Sunday, April 25, 2004

BOTSWANA - Internet access has become more unattainable and expensive as we have headed southward so I will have to update Botswana slightly later. Hopefully I will have something prepared for Botswana and Namibia in 6 days (our next rest day).

Thursday, April 15, 2004

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA - My first introduction to Zambia was a positive one. Before leaving for Africa, I had secured visas for all of the necessary countries except Zambia so I set aside $40 US specifically for this purpose. However, upon arriving in Zambia I learned that groups travel into Zambia for free so my rapidly depleting supply of dollars was saved. This along with the presence of Barclay's, the only bank in Africa which consistently accepted my ATM card, meant that I wouldn't have to part with dollars to secure local currency or rely on bank hours.

Zambia was also the first country where I attepted to transition from a leisure rider into a racer. On our first day in Zambia I was enjoying the rolling hills with minimal traffic when Wil and Armin, the second group of racers that day, approached me on an uphill. Their pace seemed agreeable so for the first time in the Tour I decided to follow them instead of just watching them speed past me. It was so nice drafting off of them that I felt like I was cheating as we passed rider after rider. However, I noticed that some riders attempted to follow us as we passed and quickly fell off of the pace when we started to climb. Meanwhile I was enjoying the rhythm of the hills, recovering on the downhills so that I could push it on the uphills. However, once we reached the lunch truck at 80 kilometres I had a decision to make. I am not a racer for many reasons. In addition to a certain lack of athletic prowess I also like to take a long lunch. Racers as a rule do not take lunch. Their lunch consists of getting off of the bike for about five minutes to refill water bottles and wolf down some food. My lunch consists of a half an hour of lingering over sandwiches while I chat with other riders. Then I take a bathroom break and reapply sunblock before getting back on the bike. I really hated the prospect of skipping lunch since I knew we would be riding 150 kilometers that day. However, when would I actually be in a position to race again? After all, this was the first time that I was racing after being on the Tour for three months!

I decided to go for it. I would play racer for as long as I could. I grabbed a sandwich but by the time I had finished a third of my sandwich, Wil and Armin had already finished their own. This would be a problem. Luckily Jillian came to my rescue. She wrapped up a sandwich for me to bring along for the road so I threw it, along with a peeled orange, into my bag and headed back to my bike. I quickly finished an energy bar and decided that I would follow Wil and Armin for as long as I could. Mentally I prepared to stay with them for another hour or until we reached 110 kilometres (whichever happened to occur later). However, the road had a different idea in mind. Around 100 kilometres into the ride the smooth pavement turned into a road that was marked by more potholes than pavement. Since I am quite small in size I had a difficult time seeing around Wil and Armin so instead of staying close and conserving energy by drafting I stayed at a distance from them in order to see better. I ended up alternating between braking to swerve around potholes and then sprinting to catch up with them as the surface improved. This was becoming exhausting! When the road switched to an unpaved road I ended up loosing them entirely.

I wasn't quite prepared to give up at this point. If I couldn't catch them I decided that I would try to hold off other riders for as long as possible. I stopped to pull my orange out of my bag. Then rode with my orange in hand; pulling off pieces, chewing them, and spitting out seeds as I sped along. Amazingly not a single rider caught up to me before the campsite securing me a fifth place finish for the day! As someone who has been stuck in the back of the pack accompanied by a security vehicle on so many days I had never imagined such a day would occur.

After this first "race day" I tried out racing two more days in Zambia. On a day we set out to ride 190 kilometres I decided to end my personal race at lunch. After all, I'm not crazy! However, on our day leading into the rest day in Lusaka when we were only scheduled to ride 90 kilometres I went for it. I didn't even stop to take lunch unless an energy bar on the road can be considered lunch. This time I ended up staying with the pack until the end of the ride! Ironically, I learned after the ride that this day wasn't even a "race" day so times were not taken.

After three days of riding we will reach Victoria Falls. On our rest day we will not be rafting on the famous Zambezi River because the water levels are too high. However, I am sure that we will be able to find another way to enjoy the falls.

Friday, April 09, 2004

LILONGWE, MALAWI - I believe I spoke a bit too quickly when I wrote how lucky we were with the weather in Tanzania. From Iringa, Tanzania to Lilongwe, Malawi the predominant theme has been rain, rain, and more rain. One would have hoped that the rainy season which lasts in Malawi from November through April could have ended early. However, not a single 24-hour time period has passed without a rainstorm.

