#9. Addis Ababa to Yarabello...The Rift Valley and People Overload!

Beyond the Saddle ....Cairo to Cape Town
Howard Fairbank
Wed 28 Feb 2007 12:44

 04:53.037N 38:08.456E
   Issue #9

Addis Ababa      

to Yarabello...


The Rift Valley and People Overload!



Typical centre of village scene....
Hopefully you can see the challenge of navigating through it and 
how high the 'You..you...you' torment factor will be!



Yarabello, Ethiopia.... 27 February, 2007.

(About 200km from the Kenyan Border)

Almost 5 degrees latitude covered since my last newsletter, less than 5 degrees to the equator now……it’s quite amazing to think back to Addis Ababa only 6 days ago, and recall all the experiences I have been through since then. Yet my life is so simple - wake up at 05h45, dress for cycling, pack up my gear, have coffee and breakfast, get on the bike, cycle a hundred-plus km, arrive at the new campsite between two and five in the afternoon, unpack all my ‘stuff’ relax, read, and do my daily blog to you guys, then dinner and then between 20h00 and 21h00 off to bed feeling content….! So where does all the stimulation come from…??? Well….


Everyday brings something different, new scenery, new wildlife, cycling challenges, people challenges, and then dealing with myself and how I deal with it all! It’s quite incredible how different this life is and how the hope of the next day continuing to deliver, and a belief that the body will recover and continue to perform, drives one on 'day after day'.


Addis Ababa… The city.


With the timing of my last newsletter, I thought it appropriate to go back a bit and give you a 'quick picture’ of Addis Ababa:


A large city of more than 5 million people I believe, but a city that has had no city planning and is a chaotic mixture of old, very old, and new, and also extreme third world but then wonderful areas of real first world. The city was built at the base of the Entoto Mountains, and as such, one is always having to go up or downhill to get places. There is a huge old market area, that is basically a real dirty shanty town, many square km in area, where one can basically buy anything of functional use - food, clothes, hardware, and building materials, etc…but nothing of an artistic, or curio, or decorative nature….unlike the more interesting markets of Morocco for example.


Then there is the Piazza area of restaurants, coffee bars, and nightclubs that was obviously once a very attractive area developed by the Italian colonists in the 1940’s. Some of the fine architecture still survives, but barely. At night this area comes alive with blaring music, full of people enjoying the laid back social atmosphere. My friend Tom and I decided to sample the top and highly recommended Italian restaurant Castelli’s, located in this sector. Well I think all the visitors in Addis also were there… funny saw very few non-Ethiopians while walking in the streets, but now more than 60 in one restaurant. But, oh what a great night we had…The first glass (oh yes a few bottles between us!) of nicely chilled, good white wine (Italian) I had tasted since Cairo. This served with a full meze / antipasti entrée buffet, and then ‘the best’ gorgonzola pasta, with wonderful REAL Italian ice cream for desert. Sounds all normal to you guys who can access this anytime you want…but what a luxury for both of us!


Then there is the ‘new Addis’….. modern Government buildings, Sheraton and Hilton Hotels, large, modern shopping centres, affluent people, but somehow still not quite first world!


There is lots of evidence of development funds being poured into real estate, with high-rise buildings going up everywhere…..a trademark being the precarious bending and leaning scaffolding used in the construction process and made from the versatile eucalyptus tree. Safety standards don’t seem to be an issue here.


The city streets are wide and orderly, many having traffic lights, but few pedestrians even acknowledge they exist.


Overall, a much more attractive place than Khartoum, but still very hard work, and not much reward for the effort…..still glad to have experienced it though!


The Beautiful Rift Valley……


Soon after leaving Addis Ababa, I encountered one of the ‘Specials’ on my Trip list…..the ‘Rift Valley'. Initially it was dry and pretty desolate, with scattered thorn bush in the valley where the road passed, but flanked by significant mountain ranges each side and some 80km apart. Many of these mountains are extinct volcanoes, begging for an excursion…..but time didn’t allow!


Soon I was in the Rift Lake area, with the first of many lakes providing a ‘non negotiable’ opportunity for an off-road excursion down to the water's edge. Well this was just absolutely amazing…the huge range of water bird life, including lots of African fish eagles, marabou storks, pelican, a whole range of geese, hamerkops, grey flamingoes, kingfishers, etc etc.  There were basic wooden fishing boats hauled ashore, and under the trees were the fishermen, sleeping with their dogs…..catch of the day done and filleted. They catch huge catfish from the lake, and the waste being their large flat heads thrown, without dignity, to the waiting fish eagles and turkey vultures. It was clear that presence of the lake changes the whole eco and socio system, with the local lake people enjoying a very abundant life.  




