Jammin thru the Global South

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by Jammin, Mar 4, 2010.

  1. Jammin

    Jammin Living on a DR

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    Here's an article I wrote on Wild Camping in Developing Countries from my experiences in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.

    Guest post on RubberonRoad.com
    Also posted at BikerCamps.com


    Wild Camping in Developing Countries

    As I journeyed through Latin America on my Suzuki DR650 motorcycle, with all the possessions that I would need to survive on the back of my bike, I was anticipating the experience that completes motorcycle travel: camping. Arriving at a place chosen to be home for the night and then setting up that shelter, perhaps getting a campfire going and being a part of the nocturnal outdoors is to me a quintessential experience of overland travel. It also completes that feeling of freedom that comes with traveling on a bike; a freedom to choose where to spend your night.

    I know that camping isn’t for everyone, but since I wanted to extend my budget (by staying in fewer hotels) and simply wanted to get to know the nomadic lifestyle, I made wild camping an integral part of my trip. I have comfortable-enough minimalist camping gear that doesn’t burden my luggage and allows me to enjoy the experience when camping becomes an option. And just to be clear, camping in the wild or the bush refers to not staying in established campgrounds.

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    High-altitude camping at Laguna Canapa, 14,000 ft in the Andes of Southwest Bolivia.

    I started camping from Peru onwards and after a few nights of sleeping in my one-man Catoma Twist tent, I formulated a strategy to help me in deciding where it was safe to camp. Although rural areas of developing countries are generally safe at night, there are some countries where it isn’t advisable to wild camp in a fabric tent, but by taking a few pre-cautions, I managed to do it with no issues.

    When I was traveling across the Pampas (savannahs) of remote northern Bolivia, as a part of my journey through the TransAmazonica in Brazil, camping was the only option due to the lack of urban areas and their hotels. I was riding through the world’s largest rainforest, which is located in the Amazon Basin, an area as large as Australia but with a population density lower than that of Mongolia’s. That meant there were a lot of wild animals about and just making camp in the bush would not have been prudent. So, I opted for pitching my tent in front of rural houses.

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    Camping with piglets on a farm in the remote pampas (savannahs) of northern Bolivia.

    Two to three hours before darkness, I would start paying attention to farm houses that I rode across and marking them as a waypoint on my GPS so that I could come back there if needed. As I’m riding along, I usually wave to most locals that I make eye contact with, to immediately establish a friendly relationship. In this same way, I like to stop at a ranch where I can see the owners outside their house, giving me information of the security situation. In hot climates, most people are lounging outside, so this information is my primary decision maker. That can also be read as, “Don’t stop at houses with no one around!” I broke this rule within a few days since there was no other house around and the owners, a young caretaker couple had gone into town to buy groceries. So, you can have hard-fast rules, but should still know when to break them.

    Upon approaching the head of the household, I first introduced myself: where I am from and where I am going on this trip (I usually give a far enough known location so that they understand that I’m a traveler and not just a lost tourist). Then I ask them if I can put my tent here for the night and most everyone accepts. For Brazil, I memorized how to say these basic phrases in Portuguese using Google Translator and that got me through the Amazon. With rural people being as polite as they are, besides welcoming this impromptu guest, they also offered me a warm meal and a bath.

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    Camping next to a horse shed along the TransAmazonica in Brazil.

    Even though I was now camped in someone’s compound, there were still always dangers lurking. Someone could rob my bike at night or assault me in my tent and rob me. Most likely this won’t happen and it hasn’t, so far, but I like to always just be prepared, because you never know. My strategy is to put the tent as close as possible to the bike and tie a cable between the bike cover and a tent peg. I bought a 15 inch machete in Bolivia for $3 and slept with that by my side, wrapped in a sweatshirt. The plan was that if someone tried to lift the bike cover at night, it would disturb my tent and I would spring out wielding the machete. I still haven’t had the chance, but I’m ready. These tactics might not be effective in real situations, but at least thinking this way increases my situational awareness and that is the basis for surviving.

    With urban development accelerating in the developing world, there are very few places where a hotel can’t be found for the night. But what’s the fun in traveling from one concrete abode to another? I encourage you to add more camping in your next travel and get closer to nature and the people who live with it.

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    A roaring campfire in Northwest Argentina on Ruta 40.

