Ethiopia 09 p3


I flew from Lalibela to Gonder again, shrewdly predicting that spending a full day on a local bus would be an unnecessarily miserable experience (I would have confirmation very soon.) I took a room in Pension Belegez because it had been recommended by travelers I met in the 7 Olives, but I didn't realize how basic the place was, offering nothing in the way of food.

Pension Belegez, where I met 2 overlanders, Steve and Caroline

I had to go in search of a food place, and ended up at the Quasa hotel, one of those depressing once-grand institutions that make you feel that once upon a time, a place prospered, and then the clock started moving backward. But I had good tomato soup and fasting food (on fasting days, which are 2 or 3 a week, only fasting [vegetarian] food is served anywhere.)

A main street in Gonder

Not yet tired of churches, I walked from there to Debre Birhan Silassie. It intrigued me greatly: originally round, it was rebuilt rectangular, roughly modeled on the Temple of Solomon, because it was intended to receive the Ark of the Covenant. This is a huge thing in Ethiopia: a firm national belief that the Ark is now kept in Axum, after having been moved from one location to the other along the centuries. This may explain why this church is surrounded by a fortification wall with 12 round watchtowers.

Note the 7 ostrich eggs on the cross, for the 7 days of creation (the egg being the power of the creative spirit)

The ceiling is the most memorable part of the church, with its 80 cherubic faces...

As a matter of fact, every inch of the inside is painted.

The other place worth seeing in Gonder is the palace complex, Fasil Ghebbi, which contains 6 castles and other structures, the oldest of which date from 1640. Some of the visible influences are Portuguese, Axumite and Indian.
The visit is pleasant because unguided: you just wander around the vestiges freely as if the occupants had just left, taking their furniture with them. A few surprises await, such as pigeons enjoying the niches or hawks eying you from the window.

Why hello there!

Unfortunately, all this really doesn't take very long. I had planned two days for Gondar, but had run out of things (I was willing) to see the day I arrived, and the town was far too unfriendly for me to hang around. I decided to leave the next morning, and in the meanwhile hung out with Steve and Caroline. The had driven up from South Africa, which they had left in November, and were planning to be back there in July. They traveled in a specially-equipped jeep with tent on the roof and kitchenette unfolding from one of the sides. Overlanding seemed to a sub-culture of its own. Together we went for dinner at the Nile Gonder, the only place in town with a generator, which meant a very noisy dinner, but the rest of the city was in pitch darkness. On our way out we came across 4 Swiss guys who had come all the way from Switzerland by car or bike, quite mad! But all were facing mechanical problems and a desire to move out of Ethiopia faster than they had planned.

In the morning, before leaving, Steve left me a book he had just finished and that every backpacker to Ethiopia either had read or was going to read: The Sign and the Seal. I was very grateful because the hours where I had to stay alone in my room (for safety reasons) were long and I needed all the distraction I could get. The book is a good read, especially when you're familiar with the place, and gives one plenty of diverse subjects to think of, but in the end, very simply, the only thing it proves is that the Ethiopians firmly believe they have the Ark.