The many faces of Ethiopia

DSC_9092
On the way down to cross the Nile, it took me 1 hour to get down, and 3.5 hours up again

Ethiopia

So, I have finally entered Ethiopia, the country I have most read about since a lot of cyclists had bad experiences before and either rushed through it or took the bus. The most problematic issue they always named were the kids along the road. It is known that throwing rocks is a national sport, but if you are on a bicycle and kids start to throw rocks at you, every day can be a mental challenge, not to speak of the danger of a rock actually hitting you. My opinion about cycling in Ethiopia was already biased when I entered the country, even if I didn’t want it I couldn’t change it. I had just read to many bad things about cycling through Ethiopia. While cycling the first couple of hours through Ethiopia, I caught myself as being more anxious, more careful and less friendly to people than in other countries I have been before, and I had to tell myself, Lukas, don’t do that, try to make the best out of it and try to see the many positive things this country has to offer. I am still in the process of learning to deal with the Ethiopian people along the road, it will take some more time for sure, but I think that process will also develop mental strength for other situations that might arise in the future. Just to give you a brief insight on what I have to deal with every day. There is a continuous shouting at me, kids can be kilometres away, as soon as they see me they shout YOU YOU YOU YOU, MONEY MONEY MONEY. When I climb hills at 5 to 6 km/h, kids follow me and just repeat the YOU YOU MONEY MONEY over and over again. I am a very calm guy but imagine being on the road for ten hours plus a day, having to continuously listen to that. It can drive you crazy! Since I can’t change it, I just try to deal with it, teaching myself patience and thinking about it in a positive way. I can only benefit from this experience in the future. Luckily, I did not get that many stones thrown at me so far, however, I am always really on the watch and if I see them grabbing a rock, I point at them, step of the bicycle and then they usually run away. I mean they are kids, you can’t blame them, it’s the parents who should take their job more seriously in my opinion. There are also kids trying to take stuff out from the outside of my bags, yes, I always keep my food there… I just constantly need to watch my surroundings which can be very tiring. I also had some adults grabbing my bags while I passed them, this can be super dangerous. I usually stop my bicycle, turn around and tell them in a kind but serious way to stop with that. I believe that after Ethiopia, nothing can bring me off my bicycle anymore haha. I still have over 1500km to go, Ethiopia is bigger than I thought. It is overall almost a 2000 kilometres ride through the country. That’s around the same distance as I did in Sudan, expect the fact that Ethiopia is so mountainous. I am doing on average more than 1000 metres of altitude daily and the road will go up to 3100 meters above sea level at one point. I am in the shape of my life, going uphill doesn’t bother me anymore. It just takes way more time than in the flat terrain, so I kind of need to adjust my daily stretches.

DSC_8855
When I was interviewed by the Ethiopian television. I hope I could make a statement for the parents to teach their kids not to throw any stones at cyclists anymore
DSC_8999
People just everywhere, population wise Ethiopia is the biggest landlocked country
DSC_8919
The Blue Nile Waterfall in Bahir Dar
img_5809
Little snack along the road, usually prepared by local kids
DSC_8303
Women carrying big water tanks every day for kilometres. Usually from the age of 8 to 10 the girls will start to do the same
DSC_8245
I haven’t seen any agricultural machines in use. Everything is done like 100 years ago in Europe.
DSC_8828
Various things are carried on the head, like this woman here carrying the chickens to the butcher

DSC_8362DSC_8340DSC_8328

DSC_8913

DSC_8335
Some portrait pictures from Debarak

5 days, 550km and 7500 meters of altitude later

This post was written a week of cycling later, and I just got so tired of cycling in this country:

