A Travellerspoint blog

Meltdown Madness

climbs, climbs and more climbs!

sunny 35 °C

We are now in the middle of Ethiopia and as promised some more details on this country.

First of all the border between Soudan and Ethiopia:

I can only described it as a mad place! A mixture of military presence, with shifty people that would take your wallet away from you in a flash, as well as the kids selling klinex and gums AND then one get to the official business of visas - well to get to the visa office, we had to go through a fence and an unfinished house and then get to a precarious little building where three people look at yr passport, shuffle papers to write in, and god knows what else - for some of us the process took 2 hours and more BUT in the mean time - riders were drank beers sitting outside - what a contrast - and believe me there were a lot of beer since riders had been deprived of that precious substance for all the days we were in Sudan! A lot of catching up to do. AND THEN we got to camp - which believe it or not was an old "abatoire" (slauther house for animals). Really imagine the worst and you will be close to reality. Just to illustrate: I had half a cow leg beside my tent, and saw two snakes as I went to pee in the bush! But hey this was just for one night and then the sun rose the next day and I was fine and happy!

Cities crossed so far:

Some of you said they would like to follow trip with cities - so we entered Ethiopia through Gederaf (I think) and then we went on through Gonder, Bahir Dar, Debre Markos, Fiche and now Addis Ababa.

In the previous entry I wrote about the pastoral lands: Cows, horses, sheeps, rolling hills (actually often much more than rolling hills with daily elevation - climbing up to 800 meters some days!). Passed Bahir Dar we were rolling among forests of eucalyptus, as well as flower trees - lilas, etc. The smells were so vivid!

We did climb the Blue Nile Gorge - and I did it : 22 km of climb - actually - 1400 meters descend (45 minutes) and then the ascend of 1400 meters (we must be crazy - (by the way we had done 50km in the morning to get to the Gorge - total climb for that day was 1900 meters and I did it all! Result: I had to stop 8 times that day for diarah but still managed to climb and felt pretty good when I reached the top. The Blue Nile Gorge is like canyons amplified by 10! BEAUTIFUL. Go and look at the pictures on the TDA website! Funny sceneries: Sheeps in a truck all piled up - no wonder the meat is so hard here, two little boys going down in a soap box- scary.

The rest of the days have been on pavement with again "rolling hills" - this is what TDA staff says when we start the morning - but by the end of the day many of us agree that these are not rolling hills - rather climbs!!! We climb and climb but it is so much worth it.

The people we are crossing:

The woman are still doing the traditional tasks - it is very common to see old women with HUGE stacks of wood accross their shoulders walking long hours- or younger women with jars made of clay full of water - these are being carrying on their back with a scarf accross the shoulder, there are also the women carrying very heavy bags of food and grains on their head. The men work in the fields, keep cattle together or some time seem to be doing nothing - sorry but that's the truth! And then the kids - I have already told you a lot about the kids - and some riders are getting quite frustrated with the kids. From my side, I try to remember that I am the one coming to their country with my expensive bike and clothes - and for all the children that throws rocks at you, ask for money and always repeat the same things (you, you, you, give me money, where are you coming from, where you go? what is yr name" - we must see more than 1000 kids per day along the road and in the fields), there are also those shy kids who only want to say hi and see a farenji (this is how they call foreigners)! These are the friendly smile and beautiful eyes that just make you forget about the rocks! I should also say that many time the adults will chase the kids with rocks and sticks so I guess the kids have learned it from somewhere! PLus, tourists are giving $$ to the kids - so then the kids expect all foreigners to give them something and this is a big part of why we get rocks!

Despite above, I still manage to stop at villages and along the roads to take pictures of people and try to exchange smiles and say "amasa ganallo" - not the right spelling but it mean "thank you"! So much magical moments! I hope the pictures will translate the beauty of these people!

Addis Ababa is not a bad city at all - but we are here on a Sunday so less people. Went to the ethno museum - on the University campus - I highly recommend! Bahir Dar - the previous town is also quite nice - as a feeling of a bohemain city with a little market that is quite fun.

