When people think of Ethiopia, images of famine, poverty and drought often pop into mind. The last place on earth that one would think of cycling through would be the mountainous country in Eastern Africa. Yet, it is exactly here that my husband and I decided to cycle through as a part of the worlds longest bike race, The Tour d’Afrique is a 12,000 cycling journey from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town South Africa.
I think that the general feeling is that we won’t cycle through Ethiopia again. Ever. The children are little terrors that make cycling a miserable experience. You are on your bike for 5 hours a day constantly on the lookout for rocks being thrown, sticks being pushed and whips being cracked. All the while having gangs of children lining the roads yelling give me money, give me pen, where are you going and of course the infamous You, You, You.
It is too bad, because the landscape is beautiful. However, it is the landscape that is killing us. We are here in Ethiopia for 21 days with and altitude gain of 19,000 m (yes, 19,000 metres) Not only are the climbs epic, the roads are terrible and sometimes non-existent. We cycle over corrugated roads that shake our bodies like we have been put in a washing machine on spin cycle. At the end of the day, our muscles continue to twitch from the constant pounding that they faced on the rocky roads. Dust spews up into our faces from trucks passing by on the unpaved roads, and the heat can be unbearable. Sometimes mounds of rocks pile up in the middle of the road and we have to get off our bikes and carry them over the unstable masses.
Everyday we climb relentlessly with a constant crowd of children running along beside us grabbing at our Camelbacks and bike bags. We have run into children jumping out in front of us, handfuls of gravel have been thrown in our faces and one person even tried to hack at my ankles with a machete.
The scenery however is beautiful and sometimes after a long climb we can have some epic descents. One day we had a 20km descent on a paved road right into camp. We stayed in the town of Debra Markos and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon overlooking an incredible gorge from the terrace of a German hotel.
Our toughest, but most fulfilling climb was the Blue Nile Gorge. It started with a 22km downhill on rough roads after riding 60km in the morning just to get there. Once we reached the bottom, we started another 22km climb up the other side with steep grades of 10-12 percent. And to make it more interesting, they turned it into a time trial. Woo hoo! It was quite the accomplishment reaching the top in under 3 hours. Dave did it in 2:30 and I did it in 2:45. It made the little Scenic Caves Route in Ontario seem like a speed bump.
The gorge itself is stunning! Too bad they don’t allow photos due to security reasons. I guess you will just have to check it out on Google Earth.
I have to say that Ethiopia has really chewed us up and spit us out. Most people have suffered from diarrhea and vomiting.
Ethiopia is a wonderful country that I really do think that people should visit, I just don’t think that anyone should ever ride a bike on the roads there. Take it from a crazy Canuck that barely survived it.