Addis Ababa to Meki 133km
Meki to Hawassa 144km
Hawassa to Dilla 86km
Rest day in Hawassa
Dilla to Garba (near Bule Hora, formerly Hagere Maryam) 93km
Garba to Yabelo 115km
Yabelo to Moyale 210km
781km from Addis Ababa to Moyale
14,294km since London
On paper it looks easy to leave Addis Ababa. It’s all downhill for 100km. So fast and simple right?
Wrong. The roadworks cut off the obvious route through the city and I had to navigate the backstreets and ask for directions and climb over two streams of sewage carrying Silver (and she’s quite heavy) before I got onto the road South. And then both lanes were filled with traffic, and mainly trucks and buses spilling noxious black clouds of exhaust fumes into the air and into my lungs. I was forced to cycle on the dirt by the side of the road to get around the jam, but nothing I did could help me avoid the exhaust fumes. After three hours of smelling, tasting and inhaling black fumes, my throat felt awful and i had a headache. I stopped at a cafe to get a coke and some clean air.
I reached Mojo (yes I found my mojo) where I turned South and the traffic disappeared to my relief. The road all the way was covered in cracks which made it difficult, and at Meki I decided I had done enough. It was a small town but still had plenty of hotels so chigorilum (no problem). I could rest and start early.
Meki to Hawassa 140km
In the morning the road started flat and it was easy for around 80km. Then it climbed from 1500m altitude up to 2000m which was hard but enjoyable. On the way I met an English motorcyclist and a South African overlander (what we call people traveling by car or caravan)
I stopped in Sheshamene on the way and went to a Rastafarian church. Oh man, I suppose it’s no different to any other religion for making stuff up and calling it a religion but I had to hold myself back from saying something offensive. Basically Rastas believe that Haile Selassie was the second coming, the lion of Judas, the king of kings.
I stared at a drawing of Haile Selassie with long hair.
“But Haile Selassie never had long hair” “Not when he was king because he had official business but in its natural state and in heaven it is long” was the answer from Judas, the proud rasta church guide.
“OK”, I thought, “so is mine in its natural state if I don’t cut it for years, but nobody ever drew a picture of me with long hair and proclaimed me as the second coming”.
Anyway, the photos of Haile’s fat ugly wife or his gormless looking offspring did nothing to convince me that she was also a goddess and his kids were part of a triumvirate of holiness but what could I say to this guy? “Excuse me large rasta man this sounds like total bullshit?” I paid him 50 birr (2€) for my tour (for €100 I would have received a certificate to keep as evidence of my gullibility)
I still like Rastas. They are chilled out, they smoke weed and the music is great. But if Haile Selassie gave the land of Sheshamene to the black people as a gift for their fighting in the war, I must point out that they have not really made the effort to do much more than get stoned and grow their hair long. I’m not aware that Emperor Haile ever did either of those.
Anyway back to the cycling. From Sheshamene to Hawassa, the road is perfect and descends gradually and i flew along past hundreds of donkeys and carts piled high with wood. I reached Hawassa, and I found a beer and a new friend, and I also found Hawassa to be so nice I stayed an extra day to visit the lake. I lay on the grass surrounded by monkeys, storks, and a few goats.
Hawassa to Dilla 86km
What a tough day. It was roadworks all day. Quite horrible. I did have a very nice lunch though at a local’s cafe where I was the entertainment for a group of kids and I was well looked after at a hotel just as you enter Dilla. There was even wifi so I was able to talk to my girlfriend.
Dilla to Garba 93km
I wanted to cycle 108km to hagare Maryam but this was a horrible journey. The morning was a long climb. The afternoon was a very long climb. When I eventually hit a descent there was a climb at the end, and the dips and climbs just repeated over and over again. And all the descents were ruined by potholes all over the road. So I never at any point found a rhythm or actually cycled as I know I can. I had 15 km left and the light failed so I stayed in the only place in a small town called Garba with no shower, just a tap outside in a dark corner, a gross toilet, (a man was squatting with the door open before me who kindly said “I’ve finished” so I knew I had the pleasure of being able to use it). And there were definitely bed bugs, so I slept on the floor. The good thing about the day, was I met some lovely Ethiopians who paid for my Buna in the morning, a delightful French couple who chatted with me over lunch, and a very friendly man who helped me find the ‘hotel’ and bought me a drink and a cake (which was all there was for dinner). In stark contrast, the road was lined with annoying people. Every child I passed (and there were hundreds) screamed and shouted “you you you ferengi, where do you go?” and ran next to me demanding money or a pen. And they just didn’t stop screaming “you you you” next to me even when I shouted at them. The adults were just as bad, shouting “you, where do you go”? And expecting an answer every time or they would shout again, even louder. 10 hours of this constant noise while trying to climb hills or navigate potholes would drive a saint insane.