As a novice camper I lived under the illusion that rain in the evening is quite pleasant as long as your tent maintains its original waterproofing capabilities. The day before our rest day in Chitimba, Malawi started off calmly. The road was flat, straight, and a bit boring after the magnificent scenery of Tanzania. There was a headwind to help mask the humid air present at the low altitude where Lake Malawi is situated. I rode at a leisurely pace making a stop at a closed bank (who needs money Malawian kwatche anyway?) and at a restaurant for soda since I knew that our rest site would not have that many amenities beyond a lakeside location. There would not be any internet access or even a nearby town with stores or restaurants so why rush off to start the laundry process?

After dinner and some drinks at the camp bar I headed off for a now late bedtime of 10pm. As I walked towards my tent the rain started. I ran into my tent thinking how lucky I was to have already put up the fly earlier in the day. As I started reading I then thought about how comforting it is to hear the rain on your tent knowing that you are safe and dry inside. After about twenty minutes of heavy rain the floor of my tent started to feel kind of odd, rather mushy in fact. I tested out different sections of my tent floor to discover they were all soft. My Thermarest mattress was starting to feel like a waterbed so despite the rain I decided that I should investigate. My flip flops are always situated in-between my tent and the outer fly so before stepping outside I unzipped the tent instinctively reached down for them. However, my flip flops were not in their usual position; instead they were floating downstream! As I stepped outside so that I could reach the floating shoes my feet sunk into the ground and the water level reached up past my ankles. At this point I switched from calm fascination into Operation “Save the Tent”. Other campers in poorly situated lots had resorted to an emergency evacuation. I, however, decided to make use of the red plastic box for our belongings. I threw everything into the red box hoping that despite the lid’s inability to stay on tightly the box would be more waterproof then my tent’s floor. I left in the Thermarest and my sleeping bag liner in the tent, believing that these would dry quickly the next day. Since it was warm I didn’t leave the sleeping bag in the tent. Even I knew that a sleeping bag can be quite a nightmare to dry. We ended up being rather lucky in Chitimba. Despite the heavy rains continuing on and off throughout the night, the next day it did not rain until evening giving our belongings plenty of time to air out. However, this would not be the trend over the next few days. Although we have not yet experience flash flood like conditions again, often the window of drying time after each day of riding is about an hour between rainstorms. The weather in Malawi even at the higher elevations is also a bit too humid to help accelerate the drying process.

If it only rained in the evenings I could formulate some sort of evening tent ritual which would include placing the red box into the truck for the night (it wasn’t as waterproof as I originally predicted). However, the rains have often been just as heavy and prolonged during the day as they are in the evening. I switched from wearing my water resistant breathable jacket to my waterproof jacket simply because the water resistant jacket didn’t have enough time to dry by the next riding day. Also if I was going to have a wet jacket clinging to me as I rode I decided it was preferential (and warmer) to have one that was soaked by my own perspiration rather than by the rains. The weather often alternates every 15-20 kilometres between a downpour and overcast skies so I have also learned to ride with my dark glasses and sunblock on at all times so I am not constantly getting off of my bike to change lenses.

In addition to the weather Malawi has brought another challenge as well, finding Malawian kwatche. The banks seem to closer earlier and earlier each day (before I am able to ride to them) and our rest day unfortunately coincides with Good Friday a national holiday. Closed banks wouldn’t be a problem if the ATMs accepted foreign cards or businesses and hotels accepted credit cards. The prolonged rains have caused me to come down with a head cold so I ended up scrounging around money from individuals who have ended up with too much kwatche from cashing traveller’s checks to secure a hotel room on the rest day. I, of course, didn’t bring any traveller’s checks as most countries before Malawi did not accept them.

Despite the challenges I have enjoyed our eight short days in Malawi although I am convinced that it is the country where it always rains. I can only hope that our travel to Zambia tomorrow brings clear skies and ATMs which accept Mastercard! Hopefully, our rest day on April 15 in Lusaka also means internet access. I will attempt to be more positive in my next message (I think the head cold is getting to me).

Monday, March 29, 2004

IRINGA, TANZANIA - The so-called "luxury" portion of the tour came to a sudden halt as we left Arusha and headed towards Dodoma and Iringa. The route via Dodoma was chosen since it is less traveled (read unpaved) and shorter than the route via Dar. Since the roads are unpaved they become nearly impassable during and after the rain. For this reason we based our daily travel distances on the weather instead of the pre-planned schedule. Luckily we were able to avoid the rain for all of the six days on unpaved roads.

