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.

2 thoughts on “Ethiopia – spectacular but….

  1. Your Ethiopia Blog brings back all my good/bad/ indifferent thoughts of that country. As I was in a Bus in 2011 I escaped the sticks but fell foul of the stone thrown with great accuracy by a 10 year old to smash the window I was sitting next to. Appealing and appalling are the 2 sides to a nation of children that I fear will only become more demanding and demonstrative as the years go by.

    Sorry to hear of the vehicle transfer but I was in Kenya 3 months after the last election in March 2008 and fear and reprisals were still evident at that time so as you say Safety is the priority for you all.

    i am really pleased to feel you have got over your initial reservations of the trip and now are fully involved and committed to this great adventure. Keep going girl. You are brilliant.

  2. Naomi, I have enjoyed reading your blog so much. Every entry has given me an insight into what I may experience when I join TdA in Nairobi. I look forward to meeting you then.
    Jennie

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