  2. MrBob

    MrBob Out there

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    Happy to send a little support your way via Paypal Jay. Thanks for getting out there and making a difference.
    I'm a retired nurse in search of volunteer opportunities and would appreciate a mention of any programs you encounter that seem to be really helping others, especially in the area of health.
  3. Jammin

    Jammin Living on a DR

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    Hi Mr Bob, thank you very much for your donation to the trip :clap
    I will let you know what I come across, but being a rider, do you know about Riders for Health?
  4. Jammin

    Jammin Living on a DR

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    Ethiopia, Part 3: Gondar and its Castles
    July 7 - 9, 2011

    I had a wonderful two weeks break in Gorgora and now I was back on the road for a two week loop through northern Ethiopia. The biggest city in this area is Gondar, known for its castles. The city is also the gateway into the remote northern parts of the country with the majestic Simien Mountains nearby.

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    _____________________


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    The central piazza of Gondar. The city was established in the 17th century but the influence of the short Italian occupation around the late 1930s is still evident today in the buildings around the city center. They have a simplified Italian Moderne style.

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    On the streets of Gondar. Being an Indian, I'm always proud to see Bajaj's Auto Rickshaws (tuktuks) in foreign countries. They're noisy but fill the gap between two-wheel and four-wheel transport.

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    I had been sleeping in my tent for the two weeks at Gorgora before this, so I was more than happy to pitch up again. I happened to be in town during the graduation weekend of Gondar University and thus, most of the hotel rooms were booked. Tarara Hotel, up above town, is known as being friendly to overlanders and they let me camp in their garden.

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    I walked down from my encampment and found a small tea stall.

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    Hot tea and a samosa before taking a walk around town.

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    Walking along the wall of Gondar's castle towards one of the entrance gates.

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    The grand Fasilides Castle in the Royal Enclosure at Gondar. Up till the 17th century, the rulers of Ethiopia generally did not have a permanent capital but moved around their kingdom with their entourage in fortified encampments. Emperor Fasilides broke with tradition and decided to make Gondar his capital around 1635.

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    The castle is set in beautiful grounds and the cool weather at 2,150 m (7,000 ft) makes for a pleasant visit.

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    The castle is surrounded by the modern city but it's future has been protected as it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

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    Grand arches leading to grand empty halls. All the rooms of the castle are open to walk through.

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    The architecture has influences from the Portuguese, Arabs and Indians, indicating the peoples that traded with Ethiopia around the time of Fasilides.

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    Cages for lions that Fasilides kept to project his power.

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    Ruins of Turkish baths at Fasilides Castle.

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    Having dinner with Randy and Dr. Doug. I met Randy in Gorgora after he crossed Lake Tana from Bahir Dar and I met him again on the streets of Gondar that day. He's from Vancouver and was backpacking around East Africa for a few months and we connected over discussions on his philosophy research. He met Doug, from Minneapolis, who's a neurologist on assignment in Gondar from his research base in Malawi.

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    The next day, Randy and I accompanied Doug on his visit to the local hospital, which was set on a lush campus.

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    Doug's research is focused on neurological conditions in children and he was here to conduct some workshops and took us for a tour through the wards. I didn't feel comfortable photographing the sick children, but here's one of the wards.

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    Randy introduced me to this delicious dish that consists of crunchy bread on the bottom with heaps of plain yogurt on top and garnished with scrambled eggs, berere spice in oil and onions and chilies. The clash in temperature, texture and spice was fantastic.

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    In the afternoon, Doug had some free time and offered to take me around Gondar. We walked up to the last surviving church from the 18th century, Debre Berhan Selassie. The exterior is quite simple but...

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    ...the church is known for its exquisite interiors. All surfaces, from the walls to the ceiling, are covered in biblical artwork from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church's traditions. The crucifixion of Jesus takes center stage with a symbol of the Holy Trinity above.

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    The walls depict many stories from the bible in a style that is distinctly Ethiopian. Here, there's a saint killing a dragon, the Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael who reportedly defended the church from being destroyed by the Mahdist Dervishes of the Sudan when they sacked Gondar in 1888. The Madhists burned down all the churches in town except this one.

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    A striking feature of the Debre Berhan Selassie Church are the 104 faces of angels painted on the roof. Each one is slightly different.

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    Artifacts that the priests of the church use in their worship at Debre Berhan Selassie.

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    Looking up at the bamboo roof structure at Debre Berhan Selassie Church.

