January 10-11

We really enjoyed Bahir Dar, but we decided it’s best to move on to try to see the other sights in northern Ethiopia.  So, after a couple of days we caught a bus to the nearby town of Gonder.  We checked into the new Queen Titu Hotel.

Ethiopian Camelot

Gonder is known as the “Ethiopian Camelot” because it contains some medieval looking castles.  The castles were built by several Ethiopian emperors starting with Fasiladas in 1635.  The “Royal Enclosure” that contains these castles is huge.  It’s a fun place to roam around and it’s all very surreal – it doesn’t feel like Ethiopia at all.




Apparently it’s also a popular place for weddings or for local students to have their year-end photos taken.


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Local student gets his year-end photos taken by the castles

Fasiladas Bath & Debre Berhan Salessie Church

While the Royal Enclosure is right in the center of town, some of the other sights are a little further out.  Pnina and I hired a tuk-tuk to take us to the Fasiladas Bath a few km’s outside the city center.  We negotiated the $4 price and we were off.

Fasiladas’ Bath is huge and generally empty.  Here’s how we saw it:


Here’s how it looks when full:

Fasiladas' Bath during Epiphany celebrations (much more dramatic than what we saw)

Fasiladas' Bath during Epiphany celebrations (much more dramatic than what we saw)

It’s interesting that they have that tower in the middle of the water, with no way to reach it except swimming or by boat.

Some of the walls surrounding the bath had trees growing out of them, with roots around the rocks.  It reminded me of stuff I saw in Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.


We only spent about 15 minutes there, which was enough.  We hopped back in the tuk-tuk and headed back to town.

On the way our driver asked if we wanted to pause at the Debre Behran Selassie church.  We said “sure”.  It wasn’t right on our path but it wasn’t much of a detour either.

I was kind of excited to see this church because our Lonely Planet described the paintings on the ceiling like this: “think mona lisa and multiply it by 104”.  But what we saw was kind of disappointing.


I hope I’m not insulting anyone, but they looked a bit like they were drawn by children.  Seems like artists in other parts of the world achieved greater mastery centuries earlier.  Anyhow, it was still an interesting church to check out.


We asked our driver to drop us off at a restaurant in town.  When we got off, he surprised us by asking for $6 instead of $4.   Apparently the extra stop at the church was not a freebee, but he neglected to mention that or to negotiate a new price.  Again, $2 is not a big deal but it’s the principle of the thing and it drives us nuts.  So we put our foot down.  We gave him $4 and walked into the restaurant.  He followed.  The restaurant people were caught in the middle.  At first they tried to escort him out, hoping to shelter us because in their eyes we’re paying customers.  Then they let him in and became mediators between us.  Pnina and I continued stubbornly to refuse to pay, saying repeatedly that it’s very important for the driver to say the costs up front. And after 20 minutes he left.  It was a rotten kind of victory, and it made us want to just get the hell out of town.  There were a couple other churches to check out in Gonder, but we decided to leave the next day and head to the nearby Siminan Mountains.


2 responses to “Gonder

  1. There must be something about being 3 or 4 months into a trip where you really just start to get worn out by people trying to take advantage of you. It seemed like it was around this time that Sarah and I started to hit the wall in India. It’s probably a good thing you are having some time with family halfway through to sort of rest and recharge.

  2. Yeah, I’ve had to laugh a little bit to remember being in the kinds of situations where we’re lecturing autorickshaw drivers about how they should stick to their word and Tyler trying to negotiate with kids how much they should pay *him* to be in photograph. It’s not a great place to be, but perhaps inevitable at times….

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