Over the mountains and through the hills, Gondar to Axum, Ethiopia

WOW! The views on this section have been stunning! There was three days of riding, but I only did a day and a half. I did the first half of the first day and started to feel bad again, and then felt good that evening, woke up, felt good, ate, and crashed back into sickness. The third day I finally felt strong again and rode the whole amazing day! Anyways, here’s some stuff that happened!

Day 1 started off so well! A great downhill from the hotel through the rest of town, and into a nice gradual uphill (that would eventually surpass 1000m of climbing even before I quit at lunch!). Around 35k or so, though, my stomach issues came back with a passion and cramping and terribleness ensued!

Birgit had tire issues early in the morning (her Mustang rims have been hell on this trip post-Sudan; same rims have provided problems for 2 other riders as well)… So with this 30 minute delay, by the time I had the stomach issues, the sweep was upon us. We stopped for a coke stop (I asked for a toilet here and was led through some slummy houses to an unmarked steel door which had a hole in the ground inside, and smelled terrible. I’m pretty sure this was surrounded by local houses. An experience, for sure!) and I had some more Buscopan which definitely helped, but it was a long ass ride from there to lunch at 68k where I decided to call it quits.  Anyways, beautiful scenery, and a lot of asshole children. One group was throwing boulder sized rocks off a cliff at the sweep as he went by, I think they were only throwing regular sized rocks at us lots of young people and kids try and push you or pull you off the bike too, and or throw or swing sticks! Lovely place.

We took some pictures at this lookout and there was a small group of tourists there too with a private land cruiser and guide and the guide is keeping the kids away while they were enjoying the lookout but then they go to leave and the stupid Western woman in the car rolls down the windshield and dumps out pens and candy and shit.. no wonder every child in this country sucks! lol. Ok probably not every child, but this kind of behaviour really does not make anything easy for us! We can’t just roll up the windshield and drive through, and instead get rocks thrown at us  or sticks swung or the like when we don’t give them stuff. :-(

At lunch we arrived to a cordoned off lunch truck, supposedly keeping the masses at bay, of which there are crazy amounts basically everywhere we stop for more than a few seconds. Kam’s backpack was well within the cordoned off area but was briefly unattended and got stolen! His passport was originally thought to may be in there (but days later spoiler: he had it in the truck like he was supposed to, phew!) along with $100 USD and 1000 Birr (another $50). His camera too.. and the backpack itself, clearly. He and Randy and one of our local staff went to the next town and got the police (who didn’t have a car so we brought them back in one of the trucks) and they interviewed a bunch of the kids, many aggressively.. Then took a bunch of kids back to town for more? Something, anyways. It seems the kids identified the thief, and a few days later we found out they found them (2 of them), and the backpack and all the contents. Good news, right? Kind of! Kam had to go back to get them on a local bus with one of our local guys, and he has to press charges to get it back. Clearly the kids deserve punishment, but we all kind of worry about the level of punishment they’ll receive. In Sudan it would’ve been some hand cutting-off, it won’t be the same here, but it’ll be hell for these two for such a dumb decision. It’s hard, because on one side, you hate almost all the children here, but on the other, they’re dumb kids, they probably don’t deserve to have their life ruined so Kam can get his stuff back. Alas, third world judicial systems. :(

After lunch we took the truck and eventually stopped again in a town for a coke stop where the truck was immediately surrounded by about 100 begging people, harassing us, trying to open the door, etc etc. Birgit and one of the new riders, Kim, went down the road for coffee before all this started and we had to hold down the fort til they got back. Bina was overwhelmed with attention, being a small attractive blonde female, and had to retreat to the truck. Eventually the crowd found the water taps and suddenly like 8 people were lined up with water cans! What a crazy place this is. There’s good people here and there but we are all kinds of souring on the Ethiopian countryside so far! Very beautiful and never boring, but bordering on dangerous… or at least uncomfortableness!

The last 19km into camp was all offroad downhill, with litterally 100s of metres of drop just off the edge. So pretty though! Everywhere you look, amazingly pretty mountains. Love the views, and it’s definitely far from the boredom of Sudan! If only I could get better and ride more!

