After being stuck in Bahir Bahr from the protests and blocked roads, we could finally get out of the city and we bussed it to Addis Ababa. From there we took another bus onto Arba Minch, a gateway town to Nechisar National Park. After arriving, we headed to the Paradise Lodge for a drink and our jaws dropped open at the view. It was just endless green jungle between Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo, creating the Bridge of God.
But there’s always more than what meets the eye. This incredible view is overshadowed by the very sad state of the park. What used to be a park with a wide variety of animals is now left without any organisation willing to run it because they now consider it a ‘lost cause’.
We took a boat across Lake Chamo and did a small hike through the rest of the park. We were surprised to see fishermen on the lake, floating on tiny wooden boards directly next to 5 metre crocodiles. Illegal fishing, cattle grazing, human settlements inside the park and cutting down trees for firewood are all contributing to the demise of this beautiful park. Sadly, this is not a unique tale for many of the national parks in Ethiopia. So we were shocked to watch our park guide buy a dead fish from the fishermen!! Ironically, we also opened the menu from the restaurant at Paradise Lodge to find fish and beef on it….
The day we left Arba Minch was one of our longest and emotional cycling days on this trip. We felt good and were ready to get back on the saddle. This entire day made us realise we had made the right decision in taking a bus through half of Ethiopia.
We soon passed a town full of men holding machetes. Imagine, crowds and crowds of only young men loaded in trucks and standing on the side of the street all giving you an intense death stare. All of them were holding sharp machetes that could crack a persons skull with one strike. I genuinely felt very intimidated in this moment. A car noted the situation and stayed close in front of us while we cycled through the town. I am so glad they did. It was one of the scariest kilometres of my cycling life.
Things got odd after that. Especially with Chucky. Remember Chucky? That adorable little doll who turns into a brutal serial killing in Don Mancini’s horror film. Chucky was one of my worst nightmares as a kid. Well, now in Ethiopia, after all these years, I have to face my fears in real life: Chucky in the flesh.
On this day, Chucky found us. His spirit had possessed a 10 year-old boy. The boy waved his machete in the air… and then… that sound. I turned to see him scraping his grim-reaper shaped weapon on the road, right behind us.. He was running fast to make the loud, piercing sound of metal on tar. He did this while howling a high-pitched, evil, Chucky-like laugh into the air. It sent shivers through me – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This child is laughing hysterically while threatening to kill us with his machete. This poor boy had been possessed by Chucky! himself.
His friend threw a thick, wooden stick at Simon. These sticks are made from dense wood, take hours to make and are used for their cattle. He was terrible at aiming and the stick landed behind our bikes… so Simon turned around, picked it up and cycled away with it. He then used the same stick to hit many thieving hands when kids tried to steal something from the bikes… it came in pretty handy actually. We should thank the kid for throwing it at us.
At one point, I was even running after a bunch of other kids with our new stick held over my head. That’s when I realised we have to get out of this country before I go clinically insane.
Our usual strategy to stop kids harassing us is to point at an adult and ask them to chase away the kids. That usually works. At one occasion, though, we stopped to get some kids to back off from us. When three young men emerged out of the bush, running towards us at full speed with machetes, Simon thought that they were coming to shout at the kids. I then heard them say “birr, birr, birr” – in other words ‘money’!! I shouted to Simon, “they’re not coming for the kids, they’re coming for us! Cycccllleeee, nowwww!!!” We pedalled hard and got away before they reached the road.
This brings me to the grand finale of the day. We cycled through a small town and were horrified to see…. 100 little Chucky lookalikes all standing on the side of the road, staring us down. I kept up a fast pace as I wanted them to move out of the way rather than block our path. I got slapped several times while cycling through the crowd. Then suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him. It was Chucky. The sequel. He was about 6 years old, running fast towards me. I had no time to react. He T-boned me, running full force into the side of my bike.
Everything was slow motion after that. I remember clicking out one shoe before the bike went down. I made the mistake of pulling the handlebar the opposite direction – into oncoming traffic. Only after I landed hard on the handlebars, did I look up and realise my close call. A minibus taxi had swerved off the road, just missing my head. My mirror and front light was broken and my leg was pounding with pain. I picked up the bike and limped my way past the kids. I just wanted to get away from them. Simon did an amazing job that whole day. He insisted on staying behind me and tried to deflect the kids attention away from me! An exhausting task.
We did, at least, solve one the greatest mysteries of our time that day. We now realise why aliens have not made contact with Earth. Our guess is that when they first visited, they accidentally landed in Ethiopia. They must have planned their trip for millennia, their people cheering them on – one small step for alien kind sort of thing… and then…. they land…. here.
“Nevermind, we’re good.”
Emergency message goes out to the Alien Union: “Do not land on Earth, I repeat, DO NOT land on Earth”. They probably now turn off all communication when using the intergalactic highway passing Earth.
We have to give Ethiopia a bit of credit: excellent veg food, the best fruit juices ever, great coffee and a nice cool climate for cycling. Also, from Konso to the Kenyan border, the people miraculously turned friendlier. They waved hello, the kids didn’t run after the bikes and most people were genuinely smiling at us.
Still, small pockets of men working on the road in their early twenties continued to aggressively demand money. People still stood across the road to form a chain so we couldn’t pass. I always flexed some muscles and sped up at these times – ready to plunge through the barrier or take a fall with them. All of them saw the crazy in my eye and moved out of the way.
Another great thing to come out of Ethiopia is cycling with Andy and Dee! A UK / Irish cycling duo we met in Addis Ababa. These guys were our light at the end of the tunnel in a country where you can feel quite alone. Cycling some of Ethiopia with them injected a new enthusiasm into our journey. Check out their video blogs and stories on their YouTube channel or their blog: Cairo 2 Cape Town.
For more photos from Ethiopia, click here.