Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ethiopia--The Northern Loop

Ottawa, April 29

Sitting here in my mom's apartment in Ottawa, it seems like a large enough distance, both physically and psychologically, from Ethiopia to write about the second half of the Ethiopian bike trip. I'm well fed and haven't had a rock thrown at me in more than two weeks, so I can avoid feeling too much rage as I write. So down to details.

I last posted from Djibouti, where I had been turned down for a Yemeni visa. When I finally got my new Ethiopian visa, I hopped a pair of early-morning buses to get back to Addis Ababa. The first, from Djibouti to Dire Dawa, was a truly miserable affair, involving a three-hour gong show trying to get people from Djibouti buses to Ethiopian buses at the border. I do not know that I have ever seen less competence or organizational skill in any transport situation anywhere on earth. Astounding. Dire Dawa seemed like a decent little town, with a feel of actual urban living (a rarity in Ethiopian towns, most of which seem like overgrown and under-cleaned villages). The ride from Dire Dawa to Addis, on a luxury bus, went alarmingly quickly; Ethiopian buses have a very, very high accident rate and I was a little worried at our speed, although I managed to sleep much of the way through the mountains. At our lunch spot, I talked to two American tourists and discovered that they were also staying that night with Jess and Brian in Addis. Small world!

After a leisurely day off in Addis, I got onto my bike on Sunday, March 14th and fled the city, heading northeast. After a fairly steep and sweaty climb to get out of Addis over the mountains, I was into the green highlands and spent the day climbing and descending across farm fields. After 100 kilometres or so, I found a perfect spot to stay, camping in the grounds of the Ethio German Park Hotel, perched dramatically on the edge of a deep canyon. At the hotel, I had a pleasant surprise when I ran into two fellow cyclists, Rob and Polly Summerhayes. They're in the midst of riding from South Africa back to the UK, and we decided to ride together for the next few days, as far as the lakeside town of Bahir Dar.

It's not often that I ride with others and realize that I am holding them back. It happened in Xinjiang in 2002 with 2 fanatical Uighur cyclists, and and in 2005 in Ladakh with an Austrian cyclist, Reini. I quickly realized that Polly and Rob were in this category: lightning quick on downhills and relentless on the flats, and pretty rapid on the uphills. Luckily they didn't mind waiting in cafes for me with a few cups of tea. It was nice to have company, too, for dealing with the inevitable begging, annoying, stone-throwing Ethiopian kids. Rob is a very fast runner, and several times he dropped his bike and ran down stone-throwers. In a subsequent e-mail, he said that on their last day in Ethiopia, he chased down and caught a stone-throwing kid and frightened him so severely that the child lost control of his anal sphincter and soiled himself spectacularly. Well done, Rob!!

The second day was a relatively easy day, as we stopped early so that we would tackle the formidable Blue Nile Gorge fresh, in the cool of the morning. The third day we dropped right out of Goha Tsyon over the escarpment and dropped 1200 vertical metres down to one of the few bridges spanning the Blue Nile. The Japanese had recently built a new bridge to replace an Italian bridge, but their road-building skills left a lot to be desired, as the asphalt all the way down and back up was folded into a mess of bumps and potholes. Very un-Japanese! It took an hour to drop to the bottom (with lots of stops for pictures). On the way up, Polly and Rob hitched lifts, grabbing onto the sides of trucks and getting towed all the way up. I pedalled the whole way, which took over three hours, and found Rob and Polly relaxing in a cafe with cups of tea and books. I was pretty shattered by the end of the day, in Debre Markos; it was pretty hot down in the gorge despite the early hour, and there was climbing aplenty for us after the gorge as well. I slept very well in a swish hotel in Debre Markos ($11, with satellite TV and very, very hot water). We met a group of 15 middle-aged Spanish cyclists sponsored by Specialized bicycles in the hotel. The kids must have had a field day with them: with 15 targets, if you miss one with your rock, you're almost guaranteed to hit one of the other 14!

The last two days of riding were completely contrasting. The fourth day out of Addis was a long, hard slog with tons of climbing, and we didn't make it all the way to our chosen destination, putting up instead in a tiny hotel 15 km before. We met a three other cyclists, a solo German and a German couple who had been on the road for two or three years. The last day into Bahir Dar was almost all downhill, and we absolutely flew down towards the basin of Lake Tana, past wrecked tanks from the Ethiopian civil war in the late 80s and early 90s, the big lake which is the source of the Blue Nile. The last two hours saw the downhill end and big headwinds kick up, but we still rolled into town before three o'clock. Rob and Polly headed off to stay with a doctor friend of theirs, while I went to the house of Kyle, the American Peace Corps volunteer whom I had met on the bus on the way back from Dire Dawa.

