Losing Trust

Back on my own again, I finally reached Atbara, stock up and head for the 450km stretch of desert to Kassala, following in Ted Simons’s tire marks.

I fell a lot, hurt myself a bit, got lost in a sandstorm and fought against soft sand. But eventually made it, a hugely satisfying experience. It was with some reluctance that I rode to Ethiopia, such were the good times in Sudan.

You can read a big story about the desert crossing in an additional post below this one, but it is too long for the blog really, so just if you want to read it and have time.

Reaching Ethiopia I really considered myself “in Africa”, sunburnt grassy mountains, green trees and birdsong I could not explain. I rode to Gondar, expecting the worst – I’d read the stories of a stone throwing hateful people – was greeted with friendly faces and waves and, stopping at a water pump to stock up was greeted by a happy group of women and girls, fetching the household water, 20kg balanced on their head or strapped on their backs with rope, or whatever they could find, too much for a 10 year old girl I thought, but they seem happy. Perhaps Ethiopia will be OK?

I decided to ride to Axum, to ride through the Simien mountains. The road was even worse than that to Gondar and I quickly learnt that I was never alone in Ethiopia, and became a little tired of waving to everyone and shouts of “You! You! You!”, “Furangi” (white guy) and “Where you go?!”, but determined not to create a bad opinion of white people I made sure I was friendly at all times, and waved to everyone! I noticed as I went the looks change from smiling to scornful, people were tired, carried guns and I wondered if I should be in this area at all. Maybe I should have read the FCO’s advice a little more thoroughly?!

Struggling again to find a camp spot, for there are people EVERYWHERE in Ethiopia – one of my great and exasperating problems of the country – I set up in a patch of trees. Cooking my dinner I hear some voices, torch light and already a bit tired of no peace and quiet to myself choose to ignore them perhaps they will go away. I hear a noise much closr, a sliding of something on the forest floor, I look out, my bag is gone! I run out in to the dark night (no street lights here), shout to a man and run tohim, and in a frantic panic xplain “someone has taken my bag”! Another man arrives, I explain to him, he tells me “he went that way” I run back to the bike, jump on it and go to chase the thieving git…..then it dawns on me, how could he have understood what I was saying unless of course it was him! I race back across the field, they are gone, I shout racist obscenities into the pitch of night and consider my new found vunerability….I must leave! But not before my pasta. I returned to look for scattred remains the next day after what would always be uneasy sleep in Ethiopia, found nothing, spent hours talking to non-plussed police being sent from one station to the next, though I did not expect to find it, only a report to send to my insurance company, which I would not get. Luckily nothing of great value was taken, but for my camera, clothes, medicine, parts.

The Simien mountains were spectacular, though a bit chilly at 3000m with only my light trousers and motorcycle jacket. The road south was good, but I decided to head back west, to a point south of Gondar to view the Blue Nile falls, here I was hassled greatly, though it was a nice sight, ruined by the kids who would give up wanting to be my guide.

The glorious landscape continued, and was an unbelievable sight to behold at all times. I ride long hours though, trying to avoid onlookers, leaving early and stopping onlywhen dark, trying to avoid LED torches of people walking. There are almost no cars, people walk miles daily and return home late.

I stop at a water pump to stock up, it is broken. I go and get parts to fix it, maybe I can help this way rather than giving hand outs like those clearly have before me. I fix it eventually surrounded by a hundred pressing bodies and helping hands. I return to my bike to find my cycle computer and gloves stolen. Thanks guys. I consider undoing my work, but just ride on deeply saddened.

Someone steals some stickers and logos from the bike, and also my water bottle….is anything safe?!

I reach Addis Ababa the capital hoping to get a hotel, a wash and launder my only set of clothes which reak. I am bombarded by drug selling, money selling, map selling beggars at every turn, and decide to sod it and carry on dirty. I finda quiet place by the river (unbelievably) though it doesn’t last, boys run across a bridge, down the road and down a vertical face, 3-400m in total to see the white guy washing.

I have had to sneak about to try and find some peace, failing always and due to lack of sleep I must dip deep into my reserves of patience to be nice – though one day I fail and ask “Do you want something?” to which the annoying little boy replies “YOU! Where you go?!”

I have to camp near a village one night in a bad storm, with no rain clothes of course, now stolen. Boys come to watch as I put up the tent whilst it poors down on them. Later they come to thrown 5kg boulders at the tent and I spend an uneasy night listening to men outside talking whispering, holding my penknife drawn; my only means of defense, though soon sleep takes over.

A man invites me for injerra and I make a bit of a mess trying to eat with my hands, he invite some for tea and biscuits and walks me around the market. One of the nice people I have met in Ethiopia.

I had planned to visit Bale mountains to take a hike, but know this would be impossible, I don’t have the clothes for a start and after riding 50km of the 250km towards them on a bad road, annoyed that yet again my bananas were demolished by the bumps and I would be sucking up and mopping up the contents from the back box I decide in a miserable mood to turn around and head to Kenya, which makes me feel most happy.

Now at the border with Kenya I look back on Ethiopia with some mixed feelings, some unbelievably great moments, but at what cost?!