A Typical Rift Lake fishing boat, and lakeside scene..

A Hamerkop
sitting on the boat and in reflection.



The next three days were spent in a similar environment - just different lakes, and all with different characters…..I was just in my element, and made the most of it by leaving before sunrise (without breakfast) to be out there with the birds and the environment. Many Abyssinian Ground Hornbill were usually out stalking the pastures early in the morning, with ‘sleepy’ eagles and vultures peering at the day awaken from their lofty tree-based nests.


My own special Lake experience….


I did make a significant lone detour to visit the recommended flamingo flocks of Lake Abijatta….. Well, this turned out to be a true adventure….with me arriving back at camp very late, covered in clay, and tired!


Being winter and the dry season, the lake had recessed and there was some 3km of parched clay to cross to get to the water's edge and the sea of pink I could see in the distance. The first part of the parched surface was great to cycle on, but as I got closer to the flamingoes, large cracks started appearing, and one was so large I ended up riding right into it with three quarters of my front wheel disappearing down into thick gooey clay, and the bike coming to an abrupt halt with me flying off over the front! Not enough….as I tried to get up my feet just sunk deeper into the gooey clay until I was up to my knees! Finally got out, and with my ego a bit damaged, I set off more cautiously walking the bike in pursuit of the blanket of pink ahead….picking my route on the more sturdy ‘islands’ of parched clay. These islands were quite amazing…being probably around 5 square metres, in area and literally wobbling as I walked across their surface….quite unsettling. Anyway it was REALLY worth it as there were two huge flamingo flocks, one being Ethiopian flamingoes, smaller and less colourful than the other, which were migratory Kenyan ones. Not being an expert, but having seen a fair number of impressive flamingo sitings in my life, this was by far the largest number of flamingoes I have ever seen. And the best was…I was all there on my own to enjoy it and orchestrate their flight whenever I so wished...very special!  Wish I'd have had time for more of this type of experience, which is clearly readily available in Ethiopia.


Interesting, maybe??? :   The rift in eastern Africa has already pulled Saudi Arabia off of the African continent, where the Red Sea is growing as the African and Arabian plates gradually slide away from each other. Geologists believe that the Horn of Africa may eventually break off from the African plate as well, allowing the Indian Ocean to flood the Rift Valley and create a new giant Sea….! I guess we won’t be around to see this!


After the Rift Valley….


From the Rift Valley and its lakes, the next few days involved climbing back up to 2300m elevation, (ohh... tough stuff on the legs again!) and into real equatorial vegetation…..also very special. Coming from Natal in South Africa, I was used to banana plantations being everywhere, but now I know why we used to be called the ‘Banana BOYS’, because this area of Ethiopia has the ‘Banana MEN’…the plantations were huge and I have never seen banana plants growing so high!!!  




A typical rural village hut in the equatorial highland

see the huge banana plants.





The area is also a large coffee growing area, and I managed to befriend some locals to show me their small ‘cottage’ coffee plantation.


Some coffee facts…..Coffee Arabica, first discovered in the ‘Kaffa’ region (from which the name coffee is derived) in south western Ethiopia, grows wild in many regions of the country and has been used by Ethiopians for many years as a food, a beverage and a medicine. It now accounts for 65% of all export earnings. Produced using three very distinctive methods - (the forest system, the small farm or cottage system and the plantation system) - Ethiopian coffee has earned itself a reputation as one of the finest, most flavourful coffees in the world. The forest system means coffee grows under a forest canopy and needs very little human interference. The small farm or cottage system is the most popular method for producing coffee in Ethiopia - in fact this method is responsible for 95% of all coffee. Dilla, the capital of Gedoa, is the home of some of the finest coffee plantations. One of the wonderful surprises has been the quality of the coffee that is served at even the most basic little coffee shop, in the most basic village…..provides a 9 o’clock ‘treat’….stop for a wonderful macchiato. (See the photo, and they virtually all served like that, and are very strong and typically already sugared) It seems so out of place to being served such an exotic looking coffee, in a third world place! And for those that know my shock and surprise at the range of prices for good coffees around the world, a new lower limit was set last week…..US$0.12!! With my top of the range being 6 euros in Switzerland! It’s a funny world we live in hey! (Off the track, the Ethiopian Government is trying to trademark their world renowned coffees, to claw back for its poverty stricken coffee growers, a bigger slice of the total coffee profit margin. Interestingly, Starbucks has opposed the trademark application!)




An Ethiopian Macchiato...

deserves a photo!







Back to the journey…..sorry coffee distracted me!  


