June 06, 2007 GMT
Addis Ababa, 6 June 2006

Little mileage has passed under the Bullet's wheels since the last blog entry. Just a two day ride since the last entry in Bahir Dar. Despite the little distance Addis is however a world apart. An immediate first impression is that there is a lot more money here than in the provinces. This is evident in the flash cars driven around, numerous swanky restaurants, well stocked supermarkets and portly waistlines of many locals compared to their lithe country cousins.

blue nile gorge view

Riding down from Bahir Dar, down South that is rather than literally as we've gained 500 metres, has provided a headfull of memorable images in itself. Riding the roads of Ethiopia you get the impression that the whole country is on the move. Each different village has a different market day and everyone from round and abouts walks in for the fun. The roadsides are a constant stream of women carrying heavy burdens in sacks tied to their backs, men with large staffs, cheeky children, oxen and donkeys. The children have a rotten reputation for stone throwing at passing vehicles containing passing foreigners. This is part-true, the falsity lies in the fact that they will pelt anyone who takes their facy, locals and foreigners alike. We have devloped a tactic of waving frantically and grinning like morons; it usually stops them in their tracks, they drop the stones and are as happy to wave back as to pelt us. Our two-wheeled cycling brethren are not so lucky and we've met several whose lives have been made hell. Moving so much slower they are sitting ducks to a thorough stoning and the odd stick between the wheels. Again locals as much as foreigners. We met the wonderfully and aptly named Spanish 'bicyclown', a childrens entertainer on a 13 year round the world ride. Speaking a little amharic he at one time stopped to try to reason with the kids and tell them why throwing stones at people is a bad thing. They said they understood and then as soon as he rode on a barrage of pebbles made contact with his back....

Ethiopia seems to be an incredibly youthful country, in the countryside kids herding cattle run amok together and throw stones at passing travellers. In the cities the huge numbers of street kids are highly visible. In Addis alone it is estimated that there are some 100,000 children on the streets. Some are orphaned (many from parents who have died from AIDS) and some boys are put onto the street by parents who cannot afford to look after them. The problem in Addis is such that it is hard to see an answer. How do you build the infrastructure to house so many, not just homes but orphanages and kitchens? But if you patch the problem in this way maybe more parents will send their children to orphanages because they will offer a better life than they could have at home? In the end you realise it's just a sympton but just cannot strain yourself to think of a practical cure.

Through all the gloom of the above we did find some light in Gondar in the form of 26 year old local girl Ngisti who decided 6 years ago to dedicate herself to looking after the street children there. Over the six years she has slowly built up her charity to include an orpahnage, projects to feed street kids and to get them back with their close family or relatives. We had planned to stop a few days to help her with fundraising but our erstwhile Belgian cycling buddies Kobe and Leah with whom we trekked in the Simian Mountains decided to stop for a few months and see what could be done in Gondar. As they have previous experience of helping at orphanges in Africa we left it to the experts and promised a small donation from our travel funds. Ngisti's charity is called Yene Getesfa, look at the website if you want to find out more.

Traffic jam on the Blue Nile Gorge road

Back on to bike stuff and our travels... The road down to Addis was wonderful and took us through the Blue Nile Gorge, someone said it was a 1500 metre plunge down and then back up. It didn't quite seem this much but it was deep, the scenery was marvellous, the road was rough and the Bullet was cooking away in fine style by the time we reached the other side. We seem to have hit the beginning of the rainy season and most afternoons there has been a mighty thunderstorm and torrential rain; we're hoping to steer away from the worse of it and if our cunning plan works out we will skip under it as we lose altitude towards Kenya. Thankfully roadside there are lots of shelters locals have made to hide in and they've come in useful for us. In response to requests (at least one) I've compiled a bike nerds' list of mechanical mishaps that have befallen the Bullet on our travels so far. And gratifyingly it's really not that many yet, though the old girl is rattling like a good 'un at the moment. We're hoping it will make it onwards and at least to South Africa. Fingers crossed and tomorrow we set off Nairobi bound towards the South of Ethiopia and across the other notorious stretch of road on the trip - the Moyale-Nairobi highway.

road-side rain shelter

Posted by Richard Miller at June 06, 2007 04:11 PM GMT

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