Stage 27: Forest Camp through Blue Nile Gorge
This day consisted of two distinct parts. The first was a continuation of yesterday; high central plateau with expansive views. The second and very different involved dropping into and then climbing out of, the abyss which is the Blue Nile Gorge.
The first ~50 km was really a nice ride, cool to start with as we made our way over rolling hills at ~2400-2500 m asl. Mostly long views over harvested fields of teff, which was being primary winnowed by men and teams of oxen. The results of that initial phase then seemingly passed along to women for the secondary and final winnowing by hand. An amazing process to see such a huge production of teff being processed by this ancient but obviously effective way.
We also passed through more forest; again mainly coniferous from what I could see, although a healthy portion is clearly eucalyptus from which poles are harvested, these then forming the main component of the ‘framing’ of houses and shops along the way.
Soon enough we started to see in the distance the walls of the opposite side of the gorge. We actually started our descent before the lunch spot, needing to keep an eye out for that as well as all the trucks, buses and potholes in a very torn up road.
The further descent after lunch was long and hot, and dusty. Whole sections of the tarmac destroyed or swept away (?) by seasonal rains. These sections have been pounded into dust which is more like a fine powder, quickly covering everything on the bicycle and me. It’s close to 20 kilometres of braking and dodging the worst sections as much as possible. Large transport trucks and buses add to the cacophony of hooting horns from smaller trucks, taxi vans and even the occasional tuk-tuk. One traffic jam is encountered; seems a couple of trucks have broken down or just got stuck at a particular rough patch / bend in the road. I walk the bike through the crowd and the dust and continue down.
The bridge is finally reached well after noon; the river is beautiful, but we’re under strict instructions as to No Photographs of anything near to, or involving the crossing (military).
I start up in the afternoon heat, baboons watching, hoping for a handout. I’m careful not to smile or look at them directly, indeed try as best I can to avert my head. I’m submissive, no threat to your troop! The roadside boys harassment enough for me, I’ve no wish to tangle with baboons.
It’s a long hot, noisy, crowded ascent. The views are amazing despite the dusty air. The first sections kick up to well over 10% grade; that and the heat pop some sweat beads, no question. I’m drinking as much water as I can put down. I encounter Michiel and we commiserate with one another. A major jam is encountered about 9 km up: a jack-knifed truck and trailer have successfully blocked the entire road. There’s a line-up both going up and coming down, each several hundred metres long. Adding to the confusion is that each new vehicle encountering this choke point just pulls out and tries to squeeze by before they too become jammed, thus ensuring even more blockage. The road is barely 2 lanes wide, it certainly can’t handle 3-4 vehicles.
Again I dismount and walk through; this time having to leave the road on the downhill side to get around this mess, the roadway itself so completely blocked. It’s tricky footing along the rocks and I have to carry the bike, but am through in only a few metres. I encounter Tim and Tallis in the support Hilux and take the opportunity to refill on water. They’re stuck in the downhill jam. Michiel joins and I tell him we’ll stop at the mid-way coke stop which is less than a kilometre up. I spot a large road grader grinding down the hill, I think to assist in clearing the jam.
Coke stop identified, I sort of half dismount, half fall off bike. The sole patron is a truck driver who sensibly is waiting in the shade before bothering to continue down. The coke lady is a young woman with very good English. Michiel joins and we chatter away; coke lady translating for truck driver. A sudden surge of traffic uphill suggests the grader was successful. Our truck driver pays for my coke before he jumps into his unit to continue down. Michiel and I dally, he deep in conversation with coke girl, now identified as Gloria; no point trying to mix it up with impatient drivers trying to make up lost time.
We eventually tear ourselves away and continue. It’s Hot! It’s another very long 10 km to the top but we each grind it out in our own solitude; I have to get off and walk through some of the rougher patches. My right hamstring starts to cramp a couple times in the switchbacks but getting off and walking for a bit takes care of that. As I reach toward the top, the views open up; it really is impressive.
I make it to camp; I’ll admit to being thoroughly and completely knackered. An hour of rehydrating in the camp shade with soup and tea help, but no question, there’s not much left.
The camp is Salali Lodge; bush camping in the back but with a bar and scenic deck overlooking the gorge out front to watch the late afternoon fade into sunset and twilight. Bucket showers go a long way to removing the dust and sweat.
Collapse into bed as soon as I can after dinner. I’m done for the day.