A Travellerspoint blog

Extreme Ethiopia

Highs and Lows in a Land of Crazy Contrast

semi-overcast 24 °C

Ethiopia truly is a country of extreme contrast. It’s inhabitants claim not to be African - yet have lived in Africa since time began. They claim to be the only African (!) country never colonised. But after a convincing military defeat the Italians ruled here for 4 years. Every large town has a piazza. You have the choice between injera (huge pancake) or spaghetti in any restaurant in the country. All towns are equipped with multiple coffee and pastry shops and after you have finished your espresso you will leave with “chao” ringing in your ears.

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It is where we have come across the most vile, obnoxious and unfriendly children on our entire trip. After we have given a smile, wave and a greeting ‘Salam’. We have been spat at, had sticks and stones thrown, swiped at with hefty staffs, and had the water bottles stolen off the back of the bikes while peddling uphill. A Slovenian cyclist we met coming the opposite direction said to us “Zey are eevill.. I look in zair eyes and just see eevill”

And you are faced with a dilemma - what to you do when a sizable rock whacks into the back of your head or skims past your ear. Turn the other cheek? Ignore it with the hope that any reaction is exactly what they are after? Chuck a bigger rock back? Or drop the bike - chase and catch the little blighter and make your throbbing head feel a bit better as the child whimpers/cries/screams while being shaken vigorously by the crazy Farangi with his mum in the background (who can sense the White Man is teetering on the edge of loosing control) pleading for mercy.

Rob usually chose the final option, but being a nation of runners he only caught about 1 in 3.

But like I said the country is one of extreme contrast. The memories that will endure are the ones of the feral children. But they are the small minority. Ethiopia is also host to the sweetest, kindest children that we have come across.

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These 2 pushed us up a huge hill and expected no payment. This morning as we rode into town a small child stopped and with a broad smile said “Welcome to Ethiopia”.

Some of the adults have been the most friendly we have encountered. Many trucks/4x4s and even a policeman have stopped to ask if they can help us in any way. The bus conductors will lean out of the door and scatter the children trailing us with the aid of a hefty stick or some angry words. The man below translated for us in a guest house and then insisted on showing us his pharmacy and buying us drinks

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The geography is also only demonstrated in polar opposites. Near the southern border with Kenya we slogged through the heat in the flat bottom of the great rift valley. Temperatures were in the low 40s in the daytime and the nights were spent watching the stars wile lying in a puddle of sweat thinking ‘aren’t deserts supposed to get cold at night’.

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However the landscape abruptly changed as we climbed well over 2000m out of the rift. As we ascended the temperatures fell. Greenery and trees started to appear. ‘It looks like it rains a lot here we thought’ and sure enough black clouds gathered and 5 seconds after finding shelter the scenery was pummled by marble sized hailstones.

The following morning we donned our waterproofs (only the second time in the entire trip) and braved the rain a few minutes before dawn. 40 minutes later there was no sign of sunrise or of the rain stopping any time soon and we were chilled to the core - polly unable to flex her fingers well enough to stop on the steep downhills. Seeing an old man sheltering under some corrugated iron in an uninhabited looking village we asked “Chai?” While doing drinking hot fluid mimes. Soon we were beckoned into a dark room with a charcoal stove for us to reanimate our extremities. With steam wafting from our socks and our eyes becoming accustomed to the light we noticed the man in the corner of the room - grinning at us snugly tucked up in bed - we had been welcomed into this poor guy’s bedroom!!

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Another incredible contrast hit us as we peddled into Addis Ababa. 80% of the population lives in the rural Ethiopia - where little has changed in the past 500 years.

The fields are still worked by oxen and wooden ploughs:

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The houses are still made in a traditional style from natural materials:

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By far the most common form of transport is foot or pony carts and all goods are moved to market strapped to the back of sullen donkeys.