The top story of the day was that German David got a dead bird thrown at him in the morning! Always an adventure!

Dinner was a great beef stew! I’m pretty sure this was one of my first classic stews. We had a spanish stew before, but the ‘sauce’ was mashed potatoes. This was more real. I had lots and lots of beef. Need to get my weight and protein intake back up!

Day 2 opened up well for me, but immediately turned to terrible after some food, so despite being dressed to ride, I threw my bike up on the truck and got on for the worst ride of my life. We started with 3 people in the dinner truck but had grown to 10 by the time we hit lunch, which we didn’t get to until almost 5 hours later. Lunch was at 50-something, I think. That’s right, the truck was averaging around 10 km/h. The whole day took 7 hours, and we were crammed in there like sardines. People that started at lunch (at noon, because that’s how long it took the lunch truck to get there too) wanted a pickup as well, but we were full. The day turned out to be the hardest of the tour yet, according to pretty much everyone that rode part of it. Birgit and Leah were troopers and finished in 11 hours, 1 hour under the max if you’re racing (you get 12 hours for sitting in the truck), and right on the verge of being picked up due to sunset. AMAZING WORK, guys! And everyone else that rode part of the day. It was killer hot and terrible, I can’t even imagine how bad my too-skinny tires would’ve performed, though with the alternative being those 7 hours on the truck, I’d’ve given anything to have been able to try! I think the total climb was over 2000m, all of it was dirt and rock, and it was definitely another day for the mountain bikers, though Dave W won the day without shocks and actually verged on beating the Hilux (Toyota Pickup) to the finish line. Almost 2 hours before the dinner truck made it there. I guess we know who fast David is now? ;) — German David is going to hate this.

So, top things I learned on this day: If you’re going to ride in the truck, have a book (thank god that Cam (Trout) lent me a book the night before, a really great one called Thinking, Fast and Slow — Great book so far, can’t recommend it enough), and if you don’t have to ride in the truck, don’t f’in ride in the truck. It sucks! Riding is much better, even if you’re weak and the sun is strong. ;)

Stories from the truck: It’s basically impossible to be bored here, hardly a moment without yelling or screaming at the least. We just stopped in a village for a few minutes and basically that entire time was filled with shouts of “you you you you you” and “money money” or “you pay”.

Also weird, just after the town, upstream of where the river goes through town, which I assume provides some drinking water to the people, others are bathing in the same river.. Good stuff! :(

The day ended at a soccer field which was our camp for the night. Lots of coke and beer was had by the riders (most people are loving the fact that beer is now back on the menu in Ethiopia vs Sudan (which is a dry country – Islam!), and I set up Birgit’s tent and sleeping cot for her, before I ever thought it would take her past 6pm to get there! I have a great picture I’ll post below of how dirty she was when she came in… What a trooper! Happily I was feeling really good at this point, and was inducing some positive thinking to feeling better for the morning, which worked out! I ride the next day, weee!

Dinner was pasta, sigh. I ate a lot of nuts instead and the salad was pretty great, lots of carrots, pineapple, maybe raisins? I forget now. Gotta get better at taking notes!

All hail the finishers of the day!

Day 3 saw me back on the bike again, hooray! 128km of dirt and pavement, though all the dirt came in the first 20km, the entire downhill (god damn is it hard to gooffroading downhill with roadie brakes! My hands were killing me trying to grip. It’s a bit better in the drop bars, but then you’ve got your weight further forward… And without suspension, no matter which way you do it, your arms are dying! :)

The climb back up the other side of the valley (aforementioned to be probably 600-700 metres) was a great workout, I felt so good to be back in the saddle, and I stormed up, breaking a few times for photos and pictures of Birgit as she caught up from behind (she was well-deservedly exhausted after her 11 hours of hell the day before!). We found the first coke stop at 22km and had the best Texas-sized donuts ever (well, it was just some fried bread, and no toppings, but it was a nice surprise) and some cokes. Locals got a little crazy near the end and were surrounding us after everyone else left, so we motored on. The next 20 km flew by as I related experiments mentioned in my new book to Birgit, keeping our minds off the kms. She set her odometer to time-mode so she couldn’t see how far we were going and mine had been forgotten in the truck, so we were blind to the miles, and perhaps this is a better way of doing it!

