Addis Ababa to Moyale: down from the Roof of Africa to the hot, red lowlands



It was a quick, easy ride to Debre Zeit from Addis, where we were to stay (courtesy of Reza’s parents’ amazing generosity) in a spa for four nights. It was probably – no, definitely – the most luxurious place either of us have ever stayed. Free daily massages and mani/pedicures,  saunas, a lake view, restorative food (an actual steak! warm food! cold drinks!)… what a welcome contrast to our usual routine, much needed, and hugely appreciated. As difficult as is was to leave this haven of comfort, on the fifth night we returned to our usual grimy, loud, smelly hotel/ liquor house/ brothel (see footnote No1). We made quick progress in the two days that followed, blessed by the magical combination of gradual decline and a tail wind. We met an exhausted Ethiopian cycle tourer coming the opposite way, resting by the side of the road, he’d had enough of his head wind. In our quick chat he mentioned the lake Turkana route we were considering taking into Kenya: a hot, deserted, rough road, passing to the west of the lake in relative no-man's land between the Sudanese, Kenyan and Ethiopian borders. On his first day, he drank all 18 litres of water he was carrying and so had to start drinking the (salty) lake water to stay hydrated. By then we’d already had some reservations about that route, this further helped us make up our minds not to follow the brave-but-slightly-insane mavericks (this guy just did it: and instead head straight for Moyale: a paved, but no less wild and scenic, route. We'd decide then what to do about the "rebel patrolled" Moyale to Isiolo road.


We followed the rift valley, past several of its lakes, and found ourselves one midday a few kilometers from lake Langano, the only disease- and crocodile- free lake in the country. Lured by the thought of a cool swim, we cycled down the dirt path, set up camp on the shores of the lake and spent the afternoon bathing, the evening feasting on the fish literally plucked out of the lake by a local villager. Back on the road the next day, the usual troubles kept us on guard in between towns and villages. Annoying kids pushed their luck until it literally pushed me off my bike and Reza lost his cool, running raving and screaming through the hamlet in search of the escapees. A long shouting match ensued with the adults that had conglomerated around us. However, the serious and apologetic expression on their faces suggested that maybe at least one village will have grasped the effect its children are having on foreigners cycling by… Things didn’t change much for the next 200km or so (interrupted only by two days of illness and yet another mountain pass), until we reached the Southern Oromo state, and, all of a sudden, people became wonderfully kind and welcoming. Were it not for the last 300km of our time in Ethiopia, it would have left a much poorer impression on us. The scenery changed considerably as well: iron rich red soil and lush greenery replaced the rocky mountains of the north, the land smoothed into rolling hills and little perfect round huts cropped up wherever least expected, camouflaged against the background. The people we met on the road started to look more and more tribal; men carried spears or bows and arrows, women wore brightly colourful wraps, elaborate beaded necklaces, and handcrafted copper and aluminium bracelets and anklets.


Noticeably  more shoes adorned people’s feet in this Southern part of the country, conversations with local children were on a slightly higher register and we met three newly trained nurses in three different villages, each young and full of good will. Maybe things were more hopeful after all… That is, if you discount the fact that one of the nurses, fully trained in public health and on a government salary, couldn’t even afford the 20Birr (1 euro) return bus fare to see his wife and three children at the weekend… We are handwriting the blog sat at the back of a village hotel in the fading evening light. A truck full of young men passed earlier, dropping off the village’s water supply in yellow jerry cans. There is a brand new power station within view but no electricity in the village yet. We are assured by the hotel manager that the government has promised to install it soon…





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Footnote: Alcohol and prostitution


...are a problem here. Most cheap hotels are also brothels. Many waitresses are open to negotiation about more than just the price of a beer. Combined with a distinct taste for alcohol in immodest quantities, it is not a pretty sight. We've woken up at daybreak to see the first jug of Tej (honey wine) being brought to a table...


16/01/2011 to 02/02/2011 ADDIS ABABA TO MOYALE, ETHIOPIA (Hannah)

- Distance: 795km

- 9 days cycling, 2 days sick off

- Average distance per cycling day: 88km

- Total distance since leaving London:


- Bike issues: broken spoke on rear

  driving side(Hannah's bike)