Ethiopia: Abyssinia Adventure - Hwy 3
Agew - Awi National Zone

Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

Agew Awi is one of 10 Zones in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. Agew Awi is named for the Awi sub-group of the Agaw people, some of whom live in this Zone. Agaw is one of more that 80 languages spoken in Ethiopia.  There are a million Agaw speakers. The Agaw have traditionally practiced a land-management system that is well adapted to the local ecology, enabling them to sustain the fertility of the soil and minimize erosion. This area is recognized as one of the most productive in the Amhara Region.  The section along the road runs from 2400m to 2000m in elevation, generally sloping down from south to north.

Highway 3, Bure hill, Ethiopia

highpoint, Highway 3, Bure hill, Ethiopia

view from Highway 3, Bure hill, EthiopiaImmediately out of Bure, Highway 3 climbs about 500 meters in ten kilometers over the west end of Mengistiwo ridge, with a high point of 2565m.  In the morning air it was a nice climb with an expansive view.

It appears that things haven't gone so well on the hill; along the flotsam and jetsam of other stalled vehicles, there are three large blocks of marble (left) that must have fallen off a truck. They look like they should have considerable value, but maybe not enough to send out the heavy equipment that would be needed to retrieve them.

At the top of the hill is a derelict tank (left), likely dating from the civil war. This and other passes between northern and southern Ethiopia were strategic ground and many battles took place around them.  The value of such war relics may not be sufficient to justify the expense of pulling them out and recycling them.

One lesson the tank demonstrates is the practice of rotational farming.  In 2014 (upper right), wheat in the field that the tank is in. In 2015 (lower right) the field is left fallow and the tank is surrounded by weeds.

abandon marble, Highway 3, Bure hill, Ethiopia

derelict tank, Highway 3, Bure hill, Ethiopia

derelict tank, Highway 3, Bure hill, Ethiopia

Elevation Profile: Hwy 3, Bure to Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
[Graphs are built with incomplete data and are only general representations of the topography.]
Volcanic cider cone, Ethiopia
Volcanic cider cone, EthiopiaUp on the ridge the scenery included volcanic relics: lava plugs, cinder cones and crater lakes dotted the landscape.  Some of them line up in rows and others are strangely isolated. In all of the combinations they add new drama to the countryside.

This day is developing to be the best day so far.

Volcanic cider cone, Ethiopia


Flour mill, EthiopiaIn the fields along the road people were using animals to process their harvest (left). The horses walk around in circles to knock the grain off the stalks.

The grain can then be taken to the mills (right), in the towns, where it is ground into flour.

At the far right are a couple of camouflaged hornbills. There are two birds in the photo.

camouflaged hornbills, Bure, Ethiopia
Farmer turning soil with ox and traditional plow, Ethiopia Additional scenes from the agricultural countryside are; farmers turning their field with a traditional plow pulled by ox. And a donkey and cart, with the cart laddened with hay. Donkey and cart hauling hay, Ethiopia
main street, Tilili, Ethiopia
building under construction, Tilili, Ethiopiamain street, Tilili, Ethiopiabicycle shop, Tilili, EthiopiaThings seem to be going well in Tilili (2400m) where new multi-story buildings look like a sign that it is starting to prosper. Most of the town's commercial district has a typical small town look (as with the bicycle shop on the right), but the new construction gives the impression that it is in the process of becoming something bigger. Simultaneous, the traditional weekly market is a thriving sea of humanity (right).
Traditional weekly market, Tilili, Ethiopia
boys weaving mats, Tilili, Ethiopia stacks of woven mats, Tilili, EthiopiaEveryone in Tilli seems to be in constant motion -- carrying something, weaving mats, making furniture, preparing grain, cleaning, etc. No one was sitting around doing nothing; in fact, everyone was so busy our arrival and presence was largely ignored. As we took pictures people might look up, but generally they didn't stop what they were doing.
stacks of woven mats, Tilili, Ethiopia
boy, Tilili, Ethiopia
woman, Tilili, EthiopiaHard working, industrious, and purposeful are words that come to mind. These are also words that are often ascribed to the Awi ethnic group that lives in the area.  In fact they have their own political jurisdiction, the Awi National Zone.

The zone has it own social service programs, education office, teacher training college, and other capacity building initiatives.

It is also a "green culture", in that shades of green are clearly the preferred color for clothing among the people here, especially women. And clothing that is not green often seems to be dominated by red.

woman, Tilili, Ethiopia
Women back carrying goods, Tilili, Ethiopia Women working outside of flour mill, Tilili, Ethiopia horseman, Tilili, Ethiopia Women working outside of flour mill, Tilili, Ethiopia women back carrying goods, Tilili, Ethiopia Highway 3, Tilili, Ethiopia
Lake Zengena, Ethiopia Lake Zengena, EthiopiaLake Zengena, EthiopiaLake Zengena is the second deepest lake in Ethiopia next to Lake Shalla, with a maximum depth of 166m followed by Tirba,  with amaximum depth of 153m. The diameter of the lake is roughly 1 km. Zengena is a closed lake in that water flows in but there is no outlet. There is an ongoing effort to control activities in and around the lake so the water flowing into it doesn't become polluted.

