Crazy Ethiopian Children, Rock-Hewn Churches, and Some Rough and Tough Riding Through Ethiopia! Axum to Lalibela

Day 1 I was just too exhausted to do anything, a common story on this trip! I wrote about this day on day 2, when I was equally exhausted, but needed some social connection, even if it was delayed by lack of internet. 😉

Day 1 was a big mix of paved and dirt and we started pretty late really, someone was having stomach issues, but we won’t go naming names! We started at like 7:35 or something, long after everyone but Michael, who always relaxes, something many of us could learn from! The day was slow for Birgit, especially on the climbs, but we slowly reeled in people and finished the morning ahead of about 10 people… All who decided to take the lunch truck. The afternoon saw temps back in the 40s despite the apparent mid 20s highs… There was some huge climbs in the day, one of us walked, one of us cycled it all, but it was overall just a terribly challenging day, especially after 6 days off really due to sickness of varying types and rest days!

Our day took over 9.5 hours, with lots of stops of course, cuz we love stops, but god damn it was just killer hot and exhausting! The sweep caught up to us again, but she hates hills so we told them to drop her off at the top and we’d survive. Justin and Bina (staff and married to each other; also two of my favourite people on the trip) kind of hung out in the truck and slowly ascended the hill, taking some pics of us here and there. Being swept stresses Birgit out so much but I don’t mind. Hannah was the actual sweep this day and we found out she was never supposed to have to bike, they told her she was biking after she already accepted the offer.. Cuz there was too few people to staff the tour to regular levels so everyone has to do much more work than normal. Normally the nurse (Hannah) would have just been the nurse, unless they wanted to cycle, sounds like!

I got slapped on the ass too, last village of the day. Birgit told me I needed to gain weight, they mistook me for a girl! lol. It wasn’t super pleasant. Poor women of the world! Was just some idiot kid like usual, but ugh.

Rocks were rare but ever present. Almost worst than the rocks are the kids that run beside you for like 5-10 minutes at a time, yelling the same unknown Amharic phrase at the top of their lungs! I need the Amharic phrase for “Shut up and leave me alone!” It’s hard enough climbing rocky dirt hills without some kid screaming at you the whole time. The novelty of being a celebrity has definitely worn off! They also yell Ferengi (foreigner) and run out of every house and field when we pass. Yes, we are foreigners, thanks for noticing, ahhhh! haha. The other thing they like to yell is “China!” cuz China builds the roads and invests a lot in Africa, so they think we’re China.

Dinner was one of my least favourite meals, lamb stuffing. All bread, little lamb. Oh well.

Day 2 started with 20km of paved that flew by like no one’s business! I think I may have hit 70 km/h on one of the downhills in the morning, and was soaking it up! Then the dirt started that will take us all the way to Lalibela. At km 62 tomorrow (day 3) the dirt road gets much worse, apparently for the rest of the way to Lalibela, so all of day 4!

Overall I guess Day 2 was ok… Took us 9 hours again but we had a significant number of stops. So many that despite Leah officially joining us for the day, she abandoned us around km 95 and we took km 99 coke stop without her, where again the sweep caught us. We take breaks and people get on the trucks, we are gonna a continue to finish last, and we have decided it’s worth it for all the cultural experiences of the towns and the photos we get along the way as well! Being swept is nothing, they’re all pretty casual about sweeping and not pressure at all, just need to convince Birgit that it’s ok! Michael stops every few km and does random amazing exploration on the road or goes into houses or climbs trees or investigates random abandoned buildings and they put up with him. We can take some breaks and get swept, whatever. 🙂

Many more rocks today though none super terrible.. At one village they threw rocks at us then came and sat outside the shop for like a half hour while we enjoyed the coldest coke stop of the entire trip (by and large most of the coke we get (and other sodas) along the ‘highway’ (lol) is warm)… They chased us out of town yelling something. All the experiences rolled into one!

There’s these ropes laid across the road at most villages that are used as some sort of security stop for trucks, so the vehicles can be stopped to be inspected or something… I hate hate hate riding over the rope though when someone is near it. Always worried they’ll pull it up just as I get there and clothesline me. Luckily never seen a kid near one though!

1800m climbed Day 1 (biggest climb of my life I believe, Golden to Castle Junction is only 1550 or so, and paved!).. Day 2 was a mere 1300 (though the downhill of 1800+ was a worse problem)… Day 3 is supposed to be a colossal 2500+ meter climb, hopefully we can finish it! Only 84km but all of the climbing (3 big ones) is on dirt, with the last one being on worse (corrugated) dirt. Fun. =\

Trying to smile through it all! Tomorrow we camp at almost 3000m above sea level! Tonight is a mere 1300 I think! Hopefully the elevation will bring cooler temperatures too! Gah!

