Steven waiting, ever so patiently, at our hotel in Lalibela, for our ride to the airport:
Driving through Lalibela turned out to be slow going because there was a funeral procession in the middle of the main street.
This was only the second time we had seen poinsettias growing wild. The other time was in Laos last year. It seems especially apropos now as I am writing this finally about five weeks later in the heart of the Christmas season.
Unfortunately, the van gave up the ghost in the middle of town. So, while waiting for a new vehicle to pick us up, we had time to notice these two guys pulling a goat by its two front legs. The poor goat was NOT happy being treated that way.
A couple more shots of the town's very rudimentary shops:
A view of the Simien Mountains from our plane:
Next, we passed by an equal number of students attired in yellow shirts indicating the school they attended.
After checking into our really ugly hotel room, we escaped by walking into town. This was the city's main traffic circle:
The city's main imperial precinct, known in Amharic as Fasil Ghebbi or the Royal Enclosure, covered an area of 19 acres and contained five castles, raised walkways and connecting tunnels surrounded by high stone walls. The castles were built by successive Ethiopian emperors during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Fasil Ghebbi Palace and the many other buildings in the complex received UNESCO recognition in 1979, one year after Lalibela did for its unique churches. It is one of the most stunning places in Ethiopia and the reason why many people come to Gonder, other than the nearby Simien mountains.
The per person entrance fee of 200 Birr (~$9) was not unreasonable, but it only allowed us to wander around the complex. There was no map or signs anywhere and it wasn't clear what the money was used for since the place wasn't very well maintained. We decided almost immediately we needed a guide to show us around the many buildings. Kibru, the guide we were lucky to get, told us in absolutely perfect English that Ethiopia had been known as the Cradle of Civilization and that the country's history dates back to 3,000 years ago.
Gonder was the capital of Ethiopia from the rise of Fasilades in 1632 to the fall of Tewodros (1855-1868) which was reflected in the many castles and palaces in the city. Fasilades was responsible for restoring the Orthodox faith to Ethiopia and built 44 churches in Gonder, including seven churches on the castle grounds.
Kibru mentioned that there were 200 rooms in the castle: the main floor was used for storage and the kitchen while the second floor was used for reception rooms. The square tower, he said, was the king's bedroom and prayer room. The balconies around the castle were used for proclamations.
Kibruu said the large arch that connected the two posts was destroyed in 1941 by the British who bombed it when the Italians were in control of Ethiopia.
There were also three Stars of David which reflected Ethiopia's Jewish past.
King Fasilades had a love affair with books and had this library built to house his personal collection.
Interestingly, horses' stables were placed along one side of the castle.
The 158 foot long dining hall sat 300 people! The Italians put up the concrete ceiling and the terrazzo floors, Kibru said, when they were in power.
In Ethiopia, Kibru said it's customary to feed people with the right hand. Custom and good manners dictate that you can refuse the first bite. However, if you take the first bite, you must then take food the next two or three times it's offered! There are always three rounds of coffee served at home with the first one being especially strong.
On the facade was a Gonderian Cross that we had just seen on top of St. Michael's Church. The cross constituted a circle with seven points around it; each point was represented ostrich eggs.
There were a number of buildings around the church.
The 'employee' said that the 32 boys who lived on the church property were students and that we needed to buy small loaves of bread at a nearby bakery to give to the boys, ideally one apiece as other tourists had previously done. We said 'No, we wouldn't be buying that many.'
He followed us to the bakery which was several hundred feet away, saw us buy a dozen and promptly vanished. Steven had been far more skeptical than I about the 'employee' from the get go and thought the whole thing was a scam between him and the bakery.
None of us feel good about being taken advantage of and I was certainly left with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach at what was likely a scam. Steven understandably wanted no part at that point in giving the bread to the boys but I felt it was too late to turn back. In hindsight, visiting the church was one of the most distasteful experiences I can ever remember.
A final view of the Palace:
We also saw barber shops everywhere!
One of the churches we made a point of looking at was Elfin Giyorgis that was part of the Royal Enclosure though located outside its walls. It was one of the 44 churches built by King Fasilades.
Outside the church itself was this shrine where locals often pray.
We next walked to St. Michael's Church whose roof we had seen from the Royal Enclosure.