Seriously, I have not experienced this before. Ethiopia is like one village, and there is people EVERYWHERE! This should by no means be a negative post, but the harassment I have to deal with during the whole day is absolutely insane and sad. Ethiopia has developed such a crazy begging culture that is driving me nuts while being on the road for 10 hours+ every day. I know they are poor, but seriously I have been to many poor countries and what Ethiopien people do is in my opinion absolutely disrespectful! There is not one minute passing by that someone doesn‘t shout MONEY MONEY MONEY at me, from babies up to grandparents, just everyone is always asking for money! It continues… the stones… it is sooo dangerous being hit by stones all day long. Usually when I get hit I flinch and turn around, what is if I lose sight for one second and a truck is coming from behind. I don‘t even want to think about that scenario. I get shout and whistled at all day long, I don‘t mind when they shout „foreigner“ at me, but they do it in such an aggressive way that it becomes sooo annoying. I feel being treated like a dog. Whenever I pass a village there is people trying to take stuff out of my outside bags, they try to stop me by just grabbing my arm or my bags. Seriously, the country and its nature is breathtaking, but to cycle through it has been the worst experience so far in my life. I have never been treated like that in any foreign country, and there is still 900km to cycle until Kenya. Please wish me luck and a lot of patience, I hope I do not need a psychiatric doctor afterwords.

DSC_9113
On the way down to cross the Nile

DSC_9121

DSC_9048
Luckily nothing happens, you can see all of the crew to the left. However, I just ask myself how the driver did it.
DSC_9124
Stunning views, This picture is taken 2400 Meter above sea level
DSC_9012
Young girls carrying heavy loads. All the heavy stuff is carried by femals
DSC_9009
The shepherd dress really nice, with jackets, dressshirts and hats
DSC_9007
I don’t really agree with his gesture, but that’s just the way the transport the sheep around Ethiopia

DSC_8950

DSC_8986
Anyone wants a dress?
DSC_8985
Ethiopia is very hilly but the views are just amazing
DSC_9144
Just Baboons crossing the road
DSC_8939
Seems like men are doing the easy work

 

International Aid – Some possible explanations of what I have experienced

This is just based on my opinion and of what I have seen during my time spent in this country. Ethiopia has been on the list of poorest countries for a long time, they have battled severe famines in the last 50 years. In the famine from 1983 -1985 more than 400,000 people died. I believe since then, Ethiopia has been overrun by international aid organizations and countries who showed their support. Almost every school I pass is built by a foreign organization, all the water stations are donated by the European Union and other organizations. All the roads are either built by China or Japan, and I see so many cars on a daily basis that have been donated by USaid, UKaid, Japaneseaid and the list goes on. What about growing up in a country where almost everything has been sponsored by a foreign country? Ethiopia has become used to be handed everything. In my opinion Ethiopia knows how to cock the fish they have received, but they need to learn how to catch it, and this will be the biggest challenge for Ethiopia in the upcoming years. They need to become less dependent on foreign aid just handed over to them. Now you might say ohhh Lukas so why do you support an organization that delivers aid to Ethiopia? The explanation is simple, Green Ethiopia is not about delivering aid, instead it is about supporting self development, starting with afforestation and ending with people being empowered to sustainably improve their living situation. I strongly believe that is the key for development, aid cannot just be handed over, it needs to be empowered by the people itself, they need to learn how to catch the fish!

Rain season is over 

The rain season lasts for about 3 months and my timing is just great, it usually ends in September. Everything now is so green, flowers are open, and the diversity of colours is just breath-taking. Some free advice: If you want to visit this beautiful country, do it after rain season! Another highlight are the birds. I have never seen such a variety of colourful birds in my life, and if there wouldn’t be the YOUYOUYOU all the time, there would be a huge concert going on from all the singing birds.