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    Outside the walls of the church compound lies an old cemetery overgrown with vegetation.

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    An ancient grave marker outside the walls of Debre Berhan Selassie Church.

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    After the cultural tour, Doug took me for a nature walk outside town that he discovered recently.

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    Walking along a path in the valleys surrounding Gondar.

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    A path forcing its way across this stone wall, leading to...

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    ...a small maize field and its owner's hut.

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    Two ladies carrying some farm produce to sell up in town.

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    Cultural sights are interesting, but being surrounded by nature is far more pleasing to me.

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    I was glad I met Doug who showed me this little nature walk. We had good talks but he wasn't enjoying the people of Ethiopia at the moment and told me to be aware of the growing frustrations that develop after a few weeks there. I could glimpse what he was talking about as all the local children constantly ask any foreigner they see for money or gifts or a pen. I was looking forward to my route north from here into more remote areas.

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    Walking back into town and passing this Walia Ibex statue. It's endemic to Ethiopia and particularly the Simien Mountains, where I was headed next.

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    On my second and last night at Tarara Hotel, a room opened up and they upgraded me from camping in the garden. I wanted to make an early start the next day and didn't want to have wet camping gear to pack up as the rainy season brought nightly rains.

    I enjoyed my short visit to Gondar and was happy to have met some other travelers who showed me some off-the-beaten path sights around Gondar. I got my cultural fix and next up was an immersion in nature.
  5. Tom-Traveller

    Tom-Traveller Adventurer

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    Hi Jay

    just a little update, while still reading your report :rofl

    In about 7 weeks we are moving to a new place in the black forest, preparations are making progress (bought new K60`s & heavy duty tubes, etc. ....) and the paperwork is on it`s way .... :huh

    Still no safe route or ferry to Egypt .... but first we are off to Scandinavia and the Baltic States, so still some time (end of September) to make a choice and probably it`s a transit visa for Lybia (costal road) :deal ....

    What`s your plan to leave and head south ....

    Happy trails and all the best

    Thomas & Andrea


    www.miles-to-ride.com
  6. MrBob

    MrBob Out there

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    Yes, I do. It's a great concept - giving people the tools to help themselves, rather than charity.
  7. Jammin

    Jammin Living on a DR

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    Hey Tom, good to hear the update and thanks to Andrea for the German translation :beer Ooh, nice that Libya is open again. Will be amazing to see how the country has changed. You guys will definitely catch up with me.
    My plan is to leave Nairobi around end of June/beginning of July, head to South Africa by October, then turn north along the west coast and get to Cameroon by year end, then slowly to Morocco by April next year...
    Can you bring me a set of Heidenaus? :lol3
    :thumbup
  8. Jammin

    Jammin Living on a DR

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    Published: Feature Article in Nairobi's Asian Weekly

    I got featured in Nairobi's Asian Weekly newspaper and here's a two page spread about the trip:
    (Click on it to go into full screen)

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  9. LXIV-Dragon

    LXIV-Dragon Been here awhile

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    Quite the Jammin Celeb :D

    Ride safe Jay.
  10. Tom-Traveller

    Tom-Traveller Adventurer

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    All the best and HAPPY TRAILS

    Thomas & Andrea

    www.miles-to-ride.com

  11. Jammin

    Jammin Living on a DR

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    Ethiopia, Part 4: The Semien Mountains, The Roof of Africa
    July 9 - 10, 2011

    North of Gondar lies the impressive natural landscape of the Semien Mountains, a large expanse of volcanic origin. This rugged area is a part of the Ethiopian Highlands, which began to rise up 75 million years ago and subsequently got eroded as the East African Rift opened up along with the natural erosive forces of wind, snow and water. The landscape is dotted with the exposed cores of old volcanoes that make for epic vistas.

    Surrounding the Semiens are savannah and deserts, so this unique environment has many endemic species of wildlife, like the Gelada Baboon, Walia Ibex and the Ethiopian Wolf. As this landscape rises so dramatically from the depths of the Afar region and the Sahara to the highest peaks past 4,500 m (14,760 ft) the Ethiopian Highlands have been dubbed the Roof of Africa.

    Showcasing the best of the highlands is the Semien Mountains National Park, accessed from the town of Debark. I over-nighted in the park on my way around the northern loop through Ethiopia and got to see lots of Gelada Baboons, Lammergeyers (vultures), some deer, bear tracks and lots of impressive views from the steep escarpments that define the park.