We caught up to Leah after a second coke stop as she was changing a tire and joined forces for the rest of the day. Another coke and fresh juice stop in the next town, just before lunch, and the day was really looking good! After that first hill it was really back to Sudan-level hills, just with much more to look at. The people were nice to us this day too for the most part, though Leah got pushed off her bike by 3 girls, wtf? Just where do these kids learn that this is acceptable?

Lunch was fruit heavy for me, and we went on, doing a couple more climbs, though non as significant as the morning, perhaps something like the Cochrane Hill, if people know the Calgary area. This provided many awesome downhill moments too though, and being paved, it was going much better for me! I drafted behind a bus and then a truck on two different downhill sections and ended up having a conversation in the middle of the highway with the truck driver. He’d heard of the tour before and wondered if we needed drivers! lol… Was a pretty unique moment, I think. He was on his way to Adwa (spelling?) which I think we go to in a few days. We were booking it down that hill, too. I had a nice area of no wind behind him and he was well aware I was there, having fun with it as well!

Anyways, a few more hills later and we arrive in Axum! Chris D and the sweep, Hannah somehow missed Axum entirely and ended up in a town 20km further down the road and up another hill! They had to turn around and find their way back, arriving after dark at 7:30pm or so. I think they’re having troubles with the sat phones, otherwise this should’ve been solved with a ride in the truck, not another 20km of cycling back to town.

The restaurant here at the hotel we’re camping at (we really know how to bring down the number of stars a fancy hotel is worth) was ridiculously slow last night, 2 hours to get my beef, and I was nearly passing out of starvation (I am aware of the issues with making this statement in Ethiopia, but I do not care! I *was* starving. And these people do not need handouts, they have an amazing country out there, what they need is contraceptive education (6 children per woman is unsustainable), and perhaps a hand with farming techniques, but so far the land looks very arable, and the last thing they need is hand outs from Westerners!).

Today I walked around town a little bit, buying supplies and being harrassed to come into shops or pay kids for nothing, quite enjoyable. I missed out on the tourist activities this morning, but the best of them, some local church, was closed for a 3 hour lunch when the group got there anyways. The rest was rubble and some sites I walked by already. Oh well, too much to do and really not feeling the vibe of the town here! I’ll go back later for more supplies and food though. ;) Also, I bought some postcards! Shit. Forgot about writing those. Perhaps I’ll write them between here and Lalibella and send them from there. Need something to do at night without internet… That, and my book, of course. Wee!

One more Ethiopian weirdness I was just reminded of by Chris D on Facebook: “Fun facts from Ethiopia. Here, the year is 2006. They were late getting the news that Christ had been crucified. Also, although my watch reads five to one in the afternoon, here it’s really five to seven. Sunrise is zero o’clock, lunch is at 6 and dinners at 12.” this was so confusing the other day when it was 12:30pm and I was trying to find some stuff in Gondar and everyone kept telling me to come back at 8 o’clock! It was driving me nuts… “8? There’s no way this government office is going to be open at 8 at night! wtf is going on?!”… Then finally someone showed me his watch, which by this time said it was 7:20 or so… Or 1:20pm (13:20) to the rest of the world. Crazy!

Oh yeah, and in Axum last night, around midnight saw the beginning of some sort of late night (all night, it was still going when I woke up at 7 or so) chanting session over loudspeakers. I have no idea what it was about, but I think I hear it again now! What the what?

A reminder that there’s more pictures and some commentary on my instagram, ohsnap365, and twitter!