Our first day of travel (from Arusha to Nanyaki) was the only paved day of the section. We were lucky to have strong tailwinds to help push us all into camp by early afternoon. The campsite was of the sort we had become accustomed to in Kenya; complete with hot showers and a bar serving refrigerated drinks. The campsite even overlooked the picturesque wildlife park of Lake Manyara. However, despite these attributes the day was quite a stress-filled one for many. Hours after all of the riders arrived at the campsite the lunch truck (which goes out to pick up the day's stragglers) had still not appeared. So while I was feeling lucky that I was able to do the laundry that I had neglected on the rest days in Arusha, half of the riders were sitting around uncomfortably in their sweaty cycling outfits since the lunch truck contained all of their clothing and camping gear. Not since the thick truck-stopping sand of Sudan had we waited anxiously for a missing truck. At 9pm when the truck finally arrived we learned that someone had stolen nurse Jillian's bag which contained her passport right out of one of the truck's windows. In the two months we had been in Africa only one person was mugged (in Nairobi) and the only other robbery was of a bicycle helmut so this news was quite unexpected. Shortly after the incident signs were posted near the scene of the crime offering a reward for the missing passport. Hours later the passport did appear. Apparently this is a "typical" way of dealing with stolen possesions in Africa.

The following days were incident free. The only tragedies were small ones such as missing a group of giraffes crossing the road or experiencing four or five flats on the road in one day. Since we were back to bush camping our campsites also provided plenty of opportunities for flats thanks to numerous thorn bushes and acacia trees. One may have been lucky enough to avoid a flat on the road but one was almost certain to wake up at least one morning with a mystery flat. Also, since the route from Arusha to Iringa passed primarily through very small villages, the selections at the stores were minimal. Despite eating some of the best mango I have eaten in my entire life I was unable to find the chilled fresh fruit juices that I loved drinking in Ethiopia and Kenya. Instead I was lucky to find soda that was cooler than the air temperature! Typically I drink one soda a year but now I found myself consuming one or two a day in an attempt to find some sort of respite from the hot humid days. If I was lucky enough to find a store that even sold biscuits I could forget about finding ones with creme in then middle or some sort of chocolate coating.

The beauty of the scenery made up for the lack of running water and fruit juices. The deep green hilly countryside was covered with acacias, baobabs, and sunflowers which were all framed by the mountains of the Rift Valley.

I even made unexpected progress with my unpaved road skills. On previous rides I had found myself counting the small number of riders behind me but recently the number of riders in front of me had grown smaller the the number of riders behind me. (Surely this will not last but I will enjoy it while it does!) One day in particular stands out as my favorite. Unfortunately I can only narrow down the location by saying that I was traveling from one bush camp to another somewhere north of Dodoma. The day itself was like a final exam since it tested all of the off-road skills that I had supposedly gained to date. There were the hills of Ethiopia, the sands of Sudan, the rocky roads of Kenya and the washboard we had experienced in all three countries. As an added bonus the morning was so foggy that it reminded me of cycling in Northern California. It was on this day that even I had to admit a love for off-road (second to pavement of course!).

I am a bit exhausted after seven days straight of cycling so luckily we have only four days until our next rest day in Chitimba, Malawi on April 3rd.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The TDA has two primary organizers, Henry and Michael. Michael was with the Tour from Cairo, Egypt to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In Addis, Henry replaced Michael for what seems to be the "luxury" portion of the Tour. I use the word luxury loosely. I am not referring to five star hotels but being able to take showers on days that are not even rest days (sometimes the showers are even hot!) and visiting towns where there are actually things to buy (and sometimes there is even a tourist infrastructure!). How will we ever return to bush camp!?

However, it wouldn't be the TDA if it were not challenging. The obstacles of this section of the Tour came primarily from two days on the roads of Northern Kenya. Unpaved roads are definitely not my strength. It is amazing that I do not move backwards on the roads given the speed at which I travel! The day we rode to Marsabit the road was basically piles of uneven lava rock which were lower (more rideable) in the sections worn down by tire tracks. Staring at the lava rock attempting to figure out how on earth to traverse it was even more tiring than the actual physical effort. In the worst sections I actually had to stop every two kilometers just to let my eyes refocus on something other than rocks! Since this section of Northern Kenya is known for bandits we traveled (once again) with police escort. Typically vehicles traveling Northern Kenya are required to travel in a convoy which means the little traffic which existed on the road tended to occur in clusters. This was extremely good news for me as I spent the day weaving from one side of the road to the next completely oblivious to my surroundings. Luckily I did not miss any scenery when I was so busy staring at the roads. Each time I looked up there was a vast expense of lava rock and not much else beyond the infrequent camel and herder. I could have easily been on the surface of Mars.