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    I had breakfast at the outskirts of Gondar and enjoyed watching people streaming past with their livestock and other goods to sell in town, as it was Saturday, which is a major market day in Gondar. The road was packed with cows, goats, shepherds, villagers carrying grain and donkeys carrying firewood. It felt like the road wasn't really for motorized traffic, but more for hoofed traffic.

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    A few kilometers north of Gondar the asphalt ended and I smiled when I lowered the air pressure in my tires and stood on my pegs.

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    The Ethiopian Highlands. The landscape is jagged and endless. I was salivating for the views that I was told about further north.

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    The route climbed up from the 2,100 m (6,890 ft) at Gondar past 3,050 m (10,000 ft) with lots of elevation change in-between. The Tracks4Africa mapset contained the dirt road that I was on and even the major towns along the way, which helped me in my day-to-day route planning.

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    Running into Laurens and Emma, whom I met at Tim and Kim's a few days ago. They were on their 90 day honeymoon from London to Capetown. They are both management consultants, working in New York and bought this fully-equipped Land Rover Discovery from Footloose expeditions. They were coming back from the Semien Mountain National Park and told me they were side-swiped by a local bus on a narrow road.

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    Passing through the busy town of Debark, from where the turn off to the national park is. I'm sure I look like an alien to the locals with all my gear, but hey, safety first.

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    Picking up an armed scout at the entrance to the Semien Mountain National Park. It's park regulations because the animals (namely the baboons) could possibly attack, which I don't think really happens. I had to leave behind my back rest to create space for him.

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    Within a few kilometers of entering the park, I was greeted by the sight of numerous Gelada Baboons or simply Geladas.

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    Geladas are unique to the Ethiopian Highlands and can be identified by the bright-red patch on their chest.

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    An adult male gelada and a youngster sneaking into the photo. Elevation was around 3,200 m (10,500 ft) and the winds were cold and strong, but the gelada is well-suited to this environment with its shaggy coat.

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    A gelada patrolling his territory, unfazed by the strong winds of the Semien Mountains.

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    A close-up of the unique mane of the gelada.

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    They forage on the tops of the plateaux during the day and retreat to the cliffs at night where they sleep. Since there aren't that many trees or abundant food sources, geladas are unique among primates in that grass makes up more than 90% of their diet. This means they spend a majority of their day picking and chewing grass.

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    A male gelada showing off his pink chest, necklace and his exposed penis.

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    Riding on further into the park, I came across this dramatic U-shaped drop in the escarpment. Just like the Grand Canyon, the layers of rocks from different eras are visible due to erosion. The layers at the bottom are older basaltic lava flows, which are covered by more recent flows. Standing on the edge of the cliff, I felt a rush of air rising up the steep sides down from the valley below.

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    The dirt track that winds its way along the escarpment deeper and deeper into the Semien Mountains National Park.

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    A boulder, sitting on the edge of the cliff, with great views of the valley below.

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    Trees clinging on to the steep sides of the Semiens. The dirt track is visible in the distance as it rides the ridge towards the first encampment of Sankaber, where I would be spending the night.

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    The national park is inhabited by locals and children came running up to my bike whenever I stopped.

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    My armed scout in the Semien Mountains National Park. He was very friendly and told me where to stop for good views.

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    My lodge at Sankaber, where I got a bed for 80 Birr ($5).

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    My bed for the night, which came with lots of warm blankets.

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    I asked the scout if I could take a bath somewhere and he directed me to this open shower. Using development funds from Austria, they've built a small tank and tap system using the nearby stream.

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    I got my loofa and camp towel out and...

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    ...prepared for a cold, cold shower in the forests of the Semien Mountains. I enjoyed it and thought about the cold showers I took when I was riding through the Andes in Peru. Even if it's freezing cold, splashing water on my body at the end of the day has become a required ritual.

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    The views from Sankaber as heavy clouds rolled in over the Semiens.

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    Deep valleys cut by water and ice. During the last Ice Age (which ended around 12,000 years ago), the Ethiopian Highlands were covered in glaciers that left their mark on the land in the form of U-shaped valleys.

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    That evening, the heavy rains came with hail, but I was warm in the blankets.

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    Sunrise over the Semien Mountains.

