May 2, 2017

TDA2009 videos

Lonely Planet has put together several videos of TDA2009, and several more will come out in the coming months.  To see the videos go to:

Segment 1: Cairo to Khartoum (sorry, this link does not always work.)

Segment 2: Khartoum to Addis Ababa

Segment 3:  Addis Ababa to Nairobi

There are also numerous YouTube clips related to the 2009TDA.  Several can be seen through this link –

Video featuring The Killers' "All these things that I have done" and TDA2009

Feb.24: Dik-dik in the Dinner Stew

Biked: 82 K Elevation: 1,250 masl
Moyale, Kenya (Kenya Wildlife Service Camp) – on the border with Ethiopia

We biked 82 kilometers today. Our ending elevation was at 1,250 masl, still high enough to avoid the brutal heat.

So after 3 weeks we left Ethiopia, the country of contrasts. We left the land of desolate, overcrowded, deserts- mountains, NGO AID organizations, donkey carts, camels, termite hills, monkeys, crocodiles, hippos, fish eagles, and hornbills.

Today one of our escort vans hit and killed a ‘dik-dik.’ Dik-diks are small antelope like animals. They skinned out the dik-dik, and I believe it became part of our dinner stew.

Ethiopia – land of teff, ensete, khat, noog, terraced mountainsides, incredible hand-dug wells. People hauling water, donkeys hauling water. People hauling wood and charcoal. Donkeys hauling wood and charcoal.

Where there are people, kids are everywhere. We heard the average number of births per females is 5.4. As an agronomist and seeing how the intense the agriculture is where it is possible, I can tell that sort of birth rate is not sustainable out into the next two decades. Something will need to change. In 3 weeks I saw less than 10 tractors from Metema on the Sudanese border in the northwest to Moyale on the Kenyan border in the southwest.

So I am in Moyale. Last fall Dr. Pedro Sanchez, a renowned soil scientist, visited the University of Minnesota campus. When he heard about this trip and me traveling from Ethiopia to Kenya through Moyale he advised not to do it, not through Moyale.

Actually Moyale on the Ethiopia side had many more people than I expected. We spent time on the Ethiopian side waiting for the customs offices to reopen after a mid-day siesta. I burned up some remaining birr on spaghetti, soft drinks, biscuits and candy carbohydrates.

Filled out the appropriate forms and paid $50US for a Kenyan visa and now I am in Kenya. For me the language, Swahili, is more familiar, the bread is more familiar, but is sounds like the roads will deteriorate for the next 5 of 6 riding days. I look forward to Kenya!

Feb.23: Grotto Singing Wells – Deep Water Only Water

Biked: 128 K Elevation: 1,330 masl
Just south of Mega -1 days ride from Moyale and the Kenyon border

A longer ride of 128 kilometers today was made easier by the fact that it was all on pavement but made more challenging in that some of the pavement was older, rough, and potholed. The wind was generally in our face, but at least it helped cool us. I had another slow-leak flat tire today due to a thorn.

Most of the landscape we passed today was sandy, acacia, thorn, shrub, and trees. For the first time since the Sudan we again saw huge 2 to 3 meter tall termite hills. They appear to be formed around a growing acacia tree. The termites eventually abandon the mound when their food source is consumed.

We descended more than ascended today, and our final elevation is around 1330 masl. The only village we passed was Mega. It has I would estimate about a couple thousand people. The landscape around that village is farmed, but currently there is little to no residue on the fields. It has all been utilized by humans or their livestock.

We are camped near some very old and deep wells. They are originally hand dug. I can see down about 30 feet, but they go much deeper than that. Today nobody was collecting water from them, but eventually when they do, they sing as they hoist by hand a bucket load of water with a rope. At one well site they are making a declining ramp so the livestock can walk down as much as 10 meters. That is 10 meters less they have to lift the water by hand. They were actually burning wood on the rock pathway in order to more easily break up the rock to make the declining ramp. All work is pretty labor intensive.

A geologist would be better able to say what kind of special formation this is, but it sort of reminds me of karst sinkholes in South-East Minnesota.

One highlight of the day was seeing a 5 centimeter long scorpion today at lunch. It did not bother me that it was dead. We are told to check our shoes in the mornings if we leave them outside our tents. Also, we are told to be cautious when packing our tents and tent footprints.

Today all along our route new high voltage electrical towers are installed. Soon to deliver perhaps more stable electricity to the border town.

Singing Well Photo Gallery

Addis, best biker in Ethiopia

Addis, best biker in Ethiopia

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Feb.22: Terraces Nearing the Ethiopian/Kenyan Border

Biked: 96 K Elevation: 1,618 masl
Yabello – 2 days from Kenya

Rode 96 kilometers today, mostly uphill. We started the day at about 1,000 masl, and after about 40 kilometers of long rollers we started a 50 kilometer climb to an elevation of about 2,000 masl before entering Yabello then declining to 1700 masl to the main North and South road and the Yabello Hotel. I got two flats today. One was due to thorns and the other a snake bite pinch on the decline.

It turns out the terracing I spoke of yesterday near Konso is quite famous. It is actually a UNESCO world heritage site: The Konso Terraces.

Someone please comment to this blog with the website to the Konso Terraces.

I know some University of Minnesota graduate students saw a UNESCO world heritage site in the Philippines when visiting the International Rice Research Institute, so they can speak about these locations.

There were no donkeys today. We began seeing camels again. At the low elevation the ecosystem is mainly shrub land, with some cattle herding, but there are not many settled people along this stretch, only herders. At higher locations, where soils are compatible for crops, there would be a small village or two. I did not see any crops growing today! As we approached Yabello we entered the Yabello Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a protected, forested area and home to several unique animals found only in this region of the world. One species is a bird called a scirrocco. Unfortunately I did not see this bird.

