Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Camelot of Africa

The sun rises early here in Gonder over the mountains to the east of the Gohar hotel my glamorous lodgings perched high on a hill overlooking this medieval town. The Gonder town
musicians were my wake-up call again—a cacophony of roosters, dogs and a donkey bray now and then to add to the animal chorus. All that was missing was the meows of a cat, but I’m sure it was uttered just left unheard by all the rest. The rhythm of life in a small, historic city on the northern loop.
Gonder is most famous for its medieval castles set in the center of town. The Royal Enclosure, as it is called, surrounded by walls is an amazing ensemble of old castles built by
various emperors and empresses of yore. These old structures have held up impressively well over the 400-500 years since they were built. I fended off the offers from tour guides politely and enjoyed imagining how life was like way back when, when the gorunds were teeming with royalty and their minions running to and fro. Those out of favor hung from the trees outside the palace walls,
probably as a reminder to stay in good standing with the emperor.
I had about three hours to explore the main sites of Gonder upon my arrival from Aksum: The Royal Enclosure, Fasilade’s Bath and Debre Selaissie church. I hit all three, the church being
closed for a service, so instead went to Kuskuam, another palace up on a hill outside of town. Built by Empress Mewatib after her husband died, she decided to live outside the court (and away from gossip, for she loved her young boys) not much is left of the place. The Sudanese dervishes, the Brits and Italians trashed the place as they went through Gonder at various times throughout history.
Most impressing at Kuskuam was the singing coming from the church in the palace complex. Women furtively crossed themselves and bowed on the ground outside the church. The prayer ritual here reminded me a lot of the way Muslims pray; bent knees and head to the floor. Similar yet different, yet same goal—worshipping God.
After touring the town, had a little nap and enjoyed some G&T’s on the terrace as the sun set
over the mountains to the west. Met Richard and Nina, two vactioners while watching the sun go down over Gonder. He works for Medicines Sans Frontieres in Somalia, and she’s a social worker in DC. We enjoyed the view over dirnks and then went down the hill to town for dinner. Richard was craving a
steak, so they went to a hotel for din din, and I to the Four Sisters restaurant, which came highly recommended by Bob and Denis. It was an off night for Four Sisters, as I was one of two tables that were busy. Usually the place ishopping, but it’s off season I guess. Still, I got a guy singing traditional songs just for me as I sipped my honey wine and had a very delicious meal of lamb tibs and veggies. Got to meet the four sisters too who were all very pleasant and hospitable. At first it seemed sad that such an exotic Ethiopian restaurant, so fabulously decorated would
be empty, but by the end, I was quite content by the individual service they provided. I even got to play the masenqo-a one-stringed instrument while two of the sisters danced for me. At the end of the
evening, the sisters called me a tuk tuk and off I went into the night, speeding up the winding road back to my hotel. A full half day but oh so enjoyable. This morning I’m going to make the trek to Debre Selaissie church to see if I can take a peak inside before Goof Friday service begin and
before I have to fly to Lalibela. Wish me luck!

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