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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!