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As you’ll have gathered from the last few posts Julie published, we’ve made it to Addis. We spent five nights in Gondar relaxing and not feeling too rushed to continue. The roads and people had been tough hard work and didn’t leave us raring to get back on them. Despite changing hotel four times, staying in Gondar was preferable.
I also found a nice little Italian coffee pot (which has proved to be worth its weight in gold) and had taken to making great coffee (there is good coffee here, but the Ethiopians are pretty terrible at making it).
The road to Lalibela should have been 360 km, not many days cycling? We stayed in hotels each night as the people got worse, never too hostile but we could never just enjoy the country for a few minutes without tens of people surrounding us and asking for money. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say 4000 people asked for money each day, although I don’t think anybody would believe that, it’s true.
According to Wikipedia altitude sickness can occur from just 1500 metres. This explains my mysterious illness at 3000 metres when we stayed the night in a small town with no running water. It was a great place to feel ill, our room had a view, and lounge on the first floor with balcony overlooking the town. Chai (sweet tea) was 1 Birr (£0.03) and coffee 2.5 Birr (£0.11). Music played from the bar down stairs and I sprawled out on the sofa reading through a couple of books on my kindle. I’d highly recommend ‘The Shadow of the Sun’ by Ryzard Kapuscinski.
The next morning I had zero energy, a nauseous head and in-ability to think. The hotel staff though the next hotel town was 30 km (it wasn’t) so we decided I could make that. It took four hours in total for me to eat breakfast and move by bike with panniers down to the street. Sitting on my bike though I could just roll along. The hills were quite demanding and the people too, the town didn’t appear at 30 km as I needed it and still feeling ill I grew doubtful. It had taken us about five hours to cover the 30 km we’d done and still I didn’t feel better or know how far the next place was.
We cycled on and at 45 km found a little town with a hotel for the night. It didn’t take long for word to spread that foreigners (Forenjis) were in town and soon a crowd of beggars were outside our hotel door (most hotels here are ground level motel style accommodation).
The next morning at around 3500 metres I felt fine, perhaps I’d just needed to ‘acclimatise’. After an easy undulating (no major climbs) we got to Gashena, where we negotiated a bus ride to Lalibela (60 km) to avoid a bad road and give Julie a break. It was a good idea, we met a friend of the couch surfer we were to stay with on the bus who then gave us directions in Lalibela and his interesting views on the town.
Lalibela was a great town to plan to leave. It has eleven underground churches and six more 30-40 km away each. The underground churches are quite impressive but unfortunately now covered by huge roofs to protect them and – unintentionally – obscure all their beauty. The price has recently increased by 600% to $50, and goes straight into the priests pockets (who were already the highest paid people in town we were told).
15,000 people live in Lalibela, unfortunately none of the imaginative ones worked in tourism. There are about ten bad cafes serving the same lack of food, and ten ‘supermarkets’ offering the same lack of choice. After two nights here we were feeling very hungry and out of energy, struggling to replenish it.
Can’t even tie your shoe lace without the less fortunate crowding you.
On a positive note, our couch surfer had the best location in town, giving us the best camp spot in town. We enjoyed playing with his friendly dog, who enjoyed our tent when the rain started.
The bus left Lalibela at six am and was to take two days to reach Addis. We were happy to skip some of Ethiopia, even though they cycle we had planned was already as trimmed down as possible. The bus driver was a typical scumbag trying to take as much money from us as possible. We arrived half an hour early, but had to wait until the bus was leaving before the driver would accept the price we’d offered (which was way more than any local was paying). The bus was over packed with people and live stock and for the first two hours I even had somebody leaning across my lap from the several adjacent people spilling in from the Aisle. Chickens ran around the floor and relieved themselves as they went, music played from the speakers as loud as possible and a poor cover of ‘Everything is going to be alright’ seemed quite fitting.
After eight hours and a few sick passengers we arrived in Dessie, where the bus stopped and we’d continue on another at five am the next morning.
We enjoyed walking around the most cosmopolitan Ethiopian city that far, filling up on fresh fruit juice and bizarre cakes with coffee.
We were glad to find that the bus driver the next day knew who we were and that we were his passengers (he was different to yesterdays). It seemed this bus had a bit more livestock then yesterdays, the roof was already full of chicken sacks leaving little space for our bikes. Large bags about one square metre with air holes are tied flat onto the roof rack full of chickens. So there I was at 4.30 am climbing over the bus roofs in Dessie bus station, trying to strap our bikes down in amongst the chickens. The driver had a solution, empty the chicken sacks and put our bikes in the rack with panniers (I was happy with this), but to do that all the chickens must be tied hanging by their feet down the side of the bus. With all the chickens to be re-arranged the bus left an hour late.
While waiting for the bus to leave hawkers wade through the aisle selling snacks carrier bags and lottery tickets amongst other things.
We stayed the first night in a hotel and enjoyed eating out for a large burger (meat has been hard to come by in Africa so far). The second hotel (the first was booked up after our first night) was okay, with free wifi and a great all you can eat lunch buffet for £2. Unfortunately it had some dodgy characters hanging around and Julies iPod was stolen from the room.
I told the hotel reception and asked where the police station was to report it and there attitude was pretty amazing, they just shouted and shouted at me that it was my fault and seemed to be on another planet. The police were more interested in my answers to their obscure ‘standard’ questions for somebody reporting a crime (what was my religion, what was my salary, what was the current time in England, and was I sure I wasn’t an American). I’d be very interested to read the statement the man wrote down (it was in Amheric). Will there knowing I was a ‘Pagan’ help there two month investigation. Visiting the police station was a novel experience. My favourite part being when some nutter came in, stood in the middle of the room surrounded by police at their desks, started crying and then ripped his t-shirt of, before tearing it into small pieces to make a new bandanna. “Sorry, Ethiopia has number one criminals”, the policeman told me with a smile.