Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back from Ethiopia: Gondar

We arrived in Gondar around lunch time, and agreed to split a taxi with a German couple. I had no idea how seriously the husband took bartering, and all to save 5 birr. I think he may have pissed off our driver too. We seperated from them at our hotel, the Lodge du Chateau. From the moment we drove into Gondar, it had a very different feel to it. Our driver told us about how they love Americans there because so many of their family members live in America and send money back to build. He motioned toward downtown, "All this is paid for by American dollars." I didn't know that, but I could see the difference in the personality of the city. The clothes were more western, and I actually saw quite a few people smoking. There were nightclubs, and people flirting out in the open. Oh my! There was also new government subsidized housing, and it actually looked like "projects". I don't really know that they got the best of our culture. The staff at our hotel were by far the friendliest and most helpful people in the city. Our room was very affordable. My only quibles were that the bathroom door didn't shut and we had such loud music coming through our wall for twelve hours a day, it felt like we were in a discotheque. I never did figure out what was next door to the hotel. The hotel manager says it is a music store... On the other hand, Lodge du Chateau has one of the most beautiful views in Gondar. They have a well maintained courtyard garden, that is meticulously cared for every morning by their staff. They should be very proud of their flowers, especially the daisies. And the terrace where they serve breakfast was amazing! You can look out over the city, and watch people in the neighborhood going about their day. It was simply priceless to watch kids play marbles, or walk to school with each other. There was a motorcycle that appeared one morning, and the kids totally congregated around it pushing each other on and off it. You could tell when the owner was near because they disappeared really quick. On the last morning, I watched a woman cooking outside her hut. It was very humbling. Most everything I experienced on our trip was humbling. We did not get a guide for Gondar, and I think we did alright on our own. We waited until our first full day to go sightseeing, and we went to the Royal Enclosure right when it opened (50 birr each, priced just right). It wasn't as amazing as Lalibela, but it was pretty amazing on it's own. It isn't just one castle, it's a whole series all built near each other. The first was built in the 1600's and each successive emperor would add their own building or castle. You could see the different styles in each building. The coolest is Fasilida's Castle, but they are all beautiful. I just wish you could go inside more of them, but I don't think they are in the best shape inside. And I saw more birds, so that was great! I didn't know I liked birds so much until I came to Ethiopia. But now I've decided I'm going to make a book about birds of Ethiopia. I have so many photos of them, I just have to. Just on the castle grounds I saw a beautiful little gray bird with a blue belly and red spot by his eye, and a brown bird with a perfectly speckled belly. There was also sparrows flying in and out of the castles. They seem to have nests in the castles and they swoop quickly round and round the arches and through the windows. Anyway, moving on. After that, we walked through downtown past the internet cafe (not super quick but very affordable) to the Dashen Bank. Best exchange rate on the whole trip. Then we hiked 1 km out of town (but it felt a lot farther than that, probably because we were huffing and puffing up a hill) to see the Debre Birhan Selassie Church (25 birr each, again priced just right). Debre Birhan is famous for the painted walls and ceilings inside the church, and they are breath taking. There is no flash allowed, so you need to have a steady hand and a great camera. The ceiling is the most famous part with it's 80 cherubic faces, but I was just as impressed with the front of the church. There are tiny paintings going all along the curtained archways and corners, and the awesome Holy Trinity above the crucifixion scene. And like all amazing Ethiopian churches, it is still in use today. There was a particularly nice boy in the church courtyard that wanted to practice his English, and he walked all around with us talking. Outside the church, he went on his way, and we started back to the hotel. It was really sweet and refreshing to talk with a boy that just wanted to talk, especially after our walk through town. By the time we had gotten back to our hotel, I told mom that everyone seems to think our names are Mrs. MoneyPotts and Mrs. MoneyPenny, but mostly the kids. I understand we are western tourists, but we had already given all our clothes away in Lalibela. Our money was dwindling since this was our last stop, and I still wanted to go to the Falasha settlement and Goha Hotel for dinner. There is no easy way to explain this to young boys that have limited English. We hired a driver to take us to the Falasha settlement. This is where the Ethiopian Jews had a settlement before they were air lifted out over a number of years. From what I understand, now most of the families that live there are half Jewish. They still have amazing handicrafts, much of it with the Star of David. And I think I can safely say, it is home to the most determined sales women in all of Ethiopia. It was a rainy afternoon and we were the only visitors. From the moment we stepped out of the car, we were surrounded by women and children selling their wares. They started with necklaces and clay handicrafts, holding the necklaces four inches from our faces, each jostling to put their product closest to our eyes. "30 birr, 30 birr, okay for you, 25." They didn't even slow down when the rain started to pour. It was just like all of a sudden we were surrounded by umbrellas and untouched by rain. We tried to buy a little from everyone. Every time they would see us buy something, they would appear in front of us with similar items in that category, like, "Oh she likes the baskets! Show her our baskets!" And their prices were great, so I didn't bother bartering much. I loved their sign that said, "We will not beg for money, we do not charge for photos." Dude, they earn their money. I'm glad I saved my money for that village. Shopping there was an experience by itself. We drove to the Goha Hotel next, which sits on top of a mountain looking out over Gondar. The Goha is the nicest hotel in the neighborhood, and you can pay a bit and actually get Wifi up there. I've heard that it is the nicest hotel in the government hotel chain, and that wouldn't surprise me. Their restaurant was certainly along the lines of any five star American restaurant. Except they had birds flying around and chirping inside, which actually made it six stars in my book. Plus, I was able to find a copy of Journey to Ethiopia at their gift shop, which is out of print and very hard to find. We went to bed early, and left for the airport in the morning. I have to say the airport security there was much more vigilant than any of the stops we had previously been to. I'm not sure if it's always like that or what, but we were ready to go home by then. We ended up spending about eight hours in the Addis airport before it was time for our flight home to leave. I was pretty impressed by the shops in the upstairs of the Bole airport. Many of the stores had very good prices, and there was a lot of variety in the goods. Eventually, we made it all the way back to my family and home and bed. Thus ended my very first trip to Ethiopia, and my first trip out of the U.S. I am beyond excited to be going back, although this time for a much different reason. I won't have much time for sightseeing or shopping on this trip. Well, maybe just a day or two before all the fun starts...

1 comment:

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