Friday, May 1, 2009

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Upon leaving Addis, I spent two days on the truck. Riding on the truck is never a good option. It's slow, hot, and filled with sick people. I was anxious to get off. My first day on the truck was packed with sickos, and we barely spoke a word. I took some gravol and went to sleep. For the next two days I couldn't eat a bite. Between not having any appetite and fearing the repercussions of having anything in my belly, I was just unable to.

On the third day I decided to give it a go. I ate some breakfast but, less than a kilometer out of camp, that left me. I rode for 68km with nothing in my belly. I was slow, tired, and sick. Evelyn was kind enough to ride with me. I was stopping frequently to cough until I vomited. That's when the kids would surround me and start asking me for money, hitting me and grabbing my ass. After a while of this, I burst out into tears. Evelyn put her arm out and helped push me up a hill while I cried. People are very good here.

At lunch I jumped on the truck and laid down. Simon, thinking it was just the kids, offered to ride with me. Since I was laying down and had managed to get a bun down, I thought I might be up for it. Let me put in here something about this trip, because I know that many of you are reading this thinking I'm an idiot to keep going on a day when I'm so obviously done. Usually when I ride and then get sick or something happens, I can get off my bike, have a rest day or two, and then pick up where I left off. Here, when you get on the truck, that's it. You don't get to see or smell or experience that 100+km. If you're on it for a few days, you miss entire regions and the subtle changes of everything along the route. That's why its hard to get on and stay on the truck.

When asked if I would ever do a guided tour like this again, I have to say no. Not that there is anything wrong with this trip - we're hugely catered to and all of our needs are met, and it takes out a ton of the organizational problems we could have coming to a place like this, but that being "catered to" is also part of the problem for me. And the speed of it all - our rest days are over before we even get to stop and take in our environs. This trip is all about the biking, but not as much about the experiencing.

So when Simon came in and offered to ride with me, I jumped out. I got about a half kilometer again before my stomach seized and my lunch bun evacuated. And then some kid threw a rock at us. Simon chased the kid all the way to his house - right into the sightlines of his father. Knowing that whatever his kid had done couldn't have been good, he started smacking him, and continued on as he shook Simon's hand and Simon departed. When he came back we rode for a little and kept an eye out for the lunch truck. I jumped on and stayed there this time.

I got up in the morning with the knowledge that I would only ride for a half day. We were riding into our rest day at Arba Minch - the town on a hill overlooking two great lakes filled with hippos and crocs. The ride in was a treacherous one. Amazingly, I didn't have the troubles that some people had. I experienced the ass-grabbing and stone pelting, but that was about it. At one point I passed a group of kids holding hands across the road. As I came close I saw that they were covering a rope that was stretched across the road. I waited in front of them until they scattered and pulled in the rope. Then I grabbed a big sip of my water and sprayed it at the kid holding the rope. All of his friends laughed at him, and apparently they didn't do it to anyone else afterwards.

We were riding through road crews and almost everyone was wielding machetes. I was saying "salamno" (hello or peace) like a battered housewife trying to calm the beast. I was terrified at what they would do today. While it didn't happen to me, some of the other riders were threatened with the machetes. We're all on edge. We all want out of Ethiopia.

At the lunch stop the kids swarmed around the truck, as usual. There was a perimeter set up and they respected it. We all complained about our day. One rider went too far, saying "They all look like animals, they dress like animals and they act like animals." We're frazzled, but her racist roots are sprouting to the surface. I don't really speak to her any more.

As we cleared off, the kids started to attack. They started cutting the perimeter rope with their machetes. George got into a tug of war with them trying to get it back. They tried to push their way into the truck, they jumped on the back. George reversed and went forward a few times, trying to shake them off the truck, and then we were out of there.

We got to the hotel to find that there was no water. They would turn on the water for a couple of hours every day until we left, and then they turned it all back on. The city was having constant power outages - typical in Ethiopia. I stayed in camp that night, just eating at the hotel and sitting around the fire with the crew. We drank wine and baked bannock. I was happy to not have to deal with the outside world for one evening.

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