|Just north of Addis, cyclists and Ethiopia's famous long distance runners trained along the road's edge.|
As the churches emptied out from their all-night services, white-veiled figures filled the otherwise deserted streets. We left the city's northern limits, cruising along a well-paved road that brought us abruptly from the metropolis to rolling farmland. Runners and pods of bikers chugged along the roadside; our driver, Yoseph, told us that Ethiopia's most famous athletes, including the internationally renowned marathoners, train along this stretch of road.
In mid-morning we reached Debre Libanos, site of one of Ethiopia's most holy monasteries. For a considerable fee, a monk showed us around the church's interior, explaining symbols, painted scenes, and Ethiopian Orthodox traditions. We hiked up to the cave that overlooks the monastery,
where a local saint is said to have remained in prayer for 29 years. Beggars and the infirm lined the path, hands extended for small bills or drops of the holy water that pilgrims brought from the cave above. I asked Yoseph why he stayed in the parking lot, instead of coming up to get some holy water. He just laughed.
The sun was roaring full blast that afternoon when we reached the Blue Nile Gorge, "Ethiopia's Grand Canyon". Trucks lumbered past, their beds filled with hulking blocks of marble, freshly cut from the gorge's walls. The heat rippled from the asphalt as we wound our way down to, then back up from the eastern half of the Nile river, still several thousand miles from its outlet on the Mediterranean.
That afternoon, Jacqueline and I read, or snapped pictures of the roadside scenes. Fields of tef—Ethiopia's staple grain, and the main ingredient of injera, its staple bread—reached the horizon in all directions. Every few minutes we were obliged to slow our pace as cattle, donkeys, goats, or children wandered into the roadway.
In a small village whose name we never caught, Yoseph found a brand new roadside hotel, which had rooms for 40 birr (US$3.20) per night. For dinner, we walked next door to the town's lone cafe, where the patrons were dining on injera with tibs (lamb stew). Lunch that afternoon at a truck stop had been injera with tibs, but I was hungry enough to dig into a second helping.
The next morning, the same patrons were already back in the cafe, watching the morning news and eating—you guessed it—injera with tibs. I'm all for eating local, but even I have my limits; Jacqueline and I asked for eggs.