Almost forgot, two crazy things happened in Day 2 as well!

Chris D’s bike frame cracked, just around the seat post hole. It’s an aluminum frame and his seat post just wasn’t long enough, despite him asking the shop for a longer one, they said it would be ok. It wasn’t. Though apparently an amazing carbon and resin patch job last night made it usable today from lunch, after it had some extra cure time in the sun this morning! Awesome work by the mechanic and good thing that Helen has some carbon patch kits! Turns out her and Sigrid have carbon fibre frames.. Crazy! So much recommending against them… And fucking suspension! The TDA documents all suggest not bringing suspension and then we spend 100s of miles on the worst roads possible! lol. Also would’ve loved to get some tips on bringing a bike with cross brakes! I’ll get into that in a minute though! (side note: rumour has it that Cannondale is shipping him a new frame to Africa, hopefully it makes it through customs in time to get it!)

The other big event was new riders Steve and Kim (couple from Vancouver and Yellowknife respectively) were having a bad day yesterday, mostly Kim, just too hot and too far for like their 3rd day, totally understandable, and they were walking and waiting for someone to send back the truck for a ride. An Ethiopian truck with a few people in the back pulled over and offered them a ride. They accepted (this is common enough, no worries), but then the truck stalled on a hill, tried a few times to restart and then started rolling backwards down the hill. One or two of the people jumped out but Steve and Kim and others remained and went into the ditch and through a thorn tree or something! Got pretty scratched up and shaken emotionally of course! Ahhh! They both took Day 3 off.

Dinner was… hmm. Oh yeah, Mutton Curry! Good, but too many bones! 🙂

Day 3 was hell for sure, and it beat me again. The uphill I was doing well at, passing people, feeling good, but jesus am I over the downhill on these roads. I almost die every time if it’s over a very light downward grade! I just can’t hold on to the brakes anymore over the rocks, my hands feel more and more bruised and weak every downhill, hurting so much! To top it off, at one town I was poked with a stick, hit with the stick, and hit with rocks! What the flying F, kids?! I wanted her to swing the stick one more time so I could grab it and break it! It’s really hard to keep your cool through these events. Just some serious terrible.

I gave up at 42k today (something like 1600m of vert), 2k from lunch, everything hurt just so bad (from not braking and having no suspension) and I was sick of almost dying every downhill haha. I stopped as the truck passed and asked if there was room and then fell over in my pedals too and scratched up my leg… ridiculous! lol. That was the end if my day. No one else rode on from lunch either (that was there when we were), so Birgit quit too (tho she is enjoying the downs and hating the ups). We cycled 2k more into town and had juice and coffee and coke and I tried to find a burger or fries or cake or something salty and failed.. Oh well. Was a fun couple hours.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t ride Day 4! 2500m of downhill, double what Day 3 had. I’d also really wanted to see as much of the churches in Lalibela as possible, it’s like the only place I knew about in Ethiopia before coming! Also just getting to camp before the 9 hour mark would be amazing. Rough days this week!

Bina had a terrible morning too! I don’t know why the fuck they keep putting girls on sweep, especially tiny ones like Bina (she’s 90lbs and pretty short – and blonde, something special locally). Some kids pulled her off her bike and we’re throwing fist sized rocks at her asking for money. They didn’t back down either like most do if you make an aggressive motion towards them. Sounded horrible, poor girl! Fuck I hate so much about the people here sometimes. Then you get the odd really nice or cute experience that’s hard to remember through all the painful ones! Grr!

Been trying not to swear since mom told me my grandparents are reading this, but this kind of behaviour deserves some swears! (Sorry Nanny and Papa ;))

Dinner was all vegetarian, like most days before rest days for some reason. Chickpeas and some sauce that was hottish. It was ok.

Day 4 was solidly on the truck. Along with basically everyone else. 7 people rode the whole day, and maybe 10 rode from lunch. Everyone else got rides to Lalibela. Just too much and everyone was excited to get here. Sadly it still took 5 hours on the truck, and we barely beat the lunch truck riders! Oh well!

Got some great food all over the place and then ran to St. George‘s church to see it (pics below), after a not so quick stop at the ticket office where we had to pay !!$50USD!! to see the churches, and then to the bank for Birgit, and then we took the longest way ever to find the church, which was actually right by our hotel, oops. Also, closing at 6pm means closing at 5pm (not literally, but in this case), sooo, we missed out on seeing the inside and had to do that at the end of the rest day.