The lake is a draw for tourists, largely Western birders and Ethiopians picnickers . This is reflected in the souvenir stand at the foot of the trail leading to the lake.

Souvenirs for sale, Lake Zengena, Ethiopia
beehive, Lake Zengena, Ethiopia
Honey collecting is one of the activities around the lake. For the connoisseur there are two different types of beehive construction in the same area; both were about the same size, but one was made by bundling grass stalks together and the other was more of a woven tube. beehive, Lake Zengena, Ethiopia
Black and White Colobus monkey, Lake Zengena, Ethiopia

countryside around Lake Zengena, Ethiopia

Black and White Colobus monkey, Lake Zengena, EthiopiaThe charismatic mega-fauna at the lake are Black and White Colobus monkeys. I am not sure if they find humans to be charismatic mega-fauna as well, but they can be as engaged watching us as we are watching them.

More likely to be heard than seen are African fish eagles. Even if you see them, they tend to be hard to photograph. The fish eagles find the trees ideal perches for watching the lake, in hopes of spotting their next meal.  There are numerous other birds in the forest around the lake, but all seem to be easier to hear than to see.

Black and White Colobus monkey, Lake Zengena, Ethiopia
We had been told that the local specialty in Injibara (2550m) is gusguso, an Agaw version of shero with cheese in it, but most of the people working in the restaurants were not Agaw and had never heard of it. Even in the rare cases that someone seemed to recognize the name, we couldn't find anyone who was serving it. The absence of cheese seems to be a majoy stumbling block.  [A subsequent Internet search for gusguso, and shero with cheese, produced no hits.] Students bicycling home from school, Ethiopia
bayeynetu (injera with a vegetarian medley)


On the subject of food: The month before major holidays like Christmas and Easter are "fasting" periods. It is a fast from meat so bayeynetu (injera with 6-10 vegetarian dishes) is more readily available (left and right). 

Referring to the photos below, left to right, counterclockwise: A popular breakfast is foul, a tasty lentil dish generally served with bread. It is similar to Indian dal. Variations can be found from the Levant, down through Arabia, the Red Sea and through out the Horn of Africa.  If you order 'special foul' it comes with scrambled eggs, yogurt and extra onions, and is even tastier.  In better restaurants, on the breakfast menu you can find fetira (sort of a pancake with egg, honey or butter) and chechebsa (strips of fried flat bread mixed with cumin, pepper and other spices). Presumably everything is nicely paired with the telai (local beer). Coffee and tea are more readily available the telai. Even in the smallest village there is often an element of art and elegance in the way the jebena is tipped and the presentation of coffee. The most common tea is flavored with cinnamon, but ginger tea is frequently available. The coffee and teas are drunk very sweet. Another home-brew is tej, honey wine or mead, usually served in a berele, a round glass flask or beaker. Leaves and twig are added in the fermentation process to give it a bit of a smoky flavor. It is very sweet. Pure fruit smoothies are commonly available in papaya, avocado and mango. A glass of all three is a 'spites'.


papaya, avocado and mango juice, Ethiopia

fetira (sort of a pancake with egg, honey or butter), Ethiopia chechebsa (strips of fried flat bread mixed with cumin, pepper and other spices), Ethiopia Local beer, Ethiopia Jebena, coffee service, Ethiopia Ginger tea, Ethiopia tej served in a 'berele', a round glass flask or beaker, Ethiopia
Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Injibara

Injibara is the largest town in the Agaw Awi National Zone. Within the long commercial strip there is a beautiful Mikeale Orthodox Church (left), lots of stores selling ready-made western-style clothes, and a large billboard featuring four women, each holding a condom. All of the script on the billboard is in Amharic so I can't relay the precise message, but the logos at the bottom include USAID.  Presumably it's part of a safe-sex and HIV prevention campaign.

Safe-sex, HIV prevention, billboard, Injibara, Ethiopia

rcokformation, Agaw Awi National Zone, Ethiopia


traditional house, Agaw Awi National Zone, Ethiopia harvesting injera, Agaw Awi National Zone, Ethiopia haystacks, Agaw Awi National Zone, Ethiopia acacia trees, Agaw Awi National Zone, Ethiopia
After Injibara the road begins to descend, with a corresponding change in micro-climate.
Traditional house, Agaw Awi National Zone, Ethiopia


Roadside coffee stall, Dangla, Ethiopia

Dangla or Danglia (2120m) might be the second largest town in the Agaw Awi National Zone. It is hard to judge Dangla because there are two separate pieces to it.  There is an old town that is completely off the highway and there is a new town that is developing as a strip city along the highway.  The older section has streets of one-story shops with lots of variety (dry goods, tailors, hardware, butchers, home furnishings, etc), catering to the local population.Roadside coffee stalls, Dangla, Ethiopia

The new section has several multi-story hotels, banks, phone stores, and a long, unique row of purposefully decorated, roadside coffee stalls, where the dominant color is pink.  This section is much more oriented to the traffic that is using the highway.

