Stranded by the lake

Lake Tana is Ethiopia’s largest lake (84km long) and the source of the blue Nile. We were keen to visit as the area is known for its fantastic birdlife and hippos, however travelling down to the north of the lake was going to be quite out of our way.

We were given loose information that a ferry was being serviced in Gorgora harbour, and that it planned to leave the next day. As the ferry hadn’t been in service for two years, we knew travelling to the lake was a bit of a gamble, but we decided it was worth it.

Arriving at the lake it was quickly clear that the ferry wasn’t going to be leaving the next day…in fact it was more likely to be in four days time as the workers wanted to stay and celebrate Timkat in Gorgora.

Pitching our tent by the lake we decided there were much worse places to be stuck for a few days, and decided to take the opportunity to relax and celebrate Timkat in the small village.

Preparations for Timkat

With one of the biggest festivals in the Ethiopian calendar being Timkat (epiphany), it was an exciting time to visit Gondar – the home of the festival. With the festival only a few days away, the city was full of life and the preparations commenced.

At the Debre Birhan Selassie church, patriotic bunting was being erected and the straw roof was getting a trim. It was funny to see the bible characters painted on the mud walls inside he church all sporting an Afro hair-do.

The Fasil Ghebbi is a walled complex housing several beautiful castles. Here groups of youths gathered in their traditional robes to practice for the Timkat festivities.

Finally we visited Fasilides’ Bath, a giant outdoor pool which is just filled with water once a year for Timkat. The festival finishes with people being baptised in the water before turning the bath into a public swimming pool. During our visit we watched hundreds of people constructing giant stands made of wood and string for people to be able to watch the Timkat festival. Sadly we read several days later that this structure had collapsed during the ceremony, killing 10 people (https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-africa-51177839)

All eyes on us

Our first day in Ethiopia and there are lots of things to get used to quickly. The main one is the constant attention we get. We stop for two minutes to take a sip of water and we are surrounded by hundreds of kids. Finding a quiet place to camp was near impossible, so we decided to make friends at a village bar and then ask if we could camp at the back. They gladly agreed to us putting our tent in their yard, as long as we left enough room for the donkey, ox and several goats.

Leaving behind the Arab world, we were looking forward to a lie in now that we weren’t expecting the 4.30am call to prayer. How wrong we were! Turns out that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has its own call to prayer before the sun comes up, but it continues for two or three hours sometimes! It’s unclear if this will be our morning wake up throughout the whole country, or just over the next couple of weeks in the lead up to Timkat (epiphany). For now at least we’ll be enjoying some early morning rides. This particular Sunday morning we pushed our bikes out into the village to find everyone floating towards the church in their white robes like ghosts – a very surreal but beautiful sight.

Hello Ethiopia

Well hello Ethiopia! No mistaking that we’ve arrived in country number 15. 100m across the border and we are wondering what’s happened to the quiet, peaceful countryside of Sudan? So many people everywhere – and they’ve all spotted the new farangies in town! As I push my bike away from the customs office I feel something pulling me back – four little hands reaching inside the front pockets of my pannier, disappointed to find only rubbish! A good nudge to remind us to become a little more prudent.

James’ first priority is to scout out the nearest place selling beer, he doesn’t need to look far as the dancing Rastafarian cartwheels out of the bar opposite.

One thing that’s certainly taken our legs by surprise is the mountains, particularly after two months of flat land in Egypt and Sudan. It’s hard to believe how much the landscape can change in just 24 hours. However the reward of some epic views and scenery makes the long climbs worth the effort.

November and December on a page

Better late than never… November/ December and our running totals: 14 countries 🇬🇧 🇫🇷 🇧🇪 🇱🇺 🇩🇪 🇦🇹 🇸🇰 🇭🇺 🇷🇸 🇧🇬 🇬🇷 🇹🇷🇪🇬🇸🇩; 6757km 🚵🏻‍♂️; 482km other transport 🚔 (335km with the Egyptian police); still 0 punctures 😱; 28 kind hosts ☺️; 32 night’s wild camping 🏕; 18 at campsites ⛺️; 33 in a hostel 🏠; 1 night on a boat ⛵️; 18.25kg of pasta 🍝!

#blueforsudan

Sudan has arguably undergone more significant changes than any other African nation in 2019. Starting with mass protests across the country at the end of 2018 over the price of bread, things quickly spiralled, accumulating with the ousting of the president Bashir in March which signalled the end of a 30 year dictatorship. Things didn’t settle there though, and in June the capital of Khartoum witnessed a brutal massacre and the controversial murder of many protestors.

Arriving in the country in December, we were unsure what to expect. But within the space of a few months the country has managed to organise a new government with civilians, military and representatives from protest groups. The determination of the people to make a positive change for the country was evident everywhere; people talking about their hope for freedom in the future; street artwork; and the several protests that happened during the few weeks there. For many people, the result of a trial ending a few weeks ago which sentenced 29 security officials to death for the murder of a teacher who was involved in one of the original protests was the first step in justice being brought back to the civilians.

Being here at this point in time has reinforced how we take freedom and fairness so much for granted. It’s an incredibly exciting time for Sudan, we just hope things continue in the right direction.

For now we say goodbye to Sudan, but we’ll be watching how things unfurl with great interest. Inshallah we will return to this incredible country again one day.