DSC_8205DSC_8213DSC_8751

DSC_8787
A lot of people wear bathing slippers that they can cheaply buy for around 2 dollars. As cheap as they are, they don’t last very long. Surprisingly, Ethiopia is very clean compared to Sudan and Egypt, you barely see any plastic laying around

3 days hike in the Simien mountains

Many people told me that if there is one thing I should do whilst in Ethiopia it is to hike the simien mountains. I arrived in Gondar on a Thursday, didn’t do anything else than cycling for the last 8 days, and the tour started on Friday right away. It didn’t bother me, but I just told myself that I will need a serious break soon after I get back. The 3 days hiking included a guide, a scout, two cooks, all the food and camping equipment. Since I had everything with me anyway, I brought all my own equipment. This was a wise decision; most people were freezing at night and their tent was almost blown off because of the strong winds in the morning. I slept like a baby and my tent was stable as a rock. From Gondar a minivan drove us up to Debarak, where we entered the national park. I did not have any expectations at all, didn’t know what animals to expect and how the landscape will look like. I love doing it this way, doing stuff with no expectations whatsoever so I will not be disappointed at all. It usually turns out to be great anyway, so did it this time as well. We hiked a total of around six to seven hours daily, climbed up to mountains that were 4070 and 4400 meters above sea level. The later one is the second highest point in Ethiopia and the view up there was spectacular. I think the pictures will speak for itself, it was just an amazing three days and I would definitely do it again.

DSC_8457
Gelada Baboons in the Simien Mountains. They are really peaceful and let you get very close

DSC_8438

DSC_8621
Stunning cliffs, sometimes more than 1000 meters steep

DSC_8634DSC_8644

DSC_8668
Spottet many Walias on the way up to the top

DSC_8572DSC_8603DSC_8528DSC_8519DSC_8507DSC_8535DSC_8544

DSC_8394
The scout we had to have with us for our own safety, haha!
IMG_5932
Climbed up the second highest mountain in Ethiopia, 4,400 meters above sea level

 

Food in Ethiopia

As Ethiopia used to be “colonized” (Only 4 years) by the Italians, one can find spaghetti everywhere. The waitress usually looks confused when I order two meals, but I think once she realizes I am doing a lot of exercising every day it also makes sense to her haha. I am not a big fan of the traditional Ethiopian food, since it is mostly spicy, has a sour taste and they eat a lot of raw meat. I was suffering from a bacterial infection, which kept me up all night with diarrhoea and vomiting, so I rather try to eat the safer stuff than trying out what the locals eat. Being sick on a solo travel is in my opinion the worst thing that can happen. That’s usually the time when I miss home the most. I had my rest now in Bahir Dar, even though it was kind of forced because of the illness, Bahir Dar is a really nice place to get stuck and it was nice to finally meet some other travelers again.

img_6277
Eating double portions
IMG_6223
This is how my usual breakfast and lunch looks like, bred, banana and chocolate

Wild camping in Ethiopia

Ethiopia seems to be like one huge village. There are people everywhere and seriously no space for any privacy. I don’t like camping at a random place when there are people bothering you, and after being shout at and harassed the whole day, it is also nice to have some privacy in the evening. There is usually a hotel in every little town. They range between 2 to 4 dollars and they look accordingly. What I usually do, to stay safe from all the mosquitos and bed bugs, I pitch my inner tent on the bed. I always sleep with earplugs, since Ethiopians party till late at night and they are always loud. Usually the places I sleep are more used as a brothel where young people meet to have their own room for some action.

IMG_6306

IMG_6280
This is how I pitched my tent inside the “hotel” rooms

Alcohol, Prostitution, Khat & Glue sniffing children

As soon as I crossed the border from Sudan to Ethiopia, I saw beer advertisements everywhere. When I continued further through the town, I recognized many women wearing short skirts as well as strip clubs. Let’s be honest, I don’t believe it’s the Ethiopians that travel all the way to the border of Sudan to have “fun”. The alcohol culture is huge and I see men drinking beer all along the road, starting already early in the morning. Every village, no matter the size, has at least one pool,  table soccer or pingpong table. I really don’t know what all these young men do all day long, but it seems like most of them really don’t care about work. I have heard from cyclists before that they call Ethiopia Zombie land. I can really understand why now. Young men just running up to me when I ride through a village, having huge red eyes and tumbling around talking weird stuff. Many Ethiopian men are addicted to Khat, a locally grown plant that makes you high. As Wikipedia puts it: Khat is a flowering plant native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Khat contains the alkaloidcathinone, a stimulant, which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite, and euphoria. Among communities from the areas where the plant is native, khat chewing has a history as a social custom dating back thousands of years analogous to the use of coca leaves in South America and betel nut in Asia.

