I had another slow breakfast that consisted of some delicious tibs firfir and eggs, a grip of hot coffee, and a good half hour of world news. Perfection. I checked out no problem and headed out for Gondar. This meant a minibus and a reminder of real life in the developing world. I headed to the bus stand and loaded into a van that did a few circles of the backside of Bahir Dar looking for fares, loading cargo on the roof rack and bumping Ethiopian tunes for at least a half hour. This was classic travel that reminded me of village life in Tanzania, but it wasn’t all bad. A breather, if anything.
My superhuman ability to fall asleep in any moving vehicle kicked in quickly and I napped for a lot of the trip, occasionally waking up as we stopped in assorted villages, the conductor climbing on the roof to throw down boxes to waiting villagers. Luckily, I woke up before we started our ascent back into the highlands, a portion of the trip that afforded some killer views. It was breathtaking. “Breathtaking” is also the adjective I’d use to describe our driver’s speed on these high passes, leaning in to corners to cut their apex, then sliding back across into our lane in front of oncoming trucks, winding us up as hard as he could in the few straight sections and overall driving like a madman. Even so much as I’ve gotten used to this in the last few years, he was pretty egregious. I tried to focus on the gorgeous views. For one of the scarier sections, the radio was blasting Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” which I found oddly comforting—there’s no way that even the cold, indifferent cosmos would let me die to such a ridiculous song. That would be too much. So I felt pretty good about our chances.
It was interesting to see the rural countryside—while I came away from Addis feeling that Ethiopia was more developed than Tanzania, it’s clear that their rural populations live at similar levels of poverty. We reached the foothills of Gondar in the early afternoon, climbing up to the beautiful city on the hill. I fell back into my thousand yard stare bus stand mode when we pulled to a stop, and once I had my bag I marched out into the city without a glance to the side. I only had a vague idea of where the hotel was, but I just wanted to get away from the crush. It turned out one of the touts I assumed was just trying to get me to stay somewhere was actually from my hotel, having been sent to the bus stand to spend the afternoon looking for the only white guy who said he’d be checking in that day and arriving by bus.
Central Gondar isn’t huge, and we managed to cross over to the hotel, past the castle and city center, through the roundabout and by the nice café where we stopped for a few minutes to greet my guide’s friend, then on through another traffic circle and past the Post Office to the hotel. I was checked in by the very friendly manager and made my way to my room, which smelled vaguely of mold, but featured a killer view off the escarpment of the city proper to the sprawling town below and the terraced, patchwork hills beyond. All well and good, but I was exhausted from the cramped bus ride, so I flopped out on the bed and indulged with a quick perusal of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like.
But social media is everywhere, and it’s not everyday I’m in Gondar, so I opted for an evening walk to see a bit of the town. I went out and walked all around the castle, dodging street vendors and foot traffic on the city side, mule carts and kids playing on the residential side. Gondar is awfully nice, with great views, bustling streets and cool evening air. Still need to track down a coat. With the sun going down, I popped into a little bar for a beer—Sweet Bar, as the sign proclaimed. The crew on the porch was mainly old men, and with a flurry of nodded acknowledgements I found myself a chair and sat with the crew, watching people pass on the street. I sipped two small Dashen beers, which are brewed in Gondar, just down the hill. When I went to pay my tab, I was stoked to find out they were only 10 birr each—nothing like drinking in a company town!
I headed back to my hotel to do a little writing before heading down to the restaurant for dinner. It was pretty packed, so I sat at the bar and had a delicious meal of lamb tibs and injera. Both my experiences with Ethiopian food in Dar as Salaam have been so-so, but it turns out there’s nothing like the real thing—food here has been incredible. The only downside to the hotel bar is the preponderance of touts trying to arrange trekking in the Simien Mountains for tourists—I had an endless stream of dudes coming up to me, asking where I was from, what I was up to. It was like getting chatted up over and over again with the same damn pick-up line. I was polite but firm, as I’ve learned noncommittal just means try harder to them.
Overall, my first day in Gondar was a success. I retreated to my room and just stood on the balcony for a bit, enjoying the view and the sounds of the evening. It’s cold up here, which is a nice departure, so I got under the covers and hunkered down to watch a bit of a movie ‘til I passed out.