[b What is Next[/b]?
We are leaving tomorrow for the south - 4 more days before Arba Minch which should be on bad pavement and then more more fun coming ahead. As of Addis Ababa, we are starting a new section called "Meltdown madness" - that is the end of Ethiopia and the crossing to Kenya - which will be on very bad roads (not paved) for 10 days or so - Hot, very hot, bad roads, gravel, big potholes, and more more more more climbs - we seem to be climbing to the sky only to go down and climb again! I asked for it and I am enjoying every single moments (almost ...) Hopefully I will be able to go through these off road days without riding the truck. This is really the most challenging section of the Tour (we are being told) - the South of Ethiopia is also where you find more than 100 tribes - We are on the main roads so I am not sure how much we will see of the different cultures but I hope! Will see . I have not yet try "chat" which is a mid "halucinogen" - I may try it during the Meltdown madness" section to keep me going :)

Hard to believe that we have done already 5 weeks - crossing part of Egypt, all Sudan and half of Ethiopia. Some of it as gone by very fast just trying to adapt to the "bike and tent routine" - I feel like I have still so much to learn and experience from these countries!

Food - Addis Ababa is heaven for pastries: Believe it or not - it is a little like Montreal - i.,e lots of cafes and terrace with bakery and pastries - except that there are more people than in Montreal ;) - I hate a lot of sweet today! Muim!!!!!!!

But I have also gone for Injera - traditonal Ethipian food which is a big sour batter with all kind of dishes on it - eg: vegetarian (lentils, vegetables, etc) or meat in sauce - you eat with your fingers with peace of the sour batter. I am not quite sure how to describe - but some of you know as we have Ethiopian restaurants in Montreal and Ottawa - If you have not try it then go for it - DELICIOUS AND a lot of fun to share with others - very social meal.

Claude: Yes I get your messages - and for all the others - thanks for the comments / messages on the blog or hotmail. It is fun to imagine you in the snow ;)

Sonia and Orimou who are getting a little fat again - while Fargo (my bike) is (I think) very happy to be rolling along! It is a great bike for this trip.

I must go to bed - it is 2020 - I am late - we usually go to bed by 1930 - read and sleep at 2030!!!!

Posted by soafrica 08:18 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)

In the land of the rocks and the craddle of humankind

Arriving in Ethiopia

sunny 45 °C

Je suis saine et sauve et toujours tres tres heureuse!!

Long time without writting but the internet connection in the last days have been so so bad - that it was hopeless to even try - for those of you who want a closer account - you can also go on the Tour D'Afrique website - they have equipment to keep daily updates and have photos!

I have lost the count of the last riding days - but overall impression - It has been the most cahllenging part so far!

WE had 3 long days with head wind when exiting Sudan. For the former TDC riders- I can only compare to the 150km rides we had in the Prairies with full headwind the whole day AND 43 celsius as of noon until 1730. The last day of these three days I was beging for mercy thinking am I crazy to do that or what? And then we had a coke stop just before camp and it was even - they had anyhing one could dream off: Cold apple juice, chocolate, chips, dates, etc: This was in Sudan and it was not an hallucination! I had 2 juice, 3 chocolate and 2 chips and some dates and then made it to camp to eat soup!!!!

Sudan is still my favourite country so far! The people and the sceneries have been so special and so far away from what we think off when listening to the news about Sudan!

And then we crossed the border to Ethiopia - It is a miracle that after 5 days of ridind in Ethiopia I am still in one piece: Yep the famous kids throwing rocks - this is true and ouch it hurts! But so far I manage and can say that there is more to Ethiopia than our fear of the rocks!

First there is the terrain: We had 2 days of climbing on pavement I cannot really describe: Imagine riding on a road that has rocks the side of my hand sticking out - it is like being shaken from all side and attemting to keep a balance on your bike while we climb 6% over maybe 10 km with days of 90 km and more.

I lost my EFI (every fabulous inch) and had to ride the truck on the second most difficult day of the tour - I was able to do 50km over 5.5 hours and my body said no more, my legs went on strike and my brain said wow! so I got on the truck.

The last few days have been on pavement and more easy so I managed to recover energy and I am ready to ride then next 5 days which contain the most difficult ride of the whole tour - the climb of the Gorge of Ethiopia - It is a day of 80 km with a limb of 22 km which takes in average 3 hours just to do the cvlimb so I might be out there very late that day - but will try my best. We will be at teh highst altitude of this trip

Seccond there is the sceneries: What a suprise: We are now in pastoral lanscape - green with cattles - also so different than the Ethiopia I expected.
It is truly beautiful and almost feel like it could b somewhere in the rural Quebec !

Third the people: Hard working people every where - the life here is very difficult - more than half of the population are children who are working in the fields or selling gum in the markets - They will be going to school for the elementary level but the access to secondary level is very very difficult!

I will write more on the life in Ethipia in our next rest day in 6 days

I miss you very much and many many thanks for the messages. As you can see I am tired but I promise to be more entertaining in the next blog.

I and Orimou are loosing weitght, a little tired but still happy and curious of discoveries!!!