Picture time!! Mine first and then Birgit’s! Usually they’re mixed together but I couldn’t find her today. Her’s are probably better in a number of ways (especially since I was sick), so make sure you scroll down at least 30 photos to see her 26! :D

Mountains! So pretty, omg! Definitelyh not Sudan anymore!
Mountains! So pretty, omg! Definitelyh not Sudan anymore!
Birgit taking photos at the lookout!
Birgit taking photos at the lookout!
Where Kam's backpack got stolen. So many kids! Surrounding us.
Where Kam’s backpack got stolen. So many kids! Surrounding us.
One of the police (not the detective asking questions though) is the guy second from left. You can make out the huge gun he's wearing. No car though, priorities!
One of the police (not the detective asking questions though) is the guy second from left. You can make out the huge gun he’s wearing. No car though, priorities!
Birgit and Bina in the lunch truck.
Birgit and Bina in the lunch truck.
Our drive on day 1 down to camp, the last 19k of unpaved.
Our drive on day 1 down to camp, the last 19k of unpaved.
Quite the little drop off!
Quite the little drop off!
We all got out and took some photos. The pictures don't do it justice!
We all got out and took some photos. The pictures don’t do it justice!
The next day, we cross water, wow! Not Sudan either, unless it was the Nile. haha.
The next day, we cross water, wow! Not Sudan either, unless it was the Nile. haha.
More river and green!
More river and green!
This smash of the dinner truck window happened on the drive up in December. It's really difficult and expensive to fix, so our driver Noah puts up with it for now (right hand drive).
This smash of the dinner truck window happened on the drive up in December. It’s really difficult and expensive to fix, so our driver Noah puts up with it for now (right hand drive).
Many ranges!
Many ranges!
You can kind of make out Young David and Irwin there on the switchback! TOUGH DAY!
You can kind of make out Young David and Irwin there on the switchback! TOUGH DAY!
I liked this little cluster!
I liked this little cluster!
The masses gathering at our finish line..
The masses gathering at our finish line..
German David finishes the day on skinny tires as new Steve finishes his day as well.
German David finishes the day on skinny tires as new Steve finishes his day as well.
The bathroom was situated in a pretty amazing location!
The bathroom was situated in a pretty amazing location!
Our camp was in a soccer field.
Our camp was in a soccer field.
That was outside of a school. Abandoned, it looked like?
That was outside of a school. Abandoned, it looked like?
Some neat stuff on the walls though!
Some neat stuff on the walls though!
I'm thinking the right wall there may have been a calendar?
I’m thinking the right wall there may have been a calendar?
The trucks at sunset at soccer camp.
The trucks at sunset at soccer camp.
Unloading some bikes from the trucks.
Unloading some bikes from the trucks.
Dirty dirty Birgit after her long 11 hour day!
Dirty dirty Birgit after her long 11 hour day!
They're ready to pave the left side here. Alex and Birgit coming up on the right.
They’re ready to pave the left side here. Alex and Birgit coming up on the right.
Birgit gets passed by the dinner truck on the way up the paved switchback on day 3. Love this photo!
Birgit gets passed by the dinner truck on the way up the paved switchback on day 3. Love this photo!
You can make out our downhill path on the far side of the valley. Taken from the almost-top of the paved side.
You can make out our downhill path on the far side of the valley. Taken from the almost-top of the paved side.
Chris D decides to bike after lunch! Sadly him and Hannah got lost and did an extra 40k (20k each way) past Axum, omg!
Chris D decides to bike after lunch! Sadly him and Hannah got lost and did an extra 40k (20k each way) past Axum, omg!
Leah entertains some nicer children on one of our coke stops. Great to interact with non-begging children for once!
Leah entertains some nicer children on one of our coke stops. Great to interact with non-begging children for once!
Some guys change a Tuk-Tuk tire in Axum today. Just lift it up and change it, yo!
Some guys change a Tuk-Tuk tire in Axum today. Just lift it up and change it, yo!
Jennilea took this photo the last night in Gondar... Pretty sweet sunset photo, nice work Jennilea!
Jennilea took this photo the last night in Gondar… Pretty sweet sunset photo, nice work Jennilea!
At the scenic outlook where the Western lady threw stuff at the children. Awesome view though, nice posing, Birgit!
At the scenic outlook where the Western lady threw stuff at the children. Awesome view though, nice posing, Birgit!
