Escape To Addis & A Better Bus To Gonder
Bite the bullet, pay $300+ for a forty-five minute flight… feels good to be back in Addis Ababa… decide to forego Lalibela to concentrate on Gonder and Bahir Dar since they lie along the same path… two days out and two days back, with overnight stops both ways by local bus. This is brutal; there’s got to be a better way: Selam bus…
…catch my morning Selam bus and we start off into the Ethiopian outback, over hill and dale, like some cheap cliché going nowhere new, but very certain of the route. English signs pepper the shops in small towns even in the outback, wherever two roads cross and somebody might need a tire or a trinket or a beer, though I suspect the signs invoke status as much as service… not much in the Ethiopian outback anyway… northern part of Ethiopia heavily deforested, hardly a square inch not under the till or the hoof, barely a five o’clock shadow of cover.
When the bus finally arrives, it’s dark already. And guess what? All the lights are out! Welcome to Gonder, same as Harar. So I check-in in darkness, a candle supplied for each room, and then proceed to check out the town. Self-proclaimed guides swarm me like flies on sh*t.
“What are you looking for?” a voice calls out of the darkness.
“A WORLD THAT DOESN’T INCLUDE YOU!” my answer responds in kind.
…so I duck into a candle-lit Ethiopian-style resto-bar and order up a beer. It works fast. At less than a buck the price is right, too, so I pay up and crawl back into my room through the darkness. What the Hell, roll with the flow. After all, it IS romantic. Share Ethiopia with a friend.
Next thing I know, kids are playing on the street and the cocks are crowing. I go out for an early walk, best time of the day considering the air quality. Pickpockets tend to sleep late too, so I don’t worry about that.
Gonder is Ethiopia’s “Camelot,” complete with castle and fairy-tales, but I’ve got other tasks first, specifically malaria meds. At least these prophylactics don’t leave a ring in your wallet. It even gives me a buzz, like speedy stuff. Too bad there’s no cure for bad air, a combination of smoke and dust. The skies seem too choked up to cry…
…big attraction here is the “royal enclosure” dating from Gonder’s period of ascendancy as capital of Ethiopia in the 1600’s and apparently built with the aid of the Portuguese… place reeks of past glory, hardly the image most Westerners have of Africa, and intimately intertwined with legends of Prester John and his mythical lost Crusaders.
Debre Berhan Selassie Church has a cherubic ceiling and a picture of Muhammad being led on a camel by a devil. Since portraits of Muhammad are proscribed by Islam, it’s interesting to see the Ethiopian version. Though too dark to make out much detail, he DID have a beard, so I guess that explains that.
I’ve gotten real cozy with the food. Ever wonder what an Ethiopian restaurant does with all the injera and wat left over at the end of the day? Next day it’s all mixed together and called “firfir;” Amharic for ‘goulash’ I think; works for me.
Besides the well-known Ethiopian dishes like doro wat, ladled out over the spongy injera bread and eaten with the fingers (or separately), there are also some very interesting-looking breakfasts, including eggs, abounding in small eateries, and the coffee is great, less than two bits.
God is good if the coffee is. The Italian-style bread is good even if injera makes me flatulent as an old VW bug in need of a tune-up and a valve adjustment on the number three cylinder. But those stew-like wats are delicious, good as any Thai gaeng. I’d love to try some over rice. I’ve got myths lined up here like planes on the tarmac, and my myths offer frequent flyer miles. But they’ll just have to wait. I’m still traveling overland.