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But Addis, on the other hand, is surrounded by ever-increasing suburbs. Sky scrapers dominate the skyline. Shacks with a steaming kettle advertising their trade are replaced by glass fronted ‘Burger Queen’ and ‘Star backs’ selling cinnamon machiatoes to well dressed Amharas. In fact the only thing reveals that it is the capital city of one of Africa’s poorest countries is that 90%of all the 4x4s have World Food Programme/UN/World Vision or the like emblazoned across their doors (In 2003 95% of Ethiopia’s government revenue was aid money). And of course the occasional heard of sheep clogging up the ring road - on it’s way to market

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Addis tourists are slightly unusual too. Many of the young white couples walking the streets or sipping coffee are accompanied by their newly adopted child looking more than a little bewildered - a phenomenon we have not seen in any other big African city we have passed through.

We had been looking forward to Addis for weeks, being able to buy a bar of chocolate in a supermarket, watch a film and most of all to stay with friends (well friends of friends - soon to be our friends!). Our first few days were spent staying at Ali’s house - She is working for DFID (British Government Aid organisation). We didn’t realise until late that she had a plane to catch to the UK about 5 hours after our arrival in her house - in those slightly hectic 5 hours she managed to wholeheartedly welcome us and host dinner for us and Esther (Ali’s best buddy and good friend of my sister’s husband - expat Africa is a small world). The next 3 days were spent trying to get Sudan and Egypt visas and using any spare moment to get our fix of Ali’s extensive DVD collection!

Our next hosts were Frank and Ann Rispin- friends of Polly’s aunt. Teachers from our home town who have moved to Ethiopia and are busily starting and running schools. They have 3 under their belt already!

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They were incredible hosts. Frank took a day out to guide around the sights of Addis and to top things off we went out for some traditional food and death defying head banging.

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We were very worried that someone’s head was goning to pop off and knock over our beer!

Posted by robandpol 06:53 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged bicycle Comments (7)

Ethiopia - will we cope 'ere?

The Omo Valley - a step back in time

sunny 42 °C

We are no longer Mzungus. We are now Feranji – foreigners, which is nice, in a way. But actually we don't even hear that very often as the greeting for visitors here is “Hellund”. It is repeated in quick succession many times and punctuated with the occasional “OK”, “Hello” and “Hullo”. So it goes something like this:

“Hellund, hello, hullo, hellund, OK, hello, hellund, hullo, hello, hellund, OK”

For a while we were just very confused but eventually we figured out it had something to do with Highland mineral water and the plastic bottles it comes in. At least this is what we have concluded, although the brand of mineral water available here is actually called Abysinnia! But then when we first cycled into Tanzania, the only country we had been in with no English, and Swahili as the national language, we became very frustrated with the children shouting “Haribo” at us all the time as we thought they were demanding Haribo sweets from us. As it turned out what they were actually shouting was “Karibu” - Swahili for “Welcome”!! So perhaps we should assume that “Hellund” is amharic for “Welcome!” and then I think we will have a much nicer time!!

We entered Ethiopia in the South West corner of the country. Heading up towards the border from Todenyang in Northern Kenya we were extremely happy to have GPS. Not wanting to inadvertently stray into Southern Sudan we literally set the GPS on a bearing to the first town in Ethiopia and followed it in a dead straight line across the desert!

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Kenya behind us, Sudan on our left, Ethiopia ahead of us – not quite sure which country we were actually in though!!!

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The "Ferry"

The River Omo is the obvious physical boundary between Kenya and Ethiopia and we took the “ferry” across happy to then know that we were in Ethiopia.

Crossing the border

Crossing the border

Having heard we would be practically unable to move for all the people in Ethiopia we were pleasantly surprised by the scenes that greeted us on the other side of the border.

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This area of Ethiopia, the Omo valley, is known as “the peoples region”. The people of the many different groups here still live and dress in a very traditional way which is distinct among each of the tribes.

A girl near Turmi

A girl near Turmi

This girl and the lady below are from the Hamer tribe. The bracelets and necklaces are indications of social status – wealth and marital status. I think this girl might be engaged as the thick metal necklaces indicate she is married or engaged but the iron bracelets on her arms would be given to her husband's family at the time of her marriage. The people in this area have no english so it is hard to be sure!

