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Eritrea / Ethiopia / Djibouti / Somalia:
Bicycle Tour Travel Guide

 

 


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by David Mozer

[An introduction and overview to travel in Africa is available by clicking here.  If you are look for a bicycle tour to this country, this link might help you.]

The information below may have been extracted from a more comprehensive "Country Supplement" to the book "Bicycling In Africa".  For information on these publications click on the links.

For those looking for the challenge and adventure of a lifetime and want to explore some of Africa's most rugged and spectacular countryside by bike, Ethiopia and Eritrea should be a top consideration. Visitors are exhilarated by the rich culture; 3000 years of history; thriving agricultural; and geographical and environmental diversity of the country. Ethiopia and Eritrea are mélanges of grand modern cities and vast rural populations that reflect traditional culture and values. Bicycle travelers have the opportunities to meet rural villagers, craftsmen, educators and officials; to learn about the day-to-day life and the changing role of women; to shop in local markets; to wander in archeological sites of empires and kingdoms dating back many centuries and to enjoy the extraordinary friendliness of the people and inspirational beauty of the Abyssinian highlands. This awe-inspiring corner of Africa is virtually undiscovered by Westerners.

In almost every arena there is stark contrasts. Unique to specific areas of Ethiopia, not the least of these is the reception from the people, most particularly the children. In one village you can meet a mob of the devil incarnated and the next a flock of angels. Generally the phenomena is some degree of “ferenj fever” or “ferenj hysteria.” (“Ferenj” is the Amharic word for white people). The child will “greet” white people with “ferenj, ferenj” or “you, you.” If you are lucky, they will only repeat it a dozen times of so, but at other times it can be a cacophony of thousands or repetitions. In the bad villages the children are totally out of control -- far more than any other region we have experienced in Africa. It can be quite terrifying and is a serious detriment to tourism, especially vulnerable bike travel. In the extreme it can include; chants with graphic sexual epitaphs, assaulted with sticks and barrages of stones. You may want to avoid certain areas of the country or be prepared for barrages of verbal abuse and / or physical assault. The worst areas, at this point, seem to be the Rift Valley Lakes, Gojam Province and the area straddling Wolo and Tigray provinces, stretching 50km north and south of Maychew. (Travel writer Phillip Briggs also notes Dodola (Bale)) Generally Ethiopian adult deny that it could be so. A few have tried to explain it away that these kids were peasants without education. But, there are vast areas of Africa, and Ethiopia, with rural societies and a similar lack of formal education where everybody has impeccable respect for elders and visitors, of which we are both. Another explanation is it has a legacy of the Derge anti-foreign propaganda machine. The problem may be dissipating as evidenced by long leisurely walks through Addis Ababa a year apart. On the most recent ramble there was virtually no problem – though you still need to be city-wise and alert to activities like pick-pocketing.

Mostly the Horn of Africa is a region with truly wonderful people who generously offer warm a welcome, gracious hospitality, and unconditional aid and assistance. (Sometimes it is difficult to buy you own meal, even if your resources are many times those of your host.)

Other elements of contrasts in the region are:

Part of the coastal plains are below sea level, a good deal of the rest of the country is between 5000 and 9000 feet. It makes for stunning scenery, but if someone prankster told you there was no word for flat in any of the local language you would probably believe them. Depending on what direction you arrive from the are numerous 10 to 50km ascents or descents.

On ecological side of this, you can find desert and rain forest, and sometimes less than 100 km apart.

The road surface range for pristine asphalt to something akin to a river bed. Unfortunately the latter is probably more common than the former, but most falls in between.

Vast areas of the region are still mountainous a days walk from the nearest motor-road and power line. Others are fully integrated into the Internet and the information age (and rural electrification is moving fast). The same diversity and dynamism is present in accommodations.

Two hungry bicyclist's can bloat themselves on an succulent traditional meal for a dollar and each can spend ten dollars for ten minutes in a drab postage stamp size rock hewn church. While each church has its own unique character and quality it is debatable whether, collectively, all 100 plus add up to any one of the grand churches of Europe. Somehow the caretakers have gotten a very inflated assessment of the intrinsic value of their structures. If you visit just a few of these each day, you quickly begin to spend a small fortune for fairly forgettable edifice. Presumably the money goes to support the church, but historically the church has been more of a drain on the community, rather than playing a social welfare role. (In Lalabela, where there are beggars on the street and the churches make thousands of dollars a week from tourists. Our guide told us that everybody is expected to give to the church but the church has no programs to help the poor.)

So all-in-all Eritrea and Ethiopia highlands offer many great cycle touring experiences, but not without putting you through some challenges. The best bicycle access to the coast is at Massawa. It is a tough haul to get to Djibouti and Somali is not current conducive to bicycle tourism.

Links of Interest:

 

Regional Resources:

Kenya
Sudan
Egypt

 
 

 

For current news on Africa and more web sites with country-by-country information go to the link section and click on "Africa: News, Background, Travel."

Africa Guide Home   IBF's Bibliography: Africa   IBF's Travel Page   IBF's Africa index 

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