Today we left Bahir Dar quite early to drive to Gondar further North. While the road was in fairly good condition, the going was slow sometimes as in the townships we passed often the market stalls crowded the sides of the road. Twice we saw cyclists from the Ethiopian national team driving in peloton, complete with race bikes, helmet and skin tight outfits. What a contrast to the hugely laden mule carts that are everywhere to be seen here. Ox carts instead of tractors, separating the grain from the straw with animal hooves pounding in circles instead of mecanical harversters that spit out readily baled straw in the back and collect the grain in their tanks.
Ethiopia is a country of two worlds: the old one where 85% of the population lives on agriculture and animal farming like centuries ago – many rural scenes remind you of descriptions in the bible. And a new one ruled by cell phones and payments without cash. There is better mobile phone coverage here than in Germany.
On we went through a nearly completely deforrested landscape and stopped at the so called ‘Devils Nose’ near Addis Zemen for Chris to fly the drone.
As to be expected in no time a horde of curious kids assembled around him and were fascinated by the camera and to watch their houses from above. Begging is forbidden here in Ethiopia but tell that to a kid of five years. We got asked for T-shirts, pens, soap but all we had handy were some local snacks. While Esther handed out three bags of snacks and tried to establish the concept of sharing (which failed miserably) the kids fought over them like warring tribes, everyone for themselves. It took our guide Gashow to take the snack bags away and to distribute them equally to each child . Then order was restored. We mentally tallied up that we probably never have a good number of small goodies to give as there are always more kids than treats. Last thing we want is a fight to break out.
About half way to Gondar we stopped at a local market and walked through. As always we were the only whites (nech’ochi) there and got stared at by everyone. Unlike India, Buthan or Myanmar, where we got asked for picture after picture, people here are friendly but mostly just stare. All sorts of vegetables and grain was sold. Little donkeys are tethered in groups together to wait until their grain bag got grounded by the miller. Live chickens just tethered together by their feet await a new owner. A chicken costs about 150 Birr (5 Euros) , a sheep or goat costs about 3.000 Birr ( 90 Euro) and a donkey /mule about 5.000 Birr ( 150 Euro). The most prized are cattle. A normal cow /ox costs about 12.000 Birr ( 400 Eur) but a fat box ox or bull can cost up to 35.000 Birr ( 1.150 Eur)
After arrival in Gondar, the capital of the Amhara region, and a pleasant lunch, we set out on foot to the old castles in the royal enclosure ( Fasil Ghebbi). As always here we have to register our small party and engage a local guide. That way Ethiopia is making sure that some of the benefit of tourism is staying with the local region that gets visited.
In the 17th and 18th centuries various kings and a queen have built a series of 12 castles on a 7 hectare hill top. Complete with adjacent additional amenities such as a sauna, steam bath and lion cages. Over the years the British bombed a lot of it, the Italians occupied it for four years and the local population took a lot of the stones to rebuild their houses. So the overall shape is not great. Many buildings are only ruins or walls, but the main palace, called Fasilides’ castle, is quite an impressive four storey building and was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1979.
Emperor Fasilides broke with the tradition of Ethiopian rulers progressing through the territories, and founded the city of Gondar as his capital. Its relative permanence makes the city historically important.
It is a pleasant way to pass the afternoon strolling between buildings and listening to their history. Our local guide then offered to accompany us to one of the oldest and most famous churches in Gondar. Built in 1693 Debre Berhan Selassie is the best preserved of all the churches in Gondar. Miraculously it survived several city assaults and hostile take over attempts over the years. Many of the paintings inside are original from the time it was built. As all churches here there is a separate entrance for women and for men, albeit leading into the same prayer room. The wall facing the womens’ entry mostly show scenes from Mary.
Taking shoes off and putting a head scarf for women on is mandatory in every church here.
As we are writing our blog and sorting the pictures of the day back in the hotel, a lot of music and starting celebrational noise can be heard all around us. You can feel that the city is gearing up for a special celebration in the next two days. Tomorrow we will dive into the Timkat festival and celebrations, which cumulate a day later.