The southern third of Ethiopia wasn’t particularly easy going for us; the roads deteriorated into a dusty mess, the terrain remained high and hilly, and the lively locals somehow became even more boisterous than those in the north. All combined to serve up some challenging conditions which would result in our longest and hungriest days in the saddle – with the 200km either side of the town of Dila thoroughly testing not only our mental reserve, but also our tolerance for dust inhalation. However, as we grinded through the final few hundred kilometres of what has been a fascinating country, some of the hardships we saw along the way gave us plenty of food for thought.
Evidently, the need to carry huge drums of water for great distances is indiscriminate of age or gender in Ethiopia; as we saw terrific volumes being carried by a full spectrum of society – either on heads, on backs, or by any means possible. One of the most notable sights however, was an elderly woman walking barefoot between villages with a single microwave-sized rock tied to her back. The whole process looked excruciating and was no doubt a fairly thankless task. However, she was at least able to reward herself – after a level of physical exertion well beyond this particular duo – with a refreshing mouthful of brown, turbid water.
Certainly, cycling long distances across continents has been difficult, and for us, Ethiopia has raised the difficulty-rating of this particular trip. However, the hardships we have witnessed along this route helped highlight to us what seems to be a very western interpretation of that word: hard. Think you’ve got it tough? Try filling your microwave with concrete, hoisting it onto your back and carrying to the town down the road. Then repeat until nightfall.
Ethiopia is a country of quite exceptional beauty, and its position at the heart of Africa’s Rift Valley helps it boast landscapes that would be the draw card of any nation on earth. Its food is unique, its coffee a world-beater, and its people (at least those who are not throwing things) are a well-meaning, generous bunch. Its flaws though are not trivial, and it certainly seems that there is plenty of work to do here – with the first cab off the rank surely being an attempt to curb this incessant population growth.