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Published: February 3rd 2011
Another chaotic journey on Ethiopian Airways, it hardly seemed worth the trouble for a 20minute flight time. Check in opened late, 20minutes before boarding time, but not a problem as the plane was late arriving. It was the same plane I had disembarked here, it flies Addis, Bahir Dar, Gonder, Axum, Lalibela. Security was the strictest I've been through yet, perhaps because there are so few people they have the time for it. I have to get out all of my cameras and my laptop and turn them on to prove they are real, then the woman wants to look through my large lens! All pointless as there is no safety actually on the plane, people keep their hand luggage out rather than storing it and one person even smokes! Insane!
At Gonder airport, I quickly get my bag but then have trouble finding my lift. There is one tour group sign but it is not my tour group and not my name. I wait another 15minutes, but no-one else turns up. Eventually the bloke with the sign hands a mobile to me and another bloke tells me it is my tour, just completely different signs! How bizarre. The journey to
the town is about 25mins and first stop is the hotel, Hotel du Chateau. Tea and a snack before a 10:30 start of the tour. We visit Debre Berhan Selassie Church, it's about 400 years old and one to escape ruin through the invasions. It has not been restored so is in amazing shape. The paintings inside are similar to those of the Lake Tana monasteries, but less vibrant. The ceiling is covered in cherub faces, each with a slightly different expression. There are monks and a nun in the grounds, going about daily life. The nun is laying out grain to dry in the sun. There is an area outside of the church walls which has been designated the holy water area. There are numerous plastic water bottles, of all kinds, and a stand. The stand will hold a Bible while a priest blesses the water.
Next we drive around town seeing the usual sights of a town, one different thing is a row of shacks next to the government courts, each has a lawyer who will act for locals who cannot afford the government lawyers. There are many there writing cases. My guide, who is also the hotel
owner, gets a good rate for a horse and trap ride. It's very peaceful cruising around town like this, many women and children wave hello. It's chaos in places due to the amount of traffic on such small streets, there are also many pedestrians and donkeys. Apparently Ethiopia has the most donkeys after China. Gonder also has the motorised tuk tuks, but I prefer the horse and trap ride.
My guide takes me for lunch at a buffet restaurant, it's Friday so fasting day so everything is veg. The Ethiopians either each veg only on fasting days or almost meat only on all other days. My previous night's steak, which I asked for with veg and potatoes, came with one mouthful of each! I copy the man in front of me at the buffet queue, first wash hands, then lay injera across my plate and pile on whatever takes my fancy. Ethiopians are fond of spicy food with the bland injera, but I stay away from anything that looks too firey. It all tastes great, but as usual I make a right mess eating with only my right hand and no utensils, only injera for picking up the food. My
guide pays, which seems to be becoming the norm, but as I know a meal only costs a quid I don't mind too much.
After a rest over the hottest period of the day, it's time to continue the tour. The hotel is next door to the royal enclosure so we can easily walk there. The whole enclosure is surrounding by a boundary wall. Inside are a number of palaces built by successive emperors. They are all stone structures in varying levels of restoration. There are a few huge palaces, a spa, kitchens, banqueting rooms and cages where lions were kept due to their symbolism. The whole complex looks amazing, so it's not surprising that it's called the Camelot of Africa. We continue by motorised tuk tuk to Fasilada's bath, about 2km away. This was originally used by royalty for swimming but also for religious ceremonies. Timkat, Epiphany, is on 17th January, so the pool will be filled for the ceremony of the baptism of Christ. This unfortunately means I can't visit the bath house type structure in the centre, but it does mean I get to see the pool with water in it. It apparently takes a month to
fill, so I wonder if they'll make it in the next 17 days, there is only one hose running. The grounds are busy with men building seating stands out of bamboo for the ceremony. The walls of the site have been overrun by fig trees, similar to some of the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia.
Back at the hotel while writing this, the owner comes round with snacks for everyone, excellent! Like a samosa but with lentils, and hidden chillis, inside, tasty. Don't know why this great hotel is not in the guide book, the owner is great and the setting is amazing around a garden, with raised restaurant and next to the royal enclosure wall!!
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