We went to the most amazing restaurant for dinner after that though! Ben Abeba, which is pictured below. A Scottish woman runs it with an Ethiopian partner, and it was just a huge amazingly architected gem on the edge (literally) of Lalibela. Such views, omg! Check it out below and make sure you stop in if you ever go. Cheap amazing food too and so much fun! Go at sunset!

Today was a busy busy day! Birgit and I (and Amanda, and Michael though they kind of left separately) went to see the church masses at 6am! It was pretty incredible, so many people and so much confusion on our part, but I’m really glad we did it! Then we spent a while looking at the nearby churches, went to have some breakfast and only found some weak French Toast and Machiatos (and Pepsi), and then went back, all in all, probably 4 hours of churching in the morning. Turns out the church clusters are much closer than previously expected and we saw all 3 clusters and most of the churches. St. George is still my favourite, though some of the others have some more to offer inside… like Bet Medhane Alem, where the most worshippers were in the morning! Lots more inside there. St. George ended up being kind of weak inside, we saw it at the end of the day.

I again stocked up on snacks for the next couple days (cookies, chips, peanuts – cooked this time, omg. At least our last uncooked gross peanuts were found by Noah the truck driver and ended up being roasted and salted to deliciousness). Then stuffed myself with steak and fries for dinner! MMMMmmm! 😀

Now I’m writing the blog. Seems weak when I write it out, but hopefully the pictures below are somewhat worth it. I have lots more, but I don’t want to bore everyone to death with church pics. Just enjoy the ones I decided to post! 😀

Really liking all the blog comments too, guys! Thanks for them! I do check them every chance I get and they’re super exciting! Hello to all my cyclist friends’ friends and families too, I guess lots of you are reading! 😀

Picture time! I really like this set of pictures! As much of a downer some of this post is, it sure has been pretty!! Way prettier than ever expected! 😀

Miss you all!

