From Lalibela we headed back to Addis Ababa, visiting Gondar and Bahir Dar on the way.
Gondar was the capital for a succession of kings in the 17th and 18th centuries. Each king built himself a new castle within the Royal Enclosure, so by the end of the dynasty there were six castles, plus a library, steam house and lion cages. Many of the castles are somewhat ruined, mainly by British bombing in WW2. We explored the Royal Enclosure with a local guide, and were impressed by the architecture. Other castles we’ve seen in Africa have been built by colonising powers, not by the local people.
In Gondar we also visited the church of Debre Birhan Selassie, which is noted for the paintings covering the walls. These are mainly biblical scenes, plus extracts from the apocryphal Story of Mary.
Our last sightseeing was at the Pool of Fasilidas, which was crowded with men and boys swimming and jumping into the murky water. There was a great holiday atmosphere, as the day was the feast of St Michael.
The holiday atmosphere continued in the town centre, where we stopped for lunch. It was crowded with masses of people, many very smartly dressed. There were groups of people dancing and chanting on the steps of one of the buildings, and a procession was in progress with a number of floats. We would have liked to stay longer.
The journey south to Bahir Dar was complicated by the number of festival celebrations taking place on the main road in the towns and villages on the way. Often we had to detour, or crawl slowly through crowds of chanting, stick-waving celebrants.
Bahir Dar is on the shores of Lake Tana, and from a hill which also houses a palace built by Emperor Haile Selassie we were able to get a view over the lake, the town, and the Blue Nile which flows out of the lake.
The next day we did a boat trip on the lake, to the Zege peninsula, where we walked up to the church of Ura Kidane Mihret. The inside is covered with paintings, with biblical themes as well as more legendary subjects.
Later we drove 30 kms on rough roads to reach the Blue Nile Falls. Because of a hydroelectric scheme, there is much less water going over them than previously, but it is still an impressive sight.
From Bahir Dar we took an evening flight back to Addis Ababa. We were due to spend two nights at the Saro Maria Hotel, where we’d stayed on our first night there. However, when we arrived we found that there was no room for our group, because of a large conference taking place. We had to go to another hotel across the road – not much of a punishment as it was quite luxurious (huge room, jacuzzi bath etc); sadly our pleas to be allowed to stay there for the second night went unheeded.
On the intervening day we had a tour of the city. The first stop was at the Holy Trinity Cathedral built by Haile Selassie. This was more in the style of Italian neo-baroque than Ethiopian, and it had some good stained glass.
We also visited two museums. The National Museum houses a replica skeleton of Lucy, the early hominoid ancestor of the human race, who was found in Ethiopia. The day tour ended with a visit to the Mercato, allegedly the biggest market in Africa – it was certainly crowded and chaotic enough.
In the evening we went for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant with live entertainment, consisting of a small band and six dancers who did a number of energetic routines in a variety of costumes.
We were very anxious to get an internet connection in Addis, as we’d been out of touch during the previous few days. In particular, we wanted to find out where our next destination would be! We’d planned to go on to New Zealand, but there was a chance we’d be needed in Ghana, if the project we’d worked on recently got the go-ahead. We finally heard that Omega Schools had withdrawn from the project, so when we leave Ethiopia, we will definitely be off to New Zealand.