28 November, 2006

Help ma Boab! - Scots in Addis. 8627miles

So the only real obstacle to the rolling road down to Addis was the Nile Gorge. The road suddenly just ran out as a priestly figure gestured at me to stop by his tiny church. I did and was treated to a magnificent view where the escarpment fell very sharply and then rose just as steeply on the other side of a wide brown river, the Blue Nile. I'm sure the priest gave me and the bike a blessing as we drove off - this didn't bode well! The road down to the river was indeed, "strewn with cutting flints" and worse sometimes! More battering for the poor bike and my aching forearms. As I descended somebody turned the heating up far too high and on reaching the bottom of the gorge there was the river, and traffic lights. I slowly overtook a line of trucks, grateful to get in front of them so easily, and waited. Why is it only ever trucks, and me!? Never any cars? There were Japanese guys all over the road looking through those things on tripods that surveyors use and others holding up metre sticks. They seemed to have left the hardest part of the road till last and were just about to seal it properly. I was trying to convince myself how lucky I was to experience it before they sealed it over forever. I knew there was no way I could ever have convinced the bike though!

The lights turned to green after a convoy of trucks from the opposite side had belched their filthy, unbreathable diesel reek all over those patiently waiting. I started across the bridge and up the other side. This was almost a rock face where at times there was no 'road' but just the bare rocks all washed shiny, smooth and slippery by the rain and passing tyres. If I had stopped at all I'd never have got started again. I was in first gear, desperate not to stall, more times than I can remember.

I kept thinking of Ted Simon and how he'd done this just a few years ago at the tender age of 70! What a guy! I'd admired him after reading his book "Jupiter's Travels" about going RTW starting in 1974 on a 500cc Triumph twin, a road bike. One justifying theory for my own trip had been that if he could do it then, on that, surely I could manage now, on this. But, before ever I'd got the chance to do the trip for even my first time, he'd gone round again - at 70! He must be made of superhuman stuff because I had to dig very deep into reserves I did not know I had to get the bike up this mountain!

We battered, clattered, slithered, bounced, weaved, slid and skidded all over the place. The moment-to-moment concentration on just where best to even try to put the front wheel next, avoiding this sharp rock, or that definite death drop, seemed to take over from the fear of getting it all horribly and terminally wrong. It wasn't as if there was any alternative. In Europe anyone would have the sense just to turn away and find another route. But here, this IS the main road, get on with it!

Entirely without falling off (but I later found, having lost some tools from the back seat!!) we reached the top. Almost all present and correct, I was back on firm asphalt after 26miles of motorcycle torture.

The next day, still in the countryside. I rolled quietly past a sign which said "Addis Ababa - City Limit". I was a bit baffled but two miles later I went over the brow of a hill and there it was, sprawling in a fantastic basin, surrounded by sheltering hills. What a sight to behold. I've never entered any city with such a dramatic preview. As I wound down the hill colours began to brighten in concert with the smiles. I thought I saw a Saltire on a shop front and stopped to investigate. There was no connection but the shopkeeper became immediately friendly and let me use his phone to call Andy, who had volunteered his family's hospitality.

Andy, Cathy and their highly entertaining daughter Isla live in a quiet house [photo copyright Andy Wightman] surrounded by a tropical jungle garden. Pigeons in the trees above give an "Ooboop bedoopy-doop" call. Very amusing. It turned out to be Friday so for the first time I really did get to stop on a Friday and relax for the weekend. A phone call to the Kenyan Embassy confirmed they wouldn't be issuing visas till Monday morning, and you couldn't pick them up till the following day.

The play at the front wheel was only about twice as bad as it had been when I left Khartoum - not too bad then! And I'd just covered 1000miles. Another 1000 and I'd be in Nairobi! I settled down to relax for the weekend in the excellent company of this lovely Scots family. They even had Scottish flags, left over from Isla's 10th birthday, hanging up in front of the house! What a welcome!

I'd met Andy before at some conferences in Scotland concerning Land Reform. We'd spoken on the phone and e-mailed a few times. All this on a strictly ProAm basis, with he the top professional and me the complete amateur.

We all went for tea at the local curry house (mmm, good food and company!!) and then on Saturday morning Andy and I searched all over to get me a new camera while Cathy and Isla went to dance classes. Cameras were unbelievably expensive, even in the huge market we explored. So we all went for lunch at the Hilton - as one inevitably does! But actually it was at a very reasonable price. Then some crazy golf at which both Andy and I managed to score holes-in-one!. I innocently won by a few points before it was decided that the winner got to buy the ice-creams.

On Sunday we searched for a National Park mentioned in the Lonely Planet. The directions were very poor and we took a long while to find the place. When we did though, it proved to have been well worth the effort. Andy had admirable driving skills and later confessed to having been a ghillie in the Scottish Highlands where he'd learned how to drive Land Rovers properly over any terrain. In the Park there were three small campsites - and leopards! We didn't see any of those but we did see a Collobus (sp?) monkey, lots of small baboons, and some defiant-looking warthogs. I'd definitely camp here if I came back. Very cool and lots of hiking to be done. No advice on what to do whenever confronted by those never-changing spotted types. I'm sure the wardens knew, however, because the place had been a National Park since the 14th century!

Cathy works for an Aid agency in Addis, Mercy Corps. They're engaged in conflict management, agricultural livelihoods, economic development and pastoralists' livelihoods, and now they are working on improving conditions for people in Addis Ababa. She put me right on one or two issues. It seemed that things were not as idyllic as I'd at first thought. How could they have been? There were tribal conflicts in the south and west, domestic difficulties concerning the mistreatment of females needing to be entirely removed from the culture, and most people were less than pleased that the Tigreans from the north seemed to control the government. A bit like the Scots controlling the UK government, only on a more permanent basis! Oh, and they still couldn't agree with the Eritreans about their new border and had the odd go at fighting them in Somalia from time to time.

However, I had a fantastic weekend imposing myself on this excellent wee family group and bid a very sad farewell the following Tuesday morning, waving them off from their own house as they all went off to work/school.

For my birthday I got to put another hole in my trouser belt, a Kenyan visa and a tankful of petrol. The road south was hard to find and the anti-malarial drugs Auntie Cathy and Uncle Andy sensibly insisted I bought were doing strange things to my heid! I stopped early that day, found a reasonable hotel and went quietly to sleep. I needed it. Things were about to get a whole lot more challenging before they got any better!


At 03/12/2006, 21:42, Anonymous Roy said...

Well done Mick - the gorge sounded like fun. Now you're in Ethiopia, is your front wheel exhibiting a "Jah wobble".

At 11/12/2006, 08:14, Blogger Mick said...

Ha, ha!! Just about everything else is wobbling along with it now though! What a place. Could the Sailing Club not get a boat moored on Lake Tana? And a motorbike in a nearby cupboard?

At 09/03/2007, 21:35, Blogger Mick said...

Follow the adventures of 10 year-old Isla in Addis Ababa at - http://www.sweetypops.net/

Or find out all you need to know about land issues at Andy's website at - http://www.andywightman.com/


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