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    Silhouettes of flora as the sun rose over the eastern edge of the Semiens.

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    My scout took me for a walk just after sunrise and we came across some bear tracks.

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    Beautifully captured paw prints in the soft mud near my lodge.

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    I felt like my scout could've taken me to the animal whose prints these were. He was connected with his landscape and felt at home in the Semiens.

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    An epic vista that my scout brought me to, just as the sunlight was slowly working its way down into the valley.

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    I sat on the edge and enjoyed the rush of air up my pants.

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    Sitting on the edge of the escarpment in the Semien Mountains National Park. I felt like a bird and wished for a hang-gliding wing to jump off and soar like...

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    ...a Lammergeyer. These Bearded Vultures soar the thermals that come rushing up the steep sides of the escarpment. They are scavengers like other vultures, but their diet consists mainly of bone marrow, which requires them to drop big bones from height onto stones, exposing the nutritious marrow.

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    A Lammergeyer coasting on the thermals with its wings at full span, reaching around 2.5 m (8.2 ft). Its raised left wing tip aides it by reducing lift-induced drag and smoothening the vortex energies that form at the edge of the wing. This feature has been adapted to newer airplanes to reduce fuel consumption, among other benefits. When people question what's the point in conserving habitat for some random bird, they should be reminded of the lessons that nature can teach our technically-advanced society. And hopefully that will also instill some humility towards our place in nature.

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    Enjoying the steep cliffs of the escarpment in Semien Mountain National Park.

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    The exposed cores of volcanoes that define the landscape of the Semien Mountains.

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    Walking back with my scout, who blends in with his natural camouflage.

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    A small antelope among the grasses on the plateau of the Semiens.

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    A sign board requesting respect of nature.

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    On my way out of the park, I came across more geladas grazing in the morning sun.

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    The morning time is for socializing and foraging.

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    Since they primarily eat grass, geladas have developed the grasp needed to clump grass together and pull it.

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    Aww, who's got a mouthful of good eats?

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    Grooming is also part of their morning routine. Since geladas sit on their bottom for much of their day, it's become hard and callus, unlike other baboons who have a colorful bottom.

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    As geladas graze on open ground, they need a sentinel to keep guard of swooping lammergeyers and other predators.

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    The sentinel sounded the alarm and everyone looked to him.

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    But this little bugger isn't bothered by some false alarm. He's scratching and enjoying a good rub.

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    He looked like he was up to something, so I kept an eye on him.

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    He climbed up this rock and when he picked out his victim...

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    ...pounced and grabbed his buddy. Score!

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    He might be cool on the playground but mom needs to groom him now.

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    A shepherd and his sheep in the national park. Many locals live within the park, as they have for generations, but now there's conflict between conservation of the fauna and flora in the park and the livelihood of the local inhabitants. They complain that the geladas come and destroy their crops and harass their livestock. And the conservationists complain that diseases spread from livestock to the wildlife. A compromise is needed to keep this situation sustainable.

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    Horses grazing right next to geladas in the Semien Mountains.

    I only had a short visit to the Semien Mountains National Park but managed to get an appreciation for this unique landscape, the Roof of Africa. Steep escarpments with grazing gelada baboons and soaring vultures - the park showcases the Ethiopian Highlands in all its glory. Next up was a few days of riding north of here through similar landscape that could all be a national park.
  12. prince_ruben

    prince_ruben Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,746
    :clap
  13. DanielR

    DanielR Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2005
    Oddometer:
    63
    Location:
    Chicago
    Hello J!

    Thanks for this excellent ride report. I met you on the flat four tour if i remember correctly. I used to work with Tim Carey and he introduced us. Good to see you are still Jammin.

    Peace
  14. Eagletalon

    Eagletalon Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2011
    Oddometer:
    411
    Location:
    Apopka, FL
    Interesting piece about Ethiopa and their Geladas. I saw an episode on Planet Earth on the Discovery Channel about them and how the locals were having a lot of trouble with their crops. As always great update! Stay safe in your travels.

