A vote for Kenya

We crossed the border on February 28th. Many were pleased to be leaving Ethiopia yet there were also mixed feelings about the next section of our trip. Sad to leave the scenery, overjoyed to escape the stone throwing yet apprehensive of entering Kenya too. The election takes place here on 4th March. Today.

After the last elections in 2007, 1000 people lost their lives and 600,000 people were made homeless. The effect on the Kenyan economy was significant however.Many dollars were lost from tourism alone and this is an episode no-one wants to see repeated. Not officials, residents, neighbouring countries or us as riders. Safety is of course paramount and the reason we signed up for a supported tour through Africa too.

We were informed at a riders meeting in Yabello that our bike days would be reduced. Over two days we would travel around 500km by bus before the election to Nanyuki and then sit tight, awaiting the results – not necessarily the who but the what that would follow. Arriving late afternoon yesterday we settled into our room and prepared for our period of rest.

Given this section of the trip is known as “meltdown madnesss” due to the difficulty of the off road terrain we would cover I think there was also a big sigh of relief as well as disapointment. Many people have been unwell and this could be good recouperation. I plan to blog, read and generally relax. Maybe a pedicure today.

I doubt I’ll ever be in an African country again during elections so I plan to go into town later. There are no reports of problems here. Voting takes place between 6am and 6pm. The annoucement of the new president is expected relatively quickly with final results for all local officials etc by March 11th. The winner needs to take 50% of the vote and as results are confirmed how the election has gone will likely depend on whether false play is called. That’s what sparked the problems last time.

It’s a shame we have missed some riding through Kenya – at least once we saw tarmac again but, as with other riders and TDA staff the most important thing is safety. I have resigned myself to the fact that we may not ride any part of this route – other than maybe an 18km trip to the equator from Nanyuki. This way any additional riding will be a bonus. The bus is still better than a fly over.

As for my vote for Kenya – it’s simply one for peace.

Ethiopia – spectacular but….

Click click. Pedal pedal. Rolling rolling rolling.Huff puff. Pedal pedal.

To date, Ethiopia  is the most beautiful country we have ridden through. The landscapes of rolling hills go beyond where the eye can see. Trees of numerous varieties, lilacs and pinks in the flora and rich, rust coloured earth. Our ride up the Blue Nile Gorge, a 1400m steep climb was truely stunning. S-bend after S-bend, blazing sun but with the most amazing views-  a real highlight.

The countryside is littered with numerous huts made of sticks and mud surrounded by herds of cows and goats and hundreds of people. This is also the busiest country I have visted after India.

You… you… you, you, you you, you.

As we approach each hut, field, village or town the kids all coming running towards the road. Announcing the arrival of the foreigners, waving and generally making a lot of noise. Many are harmless and watched over by parents. Their cheering can be very endearing. While the constant call of salem and waving back can be exhausting in contrast to the small, yet very significant, minority who are quite frankly the worst kids I have ever encountered, this is the easy bit. For almost all riders the vicsious children are the reason a return visit biking in Ethiopia would be no longer be a dream trip but a cycling nightmare. They would not come back. Some have not ridden. Some have discussed that they would never give aid to the country again if called on. This has had a serious effect.

You… you… you, you, you you, you..

Money…money….money, money, money

I’ve travelled in a number of poor countries. It’s challenging seeing the conditions others live in sometimes. Here the call for moneyis a uniform request from all children. In India it is the sick, the orphaned. It’s strange but it makes you wonder whether aid culture has led to this new custom. One riders response – to share out a one biere note amoung the five children asking…. obviously making it useless to all. It’s made us hard but it’s not the request for cash alone that has led to such bitterness towards the under 10′s. It’s the sticks, stones, whips and machettes that do that.

You… you… you, you, you you, you..

Money…money….money, money, money

CATCH!

While it doesn’t always follow the regular chant it’s not uncommon for sticks through spokes or stone throwing to be the follow on jesture. Often the missiles come without the regular chat – behind trees, from distant fields or those waiting at the top of hills. Hiding like cowards, laughing at their games and running at speed if chased. You can see where the marathon running expertise come from! To date riders have had spokes broken from stone throwing, been made to fall off and sprain an ankle as teenagers grabbed handlebars and have a rock hit their face so hard the cut requires stitches and a tooth was chipped. It feels like daily cycle warfare. A few stones each day has become normal for all. Some people have worse days.

We were warned. Alastair Humphreys wrote about kids in Ethiopia in his book, Moods of Future Joys, re his Cairo to Capetown ride back in 2001. TDA highlighted the issue and previous riders spoke of it in their blogs. Nothing however prepares you for kids aged 3 upwards to young adolescents hurtling such abuse.

The strange thing is that when you stop for drinks it’s friendly. Adults keep the children at bay though at these times they watch out of pure curiosity. Despite the bad ones being bad you have to remember the many who shout, cheer, clapoand have even helped me push my bike up steep climbs. One day I rode 50km with the feeling if running a half marathon – clapping and cheering all the way along the roadside. Amazing.

I try to ride each day and greet every person, adult or child positively, gIving out postive energy, hoping it is returned. In the most part this is the case. To those asking for cash I have taught them to say monsters instead or much to my own amusement sung various excerpts from Bohemiem Rhapsody to them – they really didn’t know what to make of that!

That said, arrival at camp, unharmed and bike undamaged always feels like a postive result. It’s all such a shame that such a beautiful country has left such a sour taste with so many. It’s hard to see an answer  – the adults throw stones at kids to stop them. I just hope that the situation improves for future riders. Seeing Ethiopia by bike is the best way to see the magnificent views, feel the landscape and meet those who do want to welcome you to their country. I had no expectations of Ethiopia and other than the stone throwing it is spectacular. Unfortunately it makes for a big but.