Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Ethiopian Riviera; The Ethiopian Camelot

Tuesday was a quiet day, and I just sat around the hotel, finishing up some work. I rewarded my hard work with a Swedish massage—1 hour for 200 birr ($10). Later in the evening, I caught up with Julie and Clement, who had been on a tour of the Blue Nile and waterfall. They had met an Ethiopian fellow named Sammie and his friend, who had invited them out for some traditional Ethiopian music. We all piled into Sammie's car, and drove over to a local music spot, and were met by some Belgians who had also been on the tour.

The place was a bit of a trip. Ethiopian men and women danced in shoulder-gyrating forms of traditional dances. What impresses me is that every time I visit one of these music and dance cultural centers, everyone in the audience is Ethiopian; normally it would be some touristy spectacle, but it is nice to see that the locals really enjoy and support the local music and dance culture.

Anyway, we ate kitfo (raw spiced meat) and sipped St. George while the performance went on. Of course, a bunch of faranji in the crowd meant that we were going to be part of the engagement. Clement got selected to come on stage, and he shook his shoulders and gave some nice stabs at pronouncing the local dances. The crowd loved it.

Later, one of the dancers came over to a Belgian guy, and tried to get him to follow along with the shoulder and head gyrations, and he followed along amazingly well.

Sammie and his friend were also heading to Gonder, so rather than take a minibus, I got a ride there the next morning. We left around 9am, and headed out of town in the drizzly morning to Gonder. I chatted with Sammie, who works for the UN in Entebbe, and also his friend (whose name escapes me) in Arabic—as she lives in Saudi Arabia. We drove through small towns, filled with people in white turbans and shawls and past sheep, cows and goats dotting the side of the roads. We got pulled over once by the police for some baksheesh, and broke out the Polaroid to take shots of some of the kids walking along the highway. Of course, the policeman wanted two polaroid pics.

We arrived a little after noon, and pulled into the L-Shape Hotel (yes, that's the place's name), where my friend Phil was staying. I got a room as well, and headed over with Phil to visit the ruins of Gonder.

With its location straddling three major trade routes, and strategic value in the mountains, Gonder (“The Camelot of Ethiopia”) served as capital of the Ethiopian Empire from 1636 for a couple centuries. Phil and I visited the Royal Enclosure, where Gonder royalty once resided. As recommended by the guide book, we hired a guide to take us around the giant stone enclosure. The huge stone castle, Fasiladas Palace, had different parts Aksumite, Moorish, Indian and Portuguese influence, as well as the touches put on by the Italians during their occupation.

We walked through the ruins in the area, hearing about the different ways the royalty interacted with the once-flourishing castle and the tales of intrigue associated with the place. We visited the building that had served as the dining halls, the old baths and there was even a lion house enclosure. We saw what remained, and what had been destroyed by the British in 1941 as they bombed the Italians to dislodge them from Ethiopia.

After the tour, I returned to the hotel for a nap, and later sat out with Phil, Sammie and company, and we sipped amber beer and ate decent pizza at the hotel. Later,Sammie and I went for some more traditional music and shoulder-shaking dance, and we sipped the tej—fermented honey wine, which had equal parts sweet and soury/yeasty flavor.

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