BootsnAll Travel Network

Gonder, Ethiopia: Africa’s Camelot

Gonder has been called Africa’s Camelot, and with its series of castles and churches is one of the makor attractions of the historical route. Surrounded by all sides by fertile and well-watered land, and at the intersection of three major caravan routes, Gonder was the perfect place for a capital. To the southwest lay rich sources of gold, civet, ivory and slaves, to the northeast lay Massawa and access to the Red Sea, and to the northwest lay Sudam, Egypt.

It is still not certain who built the castles, but schlars currently believe that Portuguese and Indian craftsmen (possibly brought over by the Portuguese) who remained after the expulsion of the Jesuits were probably responsible.

After the long, long, but still pretty spectacular drive, I was in need of some serious R&R. Some flop house wasn’t going to do it, so I went looking for a middle class tourist place. Surprisingly there aren’t that many choices of accommodation in Gonder, and the cheap places are actually priced pretty high compared to the rest of the Northern route. I ended up splurging and getting a room at the Circle Hotel. It was kind of a round hotel will floor to ceiling windows. The place was described in my three year old copy of a guidebook as new and fairly nice. Whatever happened in that three years must have been terrible as everything was broken. The front dest guy and the maintenance man spent the first two hours just trying to get stuff to work. It was pretty sad. Still, it was good enough for some decompression.

The next day I ended up moving to the standard backpacker place and meeting up with Sergio and a professional photographer from Cairo. He had driven his Land Cruiser down from Egypt and planned to head down through Kenya. On the way out of Sudan, he dropped one of his pistons and was barely able to limp through to Gonder. The price to fix the piston was $550US and a week. Because of time and the added cost, he was looking to sell it for a few thousand dollars. It would have been a hell of a deal as it was still in pretty good condition and was one of the shorter models of Land Cruiser. I was seriously thinking about buying it, but because of the governmental hassles starting from the UK where he got it all the way through Africa, it would have been a nightmare to get all the paperwork corrected so that I would actually be able to drive it through to Egypt. Even there, I would not be able to take it to the Middle East as the Carnet would not be accepted there. So in the end he sold it to a repair shop for scraps.

I ended up spending the next day just hanging out with the guys as I had a couple of free days before I had to cross in to Sudan (sucky bastards). For some reason I miscalculated days and spent my last full day there cramming in all the sites. Sergio left soon after as he was still in rush mode and the Egyptian guy ended up taking a bus to Bahar Dar where he would fly to Addis then back home to Cairo.

My visits entailed visiting the Royal Enclosure which is basically a compound that housed a bunch of fully intact castles. The other major attraction was the Debre Selassie Church which is considered the countries most famous church and one of the highlights of Ethiopia. Supposedly, the church is well known for its endlessly reproduced photographs of its ceiling. The winged heads of 80 Ethiopian cherubs entirely cover the ceiling; all have slightly different expressions. Not so interesting stops included Fasiladas’ Bath which is just one big outdoor swimming pool that is under construction by the Norwegians, and then the Ras Mikael Sehul’s Palace which was turned into a sort of torture/prison. It is closed to visitors, but after being stopped from sneaking in, I got a decent photo by sneaking into the back yard of the Library that sits behind the complex.

Again photos better than words, blah blah blah.

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