I had a late start in the morning so as the last rider the security vehicle traveled behind me for the entire day. (I am convinced that by the end of this trip I will know more security personnel than anyone else on the Tour). I think the security officers were even more excited to see the lunch truck at the halfway point than I was because they assumed that I (like several other riders) would be riding the lunch truck to the campsite. However, I was determined to ride on meaning that I would be on the road for at least another four or five hours. After lunch, the road was allegedly supposed to improve after 30 or 40 kilometers so I plowed through with this consolation. The "improved" road (when it finally did appear) was first marked by a climb accented with sections of headwind and washboard. However, by this section of the Tour I had come to appreciate headwind as it was a guarantee that I wouldn't have an infinite number of flies to contend with. All through this ordeal the security vehicle begged me to get in the truck so that they could continue onto Nairobi. They were definitely not thrilled when I stopped once again to take pictures of the volcanic crater. (Finally a return to scenery!). However, the officers were excited that at this point there were only ten kilometers to the campsite. When I finally arrived at the campsite my hopes of a shower were dashed as the campsite had run out of water! Luckily there was enough water for a bucket shower. I guess this is what happens when you are the absolute last rider to an area that is experiencing a water shortage. This was definitely one of the hardest days of the Tour for me.

In contrast, several of the days after Marsabit were of the sort I dreamed of when I signed up for the tour. The roads improved (with the exception of the day when it rained for five or six hours straight leaving the roads a mess of sludge and water) and the mountainous scenery was beautiful and accented by various tribespeople in beautifully colored outfits. I really felt lucky to be able to slowly take in my surroundings from the vantage point of a bicycle. My only regret is that I was enjoying myself so much on the rolling hills that I didn't get off my bike to take pictures. Several of the days were even short! A group of us leisurely rode into Isiolo before one in the afternoon (at recovery pace after the day of rain) and we were able to stop for an afternoon lunch and even buy some souvenirs. Typically I would be annoyed to have five or six competing vendors placing bracelets on my arm in an attempt to get me to buy something while I was attempting eat lunch. However, I was too excited by the novelty of having things to buy! I slowly discarded the bracelets one by one until I settled on a couple of keepers. We arrived to a campsite where there was not only water for the showers but the water was actually hot! The two campsites following Isiolo had hot showers and swimming pools! It is almost too much to comprehend after so much time in the desert and the bush! In Sagana, I even joined the other female riders for some white water rafting after the day's ride. Kenya is definitely a country I will be returning to in the future. The ten days we have spent here are definitely not enough. There is still so much more to see.

I would like to write an update from Arusha on March 21st but since I will be spending the two rest days on safari I will probably not be able to write anything until we arrive in Iringa on March 29th.

Friday, February 27, 2004

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA - I started out this bike tour secretly hoping that I would achieve what is called "EFI" or Every F--ing Inch. (No it is not the type of accronym that I would make up!) I figured that if I failed in my mission it would be because I was temporarily too sick to bike or my bike would have some sort of mechanical problems that would need to be fixed at camp. However, never did I think that I would get off my bike to be picked up in the truck because I was afraid to ride! However, that is exactly what happened. On our second day of travel from Bahir Dar to Addis, we started with an 18k climb (unpaved of course) and continued on to complete a 120k day. This may not sound like a lot of distance but the entire distance was unpaved with more climbing than descending. The surface was so bad that descending required one to pedal! To make matters worse the highlands of Ethiopia lived up to their unpleasant reputation that day. On the first climb we heard cheers of encouragement and several morning greetings. However, after this climb we headed into villages that seemed outwardly hostile. Throwing rocks is one thing but at the outskirts of one village kids even hit me canes that are used to herd cattle! The villagers of this particular town were persistant in following me and taunting me for money. Eventually responding with, "I have no job. I am student." actually worked! Then, less than three kilometers before the lunch truck I was followed by a man who refused to give up in his cries for money. Typically, only the children harass bikers. When we bike in small groups we tend to scan the horizon for potential rock throwers and stick wielders to determine how to best avoid confrontation. Typically, kids do not tend to be aggressive but it is best to be prepared. The most effective techniques are the "big hello wave" which tends to disarm the kids and the biking at kids at full speed technique. I had only been harassed by one adult before and the best approach had been to unclip one foot from my pedals so that I could stand firmly on the ground and not be knocked off my bike. After that I would give my angry yell. An angry outburst from a female tends to cause complete confusion. I tried this approach when this man became persistant, knowing that our security vechicle would soon be on it's way. Luckily, as soon as I unclipped my foot the security truck appeared. One armed guard even ran after this man as I continued to bike onward towards lunch. I was never in any real danger but all of the assualts of the day combined with the grueling climbing really broke down my reserves. It took me over 2 1/2 hours to ride the first 20k! At this rate, I (and the many others I met up with at the lunch truck) would never finish our total mileage before nightfall. After lunch I tried yet another new strategy, I waited for the last riders to depart so that I would have the security vehicle right behind me at all times. Unfortunately, the vehicle rode ahead for a few moments which allowed just enough time for our fellow rider Yuko to have her arm grabbed and a stick placed between her spokes. The assailant left shortly after this incident but I had already had enough. I didn't think that I would finish the distance for the day and I certainly wasn't having fun anymore. To make matters worse, my front fork was also out of air, again. When the lunch truck passed I jumped on, forgoing EFI for 38 kilometers!