Posted by soafrica 07:15 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (3)

Hot hot hot Sudan!

sunny 42 °C

We still have four more days in Sudan and this is good!

We arrived in Karthoum yesterday night - today was a rest day - Much needed. I went on an organized tour from an NGO that one of the riders is raising funds for. We visited a camp for "displaced" families from the South of Sudan and Darfour (other way to call them would be "refugees" but that could be politically incorrect...)

There were over 80 children signing songs and looking at us with curiosity. One could say that it was all "make good feeling" - but honestly I felt honored to be there and share that time with the kids. We distributed mosquitoes nets as there is an issue with Malaria right now. The NGO family were Christians and offered a total different perspective on Sudan - but yet the same great hospitality that keeps me so amazed!!

I got chance to speak a little politic with one of the local. No pretention on my part, the issues in Sudan are so complicated between the conflicts regarding religion, the conflict in the South over petroleum resources (and independency), the involvement of Chinese investment which is not always so well received by some of the Sudanese - in one of the village we crossed in the North there was a message on a wall saying - "China stop destroying Nubia!". In English and arabic. The NGO also took us around in Karthoum and we got a chance to see the place where the White Nile and the Blue Nile meet - I must confess that I did not see a difference between the two waters but the Lonely Planet says we should so I must be going blind from over exposure to the sun.

More seriously - Karthoum is a big African city - with garbage everywhere, crazy drivers in the city (we actually did a 2 hours convoy to ride the 30km on the day we entering Karthoum - the police was escorting us with their sirens - at first it looked a little over the top - but having now seen how they drive I am grateful!!.) We reached a "campground" that is really hard to decribe (not a paradise - rather desolate land but it still felt like home after a long hot day and WE HAD SHOWERS! - except that lucky as I am, I may have encountered the only "pervert" in all Sudan - as one local man insisted in taking a shower with me - at firtst I did not quite understand but it became obvious that he was just not trying to show me how to best operate the shower!!! I was hungry, tired, grumpy and angry so I let you guess: even without speaking arabic, I managed to get him out !!! Well, honestly this an exception and I maintain that the Sudanese people who have crossed are among the most generous people we have met!

A sweet story: Two days ago I had a flat tire in the middle of the afternoon. Just finished fixing my flat and putting myself and Orimou back together when a car passed on the other side - turned around and came back on my side. It was a Sudanese family who wanted to make sure that I was all ok. I smiled and gestured that I was ok - But the man had driven his car in the sand on the side of the road and the car was now stucked! First the man was adimant: I and the two other women in the car should not push - he would put his car (manual) on neutral and push by himself - well that did not work. He then agree that he would drive and I would push (that did not work either) - then we switched: I drove and he pushed - what a funny feeling - here I am in desert - with my bike helmet turning the wheel of a car in Sudan - but again it did not work - the man flagged a truck and two big truck drivers got out as I was opening the door of his car. They had a big laugh seeing me with my lycra, cycling shoes and helmet on my head exiting this car! At the end, we all pushed and the car was free. Result: 10 minutes to change my flat and 20 minutes to get the car out of the sand BUT what an experience. Mom: See how people take good care of your "little" girl!

Tomorrow we are leaving Karthoum and will be going south to El Hasaheesa, Alfans, Gedanef, Matema, and Gonder before entering Ethiopia.

For those who asked - daily food looks like:

Depending of morning: Porridge, gruau or some kind of sweet polenta, a fruit (bananas, grapefruit or orange) tea or coffee

Lunch truck: usually after 60 or 80 km: sandwiches (eggs salad, tuna - good days) or just cucumbers and tomatoes and cheese (hum I get hungry on these days), again a fruit and always possibility of peanut butter and jam if above not good or enough for the rider

We get to camp and TDA always have soup ready - wonderful moment - Serioulsy the best of all even when it is +40 celsius - it is great to rehydrate!

Then supper around 1730 - so far, really good meals - usually one type of meat, rice and vegetables - the TDA are great and we eat well and as much as we need! The last few days have been red meat so I have elected to transform myself in vegetarians - mium

I still go to bed hungry by 2000 (I must still be growing up - but that would be a problem as the tent is only 6.2 feet and I am already covering 98% of that space) - yes I do go to the tent at around 2000 (actually a few of us do!! & exhausted like for the Tour du Canada). Read, look at the star and fall asleep between 2030 and 2100!!!! I am old and in need of sleep ;)

Oups forgot - bush camp means washing oneself with one bottle of water 750 ml - so wash face, legs, rear end and arms and feel great! I won't describe my hair - after 5 days of not washing!!! But who cares - Life is great looking at stars and getting on my bike at 0730 am totally free for the rest of the day - hypnotise by the scenaries and the people I will meet!