After a lazy day off in Bahir Dar, spent eating and drinking and watching birds and hippos in the Blue Nile, Kyle accompanied me on the next leg, the two days of riding to the 16th century Ethiopian capital of Gondar. Kyle wants to undertake his own bike tour next year, when his Peace Corps duties come to an end; his plan is to ride from the lowest point in Africa (Lake Assal, in Djibouti; or is it in the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia?) to the foot of Kilimanjaro and then climb Kili. Human-powered transport from the lowest point in Africa to the highest. I like the idea! Anyway, he wanted to see how his preparations were coming, and so accompanied me for the weekend. He had almost no luggage, and so he, like Rob and Polly, outpaced me for the entire time we rode together.

The first day was relatively easy, with little climbing, although the kids were pretty obnoxious. I had bought a kid-whacking stick in Bahir Dar that hung neatly on my handlebars, and I was keen to see whether being armed reduced the hassle factor. I can't say that it did, but it did make kids think twice or three times about throwing rocks. One idiot threw a shoe at Kyle as he went by, and there were a fair few rocks, but possibly fewer than there would have been otherwise. I emulated Rob and chased a few rock-throwers, but didn't catch any. Kyle was alternately amused and shocked by the things I yelled at rock-throwers, which were definitely not politically correct. I didn't say anything quite as memorable as Rob, who asked one Ethiopian who spoke some English and who was criticizing Rob for taking rock-throwing so seriously "Have you considered evolving? The rest of the species has evolved since Lucy, but you lot haven't!" Kyle and I spent the night in Addis Zemin, at the house of Jess, another Peace Corps volunteer.

The next day was much more vertical, as we climbed over a couple of mountain ridges that extended down to the river. Kyle had ridden them a year before and remembered them as formidable climbs, but we disposed of both in under an hour; Kyle seems to be in much better riding shape now than a year ago. The highlight of the day, aside from an improbably vertical thumb of rock outside Addis Zemin, was spending a rainy afternoon in the Dashen beer brewery on the outskirts of Gondar with an interesting cast of expats and Ethiopians. We even ran into four English cyclists heading south to catch the first game of the World Cup. I wonder if they're going to make it?

I took a day off in Gondar, staying with more Peace Corps volunteers, this time a couple from Seattle named Dan and Nicole. The ancient palaces of Gondar were atmospheric and a perfect antidote to stone-throwing kids, but at lunchtime the heavens opened and precluded further exploration. Instead I sat in a cafe and read books and felt very lazy. Gondar is called the Camelot of Africa, and certainly the Royal Enclosure, with its dozen old castles and palaces, has a fairy-tale atmosphere that seems completely foreign to our preconceived notions of Africa.

It took two days to ride from Gondar 101 km (mostly) uphill to the Simien Mountains National Park. The paved road I had followed from Addis ended and I was on some pretty miserable gravel, although a Chinese road crew seem to be in the midst of paving it. Debark, when I got to it on the second day (getting pelted with rocks by a bunch of high school students on the outskirts of town) was an untidy, unpleasant mess of a town, full of more tourists than I had seen anywhere else in Ethiopia. I organized my trek into the park and retired early, excited to be getting, at long last, to the fabled Simien Mountains.

I had heard a lot beforehand about the Simiens, and I was a bit worried that they wouldn't live up to the hype. I needn't have worried. The mountains are spectacular, with some of the most vertical topography I have seen anywhere on earth. The walk on the first day in the company of my scout (a young man with a Chinese-made machine pistol--probably without bullets--and no organizational skills) was a long slog, but led to a beautiful campsite at Sankaber, passing by huge troops of the gelada baboons that are so emblematic of the Simiens. There were about five other trekking groups in camp that evening, but I was the only person too cheap to have hired a mule to carry luggage. I carried all my own baggage and food; that first day was pretty hard slogging!