Garba to Yabelo 115km
The next morning I was far less grumpy but the roadworks continued and made the going slow. After 15km I arrived at the plush looking Bule Hora hotel where I should have stayed the night before. I filled up with coffees and omelette and chatted a little with the staff. And then the road improved. There were large parts of road that had actually been finished. And I started to see all kinds of birds and wildlife. At one point two Colobus monkeys walked across the road in front of me. Amazing. Buzzards were in the road picking apart some roadkill and I saw all types of small shiny blue birds and toucans. But it is the ants that make the most common sight here, anthills as tall as the trees. And they are everywhere. I can’t understand why they build them so high, it’s almost as if they are showing off!!
Before arriving in Yabelo, I had another stretch of unpaved road, but this time it had been raining and the road was a sloppy clay pit. I had to stop as Silver couldn’t move with all the clay blocking the mudguards. In Yabelo, there are hotels at the crossroads. As there was no electricity, I opted for the less overpriced hotel and had a cold shower before having dinner at the more expensive hotel where I told the French tourists and the bird watching tour about my trip.
213km Yabelo to Moyale
The road was like a dream in the morning, even though it had been raining. At 26km I hit roadworks but this time I could see there was Tarmac but they had blocked small sections to put in storm drains. So I tried to just go around the blockades. Unfortunately the rain meant that again, Silver was completely full of sticky clay mud and she just wouldn’t budge. I had to take her apart this time to scrape it off with my hands. The rest of the day Silver felt very slow and I was sure that lumps of mud inside the rear mudguard were slowing me down. I had been told the route was perfect but the roadworks and many patches with potholes. There were still many hills to climb and it was nowhere near as easy as I had hoped. I saw many camels, and more birds, including toucans like Zazu from the Lion king. But the moment that made it all worth it was the baboons. Real, wild baboons running to get out of my way in the road, sitting in the trees, or playing with each other near the road. Wonderful. And the people were also not so annoying, they were somehow more primitive and simple. They mostly smiled and waved. They also have some amazingly colorful clothes despite their poverty.
The tough terrain left me short of Moyale by nightfall but there was no decent place to stay in between so I pressed on for 2 hours in the dark. I had no problems until I reached Moyale. It was in full party mode with bars playing loud music, but there didn’t seem to be a nice hotel anywhere. When I asked, even the grotty hotels were full and the only place I could find was disgusting. I showered with a bucket next to a toilet with waste all over the ground. And the guy at the hotel took me over the road for food but all they had was cold injera. I tried to eat but I kept getting pestered. A girl even came and sat on my lap. I asked her to go away and carried on eating. But I finally lost it when a drunk guy leant over and asked me my name. I said I was eating, come and talk to me in 5 minutes, but he wouldn’t go away. I stood up and left. They had to bring the food to my hotel. The guy from my hotel begged me to go back but I didn’t want to eat around prostitutes and drunk guys. I paid but I went to bed hungry.
So what can I say? Ethiopia is still a delight apart from the roads, the accommodation, and some of the people. In 3 years, the roads will be fixed, but the only way to avoid the other two problems is to go by private 4×4 cars.
It is a shame because much of Ethiopia is a delight and most of the people are simply wonderful and the overattentive nature is mostly curiosity. Ethiopia is like a hundred countries in one with landscapes and wildlife to treasure. But the hills and the people make it an exhausting place to be on a bicycle.
Anyway it is very satisfying to have crossed Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. These countries had filled me with fear that they were too dangerous or too difficult. And yes, they are difficult, testing and they often wear your patience out. But they are safe, and warm and friendly, possibly even too friendly at times.
I feel proud that I have challenged and overcome my fears and misconceptions and lucky to have experienced some of the most wonderful countries in the world.