Just outside Mega is the hypnotizing sight of ochre-coloured ruins of an ancient Italian fort, strategically placed at the highest place. The early morning yellow sunlight that warmed the derelict walls and the thin misty blanket of rising vapour that clothed the glowing ruins could as well been a scene pulled out of a dream.
I left my bike beside the road to explore the fallen guard house. When it had been constructed, the fort must have impressed in its baroqueness. It would have been attractive in its inattentiveness to aesthetics.
Even now, having been shelled by one of the Meneliks and trampled by looters, you can not help but admire the skill of the builders that laid slates of stone with little mortar and raised a formidable base. It stands still offering a glimpse to the intricate architecture. I guessed it might have some subterranean secrets which piqued my curiosity. However, I could not linger for long as I was wary of attracting harmful attention as a grave looter.
A few kilometres from Mega is the longest, smoothest, most thrilling downhill ride I had ever experienced. I was doing over 50km/h for almost three kilometres. The speed might not sound like neck-break, but for loaded bike and a sore cyclist looking to gain mileage with little exertion, it was more than just exhilarating.
Round a long gentle corner, I came to a small shopping centre of Dubluk where I stopped for soda. There, a man speaking very bad swahili told me he had been to Kenya once, a long time ago, in Langata barracks, Nairobi. His brother is a soldier in the Kenyan army.
Interesting what borders do. Here a man, virtually unemployable in Kenya on account of his language skills and insular social ties impeded by a political border while his travelling brother made soldier of another land by learning, perhaps, a few prejudices in pronunciation and a few well placed men in addition. It has not served us well, this drawing of imaginary borders and selfish hierarchies. Borders drawn on blood ink, swords and guns like quill. What good does it do our species when benign competition in our rational selves overflows to a blood lust and mindless desire for glory, for the want to brag about “me” and “mine”? What does it profit man when archaic bent on someone wanting to be the leader of the pack and wielding sole influence? What good comes from going beyond the dozen of his family to the greedy want of leading the family of a rival and then all families in the village and ultimately the whole tribe?
But far from my longing for peaceful open-ended competition, and being as prone to blunders as I know myself to be, how could I not make one today, of sitting for an hour and later asking how far it was to Yabelo (ia-ve-loh) when I knew it was about 20 kilometres away?
In reality, I was informed, it was 45 kilometres. I grudgingly got back on the bike with little else on my mind than a hot meal and a long bath at Yabelo cheap 4-star hotels. I protest I do not recall much on this stretch, but I encountered a flock of defiant ravens feeding on a small carcass of roadkill. I disappoint you again, my friend, for it would been an entertaining episode had I been a little superstitious.
I was gliding downhill at sunset to a few glimmering beautiful hotel buildings with neon signs at a T-junction that I wrongly thought was it. But Yabelo is, in fact, five kilometres off this Moyale-Addis road. My strength had failed me at this point and having done more than a hundred kilometres for the second time in as many days, I accepted to be ripped off 20birr(KES 100) by a tuktuk driver to drive me to Yabelo proper.
I left my bike at a small beautiful hotel with a manicured lawn outside my wonderful room with a patio for only 50birr (50birr!). I have wished to know why things are so cheap in Ethiopia.
All the same, I was stuck at Yabelo town where I had decided to take my supper until 11 o’clock. It had been long since I was as cold as I got trying unsuccessfully to get a taxi back to my room. It is easy to be depressed when in a town whose language you don’t spreak and whose people don’t speak yours; when you are dirty, sweaty, tired, sleepy; when Liverpool had just been beaten by Everton in a derby whose result was announced in Amharic on a tiny tv.
It was a long wait before I got a taxi back to my room. And even with the hot showers and dry towels, it would still have been a longer night, dear friends, but the long suffering girl that bears my stupidity with superhuman patience rang me and made it tolerable.
I fell asleep soon afterwards, smiling in recollection of that conversation.