The Blue Nile Gorge was not the end of our climbing. The next day we were faced with more hills, none as long or as steep as the Gorge, but ever upwards. At 3,100 meters (10,000 feet) we reached the highest point for the whole tour. It was a beautiful day, the sun glistening over the rolling hills, farm plots and pastureland. Groups of men till fields precariously perched on cliff edges with oxen as they might have done centuries before. Children tend herds of goats or cattle; young boys climbed the roadside with enormous bundles of hay on their heads. At the village stops we continued to be met by an eager gaggle of children crowding around to see these strange white folk in their spandex outfits.
By the third day we had reached the outskirts of Addis Ababa. There we stopped to gather all the riders for we were to ride in convoy to the Addis Golf Club, our camping spot for the next two nights. The traffic in the city is so dense and chaotic the organizers had decided that the only safe way to navigate through it on bike was in a tight formation with a minivan leading the way and the LandCruiser bringing up the rear. Happily, two local cyclists had joined us earlier in the day and accompanied the convoy into the city biking ahead and stopping traffic at intersections so that we could pass unhindered.
The golf club is an extensive oasis of green in the dusty, jumbly city that is Addis. The usual garden spaces where the Tour normally sets up its tents is taken by two wedding receptions. It is Saturday night and the music will go on far into the night. As the guests arrive that evening decked out in their finery we, in our grimy camping outfits, look decidedly out of place. No one bats and eyelid; no one says anything.
The tents are crowded on a rectangle of grass alongside a strip of motel-like rooms. I’ve decided to take a room; it is very basic, a double bed and a bathroom with a dripping hose on the floor and a cold-water shower. The water heater had been disconnected a long time before. But I can spread my things out and organize my bags.
I take a walk with L and V to a supermarket, 20 minutes away. We’re in a well-to-do area of foreign embassies and gated compounds. As we near a main intersection, a man is hanging up his wet laundry on a stretch of barbed wire. The Shoa supermarket is in a small, upscale mall. Guards inspect our bags as we go in. At the cash we speak to a Danish woman. She has been living in Addis for two years. Her husband works at the American embassy; she at the Danish one. She can’t recommend any local restaurants. As newcomers we are better off sticking to name hotels or the golf club, she advises, if we wish to avoid any gastro difficulties.
After a rest day the Tour will move on south towards Moyale and the Kenyan border. I will miss this next section. I am taking a break to return home briefly. It’s my mother’s hundredth birthday and we are having a bash for her. Not something I can miss. I am leaving my bike and bags and will catch up with the gang in Nairobi. Before the gang leave Addis, I ask them to call out birthday greetings for my mother. It will be a strange sight, but I hope pleasing to my mother.