Fasilidas Castle - Gondar

Trip Start Oct 11, 2012
Trip End Nov 19, 2012

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What I did
Fasilidas Bath
Church of Debre Birhan - Trinity Church

Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Thursday, November 1, 2012

We were off this morning at 8 am.  I was happy that I was able to take a photo of the papyrus boat on the hotel grounds before we left.  Aga had told me about seeing it on the side of the hotel entrance.

The drive to Gondar was very much appreciated by all it seems.  We drove on a good road through 3 hours or so of farmland:  tef, wheat and barley and even some chat.  Kibrom had explained earlier that Ethiopia is exporting some chat and some of the surrounding countries like Eritrea and Somalia are having problems with addiction so Ethiopia could mess with them by cutting off their chat supply.  Chat (I have also seen it spelled as qat) leaves are chewed for their high.  Kibrom also explained about land use.  About 80-85 per cent of the population are farmers.  The Ethiopian government does not allow farmers to sell their land because it feels that the farmers, being uneducated, would sell their land for quick profit and then not be able to earn a living after going through the proceeds in 5-6 years time.  Land is allocated by person and when a person dies, the land is reallocated by the rural council.  At 5 years, a child gets an allotment which increases at 12 years and also at adulthood. 

In addition to the lovely fields, we saw the usual cattle, donkeys, goats, and more sheep than before.  Someone even saw some pigs today in Gondar itself.  There were flowering trees and yellow flowers - maybe rape, maybe something else, and there were bushes that looked a lot like alfalfa with yellow spiked flowers called something like hiswith. 

We stopped along the road to take photos of a large rock outcropping -  Johannes rock - and were swamped with children asking for things.  We made a second stop to take a photo of a castle on top of a hill - Gaues or something like that.  It was probably another 16th C. castle like the ones in Gondar.

Kibrom spent most of the morning talking about politics and answering our questions.  We found out that he comes from a family of 10.  The average number of children per woman is now 6.5, dropping from 8.5 10 years ago.  The local development agent currently assigned by the Ethiopian government helps out by giving information on family planning among other things.  Almost every village has a school and a clinic.  Kibrom talked at length about the famine of the 1980's, the last years of Haile Selassie, the Communist years (aka the dark times), and how the Communists and various unscrupulous NGOs blackballed Ethiopia at certain times in the eyes of the world with misinformation: The first being the famine, the second being buying weapons.  He mentioned that the best of the people helping Ethiopia were Bob Geldorf and the German group People to People.  He also gave us the history of the Gondar period in preparation for our visit to Gondar.

When we arrived at Gondar, we went directly to our hotel - the Goha Hotel.  Some people were disappointed because one of the guidebooks had rated it very highly and in reality it looked very similar to yesterday's hotel.  However, we do have free internet that actually works and I got to call Kara and make sure she is all right and things are OK in upstate NY after all the news of the devastation by hurricane Sandy.

We then went to lunch at the Four Sisters Restaurant - or something like that - and had a fantastic buffet.  Sian had seconds.  I would have too because it was definitely great Ethiopian food, but I knew I have been eating too much lately and needed to moderate.  The place had great decor too and incense from the coffee ceremony.

Next we started out tour of historic Gondar.  Now I will probably go short of detail.  We went first to the King's compound where Fasil something moved his capital to Gondar after rebelling against his father who was forcibly converting people to Catholicism  to please the Portuguese.  This king's successors also built palaces in this compound and we saw the ruins of several of them.  One building was an archive building.  David (the English counterpart) built a music hall; he was responsible for promoting traditional religious and secular Ethiopian music.  His mother was a queen because he was only 16 when his father died and she became a regent I guess.  She was responsible for promoting weaving and pottery for women.  Her castle was noted for being well-designed and decorated.

We then visited the Trinity Church (Church of Debre Birhan) - the only one of 44 churches in Gondar that survived the Maadist uprising.  It was intended to be round but was rectangular.  It had the usual 3 parts and we went in the women's door with our shoes removed to see the paintings on the walls.  Kibrom explained the devil eating a child, Mary, Jesus, all the angels in the ceiling I think.  Some of the paintings were quite dark - I couldn't actually see the devil but I tried to take photos.  It was before we entered the church that I realized I was missing my Lumix from its case, but all turned out well since Kibrom found it in the bus.  He remarked that I had lost it for the second time.  He demonstrated how the big drum was played, how the staff was used and how the one ritual article (something like cistern) represented the new & old testaments.  It is held in the hand and has a small frame divided in two with little cymbals or something metallic strung inside the frames.

Finally we visited the swimming pool of King Fela and saw his horse building and the horse trough - it was very big.  There were tree roots climbing over some walls and it reminded me of Angkor Thom in Cambodia.

We got back to the hotel about 5:30 and could go into dinner at 6 pm, but people waited until after 6:30.  If I had known it would be so long, I would have gotten my computer and tried to Skype Kara, but I didn't, so I didn't.  We went in to dinner at our reserved table next to a French group - or was that the Belgian group? - at their reserved table.  It was nice.  But the highlight of the dinner was the pianist - who was Irish.  The Irish sisters Margaret and Mary made some requests and he played Rose of Tralie and Danny Boy I think, plus a whole bunch of songs that I definitely recognized by tune if not by name.

It is now 9:30 so it is getting time to wrap this up.  I am finally recharging the computer.  I got to call Kara and she assured me that she is all right and so Is Omar and the fish are too.  Now I am relieved.  I hope Sharon and Marc and their place are all OK too.

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