Gone to Gondar

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Africa » Ethiopia » Amhara Region » Gondar
December 12th 2007
Published: December 17th 2007
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Well, suelam from Gondar, Ethiopia where we are still trying to adjust to life as travellers in a very different land and fight against our jetlag! It's now 6pm so at least we are still awake! It's day 2 since we've landed here after quite an eventful trip. Our flight from Vancouver to Washington went without a hitch including getting excellent pick up service by our friends, Kristine and John. After a very brief visit we were back at the airport bright and early the next day for the marathon journey from Washington DC to Addis Ababa via Rome on Ethiopian Airways.

Now you know the old adage, you get what you pay for, well, it is really true! Since we had a truly discount ticket we were to experience just what that meant! At the gate there was general chaos as all the passengers seemed to be milling in line to fight for boarding passes. After an hour and half delay we finally managed to board and then start our in flight party. Yes, that's right. Our fellow passengers partied in the aisles standing at all times even during take off and landing! They were clearly having fun talking up a storm making sleep a virtual impossibility! The only saving grace is that they were not drinking since it turned out, they were all Somalians bound for Mecca! So we were on the pilgrim plane!

The good thing was that when we landed in Addis, they all went to the transit area to continue their festivities and we went to Immigration. A quick file through a very efficient visa line up, payment of $20, official receipt in hand and we were stamped in! Yea! Next challenge, to be able to stay awake after being up for almost 24 hours while slumped in those hard airline waiting area chairs! Because we were not smart enough to stay in Addis, we had booked a domestic flight north as soon as we arrived.

Finding the domestic terminal was quite a challenge as it looked like it was in a state of demolition, but finally we located the door and were subjected to a major security check including shoes off! The only clerk open found our reservation, printed our boarding pass and then lent us her cel phone to call for a hotel reservation! Talk about full service! Another security gate to pass through and then we were on our way on our little turbo prop north of Lake Tana to Gondar.

At the airport hopped into a share taxi with a father and daughter enroute to Gondar as well. With its dusty streets and general chaos, it was hard to believe that 158,000 people lived there. Got a room in a little hut complete with our own balcony looking out onto the garden and got ready for a really good sleep.

Our next two days consisted of exploring the town and its historic sites. First off, the Royal Enclosure a mammoth number of buildings of stone including six castles and a complex of other buildings including a sauna which was build around 1640. Reputedly the work of an Indian architect, it has Portuguese, Axumite and Indian influences. There is a symbol like the star of David over several doorways which became the emblem of the Ethopian Royal Family in the 13th century. At its peak in the 1600s, the buildings were decorated with ivory, gold leaf, precious stones and paintings. Wandering around its voluminous rooms while the doves coo is like walking back in time.

Equally impressive is the Debre Birhan Selassie church. Of the 44 churches in Gondar it is the stand out one for many reasons. During attacks from Sudan, all of the churches were destroyed in Gondar, except for this church because it was allegedly saved by a swarm of bees that scared off the attackers! True or not, it is a treasure to behold due to the most incredible frescoes which adorn its walls from top to bottom. They tell of stories from the bible, but the ceiling is the most famous single example of Ecclesiastical art in Ethiopia, 80 cherubic faces smiling down at you with a telltale sign of mischief.

And how do you get into this famous church, well, you don't just show up at the posted time of opening as we found out. You have to sit and wait for the priest and when he deems you worthy, you are shown in and given the royal tour while he explains everything in broken English including getting a mini concert of him playing huge drums! It is quite the system and don't forget that Ethiopians have their own clock so using Western times just doesn't work!

Besides being doused in history, we wandered the backstreets getting invited by little children to their homes for coffee, slowing our pace to match the locals who lollygag and tried to get used to the sidewalks full of men just hanging out with no work. The heat of the day fortunately subsided for the cool of the evening as we slept in our garden and planned for our next adventure on the road north.

There are few tourists and more aid workers and UN landcruisers than anything in site. For this reason, it is very tough to find others to share costs to hike in the Simien Mountains. This has also put the squeeze on the touts who literally got into a fight over our business with shouting of voices and pushing while we watched hopelessly, unsure how to intercede! A little drama in our afternoon!

Now we are getting ready to pack up and head for 3 days of hiking and camping with, what we hope, is a good company because it is not cheap! Now that they have taken our 1000 birr deposit for food, we hope that we will see them tomorrow am ...


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