Funky hairdo!!

Funky hairdo!!

By the way the reason Pol has chopped here hair so short now is so that it didn't end up like this!!!

This part of Southern Ethiopia is very low at only 350metres above sea level and consequently we had a few hot sleepless nights when the temperature just never dropped in the evenings having reached highs in the 40 °C's during the day. On our second day in the country we were pleased to find ourselves climbing to over 1000m and we were hopeful that we would sleep that night but alas we dropped right back down again before bedtime!!

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Climbing up only to drop back down......

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This photo is of the Omo valley. It is flat like this for a width of about 20-30 km and then there is a matching line of hills on the right bordering the valley all the way along. At a small village just before this we stopped for water. At first we were wary as we caught sight of a group of 10 wild looking boys beside the road. They had remarkably painted faces. In a strip across their eyes, like a mask for a masquerade ball, they had lots of bright white dots interspersed with orangey ocra dots on their skin. They wore just a cloth around their wastes, and a lot of them carried the little stools we saw in Turkana, although they were made in a slightly different style here. The children had barely any English but they were very sweet. We explained we wanted water and when he understood one of the boys said; “OK, no problem, let's go!!” and he led us in the direction of the pump whilst some of the others helped push the bikes over the bumpy ground.

We did eventually climb out of the heat.......

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........ and as we did the views were spectacular.

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A room with a view!! Looking down into the Omo valley.

Although we were happy to be getting away from the heat with every pedal stroke we didn't always like what we saw ahead of us!!

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“Over the hills and far away!”

We stopped not far South of Konso for a coke break in a little village. The only place with drinks was the “village pub” - a dark and dingy shed with a table down the middle and benches along the walls. We went in and found all the men of the village downing shots of Ouzo - a large double costing just 40p!! Glass litre bottles stood on the table but when they ran out the teenage girl who seemed to be in charge would set down her illuminous yellow crochet, get up from the corner and refill the bottles from a dirty old 5litre jerrycan stashed under the table!! It was here that we learnt the guy with the gun can be very useful sometimes!!!

Bike Security!!

Bike Security!!

Leaving the village behind we became aware that everywhere we went through between here and Konso the men were sitting around drinking Ouzo – it was 3 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon!!

Konso marks the end of the peoples region. Happily we arrived here on market day and enjoyed the hustle and bustle that goes with it.

Konso Market

Konso Market

Note the skirts with a frill around the top that all the ladies in this area wear!!

By the time we reached Konso we had earnt ourselves a couple of rest days with lots of reading, typing, sleeping and eating!!

Njera!!

Njera!!

This is the staple diet in Ethiopia; a huge savoury pancake with various toppings on - it looks good but it's actually pretty minging!!

Posted by robandpol 03:25 Comments (5)

The Jade Sea

Lake Turkana - water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

sunny 42 °C

We knew a group were passing through Lodwar in a convoy of 4x4's the following day on their way to Eliye Springs, the only functioning lodge and campsite on the western side of the lake. We busied ourselves in the morning organising supplies, including topping up the petrol for our stove at the Caltex station as we knew there would be no more fuel stations until we were well into Ethiopia. We met the guys with the 4x4's for lunch and loaded our bikes into Rolfe's backie for the drive to the Lake.

Pulling into the Caltex station to re-fuel the vehicles we were struck by how different the reception was to the one we'd had earlier that morning when we'd pulled in on our bicycles. Now there was no joking and no smiles it was strictly business and a hoard of hawkers.

As we were sitting there waiting a man came over to sell us a Turkana stool. He walked over surreptitiously removing a green fish-shaped clip hanging off the handle of a stool which I instantly recognised as Rob's. Confused, since I didn't know Rob had even lost his stool, I opened the window and took it off him. It turned out Rob had been sitting on it guarding the bikes whilst I was in the shops and until this moment he hadn't realised he had forgotten to take it when we went to meet the others for lunch. Incredibly the guy believed our story and was happy to leave the stool with us after receiving just a small recompense for his trouble in bringing it over to us – a price Rob was more than happy to pay to be re-united with his seat!