DSC_8273DSC_8271

DSC_9217
This guys were already super high on Khat, look at all the empty straws

The first time I felt really sad on this trip was when I arrived in Addis and walked around town to do some groceries shopping. There are so many young kids, really kids, walking around totally high sniffing glue out of cut off PET bottles. They come up to you, can barely walk straight anymore and beg you for food or money. Just made me speechless, they are so young, innocent and determined to die at a very young age. According to the African Child Information Hub, there are as many as 100,000 street children living in Addis Ababa and sadly they are most often involved in the glue-sniffing practice.

DSC_9210
Addis street kid sniffing on glue
DSC_9203
The guy in the back is already flying high

DSC_9206

Green Ethiopia

I have written already over 50 postcards, received more than $4000 in donations and spread the word for almost 2 years now. Finally, I had the chance to visit a Green Ethiopia project in Libokemkem, around Addis Zemen town. I spent over 5 hours in the local community, walking up hills, through forests and talking to the local people about their work. It is impressive to see how much the landscape has changed. Sooooo many trees have been planted and the hills are now terraced so the land is green and fertile. This is all done by the local community. I am super happy to have partnered up with Green Ethiopia and I am looking forward to writing many more postcards for every donation I receive! For every dollar, at least 5 trees can be planted, join all the other donors and help to make Ethiopia greener, also during the dry season!

DSC_8805

DSC_8820
Where new seedlings are grown. As I understood it the seedlings are cared by the school children
DSC_8747
Inside a local house
DSC_8749
A woman preparing Injera, a sourdough-risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture
DSC_8737
Just within one year this plants have grown that tall. The secret is they are behind a cow stall, so the poop really helps the plants to grow
DSC_8725
I met the local priest who divides up the harvest between the different families of a town

DSC_8812

 

2 thoughts on “The many faces of Ethiopia

  • Lukas,
    THANK YOU for your updates! Mercy the land is beautiful and all you are seeing must be breath taking as I am blown away just by what your camera has captured! You make me feel I am there with you! To be there in person must be awesome!! Add photographer to your growing list of many skills you are gaining in this Life Adventure, not only of Zurich but of the World!! I am so Proud of you!!
    I could not even imagine the treatment you have received. I know the parent in me wants to go and smack them for you and protect you from such awful things! You are in my prayers always. I will double them for safety!
    I am so sorry you were ill I could not imagine eating all the raw foods. Intestinal issues are awful at home in nice conditions but on the road, Holy Buckets. I am sure your mom wishes she was there (as I know I would) if you were ill. Again your growth as a human being is unreal. I can not express how I feel in my heart… it swells to know you are turning out to be a super well round man! You are in the best shape of your life you say, well I know God has such wonderful plan for you!!!
    It is true you need to teach a man to fish first so he can eat. I was so excited to hear all you are doing for Green Ethiopia. You are a true humanitarian!!! You are making more then a memory. You are changing the world. I pray for all the things you want to fix or help in your life time! When will you write a book?!! I want to be the first to ask for your autograph!
    Stay safe and use your good judgement. Keep posting when it works out as want you in a safe place first. God Bless!
    BIG HUG!
    Love you,
    Sandy
    PS Randy, Jake, Margaret, Deb and all the rest of the gang wish you the Very Very Best and Good Luck in what your future holds!!!

    Like

Leave a Reply to Sandy Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s