The next two days were spectacular, as the path led along the edge of a very high escarpment, past extremely high waterfalls and stunning cliff-top viewpoints. At one point, Imet Gogo, I sat looking more or less vertically downwards almost 1000 metres in almost every direction, except for the narrow ridge along which I had approached. In the distance, a series of steep volcanic plugs combined with other escarpments to form an unforgettable backdrop like a Chinese scroll painting. The views from Chennek campsite, on the third evening, were epic in their sweep. I was even lucky enough to see an Ethiopian wolf (common in the Bale Mountains in the south, but relatively rare in the Simiens) running through the camp.

On the fourth day, we climbed right to 4200 m elevation, stopping along the way to see a herd of walia ibex, the endemic species that makes the escarpments their home. Their horns are enormous, and you can see how they would make tempting trophies for local hunters. I didn't see the males butting heads, but other tourists saw it and said it was a spectacular sight. The ibex were frustratingly far away and in shadow, so it was hard to get a decent photo of them, but then, as we walked further uphill, a lone male crossed the sunny slopes ahead of us and paused obligingly in the sunshine for snapshots.

From this point onwards, we dropped endlessly downhill, losing 1400 metres of hard-won height through a dreadful man-made desert. Despite this being a national park, thousands of people live in this valley and have cut down all the trees, leaving a shadeless wasteland behind in which the temperature (at an elevation of 2800 metres, no less!) topped 40 degrees. We camped in an uninspiring, shadeless patch of dust in the village of Ambikwa, ready for our pre-dawn departure for the summit of Ras Dashen, at 4543 m the highest peak in Ethiopia. My scout did not distinguish himself that morning: he set off for the summit without a drop of water (relying on being able to parasite off me) and then got hopelessly lost twice while trying to find the route to the foot of Dashen. I finally insisted on following a longer but fail-safe route, rather than wandering about looking for a route through a band of nasty cliffs. Dashen itself is not terribly impressive; in fact, from the summit, it doesn't even look like the highest peak in the neighbourhood. It was nice, once we were up above 4000 metres, to see some relatively intact high-altitude Afro-Alpine moorland, and to see the Simien Range extending far to the east beyond Dashen in a blur of steep escarpments and hazy peaks.

After summiting, we were back in Ambikwa (following the road, which we should have followed on the ascent) by 1 pm, and, rather than staying another night in this unpreposessing and unpleasant village, I decided to cross to the other side of the valley, where I knew there was a road with occasional trucks. When we got to this village, however, the inhabitants seemed only to know one English phrase: two hundred. The price for everything was two hundred birr (about $16) : a horrible bed in a squalid hotel, a space in the back of a truck, a meal. I got tired of this very quickly and continued walking, hoping to cross the pass by moonlight and get back to Chennek campsite. My scout argued that it was silly to cross the pass after dark, so we ended up taking shelter in a small village where we slept in a family's hut. It was an uncomfortable and very noisy night (the animals sleep, or rather don't sleep, in the house along with the people) punctuated by rooster calls and mooing cows, but at least nobody threw a rock at me.

The next day we got back to Chennek by 9 am and were lucky enough to catch a lift back to Debark with a tourist operator who was returning to town half-empty. In two hours we covered what had taken us three days to walk, and by 1 pm I was tucking into spaghetti and draft beer in Debark.

The three days of cycling from Debark to Axum nearly killed me. I had no idea what was coming up, and so the enormous climbs and lethal low-altitude heat were a very unwelcome surprise. It all started so promisingly, too, with a 1500-metre drop over the Simien escarpment on a spectacular Italian-built road. After the downhills stopped, though, the heat was intense (my thermometer said 42 degrees) and the climbs were steep, long and relentless. By the end of the day, in the scruffy mountain town of Adiarkay, I had amassed over 2000 vertical metres and just about given myself heatstroke.

This was just a warmup, however, for the next day, in which I tackled the second great river gorge of the north: the Tekeze. I rode along a fairly level plateau at 1600 metres for much of the morning, passing a huge refugee camp for Eritreans; the refugee camp bustled with business and entrepreneurial spirit, something lacking in much of Ethiopia. Precisely at noon, I dropped over the edge of the plateau and plummeted 600 metres down to the Takeze river. Despite filling up on water and guzzling plenty of soft drinks at the bottom, I rapidly depleted my stocks once I started to climb. The heat was lethal: 47 degrees in the shade, with not a breath of wind. I felt dizzy partway up and had to seek shelter in the one shade tree left standing. I begged water from passing trucks and kept on climbing. The road gained over 1000 metres on the far side of the gorge, and by the time I limped across a fairly flat plateau to the tiny town of Endaguna, I was barely functioning. I slept extraordinarily well that evening after pouring several litres of mineral water into my parched body!

