Adventures in Ethiopia – Gonder and the Simien Mountains

Posted by Szerdi Nagy on 18 December 2013

As our trip through the Northern Historical Circuit of Ethiopia continued (read: Adventures in Ethiopia – Addis Ababa to Lake Tana) we left Bahir Dar and Lake Tana and made our way to the city of Gonder. Gonder was founded in 1635 and has a huge cluster of 17th century castles and palaces right in the middle of town. We spent a great deal of time exploring these and the churches nearby. In particular, the amazingly decorated church of Debre Birhan Selassie built in the 1690s stood out for us. It was really amazing to realise that while many people mistakenly believe Africa was still rather primitive at the time that the Spanish and Portuguese were setting out to explore the world, there was in fact a flourishing African kingdom.

Debre Birhan Selassie Church in Gonder.

Some rules for church visitors…

The ceiling is decorated with 80 painted cherub faces, each face is slightly different from the others.

Honey wine. Delicious!

Ethiopian food is amazing, we were inundated with poor taste jokes from friends and family asking if we were able to eat on our trip. The truth is, Ethiopian food is some of the best we have ever eaten!

Emporer Fasilidas’s Pool is dry most of the year and only filled for the annual Timkat ceremony in January, this is the Epiphany of the Ethiopian Church which bears witness to mass baptisms in these pools. The pool is filled only by redirecting one of the nearby streams, and they were only a few days into doing this when we visited.

Just next door a local soccer match was in full swing, so our pool tour had a great soundtrack of Shakira’s “Waka Waka”…

The Royal Enclosure has six 17th century castles and loads of tunnels to explore.

The first time the colours green, yellow and red were found being used together. If you hadn’t noticed, these are now the colours on the Ethiopian flag.

Castle through a keyhole…

Cow horns used as towel hooks in the “sauna” room.

The extent of the tourists. Three of which are Ethiopian, and one of them was our guide.

What a juxtaposition. A medieval castle in the middle of modern Gonder.

The kids here freaking love having their photos taken! They’ll come hurtling down the street screaming “Faranji! Faranji!” (Foreigner! Foreigner!), and thought it was hilarious when we screamed “Habesha! Habesha!” (Ethiopian! Ethiopian!) back at them.

About 100km north of Gonder we hit the dramatic Simien Mountains, one of the biggest ranges in Africa. more than 12 of the peaks are above 4000m! The altitude can take it out of you, and a short walk can turn you into a heavy-breathing-chunder-machine…. Luckily we only experienced mild symptoms.

I want a Gelada baboon! They look like they just climbed out of a bad 80s music video with their flowing David Lee Roth (Van Halen) hair do’s. They have these amazing weathered faces and a freakishly intelligent look in their eyes.

These guys graze on wild thyme in herds of up to 400 baboons! They are so chilled and not even in the slightest bit concerned about us hanging around and grazing with them. We spent about two hours just sitting amongst the herd, watching and listening them as they went about their daily business.

Haile Gabre Selassie is an Ethiopian long distance running legend! He’s smashed world records, won Olympic gold medals and still lives in home town of Addis Ababa.

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