Me! Picturesque location!
Me! Picturesque location!
Randy sweeps us up...
Randy sweeps us up…
Birgit took some photos at the town while we were coke stopping. It was a market day.
Birgit took some photos at the town while we were coke stopping. It was a market day.
Pretty sure this was at a lunch stop. Adults are usually pretty reliable at keeping away the children.
Pretty sure this was at a lunch stop. Adults are usually pretty reliable at keeping away the children.
Birgit and Steven, the lunch truck driver from Tanzania.
Birgit and Steven, the lunch truck driver from Tanzania.
Birgit's bike as she rests along the river.
Birgit’s bike as she rests along the river.
Kam killing it on one of the hills of the hardest day of the tour! Pier walking a bit in the background.
Kam killing it on one of the hills of the hardest day of the tour! Pier walking a bit in the background.
Both of Birgit's tires popped after this picture was taken. The plague of the tires and rims, lol.
Both of Birgit’s tires popped after this picture was taken. The plague of the tires and rims, lol.
Kam poses! Nice work, Kam! I assume this is at or near the top of a huge climb. ;) I really need Birgit to be captioning some of these.
Kam poses! Nice work, Kam! I assume this is at or near the top of a huge climb. ;) I really need Birgit to be captioning some of these.
Taking a coke stop. Children like always!
Taking a coke stop. Children like always!
Some more of the Simian Mountains. Amazeballs.
Some more of the Simian Mountains. Amazeballs.
Part of the road we climbed on Day 3 of this section (me too!) You can see the road we descended in the background there!
Part of the road we climbed on Day 3 of this section (me too!) You can see the road we descended in the background there!
New Rider Steve from Vancouver enjoys a donut type thing at our first coke stop of the day.
New Rider Steve from Vancouver enjoys a donut type thing at our first coke stop of the day.
And I enjoy my coke! Note my sunglasses have changed, I accidentally broke my other ones while setting up Birgit's cot the night before. I hope I can bend them back to health eventually.
And I enjoy my coke! Note my sunglasses have changed, I accidentally broke my other ones while setting up Birgit’s cot the night before. I hope I can bend them back to health eventually.
The first climb wiped Birgit out. Her at our first coke stop, surrounded by everyone of course!
The first climb wiped Birgit out. Her at our first coke stop, surrounded by everyone of course!
The kid selling the donut things.
The kid selling the donut things.
Leah and I at a coke/juice stop!
Leah and I at a coke/juice stop!
Pretty sure these juices are from Axum, in the morning today when Birgit made it out for breakfast!
Pretty sure these juices are from Axum, in the morning today when Birgit made it out for breakfast!
Dave G (German David) posing with the fallen over Obelisk... Apparently it was not amazing. 400 years and they still haven't stood it up again.
Dave G (German David) posing with the fallen over Obelisk… Apparently it was not amazing. 400 years and they still haven’t stood it up again.
Birgit in a doorway to the "wine cellar"?
Birgit in a doorway to the “wine cellar”?
The obelisk.
The obelisk.
I just liked the colours here!
I just liked the colours here!
I missed out on these donuts in the morning when they were fresh and they wanted far too many Birr in the evening for the crappy stale ones that were left!
I missed out on these donuts in the morning when they were fresh and they wanted far too many Birr in the evening for the crappy stale ones that were left!
Tuk Tuk lane!
Tuk Tuk lane!

4 thoughts on “Over the mountains and through the hills, Gondar to Axum, Ethiopia

  1. Exciting post!!!! Yup glad your keeping healthy now and spending time on the bike. One thing I would recommend is drink lots of coke and stay away from water. I am Indian and I dont even drink water when I go to India unless I am served water at home. :-o

    Keep rocking! You are doing awesome!

    Cheers,
    Vip

  2. Great update … hope David survived the bird throwing … now that’s really the next level … :-) Sad to hear … All in all sounds not like a very enjoyable trip (but looking back it will be an adventure to remember). Keep it up … you will definitely have some readers here in Australia (as David is too lazy with his blog updates … hehe).

  3. I’m enjoying the honest commentary of how it’s like with the kids & actual conditions in Africa so far. Keep up the good work with the updates – they are inspiring me to get prep’d for bike season! I think I’m going to join Spin Sisters this year for mountain biking, perhaps get into racing.

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