The last day into Axum was anticlimactic, with asphalt replacing rutted gravel for most of the day, and little climbing to test my tired legs. The last 10 km into Axum, however, were back on gravel, making for an annoying end to the day. I crawled to the Africa Hotel and fed myself before throwing myself into bed. My internal thermostat seemed to be on the fritz, as I found myself shivering heavily despite the relatively balmy temperatures; I thought this might be a lingering aftereffect of my near-heatstroke the previous two days.

Axum was a great place for a day off, filled with historical remains and lots of food. Axum was the capital of perhaps the most powerful Ethiopian empire, dominating Red Sea trade for centuries from the 1st century AD onwards. The most visible remaining symbols of this great civilization are the famous stelae, standing stone columns often carved with architectural details. Most of them have fallen over the centuries, but a few have been re-erected and loom large over the centre of town. One famous stele was stolen by Mussolini and carted off to Rome, but was finally returned a few years ago and now stands beside its near-twin, both of them around 24 metres in height. The highest stela ever erected, a 32-metre, 300-ton behemoth, fell over while being erected in the 4th century, and its shattered remains, along with the splintered ruins of the royal tomb that it landed on, are still to be seen. These stelae are pretty amazing feats of stone-carving and engineering. There are also less impressive, undecorated stelae all over the town, and some other carved inscriptions, along with a rather speculative reconstruction of a royal palace. The museum has some impressive smaller pieces of art that help flesh out the picture of life in the Axumite Empire. There's also the most important Ethiopian Orthodox church, in the crypt of which the original Ark of the Covenant (stolen by the Queen of Sheba) is supposed to lie. I think the Ark is also supposed to be hidden in Jerusalem and atop Mt. Nebo in Jordan (and South Africa, Egypt, France, Ireland and even Japan); maybe, like the seven heads of John the Baptist, we live in a multi-Ark multiverse! Unfortunately, mere mortals are not allowed to see the Ark; people who try to sneak a peek allegedly die of spontaneous combustion. I was put off by the steep admission price, so I was spared the inflammatory danger of temptation.

The ride out of Axum was wonderfully easy: fairly flat, not too hot, and on brand-new Chinese pavement. I stopped on the way to see the oldest proto-Axumite ruins yet discovered, at Yeha, dating to the 7th century BC. It was a highly disappointing stop: the ruins are very unatmospheric and unphotogenic, and the entire 5 km access track from the main road was a war zone between aggressive stone-throwing kids and an angry, stick-wielding Canadian cyclist. Luckily, I had one of my rare positive encounters with Ethiopians in Entitcho, where I stopped for the night. It helped that the man has lived in the US for over a decade and was in Ethiopia to visit his family. We had a relaxed, pleasant conversation and (an extreme rarity in Ethiopia) the man bought me a soft drink.

The next day started off easy and ended up rather desperate. I took another detour off the main road, heading to the mountaintop monastery of Debre Damo. In contrast to Yeha, this was a huge highlight of northern Ethiopia. This part of the country, Tigray, is the historic centre of Christianity in the country. The king of Axum (which is in Tigray province) was converted to Christianity by Syrian monks in the 4th century AD (shortly after the Armenians and Georgians, and around the same time as the Roman Emperor Constantine), and Tigray has the greatest concentration of old monasteries and churches, despite centuries of religious conflict with Muslims from the coast which resulted in widespread destruction. Debre Dammo, on top of a flat-topped mountain, was spared because the only way to get up is to rock-climb 15 metres of vertical cliff. Nowadays, they put a leather strap around you as a pseudo-safety measure and haul you up from above, but it's still white-knuckle and grey-hair time. Once I got up top, I found a completely separate world where 80 monks live a life more or less cut off from the world. There are amazing views north towards the Eritrean border, and the church is the oldest surviving free-standing church in the country. I found it amusing, though, that in true Ethiopian style, the monks, rather than spending the day studying or working in the fields, pass their time lounging under the Tree of Idleness, moving around to stay in the shade.

My ride that afternoon, after an even more harrowing descent, didn't go quite as planned. My worthless map didn't show a huge climb to a 3000-metre pass, and before I could get over the top, the mother and father of all thunderstorms caught up to me and put an end to cycling for the day. Gale-force winds, hail, drenching rain and spectacular lightning chilled me to the bone. I sought shelter in a half-destroyed hut (luckily the wall facing into the wind was still intact) and camped out there for the night, to the great surprise of passing villagers early the next morning.