Though there wasn't a lot of local bicycle riding to be seen when we were on the street, there is a local bicycle shop and bicycle rental business in Dangla (right).

The combination of energetic people and the diverse and a scenic natural environment made the Agaw Awi National Zone the best day so far.

Buiilding under constrution, Dangla, Ethiopia

Rental bicycles, Dangla, Ethiopia

Highway 3, north of Dangla, Ethiopia

Highway 3, north of Dangla, Ethiopia haystacks, Highway 3, north of Dangla, Ethiopia river, Highway 3, north of Dangla, Ethiopia river, Highway 3, north of Dangla, Ethiopia

North of Dangla, Highway 3 is relatively flat.  The elevation drops 1900m to 2000m and we are back into the corn belt.  The Gilgel Abay River still had some water in it, but not likely enough to sustain much agricultural irrigation

stacks of eucalyptus poles, Ethiopia

loading truck with eucalyptus poles, Ethiopia

loading truck with eucalyptus poles, EthiopiaThere are also large tracts of land, with Eucalyptus forest and associated harvesting activities.  The harvesting must be well managed because we saw several depots of poles waiting to be bought and carried to another market, but there weren't any sections of clear cut forests. When the buyers arrive with their trucks, they stack the load high.

Whether the whole forestry is sustainable is an open question: eucalyptus has a huge need for water and a deep taproot, so even if the area is drought-prone, the tree can reach down into the water table and start drinking.  If there are enough eucalyptus trees, over time, they can drink the water table dry

Consistent with other woodlot areas, the donkey carts hauling bags of charcoal (far right) indicate that the cottage industry is near by.

donkey cart hauling charcoal, Ethiopia

banana seller, Merawi, Ethiopia

buying bananas, Merawi, Ethiopia A stop for a snack in Merawi led to the purchase of some bananas.

Among the crowd that gathered around were some students and a teacher. From a short chat we learned a little about each others' lives.

There were more bicycles out on the roads in and around town where the terrain is flatter. This increased ridership might be the explanation for the bike wash business down at the stream at the edge of town.  The bike was being thoroughly scrubbed and was in deep enough to have its hubs, bottom bracket and chain submerged -- a questionable practice.

washing bicycle in stream, Merawi, Ethiopia
bicycle racers training ride, Merawi, Ethiopia

To add to our sense that we were finding a little bike culture, a group of bicycle racers on a training ride passed us in Merawi. They didn't seem to be from the town itself. An hour or so later they whizzed by us again on their way north, well outside of Merawi, and probably heading to Bahir Dar, which was likely their starting point.  I wouldn't be surprised if they went most of the way to Dangla before they turned around.  It made us feel like we were standing still.

The roadside scenes continued to be continually changing and engaging:

bicycle racers training ride, Highway 3, heading to Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
women carrying parcels along the road, Ethiopia weekly market, Ethiopia poles stacked in preparation for making charcoal, Ethiopia men cutting planks for furniture, Ethiopai men manufacturing furniture, Ethiopia bags of charcoal for sale along the road, Ethiopia

People were carrying various parcels and loads, there was a market in a town square, men were stacking poles in preparation for making charcoal, men were sawing planks by hand, nearby the wood was being used to make furniture, and bags of finished charcoal were stack by the side of the road, waiting for buy in trucks to purchase it and haul it to the cities.


Rock crushing for construction materials, Ethiopia

Girls along the road, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia

The stockpiling of construction materials can still be very labor intensive -- labor is cheaper than capital equipment. In places men sit with sledge hammers and pound away on rocks until they are turned into gravel.  Here (left) women are carrying baskets filled with gravel to the top of a pile and pouring them out to build up the pile.

Horticultural project, Bahir Dar, EthiopiaA new horticultural project near Bahir Dar is growing flowers. It is a joint venture between Ethiopian and foreign investors.  The greenhouses (right) are still under construction.  The economy of this project will include the nearby Bahir Dar airport, where the fresh cut flowers can start their journey to European and Middle East markets.

Cutting flowers, Horticultural project, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Planting beds, Horticultural project, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Lake Tana in the basin, Ethiopia
The low hills surrounding much of Lake Tana makes it look like it sits in a large basin, but the surface is still almost 1800m above sea level. Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia, and one of the largest lakes in Africa.  It is approximately 84 kilometers long and 66 kilometers wide, with a maximum depth of 15 meters.  It supports a fishing industry, and Bahir Dar, at the southeast corner is a hub of tourism. Bahar Dar and Lake Tana, Ethiopia

(South: Dejen to Bure) (North: Bahir Dar)


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Ethiopia Bicycle Tour: Agaw Awi