I have to admit that I cried quite a bit that evening. I was upset and a bit angry that I no longer would achieve EFI, especially once I realized that the final terrain wasn't nearly as challenging as terrain that I rode in the morning which meant I could have completed the distance in time. I was also upset that I didn't complete the distance because I had allowed myself to be worn down and victimized by the harassment. However, my safety is more important than a silly goal! Isn't biking Africa enough!? At least now the personal pressure of the EFI goal is no longer. Do 38 kilometers really matter when I have biked nearly 3,800 kilometers from Cairo, Egypt to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!

Anyway, I feel as if I have been painting a rather dismal portrait of Ethiopia. Many of the people we have met have been friendly and the Highlands are known to be xenophobic. The last two days of riding before Addis Ababa were my favorite riding days (of the 34 completed tour riding days to date)! The roads were recently paved making the climbs enjoyable and at times there were even rolling hills. I even switched to riding with my slim, slick Fat Boy tires which means that I can almost pretend that I am on my road bike. One day I even finished shortly after the racers. (Okay the full truth is that they were exhausted from the previous day of descending and climbing the Blue Nile Gorge but so was I after a nine hour riding day!) One is also less of a target on paved roads since it is quite easy to simply switch sides of the road and/or speed up when one doesn't need to obsess about finding a rideable track. The kids in the area closer to Addis have also been much friendlier. I am also relieved that of the ten countries we are visiting only Ethiopia has a bad reputation from last year. We have only seven more riding days (all allegedly perfectly paved and hilly!) and one more rest day in Ethiopia before entering Kenya. Our guards in Ethiopia have also been the friendliest to date. They cheer me (and the other riders) on at the end of each day as I enter the campsite and after each major climb. The guards know me by name and have even offered me biscuits when I have taken a moment of rest next to their vehicle. One woman has even programmed the guards to drive her and her bike up all of the hills and then drop her off at each hilltop so she only has to ride the downhills and flats!

I apologize for not writing more interesting details but Ethiopia has been quite a riding challenge! In ten days of biking we have climbed
11,935 meters (39,156 feet)! Only two of these days were on paved roads! To make the situation even more challenging, we are typically riding at an altitude of 2,000 meters at all times! No wonder I have been too tired to do much more than set up my tent and eat dinner in the evenings. For this reason I canceled my trip to Lalibela. My body definitely needed the rest! For those of you betting that I would opt out for luxury at some point I am currently typing away at the luxury Sheraton in Addis Ababa. I already enjoyed a buffet here this morning as well as a leg and eye brow waxing at the nearby Hilton. On nearly every rest day I have upgraded to a hotel. However this Sheraton (as nice as it is) is definitely well out of my budget.

I hope to write something before Nairobi, Kenya (the 50 day riding mark!) but I am a bit skeptical. Our next rest day is in five days at a town called Yabello which is known to have electricity problems. It is not even much of a tourist destination which means there is probably not even a computer in town. I am hoping that I can at least get in a coffee ceremony! Five days after the Yabello rest day we will be in Marsabit, Kenya which has a game reserve but it is still in desolate Northern Kenya. There is only ONE town on my map between Moyale, Ethiopia and Marsabit, Kenya although that time frame covers three days of riding as well as the dreaded lava rock roads.