    Later
    John
  15. BobRob

    BobRob Pick one

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2010
    Oddometer:
    317
    Location:
    Loudon, NH
    Aces as always!
  16. Jammin

    Jammin Living on a DR

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,563
    Location:
    New Delhi - new 'home' for post RTW
    Thanks for telling me about the Mitas E07 :beer that looks like a really good tire and I'll probably get it then in ZA.
    Good to hear about new transport to Egypt. Hope it works out when you guys get there.
    I need to brush up on my Portuguese and the French...
    Haha, no worries, enjoy the Heidenaus :D
    :thumbup
    Hey Dan, yes, I remember now. and thanks a lot for your donation towards the trip :beer Cheers and glad to have you along now.
    Hey John, yup, I remember that episode from Planet Earth. It looks just like that in reality :D I remember all the nice speeded-up footage showing the geladas moving quickly across a plateau, mowing it down.
    Thx :thumbup
  17. Jammin

    Jammin Living on a DR

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,563
    Location:
    New Delhi - new 'home' for post RTW
    Ethiopia, Part 5: Off-roading in the Highlands
    July 10 - 12, 2011

    North of the Semien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia, it gets remote. Most tourists turn south and head back or fly over to Axum to view its historical stelae. But since I have my own rugged transportation, I am free to wander remote paths through less-visited areas. With sanDRina chugging along in fine form, I set off to cross the Ethiopian Highlands from Debark to Shire and into Axum.

    This stretch of the northern loop is the last bit to get paved over and I was glad to experience it before asphalt tames the ride. Construction was on-going and that meant there were a few diversions and loose rocks and sandy stretches to cross. The rainy season had properly started and I was bit hesitant about tackling the muddy tracks, but my mud-riding skills were up to par.

    I stayed in small towns and was treated to epic landscapes, especially around Adi Arkay where I saw Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia in all its glory on a clear day.

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    __________________


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    Fueling up in Debark with black market petrol, since there's no regular petrol station around. Regular petrol price in Ethiopia is Birr 22/L ($5/gal) and I paid Birr 32/L ($7.32/gal) here. The last regular station was in Gondar and the next one is in Shire, 300 kms (186 mi) away. I could easily do that stretch with my massive Safari Aqualine tank, but there was lots of elevation change coming up and I knew there'd be lots of first and second gear off-road riding, which greatly reduces fuel efficiency, so best to top up.

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    My route through northern Ethiopia. From Debark, I spent the first night in Adi Arkay, then the second night in Indabaguna before rolling into Axum. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.

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    I was in for a treat. This road was constructed by the Italians in the 1940s, during their brief occupation and the grades, switch-backs and routing was excellent.

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    This is what sanDRina was waiting for. After two weeks of downtime at Tim and Kims and months of asphalt riding through Europe, Egypt and Sudan, we were finally on an off-road trip, at least for a few days and that too, in the mountains!

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    Twisties in the mirror and straight sedimentary lines in the mountains.

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    The road was well-built with retaining walls and the surface was hard-packed gravel and mud with excellent drainage. It rained heavily at night but I could hardly tell.

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    Cliff-riding. I felt like I was back in the Andes, riding the death roads of Peru and Bolivia. Yes.

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    The road wound down from Debark at 2,850 m (9,350 ft) to a river in the valley at 1,250 m (4,100 ft) then climbed back up to 1,800 m (5,900 ft), back down to 1,277 m (4,188 ft) then the day ended in Adi Arkay at 1,500 m (4,920 ft). All this in just 75 kms (47 mi).

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    Looking out across the fertile Ethiopia Highlands from a high vantage point.

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    I am most happy riding on roads this like: hard-packed mud, great views of mountains and no traffic to speak of.

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    Um, yeah, there was some traffic; the occasional bus and lorry.

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    I had great views not just of the scenery but also the beautiful road winding its way up and down the mountainsides.

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    Riding under shady trees.

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    Being close to mountains makes my right brain content. But those dark clouds were worrying my left brain. And then I have to tell myself not to worry because the rains are so timely here that I can be sure it won't rain until late in the afternoon.

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    Riding downhill switch-backs. I prefer uphill ones, as I have more control with the throttle, rather than letting gravity dictate your speed on the way down.

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    The Heidenau K60 Scout tire was gripping well in the first proper off-road test for me. The road was covered in loose rocks, gravel and sand but it was hard-packed just below all that, so with enough speed and the right air pressure in the tires, the riding was a pleasure.

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    The afternoon sun lighting up the verdant hills.

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    A small village surrounding their sacred peak and using terraces to farm these steep hillsides.

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    A warning sign to watch for falling rocks. I usually ignore this sign, but here, I was on the look-out.