It was a fun but very bumpy drive from Lodwar to Eliye Springs with Barbara, Sonia and her mum, some Swiss guys up from Nairobi for a long anticipated trip to the Lake. The desert sailed passed our windows as the cool breeze from the AC washed over our faces. The occasional figure of a desert wanderer shimmered in the distance, in the haze of the remote heat, as we sped on by bobbing to the beats of the Latin American salsa that danced out of the CD player. Children came running from patches of shade but before they could reach us we were gone and I looked back to find their smiling, waving faces obscured by the cloud of sand-dust we whipped up as we went.

The bikes and supper

The bikes and supper

From the security of Eliye Springs with it's source of drinking water we did some dummy rides up the side of lake next to the water where the sand was hardest. We practised drinking the terribly unpalatable lake water saturated with sachets of “Nutri-C” (fruit juice powder) and Citric Acid to see how our bodies would react and we also made enquiries about hiring camels to carry our kit and some extra drinking water!

Trials along the lake

Trials along the lake

As it worked out our bodies coped with the water and we decided to go it alone up the shore to Kalakol where we would be able to detox on mineral water and reassess our plan. Well acquainted now with the malicious malevolence of the desert sun we set off well before dawn by the light of our head-torches scouring the sand and waters after the 6km mark for any traces of the infamous crocodile population left to their own devices beyond this point.

Sunrise!!

Sunrise!!

We cycled silently along accompanied only by the gentle lapping of the waves on the sand. It was hard to believe it wasn't the ocean we were next to especially since, like the sea, this huge reservoir of water could not be relied on as a source of drinking water. We savoured the joys which come with such an early start as we watched the sun rise over the lake.

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We shared the serenity of the dawn with a lot of water birds along the lake shore. A pair of pale flamingoes flew silently in from over the lake, their slender legs extending as far behind as their necks in front, forming perfect symmetry about their bodies. They landed in a shallow pool where some spoonbills were busy sifting the water for goodies next to some smaller waders strutting around.

Midday approached and we started to see fishing boats in the distance. As we drew closer we saw people gathered around the boats and it was apparent that the shores of Kalakol were a hive of activity. Groups of people were sitting around fixing vast fishing nets whilst others were gutting and de-scaling the day's catch. Children waded through the water hopefully pulling long fishing lines behind them whilst men dragged boats out the lake and onto the sand. Gazing upon the scene you would think it had always been this way – generation after generation hooking their living out of the lake. In fact the Turkana people are traditionally pastoralists who migrate strategically around the desert and inland mountains in annual cycles, with their camels and goats, moving from one water source to the next depending on the season. There were severe droughts, and famines followed in the '60's and '70's. Since there were no roads in the dessert or the mountains it was impossible to access the communitities with aid so the people were transported to temporary settlements all along the edge of Lake Turkana where aid could be supplied with ease. And then the people stayed. All the little towns and villages on the West shore of Lake Turkana were born in this way.

Once in Kalakol we headed into the “Barack Obama Hotel” (a hotel is a restaurant) to escape the sun and down some fluids. Although the town is without electricity the Barack Obama has a solar-powered freezer full of treats including vanilla yoghurts (of which we had about 3 each )!!

Whilst we were devouring delicious plates of liver, rice and cabbage a very energetic and knowledgeable man sitting on the table opposite started chatting to us.

Rob and John

Rob and John

John was the right man in the right place!! He was full of reliable information and drew for us a fantastic map of Lake Turkana including all the small communities and the distances between them as well as the location of all the water pumps, detailing which you should and which you should not drink from (!!) and the names and numbers of the local chiefs, many of which were his relations!! This information was invaluable. The road we were on is not on any of the maps we looked at or on our GPS software and no-one we had enquired of had been able to give us any information about communities where we might be able to get drinking water, or even if there were any.

Invaluable map

Invaluable map

Armed with the map we packed up our bikes and cycled on. However, we didn't get far before we met this imposing man eager to here our story.

A true Turkana

A true Turkana

We chatted through a translator as he had no English. He sold us his very cool bracelet and invited us to stay in his village – which we accepted.

