot towards the tent. It turned out to be 3 guys heading home to their village from the fields. They spoke good English and invited us to their house. We politely declined and before they left, they assured us there were no hyenas so we could relax and call it a night.
Tuesday 12th March
During the night we heard a strange sound on the tent – it was rain drops, only a few but the first we had heard since November over 3 ½ months ago. We soon fell asleep after being told there weren’t any hyenas but knowing that people knew we were there put us on edge a little. We woke to voices at 6.30am and quickly got dressed. We packed everything away and ate breakfast with an ever growing audience. We made our way out to the road across the field and they gave us a push up the steep bits before we said our goodbyes.
Another stunning tree
We both felt tired and the first couple of hills felt tough. After a couple of climbs we were rewarded with two nice long gradual descents and it felt so good. We had a couple of short climbs in between but most of it was downhill or flat. People were being friendly towards us until we passed a young boy who tried hitting us with his whip. Tim ran after him while Sharon stayed on the road with the bikes. The kid was surprised to see Tim running down the field after him and it wasn’t long before Tim was walking up the field holding his whip and his parents were telling the kid off. Sharon was talking to a driver who had stopped and also ‘had a word’ with the kid. Hopefully this would be the last of his antics.
Pesky little ‘darlings’
We continued to climb with the odd downhill and an increase in the demand for money from villagers as we passed by. At least the stones weren’t flying. We stopped for lunch behind a hedge and were soon joined by 6 or 7 teenagers all demanding food and money. It made for a very un-relaxing lunch break. The road continued to rise and fall until we stopped at the top of a climb for a coke. The owner was really nice, charged a local price rather than a ‘forgengis’ price and he even gave us some free nuts. We enjoyed chatting to a local teacher who explained the difference between Ethiopian time and GMT. Our 7am was 1am and the kids would often ask us the time as we passed and giggle when we told them. Ethiopia is also 8 years behind and is currently in 2005 – this meant Sharon was 30 again and Tim 32 ; )
The local shop
We passed through a few small towns stopping in one for a fresh avocado and mango juice which had quickly become our favourite drink in Ethiopia and rode on to find a good camp spot. The wind picked up as a storm brewed in the distance giving us a well needed push. As we rode, we noticed a policeman on a motorbike riding with us which kept the kids off but we didn’t want him for long as we wanted to find a place to camp. After a short time we realised he wasn’t riding with us and it was in fact the fastest his bike would go! We peddled past and stopped at a potential camp spot waving goodbye. The camp spot turned out to be perfect and as we ate tea we could see the storm flashing in the distance – we hoped it wasn’t messing the dirt roads up ahead.
Wednesday 13th March
We were woken by the sound of rain on the tent. It was a heavy storm but didn’t last long. We woke to a windy day and still a lot of cloud in the sky. We joined the road with looks of surprise from the locals wondering where we had just come from.
The road continued to rise and fall and we enjoyed a couple of long steady climbs. We seemed to get more hassle but managed to keep our cool.
At least the cows weren’t asking for money
We climbed up to the town of Hosanna and were stopped by a man who said he had passed us in his truck the night before; he wanted to buy us lunch. We quickly accepted with empty bellies and followed him to a cafe. Because many Ethiopian Christians were currently fasting during Lent, they cooked us vegetables and bread which was actually delicious. We enjoyed our time with him and chatted about the economy in Ethiopia. He also told us about a long climb to 2,750 metres that we didn’t know about. Our hearts sank. After lunch we followed his vehicle until we were safely out of the town.
A very generous man
We reached the junction heading south and the going was good to start with. We thought he must have got it wrong about the climb ahead as it didn’t look like it went up that far but it turned out to be false summit after false summit.
We reached a town about 5 miles from the top and Tim felt washed-out. Needing to stop we pulled into a busy market only to be mobbed an increasing crowd and a persistent drunk guy. We quickly re-joined the road for a couple hundred metres and spotted a nice cafe and quickly headed for it. The owner was nice and so were his costumers and as the crowd got bigger they told them to go. It was the break we needed and Tim began to feel a little more normal.
We continued to climb with the clouds building and by the time we reached 2,750 metres it had started to rain. The temperature had dropped to 14 degrees and with wet clothes we started to feel cold as we descended with the light fading. The views were amazing with the land falling away into the Great Rift Valley. We thought it would be easy to sneak into a bit of woodland to hide and find a camp but there were people everywhere. They were on every bend, every straight and in the woods! When we stopped and waited for them to walk off, they would start running towards us asking for money. We finally spotted a quarry and headed in. One guy spotted us and we waved but continued in as it was almost dark and it was still raining. The tent was soon up and Sharon prepared dinner in the dark. At one point she dropped a piece of salami off the stirring spoon and replaced it with a stone! Luckily she found it before we ate it. Our camp spot was a good one and with the wind getting stronger, we were pleased to be tucked out the way.
Thursday 14th March
The rain hit the tent and the wind increased even in our sheltered position and we were getting buffeted. We did however feel unseen so slept through the noise. We woke to the wind having dropped and stayed in bed till 6.45am. We started packing our things and Sharon popped her head out the door to see if anyone had seen us and saw a man just staring at the tent. He did look relieved when she said hello. With our tent in a small alcove we could sit on the opposite side and have breakfast in peace. It did work but wasn’t long before anyone within earshot was stood around to watch us pack up and leave.
We joined the road and enjoyed a great decent before it levelled off and continued to undulate until the last long climb to the town of Sodo. The people were nice and the sun was out and we slowly started to climb the long hill into the city. However it wasn’t long before the first stones started to fly.
Sugarcane in the background, the kids wanted to be in the photo too!