I completed the last 5 km of the climb, and the 10 km 600-vertical-metre descent, the next morning and dropped into Adigrat, a prosperous town with excellent cafes which I spent an hour or two sampling before setting off for points south. Tigray is one of the driest parts of the highlands of Ethiopia, with far less rain than in the Addis Ababa area. This makes it no surprise that Tigray was the epicentre of the famous 1985 famine; it's not an area well set up to survive a drought. There are hundreds of NGOs working in Tigray, and so, not surprisingly, the kids are far more awful than usual. White face = cash dispenser, so since I'm not handing out the cash, the kids get angry and toss rocks. Large-scale foreign aid seems to have terrible side-effects, turning an entire country into foreign-aid junkies with a huge sense of entitlement. The kids in Tigray greeted me as they ran towards the road with cries of "Give me!! Give me!!" They seem not to have heard of "Give me, give me never gets, don't you know your manners yet?" Somehow "Give me!!" is even more annoying and grating than "Money!! Money!!"

I was supposed to stop and see some centuries-old rock-hewn churches that afternoon, but I was foiled by a combination of an oncoming torrential downpour and some really unpleasant Ethiopian youths hanging out at the turnoff to the church. I came as close as I did all trip to punching someone, as I dealt with an obnoxious young man who grabbed my bike and wouldn't let go. I was glad to ride away towards a comfortable, dry hotel in Wukro, where I arrived seconds ahead of the deluge.

The next morning, I tried my luck with another church right in the town of Wukro. From the outside, it looked interesting, rather like a Petra temple, and there was a crowd of worshippers in the courtyard waiting for food handouts in a picturesque way. However, the priest and his sidekick were grasping, greedy and thoroughly money-obsessed, and I decided I didn't really want to hand over the equivalent of $10 to see the interior of the tiny church. I had a good day of fairly easy riding to the Tigrayan regional capital of Mekele, where I loafed for an enjoyable few hours before heading south to a small town called Adi Gum. I stayed in a friendly little hotel which may well have been the noisiest place I stayed in all of noisy Ethiopia: the bar and its thumping Ethiopian dance music closed at 3:30 am.

From this point on, the last four days of riding proved to be a never-ending marathon of climbing. I don't think that I've ever had four consecutive days with so many vertical metres covered. I totalled 9100 metres, or roughly the elevation difference between the Dead Sea and the summit of Mt. Everest, in those four days. It started with a long, tough slog to reach the town of Maychew. After a morning of continuous small climbs and descents, I spent the afternoon climbing up to 3000 metres and then plummeting into Maychew. The area lived up to its advance billing as one of the most unfriendly stretches of road for cyclists, with plenty of rocks and packs of baying kids pursuing me. I chased one boy, waving my stick, for several hundred metres and came tantalizingly close to clouting him before he dived over a precipice and made his escape.

The next day was harder going, with a morning spent on pavement climbing and descending to a pretty highland lake, and then an afternoon spent on an insane gravel road roller coaster that left me exhausted. The only bright spot to a day of dismal cycling was that I got to camp undisturbed in a farmer's field, which made for a night of quiet, restful sleep quite unlike a typical Ethiopian hotel.

I was frustrated the next day by my miserable, inaccurate map. The map told me that to get to Lalibela, my ultimate destination, I needed first to pass through Sekota. After a crazy amount of climbing and descending across the grain of the land, I got to Sekota, had a massive lunch, and then discovered that I had actually passed the turnoff to Lalibela 18 hard-won kilometres previously. This mistake cost me four hours of hard work, and I ended up benighted atop another 3000-metre pass as it started to rain. I did find a perfect campsite and cooked dinner amid the downpour, but it rained so much that run-off got under the tent and soaked everything from below.

My last day, into Lalibela, seemed never-ending. I had several plummeting downhills cancelled out by steep, grinding uphills infested with stone-throwing kids. The last 30 km were mercifully level, however, and I found myself at 3:45 at the bottom of the final climb up an escarpment to the ancient capital of Lalibela. Appropriately, I had one final encounter with unpleasant kids who tossed rocks, and then spent the next 40 minutes chanting "Fuck you!" at me as I climbed. Sort of a microcosm of cycling in Ethiopia! I was very glad to find my little hotel and settle in for several days of rest, recuperation and kultchah!!