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The bracelet is a wide piece of metal with a strip of animal hide covering it's very sharp edge. When you pull off the leather it becomes a lethal weapon on your wrist and if you take it off it is used to skin goats and gut fish!!

We set off again nice and early..........

Desert dawn

Desert dawn

..... since we were still in the middle of a desert with temperatures to match.

Hot Desert!!

Hot Desert!!

The heat forced us to stop mid-morning in a little place called Kataboi where we had a great time hanging out with Felix and Edwin.

Edwin and Felix

Edwin and Felix

We pushed on along the sandy road which ran parallel to the lake with spectacular views and marked our progress by the advance of the lake's islands – Central Island was falling out of sight behind us now as the North Island came into view in the distance.

Every now and then the bikes rested....

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.... whilst we topped up our water.

Sweet water!!

Sweet water!!

We camped in the wild in the middle of nowhere carefully positioning our jerrycan over the hole that Rob saw the scorpion dart back into! The sky was bright with stars and the temperature didn't drop all night long. It was BOILING.

Towards the Northern end of the Lake we returned to the hardened sand by the water to cycle the remainder of the way to a place called Todenyang where there is a Catholic Mission. The scenery was different to where we had cycled on the shore further south. The palm trees that had been so numerous before gradually petered out and the land became very barren. We would pass now and then groups of young men drying out fish in the sun and young boys keeping watching over herds of goats – all of them armed with Kalashnikovs.

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From the shore of the lake we saw a surreal cluster of trees in the middle of the surrounding desert a few kilometres inland from an artesian wheel on the waters edge. We took a bee line towards it, which was VERY hard work....

Exhausting!!

Exhausting!!

As we approached the settlement, very slowly, we thought we were perhaps mistaken. We had heard Todenyang was a village but all we could see were a few deserted buildings in various states of disrepair completely enclosed by a tall wire fence. However we were greeted enthusiastically and welcomed in. We weren't mistaken. From where we approached we could only see the mission buildings, which actually looked a lot less bedraggled up close, then there is a small fence covered by a line of young green trees beyond which sits the village.

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Note the church on the right and the line of trees on the left behind which are the mission buildings.

The entire village, and the mission are surrounded by the fence for security because there is constant tribal fighting between the Turkana and the Ethiopian Merrile who live just the other side of the border – less than 10km away. The week before we arrived 6 Turkana people had been shot dead in the reeds by the lake. Father Stephen Ochien a young, black, Kenyan Catholic Father is heading up the mission trying to encourage peace in the area but it's hard to break the hold of an age old tradition and he spends most of his time carrying out damage control.

For us Todenyang was a wonderful place to spend our last night in Kenya. There was, a needless to say hot, shower supplied with water pumped from the lake by the artesian wheel, we stayed in a sheltered canvas tent with beds and ate our meals with the mission staff.

Home from home

Home from home

Just what we needed before we would set off across the desert in search of the Ethiopian border trying to avoid accidently slipping into southern Sudan in the process.

Posted by robandpol 23:56 Comments (8)

Camel Country

Man Down!!!

sunny 43 °C

So we spent the night camping in the dry river bed. Thankfully the rains didn't come in the night.

The following morning it was 26 °C when we got up at 5am!! But it was bearable even as the sweat moistened our brows while we packed away our tent. We pushed our bikes out of the thick sand of the river bed and back onto 'road'.

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Powering along before sunrise we were happy not to have the sun beating down on us as it had the day before. It was good while it lasted and we pedalled hard but it didn't last long!!

The sun awoke and peered over the rocky horizon, scouring the land, searching through the thorny shrubs and littered rocks for someone to spend his day tormenting! Picking through the bushes, setting the sand ablaze as he searched there was no-one to be found. But then the two cyclists caught his eye and he fixed them with his harsh, penetrating glare.

