Welcome to The Big Africa Cycle website. My name is Peter Gostelow and between 2009-2012 I cycled from England to Cape Town, a journey of over 34000km through 30 countries. The blog posts in this website tell some of the stories from that time on the road.
This was my second major solo bicycle adventure. Between 2005-2008 I cycled from Japan-England, a journey of 50,000km.
I returned to Africa in early 2013 and lived for 2 years in the town of Mwanza, Tanzania, where I worked as a Teacher Trainer in a Government Education College. During the holidays I continued to make shorter tours in East and Southern Africa, posting the occasional blog update here.
In May 2015 I finished my working contract so decided what better way to leave Tanzania than by bicycle. The plan is to head north from here. Hit the Subscribe to News tab on the right here to keep up to date with the adventure.
East from Addis: Mwanza-Muscat Part 11
November 25th, 2015 (1 comment)
There are two roads to leave Addis Ababa on if travelling East. One is a new toll road consisting of beautifully smooth Chinese-crafted tarmac; the other is an old road – narrower and lacking a paved shoulder. As drivers must pay to use the toll road most stick to the old road. I should have known that.
Theoretically bicycles are forbidden on toll roads, but as this is Africa no one really cares. I only discovered this, although in hindsight felt I should have known this too, on my second day riding out of the capital.
Unfortunately by this point the toll road ended after 12km and I was back with the madness of trucks I’d spent the first day with.
As Ethiopia is a land-locked country it relies heavily on goods from its nearest port. This is in Djibouti – the destination for 90% of the container trucks and other large vehicles I spent the next day and a half with.
It wouldn’t have been so bad had there been a paved hard shoulder to give myself a bit of distance from this constant stream of metal monsters.
In months to come the new railway (Chinese constructed of course) should handle most of this cargo, but for now the road between Addis Ababa and Awash remains one of the most dangerous I’ve cycled in Africa. I lost count of the number of over-turned vehicles lying in the arid shrubbery at the roadside – usually with the surviving driver or passenger watching over whatever cargo or other stealable goods were present.
At least the traffic took care of the children – running alongside me would have been suicidal for the most part.
An armed policeman stopped me on the road a short distance before most of these trucks made a left turn towards Djibouti. He emerged from a tin-shack shelter beside a bridge over the Awash River. Not much English was spoken, but enough to understand I couldn’t cross the bridge. Too dangerous seemed to be the initial reasoning. This made little sense as the bridge was only 100m long and just as wide as the rest of the road. There was even an old dis-used bridge that I could have crossed nearby. Also a no-go. Apparently I needed to return to the nearby town of Awash where permission from the police to cross this bridge with my bike on a vehicle could be given. It sounded like nonsense to me.
I politely refused to cycle back so decided to sit on the roadside beside this tin-shack. About an hour went by before another policeman showed up and decided to flag down a vehicle, onto which my bike was loaded and I was driven across the bridge.
The whole episode left me a bit confused. Perhaps as the bridge was so strategically important for transport coming and going to Djibouti someone senior had ordered it closed for all non-motorised traffic. This still didn’t really make sense, but I wasn’t going to get a coherent or logical answer from either of these policemen.
The delay didn’t really bother me, except that I realised I would now probably be camping, rather than arriving in the small town of Mieso where I had planned to pass the night.
Like almost everywhere else in Ethiopia the bush, desolate as it often looked at first, was dotted with people – kids tending livestock, women collecting brushwood etc. Had I attempted to pull off the road and set up camp without being seen I would probably have failed. So when a friendly male voice greeted me in the dying light beside a solitary mud-brick dwelling, I stopped and decided that unless this guy was a total mad-man I was going to kindly ask to camp next to his home. Been here and done this many times before I thought to myself.
Osman, who had no idea that calling out ‘Salamno’ was going to lead to such an encounter, ended up sleeping outside that night. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was for my own protection or to guard the sacks of charcoal that he and most other people living along the roadside were selling during the daytime to passing traffic.
I wasn’t on the road very long the next morning when I passed a hyena lying at the roadside. I made sure it was dead before getting close enough to have a better look. Moments later a tuk-tuk stopped and two men got out. After prodding the hyena with a stick to make sure it was also dead they muttered some words at me, then proceeded to pull the whisker hairs off the hyenas face. The hairs were carefully placed inside some paper, which was then folded and put into their shirt pockets before they got back into the tuk-tuk and disappeared.
I was later told some people believe the smoke released from burning the whisker hairs of a hyena can help cure a sick baby. Well there’s an interesting and little known snippet of information.
Ethiopia’s eastern Highlands don’t quite rival the scenery further north in the country, but there were plenty of dramatic vistas in the next few days to make the riding challenging and worthwhile.
Fortunately stone throwing children, albeit still present, were rarer the further east I went. In one sense this made life on the road more peaceful, but villages and towns were now inhabited by people intoxicated from the effects of chewing qat. This made roadside encounters and communication with the majority of Ethiopians, at least while cycling, more frenetic than anywhere else in the country.
Despite my love for the scenery, coffee, beer and friendliness of some Ethiopians (at least when I was actually off the bicycle) I longed to escape this mad country.
The old town of Harar was at least a welcome surprise. Here is a place whose UNESCO World Heritage protection seems to have saved it from the ugly hand of Chinese contractors, present almost everywhere else in urban Ethiopia, including the outskirts of Harar.
It may have been dirty and overcrowded, just like Zanzibar’s Stone Town or Fez’s old quarter, but that only added to its character – a place where hyenas enter the streets at night to be fed. This practice has gone on for a number of years – I presume to stop the animals attacking livestock and people.
There was a notable change as I left Harar and continued eastwards – both in the landscape that was more arid, as well as the people. Women were mostly veiled and children no longer chased nor yelled out ‘you you’ from the roadside.
The town of Jijiga, where I spent my last night in Ethiopia drinking draft beer in one of the few establishments serving alcohol, was very much Somali-dominated. I knew these would probably be the last beers I’d drink in a long time. That was a sobering thought, but after almost 10 weeks and 4000km of cycling in Ethiopia I was looking forward, albeit with some anxiety, to entering a country that doesn’t officially exist – Somaliland.
As usual, if you’re interested to view the route and altitude chart for this stretch of the tour please scroll to the bottom of the page here.