The tingle at altitude

The crossing from the Sudanese to the Ethiopian border was not that eventful. Except for the Ebola check by a doctor with a stethoscope around his neck, “Are you feeling fine?” and the customs officer “Do you have anything in your bags that you are not allowed?”.

John and I have commented a few times on how a border can make a big difference to the surroundings. People that live a hundred metres apart not only speak a different language, have a different religion, eat different food, drink or don’t drink. We arrived in Ethiopia with all these changes but the biggest of all was the landscape. Not a hundred metres in we started climbing some mountains. Serious mountains!  What made the FIRST few hills entertaining was the constant shouts of “you you you” and “Farengie” (Apparently evolved from the French who visited here) the Ethiopian name for any white person. A new country with a new name. I could also revert back to Pierre rather than Beer as it’s been through both Egypt and Sudan. 

 “There is a reason why Ethiopians do so well at long distance running” said a Frenchman that we met close to the Sudanese border and who had cycled from South Africa. The kids would run five kilometres up the mountain, still shouting “you you you”. On an odd occasion we took full advantage of the energy that the kids had and got them to “push push push” us up the hills.

2015/02/img_5822-0.jpg  Some enthusiastic “pushers”

The mountains are indescribable and photos unfortunately don’t give their beauty or steepness any justice.

We had cycled some five thousand kilometres and both of us got a tummy bug. It was time to recover and bulk up. I had lost more than ten kilograms and John would have put any Ethiopian to shame during the famine years. So it was a good time to meet Peter and Arne at Kim and Tim village on Lake Tana. We last met up with them in Khartoum.

We had a great time eating and drinking, kayaking, hiking, bird watching, visited some monasteries, generally relaxed and tried to bulk up some reserves. Other than the great staff that run the place, we also met a few other interesting travellers. Some heading South, others heading the way that we has just come. Every night we all had dinner with good stories of our adventures and an excellent meal around a big table. Everyone became used to John and I finishing off any left overs.  



Tim and Kim founded the charity project to support a small village near Goragora. They have created a small oasis that provides employment to the locals and engages in some projects within the village. A more recent project was to build a toilet block for the local primary school. The school had gone without toilets untill now. 

After spending nine days catching our breaths, we caught the local government operated ferry across Lake Tana as an alternative to back tracking fifty kilometres on a gravel road. The ferry was a two day journey to Bahir Dar. It was a great experience following the coastline and seeing all the bird life, monasteries and villages.

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2015/02/img_5935.jpgCows, grain, chickens, everyone uses the ferry 

We didn’t see the hippos or crocodiles that were reported to be everywhere, but what was really amazing was to see the local fisherman paddling in kayaks made of papyrus. By leaving one kayak on either shore, they would ensure that they would have a dried out version for the return journey. The craftsmanship is truly amazing. We found out that a kayak goes for the equivalent of £10. We also saw a couple of traders transporting grass to Bahir Dar in their Kayaks, some thirty kilometres – amazing!

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The ferry stops for the night in K’Unzila. Instead of staying in a cheap hotel, we asked the local jetty master if we could camp out in the harbour.

A memory that John would never forget was when he went into the field for his early morning ablutions and managed to “cover up” an ant hill. The ants were obviously not too happy and the tingling sensation that John experienced, became a bit more than a tingle until he managed to remove all his clothes in front of a bemused group of ferry goers waiting to buy their tickets. 

From Bahir Dar we were back on the bikes and met up with a youth group who were on a economical development field trip. They were interested about our trip and we gave them a low down on our journey. We explained that we were supporting Save the Rhino Donate through Virgin Money Giving  and how safeguarding all animals and natural vegetation could enrich their lives further.  It’s sad that the rhinos have already been eradicated from Ethiopia. We had great cheers from everyone when we also told them that we were both marathon runners and that Haile Gebrselassie was one of our heros too.

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We carried on cycling and after meeting another German cyclist Bernhard on route, we made it to Enjabara where we were told about an American couple who had set up a charity to try to reintroduce fruit and other natural trees to the region. After knocking on some doors we met Mark, Debbie and Jon, Amy and their twin daughters. We had an epic game of volleyball where the South Africans were too strong for the German American Ethiopian force. After a good night’s sleep we visited their project and learnt how the indigenous plants have been replaced by the fast growing, water needy Eucaluptus / Bluegum trees from Australia. They have been experimenting with different types of fruit trees and found that with the altitude and weather that plums proved promising. It was good to see the locals adding fruit to their diet.

Some of the team on the farm 



One of the volcano lakes near Enjabara

We finally reached Addis Abeba, but not before we took on the Blue Nile Gorge challenge. This is a 20km drop into the gorge which has been compared to the Grand Canyon in America and then a 20km climb with an altitude difference of 1700m.



9 thoughts on “The tingle at altitude

  1. Awesome, it is difficult to understand the size of mountains. In the Argus start chute, I met a man from gaborone, he is the owner of warm showers there. Can’t remember his name. But he was a classic guy. Small world.

    Keep the updates coming, even if it just pics with a few words below describing them.

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  2. This is an amazing trip, thank you for sharing it, you really bring it to life. I don’t know how you do it, but then again how could you stop now!! Keep the posts coming great to hear how it is going.

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  3. I remain in awe of the challenge you have taken on and undoubtedly the social and environmental enrichment that you continue to share with us through the pictures and dialogue. The images of the highlands of Ethiopia are truly magnificent👍

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  4. Well done guys, your adventure is always inspiring. Please de-worm yourselves before you come and visit me in Port Elizabeth (if you come down this way).

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  5. Hi John, it was nice meeting you and Helen in Axum. Sorry that we couldn’t meet Pierre. We hope that you will have a safe yourney heading south with lots of fun. Take care. Dirk & Anni Loots, Prieska, RSA

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    1. I stopped and spoke to John today on a gravel track between Engomo and Kalokol, North Turkana, Kenya. I had since past Pierre about 10 mins previous and just thought it was some crazy Loonatic who was lost. When I saw another bearded nut cycling in the outback in 30+C heat I had to stop for a chat. What a top pair of blokes! Good on you! Replend with some water and off they went. Good Luck Lads

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