The glaring sun

The glaring sun

The cyclists pedalled hard rejoicing in the thrill of powering their way through the expanse of fiercely beautiful wilderness which stretched out around them in every direction. We reached Lokichar happy at our decision the previous night to camp in the bush as the town did not live up to expectations. Stopping only to purchase 10litres of mineral water (!!) under the silent gaze of the early morning crowd we sailed on through.

The sun did not let us out of his sight and the temperature soared once more as he continued to beat down on our backs. People would emerge from time to time or be spotted in the distance – isolated figures moving slowly, steadily, their paces measuring the heat. We passed people digging deep, deep into the dry river beds searching for water. They cheerfully waved as we passed by. Goats huddled under trees and camels grazed silently on the thorny twigs.

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We bumped over the road, reminding, forcing ourselves all the time to drink. And then the wind started to blow. Hot, dry air, whooshing over us like the air that forces itself over you in the tunnels of the London Underground. With every breath we took it dried our throats anew.

Water!!

Water!!

You must imagine this picture with a herd of about 30 goats in the background drinking from a basin and three women dressed in cloth with hundreds of beads climbing their necks, the old man sitting, just out of shot, playing with the run off water. This is how it was before we ask to take the photo but then it became complicated and the scene was dispersed. Never the less it was a joyous scene that we saw from the road and we were happy to go over and join it.

We filled our containers and continued on our way. Then, miraculously, as if from no-where, a thin line of tar grew tentatively out of the ruts and gravel. It was frail and only just wide enough for the tyre of a bicycle. But it was wide enough and we balanced our laden bikes upon it giving our heads and stomachs a much needed rest from the harsh jarring of the bumpy road. The cruel sun used the white sand all around us to dazzle our eyes as we worked hard picking out the thread of tar. The kilometres ticked by and, at first just slowly, the tar grew bolder, increasing his claim on the road until, against hope and belief, we found ourselves cruising along on a near perfect tarmac strip.

With 5km to go until a pre-arranged break the tarmac took us through a tiny village perched on the scorching sand.

Dusty little village

Dusty little village

The possibility of sodas made the village a good place for a break and we headed towards a thatch of palm leaves supported on thick wooden sticks that threw an inviting shade onto the sand beneath it. An old man, the village carpenter, was working under the shelter and he welcomed us warmly, rushing inside to get some chairs; one complete, the other slightly sparse on the seat since he was only part way through making it. Rob, who had actually not been feeling right all day, had rapidly deteriorated to the point of feeling pretty rough so he took a seat whilst Pol set off to find drinks. After a couple of failed attempts to locate the village shop she discovered the usefulness of the universal language of Coke. She didn't know the word for shop in the local vernacular, and no-one in the village knew the word “shop”and yet by asking “coke?” and pointing at various buildings, a steady stream of pointing arms like a mexican wave rapidly guided her to the right place!

When she returned to Rob with the bottles of Coke a crowd had gathered around him. Struck by the scene as she walked over she fleetingly mused on the paradox that in an area so rich in a culture which is so visibly expressed the people had sought out the mzungu to stare at before the reverse had happened.

Gourd presentation!

Gourd presentation!

Concerned by his clammy complexion and the rate at which Rob downed his coke the carpenter, Peter, presented him with a hollow gourd in a plaited carrying strap with a cork in the top. This is a traditional container used for carrying water and milk. He had made it himself.

Our visitors

Our visitors

A couple of our other visitors at the Coke stop.

Fun as it was in the village we still had another 25kms to our end point, Lodwar. We said our goodbyes and forced ourselves out from under the shade and back into the glare of the midday sun.

With the village now out of sight, all of a sudden our friendly tar strip rapidly deteriorated and vanished. We quickly found ourselves inch-deep in hot, soft sand, dazzled by the sun who was now pounding down on our backs with great force, and with no hope of any improvement in the situation anytime soon.

The hot sandy road

The hot sandy road

We pushed slowly on, at times navigating the sand, at times wading through it. All the time we were trying to drink but it just got harder and harder to do so. We were carrying ample water but our bodies were just rejecting it. The relentless sun, intent on his mission, had heated the water sitting on the bikes to somewhere in the 40 °C's and every time we swallowed the water acute waves of nausea pulsated through us. Our bodies were overheating and it was very unpleasant.

