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Middle East & Africa 2009

Ethiopa: No Pain, No Gain

I waved goodbye to the Tele Café in the piazza of Gondar, where I’d enjoyed many a delightfully-spicy breakfast or pint of mango juice. I was about to experience a magnificent ride through the soaring highlands of north-central Ethiopia. As I rolled out of town towards the green valleys below, however, I was nervous.

Aside from the threat of ill-health making an unwanted comeback, my nerves came from reading too many journals. Those writing about cycling in Ethiopia were far from complimentary – “the single most difficult place I’ve ever cycled because of the human factor”, “the worst roads I’ve ever ridden”, “the mountains were the largest I’d yet encountered”, and so on.

At least one couple I met on the road had resolved that they would never go to Ethiopia, based on their reading of an account of travelling the country that Alastair Humphreys penned in the first part of his round-the-world travelogue Moods of Future Joys, a book which I read whilst planning this journey back in 2006. It was a contributing factor to my initial rejection of Africa as part of my trip, until last year I realised it would be much more sensible to form my own opinions.

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Middle East & Africa 2009

Rest And Recuperation In Gondar, Ethiopia

I spent four days in Metema. The mild symptoms of malaria were the lesser of my concerns. More worrying was the stiffness and soreness that quickly appeared in my legs, as if somehow sparked off by the unexpected parasites.

By the evening of my arrival, my lower calves were sore and stiff, causing some discomfort when walking. The following morning, after wishing my temporary Austrian companion a safe journey to Sudan, I could barely hobble from my tiny mud-walled room to the latrine across the stony yard. The hotel proprietor, an older woman assisted by her daughters, interrogated me in Arabic as to the reason for my wincing and shuffling. I told her I had no idea.

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Middle East & Africa 2009

When Things Go Wrong, How Do You React?

My six days in Khartoum had been somewhat surreal, to say the least.

Barging through the dark, dusty, unpaved back streets in a big white United Nations four-by-four, passing observers would have assumed me and my host to be rushing to assist in some nearby international crisis, unaware that we were actually trying to find the district’s only Chinese restaurant to get some fried noodles and a bowl of tofu soup…

In a quiet health club studio, incense candles burning, I giggled in embarrassed discomfort as a Thai woman inserted her elbows deep into my aching leg muscles. (My mirth was partly due to the sudden disturbance of my body’s equilibrium, and partly to the amusingly unorthodox manner of her massage…)

In the garden of a plush and spacious apartment, I sipped Johnny Red and listened to drunk aid workers complaining loudly against a backdrop of European pop music that there hadn’t been an underground house-party in nearly 2 months – until now – thanks to the recent ICC ruling and consequent backlash against the understandably-nervous international community…

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Middle East & Africa 2009

Hard Days in the Sahara

“Four days”, I said to George when he asked me how long it would take to ride to Khartoum. “Depending on how hard I ride, but I think four days is about right.”

Overland travellers in Dongola

I had met a rag-tag band of other travellers in the small hotel in Dongola — from Austria, New Zealand, Singapore and England. They’d met on the boat from Egypt a week after I’d made the same voyage. That had been yesterday, and they’d taken the overnight bus to Dongola, covering in a few hours much of the ground through which I’d spent 8 days crawling.