The last two days to Yarabello involved a descent to 1600m and another complete change of environment….from the lush equatorial vegetation, and relatively dense people coverage, to initially eucalyptus and evergreen cultivated forested, to then sparse thorn bush, on deep red-coloured earth, with huge termite hills everywhere. At the lower elevation it was clear that water was relatively scarce, unlike the highland area. People population density reduced dramatically (thankfully!) and just scattered rural huts...no more villages and kids tormenting! This scenery is apparently the picture for the next two days to the Kenyan border!


Oh the difficult times too: The Ethiopian People Torment and Disappointment……


Warning:…This section maybe more for my ‘post trauma’ therapy than your entertainment!


You may have wondered why I haven’t mentioned much about the people and there aren’t many people photos…well there are good reasons…..I can in hindsight see that for the past two weeks since just before Gondar, the ‘pressure’ has been building inside me…and I can HONESTLY say it's been one of the most difficult things I have ever had to deal with….and forced me to confront a lot of my beliefs….!


'It' being the continuous torment of the locals, mainly the kids, but definitely not just them….combined with the loss of privacy and personal space invasion. Now I have thought a lot about this and the priority it should have in this newsletter, and yes, in your comfortable lounge and study you may be thinking he is exaggerating things, it can never be that bad…..but believe you me, it's been horrendous!  And just about everyone in the group feels the same way…so it not just me! I mentioned the ‘You…You…You’, and ‘Where are you go?’ chants in the previous newsletter…well I was still sane then and was even trying to work with the locals to improve things! Well this last week took me to the limit…..


From the moment I get on my bike in the morning, I get bombarded with the same stuff…like a machine gun ‘You…You…You….Where are you go?  Give me money’ Sometimes its 10 You, You You’s, increasing in rapid fire and pitch with no responses forthcoming. You may say, ‘Just respond politely back’…well if you acknowledge them, the barrage of next questions continue… ‘Where you come?’ etc etc…. This isn’t even at the villages, but just rural areas….kids run from their homes hundreds of metres away to meet you and ‘torment’. You can then imagine…. the villages are a nightmare….the ‘You, You You’s’ coming from 360 degrees, and competing with each other… It's also worth noting that the roads are full of people…Ethiopia must be the only country in the world where the tar roads are used more by pedestrians than vehicles…so one can’t keep away from them.


Obviously the years of ignoring hasn’t helped, and makes the locals angry who occasionally then resort to REAL tormenting to the extent of even attacking either the bike or me personally. One of the kids had a wooden stick about 1 metre long with a metal spike attached to the end designed to puncture tyres and/or break spokes as one cycles by.


The issue of personal privacy and personal space is closely related, and provides a cumulative stress after days of deprivation! Anywhere one stops, photos, bike problems, coffee, whatever…within minutes there will be twenty or more people who surround me and touch both me and the bike. So when one stops, one just has to prepare oneself to find a small corner, and just look ahead, with no eye contact. This is after the first week of being friendly, answering the questions, and thinking all is not so bad…..well it eventually works on you!


The worst is probably climbing one of the many mountains we have had to deal with…..speed is down to slow running pace, and you have 10 locals keeping up with you chanting ‘You, you, you’, etc, you are dead tired, heart rate at maximum and start wondering why you deserve this!


The lunch and overnight campsites are just crowded with these same locals, chanting and staring….wanting answers, wanting money, wanting clothes, pens etc. A rope is used to demarcate the campsite, and by the time dinner time comes, there are people 3 or 4 deep behind the rope for the whole perimeter of the campsite. Any eye contact with one of them starts a chant of ‘You, you, you, give me money etc!’


Now imagine that from 6.30am to 7pm every day….it affects you mentally! People have reacted in different ways, but all have been affected…the truck carrying non-riders has never been as full as the last week...


So that’s the picture, but what has actually happened inside me to stress me so much….?


Well from my analysis, a number of things:


Firstly, I have lost all my respect for these people, which is not good….and has sadly set me back on my ‘Africans will be Ok’ hypothesis. 


Secondly, it is extremely humiliating for one to be shown so much ‘apparent’ disrespect. I realise it starts off being a friendly approach, but the level to which it’s reached is way beyond that, but probably without the offender knowing the magnitude of the issue.


Thirdly, after a full-on day of this, one doesn’t feel good within because one gets to the point where even innocent and genuine, well-meaning kids get painted with my same ‘bad brush’, and so they become disillusioned with fellow human beings….not good! Many a day I started off with a new motivation to ‘be polite’, and initiated contact by saying ‘Salam’ (hello). This half works, but by the end of the day of the other half of barraging, one is tired, weary and humiliated to the point you can’t take anything anymore, and the big ‘bad brush’ is out working overtime again!!