There was no-one in sight, no sign of life save the constant whine of cicadas drilling in our ears like tinnitus as the hot air buffeted our faces. Nothing was out in the sun. Even the camels, those hardy desert animals, were resting in the shade and yet, foolishly, we pedalled on.

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I was worried about Rob. Our pace was slow and as I checked my wing mirror I saw he was struggling, lagging further and further behind. We carried on silently in this way for another 15-20 minutes slowing right down until Rob, barely able to form the words murmured “Pol, Pol, I need..... a... break”. With that his bike crashed to the ground and he stumbled towards a prickly acacia tree where he collapsed in a heap on top of some thorns.

Rob collapsed under the acacia........

Rob collapsed under the acacia........

The little goat had never seen an Mzungu collapse before and was quite concerned.

I rushed over with a jerry can of water and started wetting his clothes and dabbing his face. Taking off his shoes and socks I was trying desperately to cool him down. It worked slowly and little by little he recovered and was able to speak again but he was very weak and still very nauseous and, worryingly, he was unable to drink. So we hung out in the shade of the prickly acacia. As we were there, recovering, a young man materialized from no-where and, enticed by our tub of water, wandered over to join us. We were glad of the company and although we didn't speak a word in common we liked the fragile reassurance brought by this link with humanity.

A companion in the desert

A companion in the desert

An old woman sleeping in the shade of a bush a few hundred metres away braved the sun to come and see what was happening under our tree. A motorbike approached and the passenger hopped off. A friend of the young man, he also came over to join us. No-one spoke English but it didn't matter. They included us in their conversations, pleasantly chatting away to us as if we understood.

Some things are easily conveyed even in the absence of words and when the old lady tried to extort money from us for taking the photo of a random nearby goat an argument ensued. But it was too hot to get mad with anyone and so it passed and we continued to commune! The heat made us drowsy and when we tired of talking we lay down to nap. The old lady lay with her head on her saucepan in place of a pillow.

And so we spent perhaps the most surreal afternoon of our lives; Rob drifting in and out of sleep to the sound of chattering around him feeling as though he had passed out in some far off land and been rescued by the natives, which in fact wasn't so very far from the truth.

Turkana Lady

Turkana Lady

When the worst of the heat was over our group slowly dissolved and we packed up our things to move on.

The group disintegrating

The group disintegrating

We had only 10kms to go until we reached the town where we knew there was a decent guest house with running water but despite being slightly downhill it was a very difficult 10km with Rob, who was still very weak, being hit with nausea and dizziness again the moment he stepped back into the sun. We pedalled slowly, slowly and thankfully as we got closer the road became more substantial and the riding was easier. Like zombies we followed the signs for the guest house until somehow we found ourselves in the shaded reception asking for a room.

Managing to hold out just long enough to get him to safety Rob's body completely shut down. We had a bed and a bathroom and a room with a fan and with our stove and packets of powdered tomato soup, and with soaking wet towels from the bathroom I managed to begin the process of slowly re-hydrating and cooling his defeated body.

Dead in Bed

Dead in Bed

The sun had had his fun and the cyclists will certainly be giving him the respect he deserves in the future!!

Posted by robandpol 01:21 Comments (5)

Heading into the desert.

The road to Turkana

sunny 43 °C

We said good bye to Mick and Dorte (Rob's mum and dad) after a wonderful time with them and set about organising our kit for the journey Northwards. We were heading for Lake Turkana, 350km North of Kitale, which we planned to follow up and over into the Southern stretches of Ethiopia.

We had consulted several sources about the stretch of road between Kitale and Lake Turkana and the advice we got ranged from polar extremes. Our conclusion was that there has been trouble in the area but it is tribal consisting primarily of cycles of retaliatory cattle raids and it shouldn't affect us as we pass through. Our more pressing concerns would be the temperature and carrying adequate quantities of water. With this in mind we increased our carrying capacity to 30litres with a couple of jerrycans.

Setting out from Kitale the land around was green. There were villages splashed about and the views were beautiful.

