Day 8: Gondar, Fasil Ghebbi and Around Town

I woke up early on my last day in Gondar, hoping to get to the castle right as it opened at 8:30 so I could take some uninterrupted pictures. First, I had breakfast on the patio at the hotel, next to a table of two swarthy, bearded Israeli men in their 60s who were pounding a bottle of wine and eating bread. At 7:45. Championship lifestyle.

I got to the castle at about 8:45, paid my entry and headed in… Already it was jam-packed with tour groups, nuns and pilgrims and the like, people everywhere. I was a little disappointed, but the morning light was nice, and I went to work. I wandered carefully, treading a lot of the same ground as before, but enjoying it even the second time. Once familiar with the area, I could retry things I had liked, skip others, and investigate even deeper. It made me think of reading a poem or passage for analysis back in school—you read it once, fine, twice, whatever, then over and over until suddenly on the tenth way through or so you break into a new level of understanding, seeing it almost for the first time. While I didn’t have that kind of time in Gondar, even my limited repetitions were helpful, and it was nice to know that kind of method worked outside the English department.

I worked my way around the vast compound again, enjoying the morning light and time behind the camera, though still thinking about the main entrance and getting a shot of it. Then, it happened: I came around the corner of one of the smaller palaces and saw across the field to the main walkway, empty. The ebb and flow of tour groups had, by cosmic circumstance, conspired to open up this window. I tried to compose myself instead of breaking into a dead sprint, and walked swiftly to the vantage I had scoped the day before. Not quite believing my luck, I got couple shots that are among my favorite things from this trip so far. Easily worth the 200 birr ($10) to get back in again the second day. I spent a little more time picking away at things here or there, but I was pretty satisfied at the point, so I bid the castle adieu and headed back out into town. I wandered a bit, looking for a restaurant I had heard was good, but not seeing it at a cursory glance, I figured I’d opt for a simple hotel meal that night and go to some extra nice places in Lalibela and Addis later in the trip.

1 Castle 2

I did stop off for a juice, though, which was a fantastic decision. Fresh juice in Tanzania is always a good call, and Ethiopia’s presentation of mango juice was refreshingly different and satisfying: very thick, almost whipped up like a smoothie, just as easily eaten with a spoon as quaffed. Here, however, they serve juice with a terrific twist: half a fresh lime comes with, for you to squeeze over your juice. This tart counterpoint switched my whole game up when it comes to mango juice. There’s really no going back for me.

I went back to the hotel for a quick lunch and spent some time downloading pictures before going over my camera kit. Gondar is incredibly beautiful but incredibly dusty. I backed up my SD cards—then backed them up again to my external hard drive—before formatting the lot of them to make room for upcoming adventures. I also took the time to wipe down my camera body and clean all my lenses while listening to Girlpool’s Before The World Was Big. Which is fantastic. There’s something I find really relaxing in cleaning all my gear, putting everything in its place. Which sounds way uptight when I write it out loud. But I digress.

After a brief nap (it’s vacation, I’m taking full advantage) I decided to go for a late afternoon walk down through town. It was great to get out of the city center and the tourist circuit for a minute—once again reminding myself of life back in Tanzania and the everyday things I’ve come to enjoy so deeply. As I walked down the main road, I passed men sitting out at cafés drinking coffee, kids walking home from school and vendors selling vegetables at the roadside, while minibuses and tuk tuks whipped past, and horses drawing carts laden with construction materials and workers clip-clopped down the cobblestones.

In about half an hour, I made it all the way back down to the baths from the day before, reveling in the jacaranda-lined streets that lead to the edge of Gondar. I paused on the bridge that heads out of town, just enjoying being away from constant stares and hellos. On my way back, I passed through the Revolutionary Square pointed out by my guide the day before as we zoomed by—it was some concrete stadium seats where teenagers sat after school, boys and girls spending those fraught and exciting moments away from teachers and parents before heading home, the whole thing painted with various faded flags and all of it facing a wide, overgrown amphitheater where cows grazed slowly, their shadows lengthening as the day slid into golden hues. A very satisfying scene.

I made the steep walk back up to town, stopping off—as is my habit now—for a small coffee as I got back into the town proper. Back at the hotel, I caught up on some writing and stopped to enjoy the sunset, watching the birds circle from my balcony. I don’t know why it is, but there are hundreds of crows circling every evening on the edge of town. It’s as beautiful and hypnotic as it is ominous. I watched until the light was gone.

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I went downstairs and indulged in some pizza for dinner. I’m in this weird place where I want to eat Ethiopian food while I’m traveling in Ethiopia, but at the same time, it’s vacation, and since I eat Tanzanian fare every day, I kinda want the Western stuff. It’s all been delicious, that’s for sure. But pizza and beer aside, it was time to pay for the room, arrange transport for the morning and pack up—Lalibela is up next and I couldn’t be more excited!

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