Lalibela was a great place to finish my cycling. I had planned to ride all the way back to Addis, but I ran out of days, as I hadn't realized how mountainous the ride would be and how many extra days would be eaten up by slow climbs. I spent four nights in Lalibela, eating and visiting the famous rock-hewn 13th century churches. I was impressed with the churches, particularly the incredible amount of rock excavated to create them. I loved the tunnels and trenches that were dug to link the churches: very Indiana Jones/Petra-esque. My favourites were the cross-shaped Debre Giyorgis (St. George) church and the massive Bet Alem Medhane church with a huge pillared interior that reminded me forcefully of Cordoba Cathedral in Spain.

I was less impressed with the town of Lalibela, a muddy, untidy, noisy sprawl of rusting tin roofs, devoted to ripping off tourists. All the schoolkids have evolved their own hard-luck stories to try to prise money out of tourists; I was amazed how many orphans there were! "My mother, my father died. I no have money for T-shirt. You buy T-shirt for me?" The prices for everything in shops and restaurants were inflated two- or three-fold, which was irritating. It also poured rain every afternoon, turning the streets into mires.

I took a long two-day bus ride back to Addis Ababa on the Vomit Comet bus; my seatmates on the first day were two women whom I christened the Barfing Narcolepts; they slept constantly, waking up only to be profusely sick. The second day saw less vomiting, but more road construction. My bicycle survived its rooftop ordeal unscathed, and I rode it from the bus station to Brian and Jess' house through the most epic downpour of the trip; I had to stop riding and take shelter in a cafe because I was getting motion sickness looking down at the water hurtling past my slowly-moving bike tires.

My two days in Addis passed quickly, reading a fantastic book about Africa, Michela Wrong's It's Our Turn to Eat about large-scale corruption in Kenya, and finding a box for my bicycle to satisfy Ethiopian Airlines' luggage requirements. It was good, after the hostility and primitive conditions in the countryside, to stay with warm-hearted, friendly folks and have some good discussions. And then it was time to ride to the airport (my folded bike box strapped across my panniers) ahead of another rainstorm and fly back to Canada, my nine and a half months of cycling and exploration at an end.

Overall, I would have to rate Ethiopia as a fascinating destination, but not a good cycling country. On a bicycle, you are just too exposed to the tender mercies of uncontrollable feral children to really enjoy yourself. I also found Ethiopia to be too much of a poster child for everything afflicting modern Africa: poverty, terrible education, overpopulation, corruption, begging, over-dependence on foreign aid, lack of entrepreneurial drive and general idleness. After a while this starts to get depressing.

When I got back here, I discovered that I have a job teaching next year in Switzerland, at the Leysin American School. That means that I can loaf for the next few months, writing my Silk Road book and playing tennis, with a clear conscience!

As a final postscript, a haiku about cycling Ethiopia:

Rocks fall like raindrops
Children scream "Money! Money!"
Cursing, I pedal

Riding Day No.



From Start of Trip



Final Elevation









Daily Destination


Debre Libanos turnoff


Goha Tsyon


Debre Markos




Bahir Dar


Addis Zemen




Amba Giyorgis












4/52270.778.0281521007:2510.550.015 km from Adigrat




4/72451.293.6213517007:0113.353.8Adi Gudom




4/92633.494.0207522558:2411.258.555 km beyond Korem


4/102706.873.4268023508:188.846.190 km from Lalibela



Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back in Canada; lots of updates to come

Ottawa, Sunday April 25

I have been back in Canada for 6 days now, but only today am I starting to feel human again. Jet lag and some deep-seated physical tiredness has been sapping my energy since I got back here from Ethiopia on Monday evening. However, now that my internal body clock seems to be in the right hemisphere, it's about time for me to start thinking about bringing this blog up-to-date, after several months in Ethiopia, where the government blocks Blogger posting, and where the internet connection is about as slow and unreliable as it's possible to get anywhere on earth in 2010.

I plan to post an article most days for the next week or two; I have a lot to bring up to date. First up, I want to write up my Italian trip (from December and January) properly. Then I want to flesh out my account of Libya, then Malta, and then (finally) a couple of posts about my Ethiopian cycling experience. I may also reach a little further back into the archives and post a bit about the Bhutan trip in 2008, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus in 2008, Palau in 2007 and Lembeh Strait in 2008. Stay posted! It's feast or famine here at graydonstravels.blogspot.com!!