Ethiopia Day 2
At 0430 I’m picked up and taken to the airport for my flight to Gondar, an old city in the North of the country. Flights are cheap here and over the next five days I’ll fly three times for only $150 US. This first flight takes an hour. Flying in Ethiopia takes some getting used to. When the plane is barely meters off the ground it looks like you’re going to land in a pasture, then miraculously a landing strip appears. This is even true in the capital, Addis Ababa. In Gondar we are the only airplane. We disembark, our luggage is quickly removed, departing passengers and luggage are hastily loaded and within half an hour the plane is in the air and the airport is quiet once again.
Banta, my guide, and a driver take me from the airport, just as the plane I arrived on growls into the air. The road from the airport to Gondar is good, and is recently paved, for the first time? There isn’t much vehicle traffic. Through hills, past straw and mud stucco shacks, street stalls, and the road to Sudan, we pass into Gondar. Sheep, goats and cows, occupy equal place on the road with donkeys, some pulling carts, trucks, and the passenger vans which account for most public transport. There are people walking everywhere. Bags dropped at my hilltop hotel we are off for the historical tour of the city.
I visit three sites. The first, is the palace compound of Fasil Ghebbi built through the 16th and 17th century, when Gondar was the locus of Ethiopian power. Gondar’s protection is being surrounded by mountains and we weave through the city’s hills arriving at the palace, a well preserved set of simple stone castles, reminiscent, in this overcast and green, of Great Britain. Next we visit the Debre Berhan Selassie Church and Monastery where I first encounter Christian art from the era, and finally the Bath of Fasiladas, where each year on Epiphany local Christians, the majority of the population, gather to participate in the mass and swim in the bath’s waters, diverted into the compound this one time a year. Young men and women throw limes at one another at this time of year, and if the other likes who threw the fruit, then a relationship begins. Banta tells me he’s thrown limes seven times. All seven times he was rejected.
There are almost no private cars here, vans, feet, and tuk-tuks are transport. Even bicycles appear rare. It is so obviously poor, but not trashy like Egypt or India, and everything is done by hand. A sand truck is loaded by a gang of men and women with shovels. In unison their shovels full of sand arc through the air and into the bed of a tall dump truck. A road bed is picked by a group of boys, litters of dirt carried by duos of girls. Men lay stones. There are beggars everywhere, always ready when I exit my van. Lunch is next to a soccer pitch devoid of grass, thought its condition doesn’t curtail the activity or the excitement of the four games going on at once. The balls sound a dull thud, the one that rolls my way hasn’t held air for who know how long. The policemen salute me, and smile. A shepherd and his flock walk by. Everyone seems to be carrying something on their head. A young woman guides me to my table, another brings a smoking urn of roasting coffee for me to smell, a young man takes my order. “I’ll take the “National Foods” plate please.” It comes recommended, a taste of all things Ethiopian. I hear it is spicy, and it turns out to be true.
I say good bye to Banta, and my driver, Ganano, at my hill top hotel. Our timing is good. A storm is coming and the sky to the north and east is black. The Simien Mountains would not have been a good idea. I thank them for the day. It begins to rain, and thunder and lightning, the first I’ve seen since Canada. Tomorrow Ganano and I drive to Bahir Dar.