An happy Sonia - who is in a shopping mall in Karthoum and will go to get an ice cream - the first and probably last for a few weeks as we won't see a shopping mall before Addis in Ethiopia - weird to be in a shopping mall but was easier to get internet!


Over the last four days, we moved to pavement with days of 120 to 150 km and temperature of more than 40 celsius as of noon. Hot hot hot. We are now in the Saharien Desert and there is a rather "still" factor - I am not sure how to describe it - but the haze from the sun and the dust, the orangy colors from the heat of the afternoon almost bring me to a semi hypnotic state!

Posted by soafrica 08:37 Archived in Sudan Comments (0)

An introduction to Sudan - The land of surprises

sunny 35 °C

These five days entering in Sudan have been days of many "first"

First real offroad rides: We started with a day of mostly pavement with about 30 kms of a sand & gravel - hum: Not so easy to bike through sand - I wondered if I could do it for long. The next day was half and half and I started to really wonder if my body and my bike would be able to ride more then 50 kms on these "roads". Well, I did on the third day - the most challenging ride I ever done so far!!! : About 108 km with 95% on sandy roads - through sand pitts & gravel that makes your bike and body shake as if you were in a mixer. We started at about 0800 an finished at close to 1700.. Speed often not more than 10-13km/hour trying to keep a balance on my bike as I learned to go through sand pitts. I had to walk a few times and did fall a few more times and than the sun hit us at noon with +40 celsius and stayed until we reached camp at 1700 - that was a hard hard day. We are told the worst is yet to come in Ethiopia and Northern Kenya - will see at that time - for the moment I am learning the 101 offroad biking - BUT IT IS ALL WORTH IT!

We did an open desert crossing - very nice - also biked along semi-desertic roads were on one side we still had the Nile and on the other side - the Sudanese are working the terrain for irrigation!!! Hard work and beautiful scenaries

First glimpse at how amazing the Sudan is: The people are really the most friendly people we have met so far. They want to help, are curious about yr name and where you come from (that is often as much as you can communicate in English) - As you go through the villages or see how proud and hard working these people are. There is not much money but still the houses are finished (mud walls) and the gates are painted in bright colors red, blue, etc (such a vivid contrast against the sand dust, the mud walls, the haze from the sun!) - They have these areas with shade in which they are usually 3-4 big clay jars of water that is so so cold - great to cool down when the sun is hot - I have not yet tried to drink that water but we are being told that it comes from under ground sources and past the test of smell and no flotaing objects - and thus should be ok to drink. I will try.

The kids are not throwing rocks (so nice) - a small minority are asking for money or pens or sweet- but even there they do it in a much more respectful way and the adults (if around) are telling them not to do that - the vast majority of kids will simply want to say hello! and ask "what is yr name"! I discovered I have an arabic name - Sonia - (Tu savais cela Maman?)!!!

I have stopped a few time to speak with people - one woman spoke great English and she started talking about politic and religion (how much christian and musulman must learned to leave together and how much she hoped Obama will help - that was in a small village in the middle of North of Sudan - unreal and so fantastic). I was surprised as we had been told that we should not talk about politics! To illustrate that: When entering Sudan, one must fill a paper which tells you that you cannot take pictures of strategic infrastructure, bridges, military areas, beggars and anything that portrays Sudan in a negative fashion!!! Despite that the country and the people from the North of Sudan are not what one would expect! They are hospitable, friendly, opened and gentle. I have been given chocolate in stores (buy one and they insist on giving you 2 more.. mium) , offered free bananas, and given kind of almond and beens from a women in one of the market. I gave her one of my energy bar to offer her a gift as well and she then grabbed both of my hands with a motherly smile!
Magical moments!

The bread is so wonderful in Sudan - like big pita bread but more thick and fresh

First snake: Yep knew that I was bound to see a snake and be scared like hell - Well it happened when riding my bike, One snake crossed in front of me and I DID NOT YELLED! It was tiny and long but I did not ask his name so I can't say more except that I was scared!!!!