Me taking a break on the road and taking some pictures for the blog! :D
Me taking a break on the road and taking some pictures for the blog! 😀
I really liked this switchback, lol.
I really liked this switchback, lol.
Three cyclists descend down our next switchback. Some clapping children on this one, no rocks for us but I heard others got some! I think the riders were Sigrid, Ross, and Chris C.
Three cyclists descend down our next switchback. Some clapping children on this one, no rocks for us but I heard others got some! I think the riders were Sigrid, Ross, and Chris C.
Birgit posing in front of the picturesque switchback!
Birgit posing in front of the picturesque switchback!
And me! With my Cafe Roubaix shirt. Love that place! Go visit in Cochrane, AB, Canada!
And me! With my Cafe Roubaix shirt. Love that place! Go visit in Cochrane, AB, Canada!
Birgit telling a kid that no, she doesn't have pens, chocolate, money, or other things. Yes, we're Ferengi (foreigners), yes we're going to Lalibela just like the other 50 people you've asked.
Birgit telling a kid that no, she doesn’t have pens, chocolate, money, or other things. Yes, we’re Ferengi (foreigners), yes we’re going to Lalibela just like the other 50 people you’ve asked.
Pretty sure this is a little church we found in the middle of our ride.
Pretty sure this is a little church we found in the middle of our ride.
A coke stop on the sunny side of the road (boo!), though we didn't want to leave our bikes unattended so the lady that owned this place actually brought out chairs and a table for us, lol. Oops.
A coke stop on the sunny side of the road (boo!), though we didn’t want to leave our bikes unattended so the lady that owned this place actually brought out chairs and a table for us, lol. Oops.
Kids watching as we drink coke. We're amazing, drinking coke around the country! Ticket cost is nothing. If we're lucky, they don't throw rocks as we leave.
Kids watching as we drink coke. We’re amazing, drinking coke around the country! Ticket cost is nothing. If we’re lucky, they don’t throw rocks as we leave.
This is our flagging tape the crew leaves on poles and plants to guide us through towns. It's on these guys' heads instead. This happens a lot. Also, sometimes they think we're marking their village for rape and murder, so they remove them. Awesome.
This is our flagging tape the crew leaves on poles and plants to guide us through towns. It’s on these guys’ heads instead. This happens a lot. Also, sometimes they think we’re marking their village for rape and murder, so they remove them. Awesome.
Leah enjoying a little coke stop.
Leah enjoying a little coke stop.
Taking a break with some goats. Some kids came later and gave us some berries. Then asked for money and pens.
Taking a break with some goats. Some kids came later and gave us some berries. Then asked for money and pens.
The berries the kids gave us!
The berries the kids gave us!
Leah and Birgit discussing something while I take a break a few meters behind. Slog day!
Leah and Birgit discussing something while I take a break a few meters behind. Slog day!
Protecting my gear on a coke (pepsi) stop! I have two bottles every stop and still my weight plummets!
Protecting my gear on a coke (pepsi) stop! I have two bottles every stop and still my weight plummets!
Some awesome greenery! It's not the rainy season so everything here is a little brown!
Some awesome greenery! It’s not the rainy season so everything here is a little brown!
Day 3 super climb. Birgit walking in the foreground, probably Leah in the background.
Day 3 super climb. Birgit walking in the foreground, probably Leah in the background.
Holy crap, I do still ride my bike sometimes! So aero!
Holy crap, I do still ride my bike sometimes! So aero!
Birgit took this as I got into the Landy for the ride to lunch. When they asked if I wanted a ride, I fell over and scraped my leg, ridiculous. Was not my day! Too hot, damnit.
Birgit took this as I got into the Landy for the ride to lunch. When they asked if I wanted a ride, I fell over and scraped my leg, ridiculous. Was not my day! Too hot, damnit.
Peter lent me his bike to go into Sekota from lunch since mine was already packed on the truck. The non-roadie brakes were AMAZING.
Peter lent me his bike to go into Sekota from lunch since mine was already packed on the truck. The non-roadie brakes were AMAZING.
Sigrid, Jos (newish sectional rider who's done TDA before), and Birgit enjoying a stop in Sekota instead of cycling in the afternoon.
Sigrid, Jos (newish sectional rider who’s done TDA before), and Birgit enjoying a stop in Sekota instead of cycling in the afternoon.
The kid behind me here is wearing a bike seat as a hat. Yup.
The kid behind me here is wearing a bike seat as a hat. Yup.
Day 4, basically everyone decides to take the truck, so the truck is completely packed with bikes, lol.
Day 4, basically everyone decides to take the truck, so the truck is completely packed with bikes, lol.
Camp time! Everyone hit the internet! (seriously, we have enough Africa and co-cyclist time, lol)
Camp time! Everyone hit the internet! (seriously, we have enough Africa and co-cyclist time, lol)
Birgit taking photos near the cemetery that we end up walking by 800 times in the 2 days we're here..
Birgit taking photos near the cemetery that we end up walking by 800 times in the 2 days we’re here..
Green shoes are pretty common here! lol. These shops are funny.
Green shoes are pretty common here! lol. These shops are funny.
Africa!
Africa!
St. George's Church, my favourite of Lalibela.
St. George’s Church, my favourite of Lalibela.
Birgit and St. George's during the golden hour before sunset.
Birgit and St. George’s during the golden hour before sunset.
Love the Obama 'Gife' Shop. lol, Engrish.
Love the Obama ‘Gife’ Shop. lol, Engrish.
Ben Abeba (Mountain Flower - Scottish and Ethiopian words respectively) restaurant. What an amazing place here in Lalibela! An absolute gem!
Ben Abeba (Mountain Flower – Scottish and Ethiopian words respectively) restaurant. What an amazing place here in Lalibela! An absolute gem!
Sunset at Ben Abeba! Outstanding!
Sunset at Ben Abeba! Outstanding!
Worshippers on Sunday morning in Lalibela. Everyone in white! You can make out a priest up front too maybe.
Worshippers on Sunday morning in Lalibela. Everyone in white! You can make out a priest up front too maybe.
Birgit posing with a terribly translated German sign about not taking photos with flash.
Birgit posing with a terribly translated German sign about not taking photos with flash.
