Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Into Ethiopia

From Camp Alfonse to Gedaref we traveled 136 km straight into a brutal easterly headwind. It seemed like most of the day my odometer was stuck around 12. I rode with Ann (the South African birder - very fun when you pass pretty birds) all day. We stopped every 30 km for a sanity-saving coke-stop. For the last 14km we suddenly veered to the right, and got tailwinds! Our speeds almost hit 40! We rode with renewed love for the road. Until that one 2km twist back into the headwinds. When we hit that it was a simple matter of heads-down and muttering curse-words. And zippee! Back onto the tailwinds for the last 5km. One of the harder parts of today was that not only were the headwinds so soul-eating, but a lot of the distances were underestimated. It's funny how on a day which is particularly brutal, having a lunch stop suddenly turn out to be at 75km instead of 70km can be so upsetting.

Something worth noting: throughout Sudan the houses have been beautiful white compounds with houses inside the perimeter and small courtyards in the centre. The doorways are always painted and some houses are decorated with flowers, stars and other geometric shapes. We have just moved into a fully different construction - it actually happened the evening before this ride. You could almost draw a line where the compounds stopped and the thatch mud-huts started. Our view now are these cylindrical mud huts with conical thatch roofs. And we are starting to see people walking around. Sudan is so wonderful in it's silence. It's like a shrouded Arabic woman walking through a marble temple. Beauty and grace under intense control. I have also mentioned the men in their white garb, but I don't believe I've mentioned the women. They are gorgeously dressed in colourful lengths of cloth that cover them from head to toe. Their faces remain uncovered, and they smile. It's such a great smile. It's one you don't have to ask for like in Egypt, where you receive wonderful smiles in return for yours. It makes you feel at peace.

We camped that night at a hilly outcropping. People were elated to know that we would be riding with a tailwind for the next 152km, right into Ethiopia.
There were hoots as we started riding the next day. People stretched out on their bicycles. They embraced the sky with their hands. We could move. We didn't have to stay slumped in one position, hoping the wind would take no notice of us. We were free! And the views changed from the desert we had grown so accustomed to. Taren said that with all the trees we were probably getting more oxygen! But it was true - there was greenery and hills. We whizzed past fields of sorghum covered in mist, the golden crop crowned in burnt red. Thatch huts were everywhere with children playing and people working. Women walked through fields with baskets on their heads, and even loads of bound sticks which I wouldn't be able to grab around the circumference with both arms. There were even some carrying 20kg bags of rice. We sped along in the 30s and 40s all day, and after lunch I departed from Ann. I was having seat troubles. My bolt wasn't holding. Slowly sinking as I went up and down hills, I rode most of the way to the Ethiopian border clown-style.

But I got there. And went and immediately spent the rest of my pounds before crossing the border and getting Birr. We exited Sudan and went straight to the campsite before officially entering Ethiopia. We needed to leave our things locked on the bus, and our bikes in a locked area. In Sudan we were protected by Sharia Law. They cut the hands off of thieves, so there aren't any. In Ethiopia, anything not locked down will get stolen.

Our campsite was a shit heap. Literally. There was shit everywhere. Both animal and human. Evelyn and I decided to set up tents right away, thus avoiding some of the shittier areas. We swept the visible shit away from where we were going to put up camp. We then went over to the customs office to get our entrance visas. The Ethiopian Immigration Office is a mud hut at the side of the road with chickens running through it. The nice thing is that they serve beer there. After the two hour wait with no food but a few beer, I was pretty tipsy. I got back to camp, had dinner, and then went for a shower at the brothel. It was a little tin shack with no light, a pipe, and a sort of showerhead. All that for 40 cents.

We swapped out our tires for off-roads, and while we were doing that Graham decided to test his pepper spray. A small dose upwind from where we were all working. Ten minutes after he did his little test, we were all coughing, choking, stinging, and vomiting. He'll be hard-pressed to live that one down.

That night I wasn't feeling very well. I got about three hours of fitful sleep before the donkeys started , and then the chickens, and then the dogs, and then the chickens again, and then someone shot a gun twice and there was silence. And then the donkeys, and then the chickens, and then the dogs. And by the time the Mosque called us to ride, I knew I would be on the bus that day.


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