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Ethiopia

It took me 3 hours riding along a really bad road to get to the border, there were massive pot holes everywhere, many so big they stretched across the whole road. Once I arrived at the border getting out of Sudan was easy, and only took an hour. Entering Ethiopia was even quicker. At 11.15 a guard raised the rust pole that stretched across the road and I was in.

Borders are divisions between people, communities and culture. On occasions the division is subtle, and on other occasions it is so defined it’s impossible not to instantly notice. This Border was without doubt well defined. Having travelled through the Middle East, Egypt and Sudan it felt like I had arrived in the ‘wild west’: music, beer, fun, women engaging with me (men & women seem to have very different roles in Muslim countries) everyone smiling, hustle & bustle. I loved it, I’m going to enjoy Ethiopia I thought!

I left the border heading south, and after 100 metres a snake slithered across the road in front of me, and as I looked around I saw the most beautiful coloured birds.

I rode about 70 miles through dense forest to Aykel. I was at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, and so very pleased to be away from the desert! I was in the mountains, the jungle.

The following morning I woke at 7am and was cold for the first time in months. I came downstairs and there was thick fog outside. I was ready for a coffee. However, I didn’t realise I was about to partake in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Grass was spread on the floor, then the coffee beans were roasted in a pan, the beans then ground in a pestle & mortar before being put into a special pot with hot water. The woman of the family usual performs the ceremony, which is an honour. It took 2 hours for the girl prepare everything and serve the coffee. It was worth the wait.

By 9.30 the fog had gone and there was a glimmer of sun trying to burst through the cloud. Even though the hotel was as bad as anywhere I’ve stayed in the world, I really enjoyed my time there. Everyone staring, smiling and saying hello. I’m going to enjoy Ethiopia I thought. It’s all about the people.

I spent a week in Northern Ethiopia, I had such a great time. The first thing I had to appreciate was that the road is where ‘life is most active’, people, kids as young as 2 years old, goats, cattle, donkey and horses all use the road for daily life. This means travel is slow, at any moment a person, animal or Tuk Tuk could appear in front of me, even in the countryside. Slowing down was great, it meant I could appreciate the wildlife (other than camels I hadn’t encountered any for a month or so). In the first few days I saw a large chameleon, 2 snakes, monkeys and massive Marabou Stalks which have a wingspan of up to 3 or 4 metres. As I progressed south, each village had a specialty, one would sell livestock, another crops, then wood, fencing, charcoal, it was fascinating. The road was so much more than just for transportation: seeds from crops drying, a workshop where mechanics repaired vehicles. I loved it all, even when I had to slam my brakes on to avoid and accident.

Kids would wave me at everywhere, so friendly.

I would go on to see large vultures, eagles, the brightest coloured birds …

I stayed a few days in Bahir Dar, a city on Lake Tana. I met Lomiy, who took me to a traditional Ethiopian night out with music and traditional ‘chicken dancing’. I was welcomed, the singer sang ‘Welcome Dan to Ethiopia’, Lomiy translated.

I don’t remember being in a country where I’ve seen more agriculture / food production. An abundance of crops and livestock everywhere, although I was at the end of the rainy season, and many months of dry weather were ahead.

On a not so positive note, in my first 2 days in the country I saw 2 fights between young men, and for the first time ever had a few bike maintenance items stolen from my bike. I kept them in an unlocked pocket of one of the panniers. My fault I should have locked them away!

I don’t always keep the bike upright! 

Some welding and the side-stand was good again.

It was cold as I rode to Addis Ababa, I had to put the ‘heated grips’ on, and thick fog slowed me down as I ascended to 2,500 metres. I arrived at the recommended ‘Wim’s Holland House’, where travellers and overlanders stay. The option was camping or a shed-like room. As the weather was awful I chose the shed. I was slightly shocked as I walked to the bar / restaurant and saw a European bar, with a large tv showing rolling CNN news. I spent a few days there as it rained so much, however my mood changed, I became homesick and I had pains in my stomach.

Over a few days I changed from loving my adventure to questioning why I was doing it, both my physical and mental health deteriorated. I’ve experienced this before and the decision is easy, change something! I would feel better if I headed south, get some miles done, I would be home sooner then! Over the next few days my mood alternated between feel good and not.

After 2 hours of leaving Addis Ababa I arrived in one of the craziest situations ever. Hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people travelling down a mountain to the Blue Nile river below. I found out it was a religious festival, a regional holiday where crossing the river has religious significance. The 20 minute journey down the valley and across the river took a couple of hoursI I was given traditional bread and some ‘moonshine’!

Over the next few days as I headed south I would experience massive floods, where roads had been washed away, meaning I was riding through mud and trying to avoid terrible road conditions. When my mood was low, I found it tough going, when I was feeling good, I still found it tough going, but knew it was what I wanted to experience, overcoming a challenge, pushing myself and testing my capabilities. As I write this, I’m smiling, Ethiopia gave me so much, it really challenged my mental capabilities and my skills at riding. I’m not a great rider, but I can adapt and get through situations.

As I approached the Kenya Border, my mood improved. I experienced the Ethiopian New year (they use a different calendar to the rest of the world), which was mainly people getting drunk and dancing, just like home!

Ethiopia has been a great country to travel in, I will remember the happy engaging people, the lush mountains, wildlife and tough roads I travelled along.

Ethiopia is very cheap, go and have the experience yourself one day. It’s all about the people.

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