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The Touts and Towers in Gondar

If you ask me, it is more impressive what Gondar was and not so much what Gondar is today. The city in North West used to be the capitol of Etiopia (from 1632 to 1835) and the Royal Enclosure is still a proof of that, even after earthquakes and British bombings before UNESCO made it a heritage site in 1979.

Entrance to the site was 300(11$) for adults, 75(3$) for students or free if you just walked in the unguarded gate from the Piassa. Having a lonely planet guide let me follow a map and the stories of each building, if I didn’t have that it would have made sense paying another 10$ to have a guide.

Except for the fortified Royal Enclosure sites and some churches, there was not much to see and do in Gonder. It’s more a place where people stop to break up a journey from Southern Ethiopia to North or from Ethiopia to Sudan.

I was there trying to get a bus ticket and some Sudanese Pounds to prepare for the border crossing and was so lucky to meet Abrish and Solomon, who were quick to show me around the bus station, showing me the bus which they were working on ans helping me exchange money at the “best possible” rates. They walked with me for hours, sold me a ticket for 3usd and afterwards told me that they would pick me up from my couchsurfing host at 4.30 in the morning.

I waited outside at 4am but noone came, and at 5am I started walking and hitchhiking to the bus station which was almost 30km away while trying to call them. But with no answers.

I am used to getting ripped off once in a while, but was really upset to have thought that I had gotten new friends who were genuinely trying to help me, just to see them cheat me for such a small sum! I wish I could have given them the money as I must say the loss of trust hurt more than the loss of the three dollars.

Abrish and Solomon. If you see them in Gondar then stay away!

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A Free Visit to Lalibela

I know some might be angry at me for posting a recipe for how to get into Lalibela for free, but for the backpackers, students and people like me, who were considering skipping a visit to the churches because of the hefty 50$ entrance fee it might be good, because you HAVE TO visit Lalibela.

A ticket (which look like this) is valid for four days, while most people just visit the churches one or two days. That means, if you go to a bar and buy some beers for any tourist, most likely he will agree to give you his used ticket before he leaves town. That’s what I did, and the guards checking the tickets never asked to see my passport, so I could walk around freely without feeling that I had been sneaking in.

Lalibela truly is an amazing place. It’s a town in Northern Ethiopia with 11 rock hewn churches dating back to the 12th and 13th century, Making them some of Africas oldest.

Before going there I had only seen pictures of St. George, which I thought was not even the most impressive! I was simply blown away as we discovered the churches in by one, walking through tunnels, over bridges etc to see all this beautiful work carved into the mountain. It was just as impressive as the World wonder Petra in Jordan. I therefore think Lalibela deserves the title as “the Eight Wonder of the World”.

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Bahir Dar, “the Ethiopian Riviera”

Originally my plan was to go straight from Addis to Gondar, but when I was asking the buses at 4 o’clock in the morning, all of them were fully booked, but there was a seat available to Bahir Dar, and I must say I’m glad that I did it that way.

Bahir Dar is often called the Ethiopian Riviera, mainly because of the flat streets by the lake with palm trees lined up by the road. The city is a popular destination both for international and local tourists, people who come to enjoy the many hotels and restaurants the small town has to offer and to see the monasteries which are only reachable by boat. It also used to be very popular for tourists to go visit the Blue Nile Falls, but when the government built a huge dam they apparently destroyed that tourist magnet.

A traditional papyrus boat on Lake Tana

My couchsurfing host was working in the tourism business and hooked me up with a free room at NGG hotel and a free boat trip on lake Tana.

People painting the walls of Ura Kidane which recently had a fire

It took us about two hours to reach the Zeke peninsula where the Bete Selassie and Ura Kidane Meret monasteries were located. Just like all the monasteries on Lake Tana they were round with colorful walls on the inside. The tour continued to the Kibran island for St. Gabriel Monastery and Entos Eyesu Monastery Island, but as each of them had a 3eur entrance, me and two other tourists decided to just relax on the two last islands.

The highlight of the stay was chatting with the neighbors of my host who invited me for dark, homemade barley beer and watching a traditional dance show in the evening.

Drinking local, dark barley beer at my hosts place

Traditional Ethiopian dancing at Belageru Cultural Club

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Two weeks in Addis Ababa

At the moment I am writing this the time in Ethiopia is 02.11 on April 18th, while it everywhere else is 08.14 on April 26th 2010. Confusing, right? Everything in Ethiopia is different, maybe because they are the only country in Africa which was never colonized. Ethiopia follows a lunar calendar with thirteen months a year(the last month having only 5 or 6 days) and start the day not at midnight, but at sunrise which is six hours after midnight, therefore the time difference. They are the only country in Africa with their own language symbols (Amharic) and have a very different look, different cuisine and culture than anywhere else in Africa.

I first visited Addis Ababa five years ago and apart from encounters with really friendly people there it is quite a boring city. It was a place where I spent most the time arranging visas to Sudan, Chad, Liberia and the World’s hardest visa, Equatorial Guinea which I never got. Revisiting the national museum, our ancestor Lucy’s skeleton and the Mercato, drinking honey wine, 25cent beers and eating injera for and my favorite fava bean dish foul for less than a dollar is always good though, but it will be good leaving this city for good now and start making my way towards Sudan.

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Feeding Hyenas in Harar

Harar walled old town uses to be the capital of the Harla Kingdom in the 13th century. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site said to be lot alike the Moroccan city of Fez, but except for a few narrow streets near the east gate I found that but to be particularly true.

Harar has something unique to it though. Historically it was an Arabian trade center and today it boasts of having as much as 88 mosques. The dresses of the women here are all in just one strong color, so when you see a gathering of women, eg at one of the cities many markets it’s a beautiful of colors.

The main reason for traveling to Hear for me was to feed the Hyenas that come into the city at night to eat from the trash on and around the streets.

I showed up a short walk from Falana gate where a man was sitting chewing khat in the rain and when I asked him for the hyenas he just said 100birr (3eur) and once I gave it to him he started walking around shouting animal like sounds, which he did for about an hour while I waited. I had heard that the hyenas usually dont come when it is raining and was worried, but then suddenly I saw the guy with a basket of meat followed by 7-8 pairs of animal eyes reflecting the light from my head lamp.

The man sat down and asked me to join him. He held meat in front of my face and over my head so that I could see the animals snapping the meat just centimeters from my face before retreating back in the dark. They were really big animals and it was surreal looking straight into their mouths as I fed them with a stick from my mouth, but I was ensured that it would be safe and noticed that the animals were actually quite afraid of us, sneaking around us and being quick to snap the meat. Another similar experience, which I didn’t do in Harar, is to go to the butchers corner and buy some camel meat and once the butcher shouts, huge eagles would come flying down and snapping the meat.

I had hear that the city was lively on weekend nights, so I went out to towards the bars I had been recommended. On the way I encounter a pack of hyenas staring at me from the other side of the street, so I quickly turned around and went to my 3€ Hotel Tewodros to spend the night indoor instead. Being right next to a garbage dump the hyenas I could both see and hear the hyenas outside all night long. They are the second biggest predator in Africa and wild animals, but I learned later that they pose no threat to people in Harar, where they have been living peacefully side by side for centuries.