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    A landslide just waiting to happen with the next heavy rains. I guess the civil engineering flair of the Italians didn't make it out this far.

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    Yup, that looks like a recent landslide. I had to wait a bit for a bulldozer to clear a path.

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    As I was waiting, I turned and saw this old tank slowly being reclaimed by nature. Ethiopia has had a rocky military past with heavy fighting during the Derg years and then the extended war with Eritrea.

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    Hitting the river at valley bottom before climbing back up.

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    Looking back at the route as it descended to the river and then climbed back up.

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    Beautiful colors from the exposed sedimentary layers in the hillside. The red bands are probably copper, laid down millions of years ago at the bottom of a sea and now in 2011, exposed on a hill in Ethiopia.

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    Getting close to Adi Arkay and getting my first glimpse of the most enigmatic part of the Semien Mountains, the home of Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia.

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    The peaks of the Semiens dotting the landscape.

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    An enjoyable day of riding dirt up and down mountains.

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    I rolled into the village of Adi Arkay around 3:30 pm and was glad to have made it to shelter before the evening's rain.

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    I stayed at the Ras Dashen Hotel and parked sanDRina in the restaurant. Upon meeting the manager, I told him not to give me the farenji (foreigner) price, which prompted laughter. It's very common in Ethiopia and many other countries to have separate prices for locals and foreigners and this is fine with me for national parks and historical sites but not for food and basic hotel rates.

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    I walked next door for dinner and halfway through the meal, the winds picked up and heavy rain ensued for more than an hour. It was intense. Lightning and thunder followed each other closely and it felt like artillery fire at times. The pounding of the rain was deafening on the thin metal roof and that's when I discovered the reason for ear lobes - to help us close our ears.

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    All the restaurant patrons had finished their meal and we patiently waited inside for the rain to subside. I only had about 20 m to get to my hotel but I knew I would be soaked to the bone if I ventured out during the downpour.

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    The morning after in Adi Arkay, looking bright and clean after heavy, long rains during the night. My strategy was to wait a few hours before hitting the road to allow the strong sun to dry the road a bit and also to allow a few buses to run the route and splash the water from the road. I like slow mornings.

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    Breakfast of scrambled eggs with chilies, fresh bread and tea for Birr 13 ($0.77).

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    Hand-washing apparatus outside the restaurant; a truck's fuel tank converted into a water holder.

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    My bed at the Ras Dashen hotel, which I got for Birr 50 ($3). Note the electrical socket hanging on the edge of the chair. I always check to make sure the electricity is safe to use by plugging in my camera battery charger first (since I have a spare) and if that doesn't blow up, then it's all good.

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    Causing a scene upon my departure from Adi Arkay. Everyone loves the strong pulse from my exhaust. It even scares grown men, hehe.

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    A beautiful shot of Ras Dashen and some photogenic clouds.

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    Ras Dashen on the left at 4,550 m (14,928 ft) is the tallest peak in Ethiopia and fourth tallest in Africa. According to volcanologists, Ras Rashen is the eastern peak of an enormous volcano. Wow. To me, this cathedral of rocks reminded me of my visit to Torres del Paine in southern Chile - lone towers of rock in remote areas, surrounded by beautiful nature.

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    Playing with contrast and highlighting a natural 'W' in the mountain profile.

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    The prominence of Ras Dashen. Its original name in Amharic is Ras Dejen, which means the general who fights in front of the Emperor.

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    The heavy rains from the previous night had left the road soggy and sanDRina was getting a mud bath. She loves it.

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    Hmmm, soft mud pools waiting to suck us in. Since I travel solo, I take extra precaution when coming across terrain that could potentially strand me. If I can't go around the mud pools and it looks dicey, I'll walk through the pools and make sure there are no hidden holes or soft mud that could trap the rear tire, especially one that is under this much load.

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    The Heidenau K60 Scout doing just fine in the muds of northern Ethiopia. It's rated as a 50/50 tire but its tread is quite deep and proved sufficient for mud riding, which usually requires a more aggressive tread pattern.

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    Soupy mud just before an incline. I had to make sure to get enough revs and keep the momentum up to make sure we could climb out without getting stuck, which we did.

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    All this mud riding was going on in the shadows of the epic Semien Mountains. Ethiopia truly is an adventure rider's paradise.

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    A farmer tending to her field with a fantastic view of Ras Dashen.

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    sanDRina coated in mud and satisfied.

