20 November, 2006

Defying Description

In the morning there was only black-market fuel as there was no other petrol station for another 30miles and I'd have run out long before then. I rattled and battered the bike and myself over those next miles through some of the most photogenic country I'd ever seen. Just as well I lost my camera or I'd have been stopping for photos at every hilltop and corner! Very little progress would have been made there!

And my first proper wildlife - a huge lizard about 2m long but half of that tail, wiggled across the road. I looked down from the hillside and what we'd call, in English, a starling, or in Scotland a 'stookie' in a Spiderman outfit flew alongside me - bright red body and bright blue wings and head!

After the junction for Gonder there was as smooth a road as any in France, Switzerland or the Dolomites. Just finished by a Japanese company, it twisted through fantastic scenery all the way to the Nile where it dropped and rose 1500m into the chasm and out again. 26miles or 42km of rocks and boulders and slippery bits to rival the last 30miles of Sudan. I had simply to maintain momentum at times in order not to fall off the mountain! When I stopped at the Hoteela Yeethiopya later that evening I saw that I'd lost a useful hammer as well as the special BMW exhaust nut spanner from the back of the bike. But more of that later.

All hotels (hoteelas) are en-suite here. You are issued with a small basin and a bottle of water, not for drinking, but for washing your feet before bed. The basin, after the feet-washing, is for any necessities in the night.

I had a very entertaining guest that night though in my cheap hotel room. Lots of insects flapped and jumped against the walls and the metal door as I tried to sleep in the pitch dark after lights-out. At one stage I woke to hear a loud crackling and scraping behind my head and felt that this was just a little too close even for me. Putting on the light, I saw gratefully that it was coming from the pillow-case I wasn't using on the other side of the bed. A baby's hand appeared to my semi-conscious brain to be trying to escape from the pillow-case! I shook myself out of this nightmare and decided it had to be some sort of large insect. Now, I didn't really want to cuddle up to a creepy-crawly insect all evening so I took the other end of the pillow and leant it on the opposite wall, open side up, the 'thing' at the floor. But this 'thing' wasn't daft. It started immediately to move up the pillow towards the light! It was going to escape! Adrenalin at last rushed into my brain! All kinds of thoughts came to my mind, the best one hoping it was a lovely (if large) furry caterpillar. It would be all colourful and maybe it might even be cuddly and it could stay and I'd tell it the story of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and we'd make friends by the morning! But it was still moving up the pillow-case and I couldn't watch it emerge, bit by creepy bit, to frighten the very life out of me. So I decided in my highly assertive way that I was the adult and I had to assume full control of this situation. With about 3cm left for it to go I leapt athletically across the room and deftly grabbed the bottom of the pillow, turning it quickly upside down. A HUMUNGOUS, shiny, black beetle the size of a very, very big gerbil fell onto the floor with a crack, all legs waving and antennae searching! Suppressing a manly shriek, I swept it out of the room and shut the door quietly behind. But not far enough away and so three shivery seconds later it crawled slowly back under the door, back into the room to get me! This time I had my sandal (there could have been anything inside my boot!) ready. I got it well out of the room, down the step and got myself back into the room. Insects don't usually bother me too much but I had no more sleep that night. Large crickets were still jumping senselessly against the metal door. A thorough search of every available hiding place took an hour and then I read until the light came, and the insects went, at 6am. Exhaustion eventually brought me some welcome unconsciousness with my book on my chest.

In the daylight though, words honestly fail me for an adequate description of this place. A far better author than me is required, although all I had read beforehand was no preparation. You'll just have to see it yourselves, that's the only way. 'Beautiful' doesn't quite do it. 'Paradise' comes close. Perfect temperatures, incredible vistas, friendly people (too friendly children!), the smooth road. And all in a 1930's rural landscape. No cars. No fences. No pylons. Lots of bicycles, some trucks and a few buses. All others on foot. This, I suppose, is how Scotland and much of Europe must have looked 70-100 years ago. And how it might look again in another 50-100 years if we keep on the way we're going. The only fly in this otherwise perfect ointment was the regular appearance of burnt-out tanks [photo copyright Andy Wightman] along the road. It was difficult to understand what had happened to them because they were always alone, but quite regularly spaced along the road. I didn't count them but there must have been ten or fifteen along the road between Gondar and Addis.

I tried to think where the place reminded me of - some bits like Rannoch Moor, others like the road up to Bettyhill, others again like the B709 down by Eskdale. A few pointy peaks but mostly rolling, if tall hills cultivated to quite a height. Everything is high here, the plateau itself being between 2000 and 3000m, peaks rising to over 4000m. That's 12,000ft or three Ben Nevises. The bike felt it and I fiddled with the timing till it ran better. Can you still retard timing or is it more PC nowadays to give motors timing difficulties?

Ethiopia claims to be 'the cradle of humanity', where humanids first walked upright and held hands along the road of life. This can't be so, however, since no-one in their right mind would leave such a fantastic place. Droughts, famine and wars aside, there seems no reason such a place should suffer such things. "This is a poor country," Yohannes, the Culture and Ethics teacher at the local Secondary School told me. "But now that we have democracy, we can be happy and progress at last because we have abundant contentment!" (That's the away they use English, by the way, "in order that we may facilitate . . ." they'll say. Old-fashioned grammar in between excellent vocabulary.) I truly hope so because they so obviously deserve it. The rest of the world, I reckon, could learn much from Ethiopia, at least in terms of how to use the environment.


At 21/11/2006, 19:49, Anonymous Mo said...

These are such amazing accounts. It's as if I can see what you see, and it looks smashin'.

At 22/11/2006, 18:20, Blogger Karen said...

Hello Mick

Your posts are a joy. Warmth, excitement, humour and your incredible stoicism on losing things.

Glad you're enjoying a hassle time in beautful Ethiopia, long may it continue.

Thanks for sharing it all.
Love Karenx


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