Tuesday, 12 March 2013
As we rode in convoy out of the city, I was actually sad to leave Addis Ababa. One rest day was just not enough. With so much to do and see, I feel like I needed a week to really enjoy what the capital of Ethiopia has to offer. In the end, I spent most of my rest day, once again, sleeping, eating and contacting friends and family via a painfully slow Internet connection. We went for a buffet dinner at an expensive hotel, the Sheraton. After all the cycling, no a la carte meal was going to be enough. At least, with a buffet, you know you're walking away fully satisfied. After eating ourselves into a food coma, we headed to the nearby bar for farewell drinks as we said goodbye to a few TdA sectional riders leaving in Addis Ababa. But when a few leave, there are also a few that join the TdA family. With a good nights rest in a comfortable bed, which doesn’t deflate like my camping mattress, and a full tummy, I was excited about getting back on the bike. At this stage, numerous riders were still suffering from tummy problems, but by taking extra precautions, I’m pleased to say I’ve not been ill again.
From Addis Ababa we made our way to Gogetti camp, which was basically a bush camp near a small village. It was a fun 110km ride, as we descended more than we had to climb... a great change. We actually had a few local Ethiopian riders cycle the day with us. This made issues with stone-throwing kids a little more manageable because from a distance the local riders scared them off by shouting at them in a language they could understand. Arriving at camp there were the usual warm Cokes and Sprites for sale. When you're tired and craving sugar after a long hot days cycle, a warm Coke is actually heavenly. A few riders went for a long walk to the nearby riverbed and spotted hyenas in the distance. I don't like Hyenas at all. They just freak me out... So when it was time for bed, I crawled into my tent and struggled to fall asleep, knowing hyenas were lurking. In the middle of the dark night I woke up needing the toilet. As I unzipped my tent, I heard the scary, familiar call of hyenas and they were very close to camp, or shall a say, they were basically in the campground, obviously attracted to the food bins standing only a few meters from my tent. I popped my head out and investigated with my torch. With the glitter of several eyes looking in my direction, there was no way I was going to leave my tent and so I sat until morning with a painfully full bladder. When the first light of sunrise became apparent, I was ecstatic to finally do my business without any wildlife interruptions.
I needed to take it slow on the following day's cycle. After a terrible, restless night, I didn’t feel extremely energized, so doing several refresh stop was on the cards and, of course, we attracted a massive audience. It's the strangest thing, basically while drinking our sugary drinks, the crowd of locals are watching us, watching them, watching us!!! Very bizarre...
The day's cycle was a long one with the usual unforgiving climbs. I cycled so hard and so fast... I just wanted to get to camp as soon as possible. However, with all the haste and rush, I overshot the turnoff to the Hosiana Deaf School, which was to be our camp site for the night. Yip, I was in such a hurry to finish, that I ended up doing and extra 15km of rolling hills due to getting lost... Lesson learned I hope, rather go slow and concentrate.
Spending the evening at the Deaf School was a great experience. All the kids were fascinated with us camping on their school ground and watched us do our daily chores from a distance. As they became more confident, slowly slowly they started to creep closer and interacting with the kids made us realize how friendly, well mannered and educated they are. This Deaf School is the only one in Ethiopia, so the kids at the school are from all over the country and probably seldom see their families. However, the school's program is run very professionally and it was reassuring to see these kids in good hands. I could go as far as saying they were the nicest kids we'd met in Ethiopia, possibly because they weren't throwing rocks at us.
Anyhow, the next day's cycle was to yet another bush camp and it was a good ride, because of a very fun, fast and long downhill descent.
But as my luck goes, it never remains easy. After lunch, the local kids had come out of school and their main aim was to be as irritating as possible to passing cyclists. Just to add to the frustrations of the day, I got a puncture too. Luckily there was a Coke stop nearby where I could change my tube and enjoy a cold drink.
Thereafter, as we started to leave town and finish the 30km to camp, we came across a very nice café which sold delicious cakes and chocolate doughnuts. It's amazing! I don't usually like doughnuts, but when luxuries such as cakes and doughnuts are hard to find, and you've been in a desert for over a month, a chocolate doughnut is a golden treat. We sat down and each ate one with the biggest smile on our faces...
... And, of course, we bought all the chocolate doughnuts in the shop and took them back to camp to share with our TdA friends. I must say we were very popular at camp because of the treat we had delivered.
The 96km cycle to Arb Minch Hotel camp was a beautiful ride, as we passed cute villages and green lush fields.
There was a large amount of off-road, which slowed many riders down, but once at camp we had the option of stay at a very nice hotel at our own cost...
As a reward I believe I deserved, I treated myself to a room, which I share with a friend Claire. Nice warm shower did some laundry and a comfy bed to sleep in made it all worthwhile. That evening it was time for bike maintenance as well as changing tires as we reach more bumpy off roads.
The cycle to the next riverbed camp started with the fabulous familiar paved roads and then it was back onto the off road...
We made it to the lunch stop in good time, even with our several coke stops and taking photo's.
But to delay us just for a little longer, my wheel had a slow leaking puncture and so, before it caused more trouble, I decided to fix it under the comfortable shade at the lunch stop, where help was also readily available.
Thereafter we continued the days ride and did the usual afternoon stops. However, as the sun got hotter and we all started feeling tired and ready to relax at camp, my cycling buddies and I decided to crank up the pace and get to camp quickly.
At this stage I thought I had learned from my mistakes after getting lost en route to Hosaina's Deaf School... But I guess not. Yes, that’s right, once again I missed the turn off and endured an extra 20km of off-road climbing.
Maybe I just enjoy punishing myself by making the cycle just that little bit harder. The moment I realized I was lost, my feeling was -defeat, -frustration and a little -scared. With no signal to call for help, the only way out of the dusty valley was to cycle 20km back up the ruthless off-road uphill. It was also getting late and the last thing I wanted was to be lost after dark. With no other options, I pushed myself up that hill, constantly on the edge of emotionally breaking down... but that wouldn't have helped anyone and it would've taken energy I didn't have to spare. Finally reaching the riverbed camp just before dinner was served, it was reassuring to see that the TdA organizers were all in their support vehicles, just about to send out a search party for us. They said that where we got lost was a common occurrence so they would have found me in no time if worst came to worst. It's times like these that I am happy to be doing this trip through Africa with support from TdA, because being alone and getting lost is dangerous. Running out of water after taking a wrong turn can be very worrying. That evening I felt extremely dehydrated and exhausted so an early night was key for me...