The good news is… No more torment tomorrow…or ever again…and I have survived and maybe even grown a bit through the experience!


Well, if you are still with me by now…. I’d like to sign off by saying I can’t wait to get to Kenya, and see what surprises wait me there….till then… Bye!


One of my donor funds is WaterCan, and they are active in Ethiopia, and with my ‘donation day’ getting closer I have asked them to tell you more about the good work they have on the go here:

WaterCan project profile: 


Enseno Family Drinking Water & Sanitation Project


Enseno District, Central Ethiopia

Located in the north-eastern region of Africa known as the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a land of high mountains. The Ethiopian central highlands contribute to several major river systems including the famous Blue Nile. The country’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity is significant; over 100 languages are spoken. Agriculture provides a livelihood for some 90% of the population.


The population of Ethiopia is over 67 million with an average life expectancy of 45.7 years.  In comparison to Canada, which has 100% water and sanitation coverage, Ethiopia’s water supply coverage is around 24% while the sanitation coverage is only 12%.  98.4% of the population lives on less than US $2/day.  Out of 175 countries, Ethiopia ranks 169th on the UN Human Development Index.


One of WaterCan’s current projects is located in the Enseno district; an isolated rural area located about 350 kilometres southwest of Addis Ababa, the national capital. The majority of the district’s residents rely on unsafe sources of water that are drawn from polluted streams, unprotected natural springs and traditional wells. During the rainy season, it is common for people to use water from dirty pools that collect on the ground. The situation is made worse by the general lack of sanitation facilities and basic information on good hygiene practices. Not surprisingly, water and sanitation related diseases such as diarrhoea, intestinal parasites, and skin and eye infections, are common health problems affecting villagers.


The overall goal of the Enseno Family Drinking Water & Sanitation Project is to improve the quality of life of villagers living in Enseno District through the development of clean drinking water supplies, basic sanitation facilities, and the carrying out of hygiene education. The project will provide at least 3,000 villagers living in Enseno District with improved access to safe and sustainable water supplies; will help to improve local environmental sanitation conditions; and as a result of improved hygiene and sanitation practices, will reduce their vulnerability to related diseases.

Typical vegetation since descending from the
highlands and around Yarabello. 


Red soil, thorn bush and huge termite nests. Camels because of the short supply of water!

The Progress So Far
  • Current Section:
    Addis Ababa to Nairobi

  • Hours cycled since last newsletter:

  • Distance cycled since last newsletter:
    567 km

  • Distance cycled so far:
    4155 km

  • Km to go to Cape Town:

Busy with....Section Three: 
Addis Ababa to Nairobi  

South of Addis Ababa, the terrain changes yet again to flatter countryside interspersed with beautiful lakes. Lake Langano is set against the Arsi Mountains and is an ideal stop to camp and take a much-deserved dip. The route then continues through Shashemene, the unofficial capital of the Ethiopian Rastafarian community. with a stop in Yabello, and a visit to the wildlife sanctuary to catch a glimpse at some of Africa 's rarest birds such as the Prince Ruspoli Turaco.


Crossing from Ethiopia into Kenya begins the “Meltdown” portion of this section because the roads in northern Kenya consist of an unpaved lava rock expanse that redefines the word bumpy. This road runs through a hot flat rock desert and then the paved highway begins signalling the start of the ascent around majestic Mount Kenya.


From here the route goes through some spectacular scenery, and includes the huge milestone of crossing the equator and some of the most drastic elevation changes on the approach to the halfway point of the adventure….Nairobi. The “Meltdown” has the most diverse changes in scenery and riding conditions: desert, mountains, and savannah. Cycling the “Meltdown” in its entirety is an impressive accomplishment for any cyclist.  


Section dates:

22 February to 11 March

Yes, you have all seen them before....
but a 'Must Have' for the newsletter!


African Fish Eagle....abundant at the Rift Valley Lakes and their magical call heard all day long!

Couldn't resist this one..... 

There must be hundreds of villages with a similar name in Ethiopia!

Coming up....Next Section:
Nairobi to Iringa


One day south of Nairobi the Tanzania border is crossed and immediately thereafter the unmistakable Mount Kilimanjaro and its smaller sibling, Mount Meru dominate the view. The city of Arusha in Tanzania is small but vibrant and is growing fast; it is also the gateway to the Serengeti National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro.


Heading south from Arusha, the route continues along roads where one has to watch out for not only cars, but also zebras, giraffes, and maybe even elephants. The route leads close to many famous national parks including the fabulous Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, Taragire, and Ruaha, and the tribesmen of the Masai will be constant companions along the road. Eventually the route passes through the small capital city of Dodoma and then through some of the most unique, verdant, memorabl