[/b] First cold: MY rear butt is now holding good :) but I got a cold with some fever - no panic I am ok and still riding - Hopefully I will be better tomorrow - tody is a rest day and I did very little just to try to recover

First real star nights Beautiful stars with no lights around to obstruct the view - I must learned the read the sky. In the mean time I slept without the "cover sheet" on my tent so I could looked at the star - but chose the wrong
night! I the middle of the night the wind started and my tent got full of sand!!! Plus the wind was still high in the morning and it blew my tent away when I started to pack - I litteraly had to chase my tent in the desert as it was rolling away from me - scaring and funny - only thing is that I had fever all night an so I was much slower than the tent! Lucky enough I managed to get it back

First swim in the Nile[b]: I though we were not supposed but the TDA people told us ok to go wash in the Nile - so I did and I am still alive for the moment!!! Ha les crocos, Ha les crocodiles, sur le bord du Nile ils sont parties n'en parlons plus....

By the way, the ferry crossing between Aswan (Egypt) and Sudan was not so bad. It took about 18 hours instead of 12 - the boat was completely full with people sleeping on deck - no place to walk and the ferry fully loaded with all kind of stuff - I am sure the boat did not meet the loadline requirement! I just brtied not to think about it :)

That's it for the moment - IT is 1800 here and I must go back to camp and find something to eat - must likely a falafel - good and not expensive!!

Anybody in the mood to send me some news from home - how are you surviving the winter? I think of you (sometimes) when I bike under the blazing sun and looked and these sceneries that are beyond description

Posted by soafrica 06:18 Archived in Sudan Comments (2)

Leaving tomorrow for the Sudan

Staring our way down into the hearth of Africa

sunny 30 °C

0500 am in Luxor

Waking up to the prayer call (it is amasing how one can get quite use to it) and then the music from the Tour d'Afrique truck:

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
From the mountains of faith
To a river so deep
I must be looking for something
Something sacred I lost
But the river is wide
And it's too hard to cross

And even though I know the river is wide
I walk down every evening and I stand on the shore
And try to cross to the opposite side
So I can finally find out what I've been looking for

It just felt so perfect as this trip is no doubt a quest

Tomorrow we will be taking the ferry for Sudan and this is probably my last message before 3 weeks; there should be no "real" internet connection before Ethiopie.

I am happy and anxious to get to Sudan - I am looking for the vast spaces, the sand desert that I imagine, those amazing sunrises and sunsets, the people from Sudan which I have been told are gentle and very friendly. I just have to survive a 12 hours crossing on the ferry from Aswan to Sudan (which we are told could take much more and be very epic ;)

What are we leaving behind? Egypt - a country of contrasts and still my first contact with Africa:

- From semi desertic to very fertile grounds along the Nile - people working on the sugar canes fields with donkeys, camels (yes), horses, and oxos carrying the sugar canes branches on the wrong side of the road; this requires quite a skill for cyclists as we have to cycle around them without getting crashed by the taxis and buses driving along at what seems to be 140 km/hour!

- Non stopping noise from the cars - honking is whitout a doubt the favourite activities of Egyptian drivers who will honk at least 3 to 5 times to say hello or warn you that they are coming at a CRAZY CRAZY speed!!

- Many unfinished houses and buildings which look as if it was quite normal to stop construction before completion! We have been told that in big towns like Cairo and Luxor, the houses are left unfinished so that they will not pay taxes (which is due when the construction is finished...)

- These beautiful men with their djellabah (brown, gray or white) and some of them with turbans, the women with the hair covered mixing with the ones in full burka and the ones dressed in the American style - so much complexity in this society

- Luxor and Idfu streets - were you take one step out and immediately come into contact with 10 people trying to sell you a taxi ride, water, pepsi, scarfs, sandals, spices, and more and more weird items; They will have for you anything you can dream of or they will find it through their cousins or uncles as long as you are willing to pay a small token for their assistance (please give me 5 pounds... must be the sentence I have heard the most so far along with "money money" (show me the money) and "backsheesh"!

Aswan is a beautiful small town along the Nile with a very nice souk - the vendors are less aggressive; the backshish mentility is not quite the same here!

- AND then more more more kids along the streets - we are getting a taste of kids throwing rocks at us - why? Hard to say but it is so sad as many of the kids only wants to say hello to you and the "baseball to be stars" are the exception! We are told that it will be worst in Ethiopia where more kids throw rocks and try to steel from your bike bags (more on that chapter when we get there)- But for the next 2 weeks it is Sudan where steeling is major offense and people are said to be so helpful and kind.

AND YET - for the most part it is "Welcome to Egypt", the pyramids, these big beautiful brown eyes, the prayer calls in the afternoon as we bike along a mosque (where I often feel so peaceful); the shores of the Nile; the local food (which is really good), the dust everywhere in my eyes, my tent, my sleeping bags and all.

Posted by soafrica 09:06 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

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