Many African cities are swelteringly hot. Addis Ababa fortunately isn’t. The World’s fifth highest capital (2300m in altitude) is also Africa’s fifth fastest growing (in terms of population) – according to this list anyhow.

The growth is evident. Construction and people everywhere. Even a light railway – the first of its kind in sub-saharan Africa, opened just days before I rolled in. This, together with the wide roads, flyovers and large buildings gives the place more of a city feel than many other urban areas in Africa.

Addis Ababa

Easy enough to cycle around, despite the hills and diesel fumes. No one throws stones at you here and the roads aren’t yet clogged with the traffic that exists in say Nairobi, Kampala or Dar-es-Salaam. Cars are far too expensive for the vast majority of people.

Motorbike taxis, common in those east African cities, are absent here, as are tuk-tuks. This leaves a lot of taxis – distinctive old blue ladas mostly, on the streets.

Churchill Road Addis Ababa

Plenty of poverty here too, most obvious in the amount of beggars – young and old, lining the roadside. More like India than the rest of Africa I thought.

My arrival happened to coincide with one of the biggest Orthodox Christian holidays in the Ethiopian calendar – Meskel. Like most religious celebrations I can’t confess I knew a whole lot about the significance of this one, other than it involved lots of public gatherings around bonfires with a cross in the middle to commemorate the discovery of the true cross, whatever that was.

Alongside what must have been tens of thousands of others I joined the largest of these gatherings in Meskel square one Sunday evening – a fantastic display of light once the sun set and candles were lit.

Meskel Square at dusk

Fire Torch in Meskel square

Meskel Celebration in Addis Ababa

I met up for the second time with another foreign cyclist here. A few days previously Gurgan, from Turkey, contacted me from Addis Ababa, having heard through a mutual friend on facebook that I was arriving. He’d flown in recently to begin the African leg of his 7-year World tour. Turns out we not only share the same birthday, but were born in the same year! Too bad he was headed south to Kenya.

In a country with few English speakers and all the unwanted attention and hysteria at the roadside it would have been nice to cycle with company. He certainly hadn’t chosen the easiest African country to come to first.

Two tourers

Knowing there would be a dearth of bicycle shops in the city I managed to get in touch a few weeks previously with someone flying into Addis from Europe. I might not need the spare tyre or tubes, but there are some kilometres left yet on this tour.

Spare tyre and tubes

The plan had been to roll or rather climb out of Addis on a Sunday morning, but my head was heavy from watching an early England exit from the Rugby World Cup the previous night. I also suspected that once I’d left the cityscape behind, life on the road in Ethiopia might bear similarities to the challenges I’d experienced in the south of the country. For that I needed to feel fresh and strong.

Leaving Addis Ababa