Day two of our trip we arose before the sun and set off in a small airplane for Gondar, Ethiopia. We had assigned seats but upon entering the plane we realized that people were sitting in all four of our spots. Rockr and Junkii were able to get the people in their spots to move but when we got to our seats we saw that they were occupied by an elderly couple and the look in the woman’s eyes told me she neither wanted, nor was willing to move. The flight attendant directed us to the back of the plane, where several more people joined us who had also had their seats taken. We speculated that perhaps the locals are used to there being unassigned seating on internal flights.
The airport in Gondar is about 20km outside of the city and unfortunately the taxi we grabbed at the airport was in rough shape (most of them were) and diesel fumes were wafting up from the engine into the car. So it was through squinted eyes and pursed lips that we first took in the city.
The city was occupied by Italy in the 1930s and we could see this influence in the city’s layout – it had a “piazza” – and also by its offerings of macchiatos and cappucinos in all the restaurants. Despite the prevalence of Italian food, we decided to find a restaurant with good local food for our first meal in Gondar and were not disappointed at the hole-in-the-wall the Lonely Planet guide directed us to near the piazza.
To get to this small restaurant, we had to enter a plaza and climb some unlit, urine-smelling stairs to the terrace above – I held my breath and crossed my fingers that we wouldn’t encounter anyone along the way. The restaurant itself had a lovely scent – a woman was performing the coffee ceremony at the back, which involves lighting incense. Despite drinking lots of the strong, black Ethiopian coffee, we never sat down to an all-out coffee ceremony, although we witnessed it happening around us many times (this is perhaps a lie…I seem to remember that Rockr, Junkii, and Steve may have experienced the coffee ceremony at the dinner I missed in Addis. But I wasn’t there so it’s like it didn’t happen 😉 ).
Our lunch consisted of typical Ethiopian fare, including a “fasting” meal for Steve. Because Ethiopia has a large Muslim population, approximately 45%, restaurants offer vegetarian fare on fasting days and often Steve could get these dishes on other days as well.
After lunch we organized our Simien mountain trek, which we would be doing the following day – we certainly did not waste any time on this trip, we were go-go-go the entire time! The Simien mountain trek definitely deserves a whole post on its own.
The main draw in Gondar is the Royal Enclosure – ruins of the buildings where the emperors lived and reigned. So that’s where we set out for the afternoon.
With all four of us snapping pictures, I’m sure we captured every nook and cranny of the site!
This young girl was wandering the ruins and eventually we started chatting. I’m often too shy or worried that people will react negatively to my asking if I can take their picture. But because she was young and we had talked, I felt comfortable asking her and she quietly stood and posed . Throughout the trip I missed so many opportunities for amazing people shots because I was too uncomfortable to make a move. Most of my people shots are taken secretly from faraway with my telephoto lens.
As I was walking around to set up the shot above, I came across a severed hoof, likely from a donkey. I was creeped out and the guys were far ahead so I took the photos as fast as possible and high-tailed it out of there! Poor donkey. (did anyone else think of Shrek after reading that?)
We often saw men being affectionate with one another – grasping each others’ shoulders, holding each others’ hands, etc. These are completely platonic gestures in Ethiopia since it’s not only frowned upon, but illegal to be gay. I read somewhere that when greeting one another, Ethiopians will often stand with hands clasped for the duration of the conversation.
With great self-restraint, not to mention reluctance to process so many photos, I’ve narrowed down the shots to 48. Check them out on SmugMug.
I have a feeling that I will not be able to have as much self-restraint when it comes to the Simien mountain photos, not to mention the safari ones!