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    Happy to see shiny fork tubes while riding in the mud. SealSavers doing their job of keeping debris away from the fork seals, which have never leaked on this trip. Also happy to see how little mud was on the oil cooler with my cut fender, because if mud gets lodged into the fins of the radiator, the engine oil wouldn't cool down sufficiently. This bike is built tough.

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    Muddy boots and pants. Yay.

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    The route flattened out as I headed north and I passed the Adi Harush refuge camp, which houses refugees from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. I have the fortune of using nature as my playground, yet I am aware of the struggles that my fellow man faces as he is exposed to all of nature’s wrath.

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    It was 3 pm and I was heading north into that darkness, where the rains have been unleashed. I was waiting at this construction site for a bulldozer to clear a path for vehicles and I wondered how much wet mud riding I'd be doing because of this hold-up.

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    Yikes, biking and lightning don't go together. Although I've done a lot of that, so no worries.

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    Another tank left to nature's whim.

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    The sharp creases of shale rocks, which were blasted to make way for this road I'm riding on.

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    A local bus waiting with me at the construction site. Note the goat on the roof. I wonder how the locals perceive me.

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    Our small convoy of vehicles making it down the newly cleared road. The surface was loose and I was wary of sharp rocks as I didn't want a puncture with heavy rains coming. The darkness loomed to my right.

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    In the name of progress and development, we humans push nature to the brink, strangling her and not leaving her space to breathe. That tree looks like it's ready to commit suicide, which will probably happen soon as the land gives way during the rainy season onslaught.

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    Slowly inching our way behind a bulldozer over the loose and rocky surface. There was a scary moment when the dozer started backing up with me right behind it and shouts from people around alerted the driver and gave me some time to get out of the way, which was not easy with a heavily-loaded bike on an incline over a loose surface. At least it wasn't raining.

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    I made it to the small town of Indabaguna just as the rains started and was glad to be done with the tension of riding through precarious construction zones.

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    Parking up at Global Hotel for Birr 40 ($2.37).

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    Nice accommodation with a mosquito net that came with lots of holes but I had a mirror in the headboard, oooh.

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    Getting some breakfast at a nearby restaurant of...

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    ...injera with tagabino for Birr 14 ($0.83). It doesn't exactly look appetizing to western palates, but it's oh so tasty. Tagabino is similar to shiro, which is made from ground chickpea (garbanzo) flour, the basis for hummus, to which fried onions and Ethiopia's unique berbere spice mix is blended in. This is the cheapest and most basic food of Ethiopia, their staple.

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    Within a few kilometers of rolling out of Indabaguna, the off-road ended as I had met the reaches of asphalt. It was time to air up the tires with my mini electrical air compressor. sanDRina loves a good audience and these three guys appeared and just stared and wondered.

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    A sign board indicating that the construction work from here to Adi Arkay would be complete by October, 2012, which I highly doubt. I talked to a civil engineer at breakfast in Adi Arkay and he said they planned to have the entire route paved from Shire to Gondar in about five years. So, there's still time to experience the untamed northern highlands of Ethiopia.

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    Rolling into Shire and happy to see sanDRina's life line, a proper petrol station. The conflict in Libya was raging full-on and I was wondering if I should have any moral issues about filling up with Libya's oil at this moment. Oh and remember not to confuse gasoil for gasoline, which refers to diesel.

    I enjoyed these two days of proper off-road riding in the remote highlands of northern Ethiopia. I knew it would be worth it just for the epic views of the Semien Mountains, not counting the great joy of motoring through beautifully-built roads into the mountainsides. I feel in my true essence when I'm out, away from civilization, and content that I have the right tools to enjoy and thrive in such situations.

  18. crashmaster

    crashmaster ow, my balls!

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2007
    Oddometer:
    5,314
    Location:
    Alaska
    Great stuff Jay. :freaky. Good to hear you're still livin the dream.
  19. Rider14

    Rider14 Rider14

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2007
    Oddometer:
    158
    Location:
    Chicago
    Every time I read a new installment I am awed by the sheer number of places in this world I hope to visit. Keep it up!

    - Dan
  20. Jammin

    Jammin Living on a DR

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,563
    Location:
    New Delhi - new 'home' for post RTW
    Hey Vince, happy to be continuing the dream :D
    Thanks, Dan. This sure is one beautiful world we have :norton