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Wednesday 4 Mar 2009
Gondar, Ethiopia

Bussing it to Gondar

When I had gone on the Monastery-hunting boat trip on 1st March, I'd asked the guide what he thought of the idea of flying to Gondar from Bahar Dar: "Crazy! It would only be like a 15 minute flight, and would cost you about $60!" (this was before I knew about the discount deal with Ethiopian Airways .. I probably could have gotten the flight for $25 including taxes). He recommended I take the bus up ... I had planned on taking the bus on this leg of the trip anyway as it was so short and would also give me a taste of what the landscape/people are like on the way.. also it was cheap at about $10 one-way.

On the way to Lalibela...
Mountainous Ethiopia

Bus trips to any other parts of the country typically span 12 hours or even multiple days (e.g. Addis to Bahar Dar .. along a "good" road .. 12 hours; Addis to Lalibela by bus ... 2.5 days!!) The reason for this I was quick to discover as I later flew over Ethiopia. It's incredibly mountainous and so roads have to wind around

And so, despite being offered a discount flight in Ethiopian Airlines the day before, I decided the bus trip was the way to go...

Probably not the best idea in retrospect.

I arranged to get picked up by the bus at around 8am from the hotel, finally feeling well enough to pack my bags and head (although still feeling a bit tender and still having to run to the toilet fairly frequently - not really the best form for a 7 hour bus trip!), but the bus didn't turn up until around 9.30am! The "bus" was basically a 6 seater van, but I was quick to learn that they tended to pack them solid with around 12 people!

I noticed the front seat (that I had planned on getting) was taken up by a grumpy elderly German man. He told me he had paid for TWO seats on the bus so that he wouldn't end up being crushed. Genius idea.. especially in my current state, so I managed to haggle with the driver to get 2 seats for around $15 (which is still a hell of a lot more than they would get from a local for two seats).

Then came even more delays... I wasn't aware of this, but the rule is: the bus doesn't leave Bahar Dar UNTIL it's full! The driver wandered around town for another hour or so looking for more passengers, yet none of the locals were interested. The occassional guy would clamber aboard with a massive bag of various assorted goods he purchased in the market (thankfully no live chickens this time, unlike my experiences in Guatemala and Laos!), meanwhile the radio blaring out some catchy Ethiopian rap tunes. It wasn't until 2 hours later that we finally had enough passengers... jeez, the day was flying away, but I suppose I was getting to meet some locals which made it sorta worthwhile.

The problem, you see, was that I wanted to take in the sights of Gondar this same day and then in the morning I was getting a flight to Aksum. At this stage I was barely going to get around 2 hours to explore the castles in Gondar when we finally arrived ... hence why flying might have been a better option. Doh!

High fashion in Aksum...
High fashion in Ethiopia

Still tho, the journey up north was very interesting and I got to see a variety of people and small Ethiopian towns that are well off the tourist trail. We picked up about 30 other people, and dropped many more off along the way. Every little town we stopped at had kids running up trying to sell you a variety of homemade produce such as fried corn granules (delicious by the way) and mystery-meat on sticks.

I was thankful for having purchased two seats though, as the crush got quite bad in the rest of the bus. The guys all respected the fact that I had gotten two seats and refused to invade that space, even after I offered to let them take some of it to help out.

Finally after several hours, we arrived at Gondar around 3pm. I got a taxi up to the "poshest" hotel in the town (I wanted to treat myself after the 4 days stuck in the 70s-era hole in Bahar Dar), the government-run Goha Hotel. Indeed it was fairly nice, situated on an outcrop overlooking the city (although I had barely any time to enjoy the views), and with HOT running water and TV (the Ghion Hotel in Bahar Dar had a shower, but it didn't work!!). At only $38 (relatively expensive outside Addis) it was acceptable. Cool One major gripe I had was the "stuffiness" of the place. Evidently they let the "most expensive hotel in Gondar" label get into their heads and so the manager was a completely rude git, staff were a bit smarmy and the restaurant food was priced 400% higher than in town (and not good at that.. I ended up throwing up the food the following morning!!). This was the only negative experience I had in Ethiopia though, it has to be said.

(read next entry for more about Gondar...)

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Day 3  ... Lookin forward to Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro

Day 3 ... Lookin forward to Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro

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