Highlights included having a flock of wild guinea fowl fly across the road in front of me and also seeing some Borena people, a small rural African tribe found only in this area.

Feb.21: Agriculture Around the Lake, then ‘Hyland, Hyland’

Biked: 100 K Elevation: 1,050 masl
Bush Camp south of Konso – 3 days ride from Kenya

100 kilometers of riding today. Fortunately for me about 50% of it was paved. None was paved last year. That makes the riding easier, especially with my fixed front fork. My knee feels okay, but it probably helps to be loaded with Ibuprofen. The sprained pinky finger is going to be an ongoing problem.

We left the heights in the town of Arba Minch (which literally means “40 Springs”) and dropped in elevation for the first 10 kilometers following the lake. There is generally good crop production on the relatively flat land next to the lake. I saw more cotton. It is typically not in whole mono-cropped fields, but plants scattered in fields that had been planted to corn, sorghum, or pulses. Saw women and children carrying corn and sorghum stover, wood and water.

It seems we changed ethnic groups as there are more people with spears instead of sticks. Up until now the kids have been saying “you, you, you, you” and “money, money” or “birr”. Today they started saying “Hyland,Hyland” which is a brand of bottled water. So water is getting much scarcer now, especially after we left Lake Chamo. We did a couple of good assents and descents before climbing into Konso.

After a soft drink stop we descended on gravel for about 10 kilometers into our camp along a dried stream bed.

Incredibly steep slopes are being farmed. They are terraced by necessity. Some of the terracing is by rock walls that may have been in place for quite some time. On less steep land, terracing or contouring is accomplished by hoeing out the corn root system and lining them up along the contour. There is a lot of oxen tillage, especially along the lake and gentler slopes. Apparently, no oxen are used up on the steeper slopes.

I saw numerous trees with manmade honey-homes for bees. The trees would have a meter long segment of corrugated metal surrounding the tree trunk, presumably to keep certain animals from getting up into the hives. Perhaps the animals they are trying to keep out are the honey-badger. The honey badger is guided to the beehives by a symbiotic relationship with honey-guide-bird. The bird finds the honey, sings a tune which attracts the badger to rip open the hive, and the birds cleans it up afterward. Which came first, the bee, bird, or badger?

Agriculture Around the Lake Photo Gallery

Oxen plowing

Oxen plowing

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Feb.20: Baboons, Hippos, Crocodiles and Birds

Biked: 0 K Elevation: 1,380 masl
Rest day in Arba Minch – 4 days south of Addis Ababa and 4 days from the Kenya border

Today’s rest day was used to do laundry, clean the bike, change the chain, change the tires and tubes to the wider 700x38c’s, rest, and eat. Gone are the cooler temperatures. Baboons visited the camp site this morning. Some of the other riders and I took a boat tour on Lake Chamo in Nechisar National Park. We were on the boat for about 2 hours. We saw many fishermen, some fishing individually from small make-shift banana stem boats using nets.

I saw more baboons getting to the shoreline. On the water’s edge we saw lots of hippos and crocodiles, some very close up. Also, we saw lots of birds: pelicans, Egyptian geese, Maribau storks, fish eagles, goliath heron, gray heron, spoonbills, stilt birds, sacred ibis, yellow footed egrets, and plovers.

Our entrance fee to the national park was about 100birr or about $10US. It is nice that land is set aside from the direct influence of man, but no doubt the pressure from poaching is relatively intense.

For dinner there was more fish, cabbage, tomato, spaghetti and a soft drink for less than $10 US, and that was at an upscale restaurant.

Rest Day Photo Gallery



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Feb.19: A Miraculously Graceful, Over-the-Handlebars Roll

Biked: 108 K Elevation: 1,380 masl
Arba Minch – Hotel Campground overlooking lakes and National Park

Today was not a good day. We rode 108 kilometers on little to no pavement and through a lot of road construction. Also, I fell for the first time on the entire trip, not once but twice! The first time I hit a woman who saw me at the last second and decided to change directions. I took it worse than her in that I fell and she did not. Fortunately I was not going very fast and all I did was scrape some skin on a knee and sprain my pinky finger on my left hand. Later in the afternoon I fell again. It was partly my fault due to inattention. An Ethiopian kid joined our small group of 6TDA riders. This occurs frequently. Unfortunately, he swerved to avoid a pothole and whipped out. I was two back from him and ended up going over his bicycle. Somewhat miraculously I managed a pretty graceful over-the-handlebars roll without any new scrapes to me or my bike. However, unfortunately I twisted my left knee in the process. I rode on, not realizing my knee was buggered. Coming into Arba Minch we had a good climb. It was only after we stopped and I tried to walk did I realize I was hurting. So we will see what that means.

After some ups and downs for the first 50 kilometers today, we descended to Lake Abaya. We followed that for about 60 kilometers. The water in the lake was very opaque. From a distance it looked reddish, but closer up it was browner. I do not think one could see more than three inches through the water.

Along the lake there would be scattered patches of good agriculture. Most prevalent were bananas, ensete, sweet potato, legumes, some small corn, papaya, onions and mangos. Some of the land was irrigated by gravity from streams coming for the mountains to the west.

Our hotel complex is on the top of the hill in Arba Minch overlooking Lake Abaya to the north and Lake Chamo to the south. Below us to the east is Nech Sar National Park.

For dinner tonight I had a plate of spaghetti and a good fillet of fish from the lake.

In the evening we could see fires burning the countryside in several locations. I am not sure if the fires were intentional or not. Some were in the National Park