As we reached the city we stopped for a drink and enjoyed the peace. We rode on and stopped for lunch at a café deciding not to cook as it was too tiring as we rarely were able to eat in peace. We made our way through the city and were now at 2,100 metres and could enjoy a nice long decent which continued to gently drop over the next 20 miles. We could see a lake in the distance and mountains to the right and the views were stunning. We entered a National Park and immediately saw a family of Baboons. We watched them for a while fascinated.
Happy to see downhill!
The National Park
Baboons – our welcoming committee
Unloading a bus
Our mood didn’t stay good for long as the hassle got more intense. We could keep a good pace as the road was flat which helped, until we reach the first large town. The road was a dirt track and with our speed down to a few miles an hour, the kids could keep up.
Tim joining local traffic – as the hassle increased
There was easily about 50 of them, all trying to grab stuff from our bikes, throwing stones and cracking whips. It was pretty horrendous. We stopped several times to ask the adults to stop them but there was so many, we were all helpless. We were close to the edge of the town when one hit Sharon on the head. It was the last straw. We stopped and tried explaining our thoughts to the adults but they just smiled and shrugged their shoulders. It was like riding through wild animals.
We finally reached the other side and with it the Tarmac returned. We rode out of the town to find a safe place to camp when we saw some farmers. We asked if we could sleep in the field and they pointed back to the town. We explained why we didn’t want to go back and they looked shocked. We continued on into the fading light and spotted a side-track. We headed off into the fields to find a flat spot away from the people. We set up camp only to find loads of large ants. We just hoped they would leave us in peace.
Friday 15th March
With the humidity rising we hoped it would rain enough in the night to cool us down but not enough to soak the field we were camped in as it would turn everything into a mud bath. It did rain but dried before we woke. With the trauma of the day before it was hard to be in a good mood. It wasn’t long before we were spotted but the first group were older farmers who walked on past just looking at us with curious eyes. They were off to plough the fields with Oxen and wooden ploughs with one furrow. The second were a group of 5 boys between 7 and 15 years, two of which held machetes – this was a familiar sight in this farming area. They were sweet and just sat while we ate our breakfast. We packed the tent with the wide eyes looking at us to see how we could fit a large tent in a small bag. We made our way back to the road with the sun slowly rising and amazing colours on the hills.
Our camp at dawn
Ploughing the hard way
We weren’t looking forward to the next large town knowing what a nightmare the day before had been. We descended into the town to have a totally different experience. People were nice and only a few kids ran alongside us and were generally polite. We stopped at a coffee stall under a tree at the side of the road and enjoyed a crispy pasty with beans inside and it wasn’t long before the bottle of HP sauce came out the food bag – another donation from Gina. Soon everyone was trying it with positive reactions.
We rode on and as the day heated up towards the low 40’s we were nearing the lake. With crispy pasties in our bag for lunch we rode on alongside the lake looking for a quiet spot – when there are people everywhere it’s much harder than you’d think. As we rounded a corner, we spotted a grassy spot next to the lake with no one there. We quickly rode down the steep bank and hid in a corner and it wasn’t long before the kettle had boiled and the beans were being served with our crispy pasties, fried onions and HP sauce. With good food and being next to the water, we were in heaven. As we ate two fishermen arrived and started fishing. To our surprise, we remained unseen for nearly 10 minutes before they saw us. We had a chuckle to ourselves and sat watching them fish in a crocodile infested lake with surprising results.
We waved goodbye and continued along the ever worsening road to Arab Minch. It climbed gradually and on the way we passed vultures eating a dik dik which is a small antelope. Dik dik’s live in the bushlands of East and Southern Africa and are named for the alarm calls of the females – they make a shrill noise to alert the others of danger.
Vultures eating a dik dik
A vulture in flight
After a few twists and turns we finally arrived along a boulevard of vivid red trees that were fertilised by human urine. They did look nice but wouldn’t work on ‘smell a vision’.
Another Olympic runner in the making
Stunning colours on the way into Arba Minch
Just before we arrived in the town we had to cross a river and the bridge was being worked on.
We started climbing up into the town and checked where the hotel was that had been recommended to us. It was a busy town with a nice feel and not too much hassle. We started the long steep climb to the top, stopping for a coke on the way up and after ½ hour we found the Beke Mola hotel. They wanted 200 birr to camp and 450 birr for a room (£8 /£20) which considering how cheap everything else was in comparison, we considered this to be expensive. With no movement on price and after a while looking around we found a nicer place to camp called the Swansea hotel for 150 birr and a stunning view of the 2 lakes and the Rift Valley. With four resident wart hogs what else would one need? With the tent up we enjoyed a well-earned beer and an evening meal in the restaurant.
A good view and a cold Ethiopian beer called ‘Saint George’
Saturday 16th March
The rain came down in the night and started to fill the porch with water. We decided to run for cover in the comfort of the restaurant to eat breakfast. As we sat eating toast and marmalade a baboon walked lazily past. The sun soon came out and quickly dried everything and it turned out to be a nice day. We spent the day washing clothes and relaxing in a beautiful setting.
Our resting place
Camp on the left, restaurant on right
Sunday 17th March
We caught a bus into town to buy supplies and use the internet. We got chatting to a local girl called Helen who invited us back to her house. She made us fresh coffee which took well over an hour but was well worth it. Helen was a hair dresser and Sharon asked her to cut her fringe. She commented on how difficult it was to cut foreigners hair and Sharon left with a slightly wonky fringe!
We spent the rest of the day watching a movie and cooking dinner while watching the other guests enjoy theirs in the restaurant. We didn’t mind however as we had picked up a bottle of wine which Tim had chilled in cold water and watched the stars which were as amazing as always.
One of the 4 resident wart-hogs
Another one of the residents
We slept well and looked forward to moving on south the following day. We were about 7 days ride from the Kenyan border.
Thanks for reading!