Lots of praying while having your head against the wall. Don't really understand it!
Lots of praying while having your head against the wall. Don’t really understand it!
Birgit taking pictures of locals taking pictures of her. Yes, I took a picture of this happening.
Birgit taking pictures of locals taking pictures of her. Yes, I took a picture of this happening.
Boy I love to stick my tongue out at everything! Putting my shoes back on after a stop in a church, lol.
Boy I love to stick my tongue out at everything! Putting my shoes back on after a stop in a church, lol.
I totally blend in to the crowds at the churches this morning in my blue jacket and yellow shirt when all the worshippers are wearing all white! ... eep!
I totally blend in to the crowds at the churches this morning in my blue jacket and yellow shirt when all the worshippers are wearing all white! … eep!
I imagine this is a UN-related effort to save the churches from rain erosion. It's pretty bad on top of some of them.
I imagine this is a UN-related effort to save the churches from rain erosion. It’s pretty bad on top of some of them.
Outside of the churches... More proselyting!
Outside of the churches… More proselyting!
Even more people have showed up now.
Even more people have showed up now.
They're multiplying! We still look out of place.
They’re multiplying! We still look out of place.
Blending in!
Blending in!
The cemetery we keep walking by. Jacaranda trees in the background! Purple is pretty!
The cemetery we keep walking by. Jacaranda trees in the background! Purple is pretty!
Pretty sure these 3 stone piles are other graves too... Eep! Right off the main road. Like, 1 foot off.
Pretty sure these 3 stone piles are other graves too… Eep! Right off the main road. Like, 1 foot off.
Birgit enjoying two machiatos at breakfast while we ate the only thing we could understand on the menu, French Toast... with natural local honey.
Birgit enjoying two machiatos at breakfast while we ate the only thing we could understand on the menu, French Toast… with natural local honey.
Climbing up from a tunnel into a church. Tight staircase!
Climbing up from a tunnel into a church. Tight staircase!
Most of the churches have these weird paintings just sitting on the floor at the front of them. I thought the 3 guys on the left there looked like they came from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, lol.
Most of the churches have these weird paintings just sitting on the floor at the front of them. I thought the 3 guys on the left there looked like they came from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, lol.
I thought these were public toilets for once (omg the smell!) but the girl got mad at Birgit when she left that I didn't pay, so Birgit paid for me. 1 Birr.. about 5c.
I thought these were public toilets for once (omg the smell!) but the girl got mad at Birgit when she left that I didn’t pay, so Birgit paid for me. 1 Birr.. about 5c.
Looking down on Steve and Kim and other tourists! Steep drop! No fence. Africa!
Looking down on Steve and Kim and other tourists! Steep drop! No fence. Africa!
Birgit on a bridge. The highlight of the Southern cluster, I think. This and the tunnels, though I wish they were longer and more extensive!
Birgit on a bridge. The highlight of the Southern cluster, I think. This and the tunnels, though I wish they were longer and more extensive!
Some of the rock carvings inside the churches are pretty amazing!
Some of the rock carvings inside the churches are pretty amazing!
Birgit after saying "Oh look, another church in a hole."
Birgit after saying “Oh look, another church in a hole.”
A big bird of prey we found near the last of the churches!
A big bird of prey we found near the last of the churches!
And a lizard!
And a lizard!
Great photo of Michael enjoying the shit out of a coffee pour!
Great photo of Michael enjoying the shit out of a coffee pour!
These two kids, just carrying some skins around. Looks fresh!
These two kids, just carrying some skins around. Looks fresh!
Found some more cyclists on our way down! Ian, Jill, Erica, Claudia, and Pier! All bloggers you can find on the right at the top! ;)
Found some more cyclists on our way down! Ian, Jill, Erica, Claudia, and Pier! All bloggers you can find on the right at the top! 😉
Spotted Kam from miles away in his red shirt. Big zoom lense for this one! lol.
Spotted Kam from miles away in his red shirt. Big zoom lense for this one! lol.
Kam checking out St. George's painting at the front of the church. Some guy nearby was offering blessings for money.
Kam checking out St. George’s painting at the front of the church. Some guy nearby was offering blessings for money.
Just outside St. George's!
Just outside St. George’s!
Kam and I just outside of St. George's Church.
Kam and I just outside of St. George’s Church.
Bones in a hole near St. George's... Weird! Apparently a Jerusalem tourist from the 1600s who visited and was embarrassed at how much better Lalibela was, so they died and stayed there. /disbelief.
Bones in a hole near St. George’s… Weird! Apparently a Jerusalem tourist from the 1600s who visited and was embarrassed at how much better Lalibela was, so they died and stayed there. /disbelief.
A sweet bird in a hole by St. George's
A sweet bird in a hole by St. George’s
Ethiopia has the most species of birds out of any place in Africa! This is Birgit's pic of it.
Ethiopia has the most species of birds out of any place in Africa! This is Birgit’s pic of it.
Contemplating the placement of this water and vegetation at the bottom of the hole that you can find St. George's Church in.
Contemplating the placement of this water and vegetation at the bottom of the hole that you can find St. George’s Church in.
Kam down the entrance from the tunnels to the St. George church... hole.
Kam down the entrance from the tunnels to the St. George church… hole.
Kam and Birgit as we leave St. George's for the last time.
Kam and Birgit as we leave St. George’s for the last time.

6 thoughts on “Crazy Ethiopian Children, Rock-Hewn Churches, and Some Rough and Tough Riding Through Ethiopia! Axum to Lalibela”

  1. Amazing photos like always Scott! 🙂 Hope you’re ok from falling off your bike! I think you might have to drink three or four cokes to keep the weight on! 🙂 Apparently two isn’t enough! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your adventures with all of us!

  2. You should bring your hockey equipment and a full face shield next time. Rocks won’t bother you then.

    Hope the trip going well!!

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