View after Kitale

View after Kitale

30km into the morning we began to descend between huge hills.

Descending into the heat

Descending into the heat

As we dropped a river joined us from the West and we followed it as it wound through the ever-increasingly barren landscape. The temperature increased and we peddled on, the villages now becoming very infrequent. We saw no cattle as we cycled which we found reassuring since we figured no-one would be cattle raiding where there aren't any cattle! In fact a few weeks previously there had been a huge raid in this area during which 4000 heads of cattle had been rounded up and taken across to Northern Uganda.

We were aiming for a research station in the area where we knew we could camp. In the vague vicinity around 12 o'clock we stopped at a small village to buy what we could for supper and were delighted to see a group of old men resting in the shade of an acacia tree, each one sitting on a tiny stool wearing little more than a cloth draped over one shoulder and around the waist. The tiny stool is the Turkana stool named after the tribe and area where it is found. It is one of these stools that Rob has been carrying with him since South Africa, a gift from his sister Stina which she bought 10 years ago as she'd passed through Kenya. The men waved happily as we passed them by with our tomatoes and onions from the stall. Soon after we saw the sign for “Marich Pass Research Centre” and we peeled off the gravel road into the sand scattering a few lucky surviving cows.

Lucky survivor cows

Lucky survivor cows

The camp spot was next to a river and well shaded. There was a tap nearby from a bore hole providing drinking water. We sheltered from the afternoon heat entertained by the trickle of children on their way home from school, collecting water as they went, and a herd of goats who couldn't be kept away no matter how many times the staff chased them off.

In the morning we set off before dawn.

Early start from Marich Pass

Early start from Marich Pass

Sunrise was beautiful; still and cool. We startled some tiny buck (DicDics) as we silently sped along and at one point had to rub our eyes as a solitary man in the middle of nowhere emerged onto the track clad in a cloth and carrying only his little stool and a bow and arrow!

The road was rough; pot holes dissolved into gravel and in the gravel corregations grew, rattling us around on our bikes. We stopped on the edge of a national park to top up our water from the rain water tank. The rains had last fallen at the end of December and no more were expected until March.

Leaving the hills behind

Leaving the hills behind

By mid day the temperature was a soaring 41 °C and the bumpy road had taken it's toll. Thankfully the day's first and only hub of civilisation was only a stone's throw away and we pushed ourselves on into Ndali Village. As we reached the small rickety buildings decorated by groups of people milling around we stopped to ask if there was somewhere we could get some food. The young man we asked greeted us enthusiastically; “ Welcome, welcome to Turkana. Yes, yes, that white building over there makes food”

We dragged ourselves over to the white building, parked our bikes, and sunk into the plastic chairs inside. The people were so kind. The owner ushered us onto a different table that was not in the direct line of the sun. We got ourselves a plate of liver and rice each and a litre of refreshing cold fluids – coke/mineral water. We were aiming for Lokichar that evening but it was still 40km further. The restaurant owner welcomed us to stay and sit out the afternoon sun inside before continuing later on. It seems this is what people do. The restaurant filled with people escaping the heat.

We didn't make it to Lokichar that evening. We left the restaurant at 4pm when, although slightly less fierce, the heat was still intense. We covered another 20km and met a smartly dressed man cycling in the opposite direction.

William Kerio

William Kerio

William is a Turkana man who lives in Lokichar but pastors the people of the next village 25km away. There are about 60 people there and, as elsewhere in the region, the area is incredibly dry and there is not enough water. He turned around and cycled with us a while. We chatted and then he turned back and continued on his journey. Shortly after he left us we pulled off the road and set up our camp.

Aware of the dangers of camping in a dry river bed in an area of flash flooding the temptation of the flat thornless sand and the reassurance that the rains were not expected until March won us over. The desolate spot was utterly beautiful. The temperature did not drop sufficiently all night but the beautiful stars sparkling through the net inner of the tent were more than adequate compensation. I don't think either of us could honestly say we slept well but we were well rested.

Posted by robandpol 01:19 Comments (2)

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