I miss everyone so please try and keep in touch even if I can't answer all emails due to horrendous connections and limited time!

Saturday, February 21, 2004

BAHIR DAR, ETHIOPIA - Leaving Sudan meant saying goodbye to the morning mosque music characterized by competing mosques (no matter what the village size) broadcasting morning prayers over loudspeakers around five each day. Prayer times of different mosques would overlap guaranteeing a long period of pre wake-up call music. The longest prayer time is allegedly mid-day or evening but I tend to disagree as I often seemed to miss those prayers during the course of the day.

Entering Ethiopia meant accustoming oneself with the sheer number of people (especially children), mountain cycling, and worsening road conditions. It is difficult to convey what hysteria we brought to Ethiopia. In Egypt and Sudan, not only did women and girls not ride bicycles, but also they remained covered as appropriate in these Muslim countries. Given these facts, I was already used to drawing attention (and often laughs) as a white female cyclist. However, in Ethiopia the attention was much more frenzied. In the afternoon we reached Ethiopia, our border campsite in Metema was roped off to keep out the throngs of people who just stood at the perimeter staring at us for hours until our police/military enforcement showed up. Entering the village of Metema to take a shower at one of the hotel/brothel/bars meant hearing a chorus of, “You! You! You!” from Ethiopian children. Foreigners, especially whites, are called “you” by children who typically run to catch a glimpse of the faranji (foreigners). Unlike Sudan, most children do not follow you with, “What is your name?” or “How are you?” or “Where are you from?” Sometimes no matter what you respond or do (wave or even shake their hand) they continue to scream, “You!” which of course prompts a steady stream of previously unseen kids to yell and run at you.

Ethiopian roads so far ranging from best to worst can be described as: continuous stretches lasting four kilometers or less of blissfully paved tar, rare hard-packed smoothish rock surfaces, dirt with many loose rocks and small sections of smooth dirt tracks, reddish soil which quickly turns thick and impassable (but only after staining you and your bike), and the worst most prevalent surface which resembles uneven cement that was covered with an infinite number of various sized jagged rocks before being left to dry. This final surface ensures a jarring ride even for those with full suspension bikes.

The terrain of Ethiopia is mountainous. Never is a full day of cycling spent on the flats. One is almost always either climbing or descending. The plateau of our first rest day in Gonder, Ethiopia was just over 2,000 meters while Ethiopia has several peaks of over 4,000 meters.

Now one must attempt to picture what it is like to climb 1,000 – 2,000 meters daily on jagged rock surfaces with groups of kids chasing after you while you spin away like a sitting duck at speeds dropping to seven kilometers per hour. I should probably add that these horrendous roads are also used by some large trucks and tankers which thankfully are forced to move ridiculously slow which allows one plenty of time to get out of the way. Unfortunately, these vehicles turn up clouds of dust (so bad that one can no longer see the road) and spew black clouds of exhaust into your face.
In spite of these challenges, the scenery of Ethiopia is magnificent. It is amazing that land so high in the mountains can be used for farming. One can always count on slowing or weaving for numerous goat and cow herd crossings despite the terrain and elevation. So far the kids have not been as horrible as they had been described by past Tour participants and a Dutch biker we met along the way who made sure to keep a wooden cane on his bike at all times. Some kids throw large rocks while others ask for, “Money! Money! Money!” or tell you a sob story which ends in a request for money, pens, Pepsi, or food. My bike tool was stolen from my saddle bag at some point and my worst encounter occurred while biking with Randy. Some kids with hook knives that are used for crops started demanding, “Money! Your clothing! Your bike!” We quickly fled the scene. One useful tactic is to pretend that you are a swerving out of control cyclist. However, the aggressive unfriendly kids are definitely in the minority. Many kids are gleeful when you simply return a wave or answer a chant of “You!” Thoughts of great Ethiopian marathon runners are never far from my mind as there is always one kid from each pack who runs with you for quite some distance.

I had looked forward to the Ethiopian cuisine that I love so much or the famous coffee ceremony but for my first few days in Ethiopia I was stricken with diarrhea and unable to partake in either. Now the entire country is in a 55 day fasting period prior to Easter which is forcing me to become a temporary vegan. With the exception of major tourist hotels, animal products (meat, cheese, and eggs) are not consumed.

Hopefully I will have time to write from Addis Ababa as I am making plane assisted detour on the next rest day to visit the rock churches of Lalibela.

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