11 – African Camelot and a Sea Shore Without Sea

11 – African Camelot and a Sea Shore Without Sea

After our adventure in the mountains, we descended in altitude and travelled towards our next destination: Gondar. When leaving Debark, we met our first scammer. The bus broker (who is responsible for dealing with passengers) set the price for a place in his bus very high. He said it was more expensive than usual because of the holidays. It smelt a bit fishy to us. We said we would pay his price, so long as everyone else in the bus paid the same amount. He agreed, so in we climbed. Just before leaving, the broker approached us, asking us to give him his money. We usually pay during the journey, so it was now smelling super fishy. We reiterated that we would pay him at the same time as everybody else, at which point he got hopping mad and tried to assert his authority by yelling at us. The guy was not going to budge, so we disembarked the bus. It is never worth getting mugged off as there will always be somebody else willing to do business with you. Two metres away, we boarded another bus, this time much cheaper. We are happy to say this was an isolated case. We are usually welcomed with open arms by everybody in Ethiopia and we tend to pay the same prices as locals.

Three hours later, having been squished on the back bench with several more people than the bench was intended to hold, we arrived in Gondar. Gondar is a big city (the fourth largest in Ethiopia), with over three hundred thousand inhabitants. From around 1636 to 1800AD it was the capital of the Ethiopian Empire. During this period, several Emperors built their own palace in the “Royal Enclosure”. Thanks to these impressive palaces, Gondar is often referred to as “African Camelot” (though this Camelot is real!).

After arriving in Gondar around midday, we went to visit the Royal Enclosure. A lot of the buildings are in ruins now. There are, however, a few well-conserved medieval buildings which give you a glimpse of their former glory. It was nice to see lots of Ethiopian families visiting the palaces.

From there we went to the Debre Birhan Selassie church (which was crawling with international tourists).  Built at the end of the eighteenth century, its walls and ceiling are covered in beautiful mural paintings representing biblical scenes. We particularly enjoyed the Ethiopian looking angels on the ceiling and the painting of the trinity.

Debre Birhan Selassie church
The amazing ceiling with angels facing North, South, East and West
Can you spot the depiction of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit?
Biblical murals

Gondar was beautiful but we knew we still had one of the main sights to see in Ethiopia (Lalibela), as well as several long journeys to make. So, we did not hang about. Well, we hung about long enough to watch a football game.

Our last glimpse of Gondar – a local football match

Lalibela is difficult to access. Most tourists fly there. A bus goes there from Gondar, though it is not direct, and you cannot book tickets in advance. We knew exactly what that meant. Not keen to compete for a seat in the bus at five in the morning, we looked for another option. We were told of a bus that you could book in advance that leaves from Bahir Dah, a town three hours away from Gondar. We had already heard of Bahir Dah. Several Ethiopians we had met along the way recommended we go there. It is a big holiday destination for Ethiopians as it home to Lake Tana (there is no sea in Ethiopia, so this is the next best thing!). Bahir Dah even means Sea shore in Geʽez (Ethiopian’s ancient language). It was decided, we would go to Bahir Dah.

The journey there turned out to be the worst we had experienced so far. Previously we had shared journeys with carsick passengers, spewing their last meals into plastic bags. For the first time, the unlucky carsick passenger happened to be our neighbour. Our neighbour being our very close neighbour (Heather was sharing a seat with her). Plus, we broke down (again!) and had to stop on the roadside to change a tyre (again!). Also, our bags are usually attached to the roof of the car, but this time the bags were squished under fold-down seats in the middle of the aisle, which we did not appreciate!

The guy with the checked shirt is sitting on H’s bag 😒

The scenery on the way changed from what we were used to seeing. There were no longer rolling hills, but vast flat plains used for crops. The ground was very wet, as you would imagine rice paddies to be. For once, there were large stretches of smooth, straight road. Shame the inside of the bus was less pleasant!

As you can imagine, we were happy to arrive in Bahir Dah and to rescue our poor bags. We bought tickets for the bus for Lalibela (at five the next morning) and found a lovely hotel. We then went on a hunt for a fishy dinner overlooking the lake.

Fishy dinner overlooking the lake we did find. We dined at Lakeshore Restaurant where we ordered grilled fish and chips (yep, fish and chips!). We waited for our fish for a good hour and a half. They obviously had to go and fish for it in the lake. The chips arrived twenty minutes later. So really it was fish then chips. We’re used to waiting a while for food. We have found that as soon as we order something that is not injera, it takes aaaages to arrive. We have therefore got into the habit of going to eat before we are hungry! Haha. The food is always worth the wait though. It is delicious and full of spices. This time we had a beautiful view to enjoy whilst we waited. We almost forgot we were waiting!

Our view over dinner (taken on a dodgey camera phone, sorry!)

We had an early start at the station the next day. Our tickets did not have assigned seats, so we chose the best ones near the door at the front (here there is enough leg room to be able to keep your knees in front of you). The driver waited for the bus to fill up before leaving. Whilst waiting, street sellers came in and out of the bus, repeatedly. After the gazillionth seller entered, we wanted to tell them; “No, nobody in this bus would like to buy straw, or mobiles or juice or oranges or biscuits or sugarcane or anything else, thank you”. We picked up quite a bit of useful vocabulary in that hour! “Agada, agada, agada?!” (Sugarcane, sugarcane, sugarcane?)

We finally left the station and the street sellers behind. It took nine hours to arrive in Lalibela (including a half hour lunch break – injera of course!) Though the bus journeys are far from being luxurious, we love looking out the windows. Watching the landscapes, people, buildings and animals pass by never gets boring!

5 Replies to “11 – African Camelot and a Sea Shore Without Sea”

  1. Love those magnificent ecclesiastic paintings, what a vibrant expression of wonderful qualities embodied in saints and angels 🙂
    The time it takes to travel and get food must really help you to appreciate the effort and cost to the earth and graciousness of resources – we have list sight of this in our instant, throw away society. You really are living warily, and helping us to think about how quickly and easily e expect to be able to eat, move in our world – at what cost? Mmm, lots of food for thought. Xxx

  2. I am loving every mile especially the incredibly happy faces in your pictures–what a pair of adventurers you are! xxx xxx

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