Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gonder Show

This post is now ten days old. We've only now been able to send it up.

I write from Gonder, a beautiful Ethiopian city at the southern end of the Simian mountains. It's quite a place and we've had a great day so far. We can't say the same about last night.

When we last wrote we had arrive in Khartoum. I was nursing some sore ribs and a wounded pride and the desert had taken something out of Sam, too. Still, we departed from Kharmtoum with high hopes the next afternoon and we had a simply amazing ride to Gedaref. The change in landscape, housing, and people as you head towards the eastern border of Sudan is simply amazing. This is a country too complex to understand after one visit and we should hope to return someday.

We found a hotel that night with some great Italians we've been crossing paths with along the way. They deserve a post of their own. It is enough for now to say that we would not be writing from Gonder today if not for them.

After having dinner we returned to our hotel to find the proprietor dozing on a couch while two police officers insisted we reregister for the hotel. This is how two-bit police states work: you are asked to give your "fire" and "sure" names, these are put on a form, and then the form is most surely lost and never used again. But you must be careful not to balk too much at such a silly request. People here are jailed for taking pictures, for saying the wrong thing, for refusing to turn over passports to uninformed men without identification. So, this is the riddle of the Sudan: it's full of kind and honest people, it's blessed with a rich and diverse topography and no shortage of natural resources. But it's eating itself from the inside out and its President has been indicted for war crimes. It's a strange place.

We left the next day and crossed the border into Ethiopia. The change in wealth -- a steep drop, to be sure -- is striking. So is the bizarrely intense curiosity of the children and their habit of yelling "you, you, you" while asking for money, touching your bike, clamouring at your jacket and on and on. Don't take me as a person who does not understand the sources of this behaviour. I do, and I appreciate them. But it's quite a test of patience when one is changing a tire or one has just completed 20 hours on the road and is desperate for a tea and nothing else. Our day would include many such events.

Let me leave the description of our crossing to Gonder to short form, first because time is short and second because someone has donated good money to Spread the Net to get the first full account. But as I do, keep in mind that Gonder is only 210 kms from the Sudan border.

1.) We leave the Metema border station at 11 am.
2.) We clear customs 30 kms down the road by noon and finish lunch at 1.
3.) Sam soon notices he has a leaky back tire. It is not until 8 pm that it is fixed. The local tire guy and his crew of helpers do the job incorrectly several times. The Italians come and fix it.
4.) We begin the climb into and over the mountains to Gonder. It is dark and the dirt road climbs into another world. Our high beams tell us the mountains are green. Our ears tell us they are filled with animals. And some empty feeling in the stomach tells you not to ponder the edge. It is raining harder than I have ever experienced.
5.) I lose a ratchet strap which wraps in my back wheel getting into the brake and breaking three spokes.
6.) The Italian's truck breaks down. We take close to an hour to fix it on the side of the mountain.
7.) I get a flat tire in some muddy clay.
8.) We fix the tire, but no one can get out of the clay. It takes us some four hours to travel less than a kilometer. There is a breakdown in communication and I ride ahead three kilometers after I get going. The Italians stop to camp. Sam catches up with me and we pitch a tent on the road marking our spots with our bags. All of our warm clothes are on the truck. We freeze the night away. It must be 3 am.
9.) We wake up at 7 am to the roar of passing trucks. I leave the tent and find three sheperds staring at us. We pack and begin the ride again. The road has dried somewhat and the tracks passing by our tent have packed a trail. We head for Gonder, 30 kms down the road.
10.) Sam gets another flat. The patch from the local job didn't hold. We put his bike on a pop bottle truck and I follow them into Gonder. We arrive at 10 am.
11.) We find a local bike shop and a hotel. We share beer and pizzas with other overlanders we've met. The long day ends and we count ourselves lucky men to have seen and done such things.

We leave tomorrow for Addis Abeba. Keep well and keep looking ahead.

1 comment:

sangeee said...

it is quite nature.. We were making great time on the first day before hitting the lava field at kilometer 120 or so. Within forty kilometers we both had flat rear tires. Tires Florida

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