Crossing the Ethiopia-Sudan Border

On March 13, I took the bus from Gonder to Mettama at the Ethiopia-Sudan border. The bus was bumpy, but mostly not as bad as the bus between Gonder and Debark. The terrain on that route was arid and mountainous. As we approached the border, the temperature soared.

I crossed the border with the help of two guys who carted my baggage in wheelbarrows for 1 birr (about 12 cents) each. Before we even crossed the border, two Sudanese guys were bugging me about changing money and stuff. I changed my remaining 50-birr note into Sudanese pounds (or dinars, they are still using both for a few more months until the pounds get fully established). I had to visit an immigration office and a customs office on the Ethiopian side to get my passport stamped. I tried to get a soft drink and use the bathroom while in the immigration office, but the guy working there was not very helpful. Eventually, I figured it all out. I headed across the bridge between Ethiopia and Sudan which most people passed without any border crossing formalities at all. When I arrived on the other side, I had to visit the immigration office, customs office, and a security office, all of which ogled my passport and eventually gave it back. Two out of three offices required a photo to process me through. They did let me postpone my Sudanese registration until I reached Khartoum (three-day time limit for doing so).

By this time, I was pretty much deathly ill. I couldn’t walk with my luggage, so I had to take a little taxi from the customs office to the security office. I then took the taxi across the street to the bus station and argued with the driver about the fare which had been agreed upon at the customs office. He eventually let me go after I threatened for us to ride back to the customs office telling me, “Time is money.” Then, I argued with the guys on the bus to Gedaref about how much that would cost. It was supposed to be US$5. After much haggling, I ended up paying US$10. Once in Gedaref, I knew I could stay in a nice airconditioned hotel, then take an airconditioned bus the rest of the way to Khartoum.

A security post on the route stopped the bus and we all had to get off and get our stuff searched. No problems and we moved on. About 20 minutes into the ride, the bus died. We had to wait in the broiling hot sun for another bus to arrive.

Meanwhile, I was dying. I mean actual near-death experience. I told the other guys on the bus that if I passed out they should pour water on me to revive me. Eventually, the replacement bus came. We all packed in to the new bus and I had to practically force the guys to move my baggage over from the old bus.

While I was moaning and groaning on the remainder of the bus ride, I noticed a young woman seated just behind me. She gave me the most wonderful smile. She was beautiful. I felt better just from that simple connection. I didn’t really chat with her until she had her sister say hello and practice speaking English with me. Later, I got off the bus for a male-only pee break (all the Sudanese guys pissing kneeling on the ground and only me standing up). When I returned, the young woman looked upset, as if her brother on the seat behind her had chewed her out perhaps for talking with me.

Later in the bus ride, I fortunately met an attorney who is a member of a political party that likes the U.S. That meant that he was pleased to help me make a phone call on his mobile phone. I called my friend Phil about 20 minutes before arriving at the “Landport” bus station in Khartoum. Phil figured out where the place was and picked me up in front of a strange-looking mosque near the station. I had to crawl there with my two bags.

Ethiopia Reprise: Simien Mountain Trek

On March 8, I left Gonder for Debark, the first step on a trek to the Simien Mountains. The bus for this part of the journey was the worst I encountered in Ethiopia.

Route From Gonder to Debark, Ethiopia Route From Gonder to Debark, Ethiopia Bus Breaks Down Betwen Gonder and Debark, Ethiopia

The gravel road was so bumpy that the bus shook so much I couldn’t see how it held together in one piece. Some bumps were so strong, they threw me a foot or more out of my seat! I learned new strategies to try to prevent damage to my already tender spine: when I felt a big bump coming, I lifted myself out of the seat by tightening my calf and thigh muscles. This eased the strain on my spine as I descended back into my seat. Then, the bus broke down. This time, they managed to fix it, so we didn’t have to wait for another bus to come along. We stopped in a beautiful village in the middle of nowhere and the locals were friendly.

Village at Site of Bus Breakdown, Route From Gonder to Debark, Ethiopia Village at Site of Bus Breakdown, Route From Gonder to Debark, Ethiopia Village at Site of Bus Breakdown, Route From Gonder to Debark, Ethiopia

Resident of Village at Site of Bus Breakdown, Route From Gonder to Debark, Ethiopia Will With Residents of Village at Site of Bus Breakdown, Route From Gonder to Debark, Ethiopia

A women cooks injeera the traditional way and some children say “hi” in Debark. Then, there’s a statue of a Wallia ibex in the town square.

Woman Cooks Injeera, Debark, Ethiopia Children in Debark, Ethiopia Statue of Wallia Ibex in Gonder, Ethiopia

I stupidly drank the local thala, a sorghum beer probably diluted with local water. Ironically, I likely got sick from the water, not the beer. I spent the night of March 8 in the rather primitive Red Fox Hotel, which also served as a local dining and music hall.

For the trek, I planned a five-day excursion. I hired a scout with a gun (required because hungry locals could theoretically rob a rich trekking ferengi, although apparently it had never happened) plus a horse and a horse tender to carry my stuff. I didn’t realize I was getting sick until I had trekked halfway of the 5-7 hour hike from Debark to the Sankaber on March 9, the first camp in the Simien Mountains. The trek itself was beautiful.

Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Horse Tender and His Son on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Horse Tender and His Son on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Residents of Local Village on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Residents of Local Village on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Scout on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Ram on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Resident of Local Village on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

At this point, I felt really dizzy whenever I had to walk upwards. The horse and horse tender had taken a different path to camp. Finally, I told the scout I needed a ride in a car – I couldn’t walk the rest of the way. He still urged me to walk. So, I lay down on two boulders near the road. He wasn’t happy. After awhile I puked between the boulders. Then, he understood i really was sick and helped me to get a ride.

We got a ride on a truck to the first camp at Sankaber. Once in camp, I vomited again. We met up with the horse and horse tender who helped the scout move my stuff over to a primitive lodge where I spent the night of March 9 rather than trying to set up my tent. i had to pay about US$5 extra, but it was worth it. Even though I didn’t want any food, I knew the scout and horse tender wanted to use my stove. So, I tried to help them with the instructions about how to use the stove. I was using it for the first time and the instructions said nothing about removing this little plug blocking the fuel line. It took us quite a while to figure that one out, but eventually we got the stove working. I slept for a long time.

Landscape on Trek from Debark to Sankaber, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Horse Tender and Scout, Sankaber Camp, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Using My Stove on Trek at Sankaber Camp, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Bird on Lodge Roof, Trek at Sankaber Camp, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Landscape on Trek at Sankaber Camp, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

The next morning, on March 10, we made tea using my stove. I still felt sick as a dog and wanted to head back to Debark, much to the disappointment of my scout and horse tender. I heard some ferengi were camping at Sankaber, so I went over to talk with them. It turned out to be some Canadians I had met at Belegez Pension. Unfortunately, they were going up the mountain rather than down, so I couldn’t hitch a ride with them. Instead, scout and I got a ride on a minibus jammed full of people. The scenery on the ride down was wonderful, and eventually I did get to sit on the very edge of a seat for the rest of the ride down to Debark. In Debark, I rushed to get onto a bus to Gonder, that same very bumpy ride I had taken on the way from Gonder to Debark. I arrived in Gonder exhausted on the evening of March 10 and decided to recoup at the Belegez Pension. I spent March 11-12 recovering in Gonder.

Ethiopia Reprise: Gonder Palaces

On March 7, I flew from Axum to Gonder to experience the Gonder palaces and to get ready for onward travel to the Simien Mountains, back to Gonder, then on to the Ethiopian-Sudan border at Metama-Gallabat.

I met a young, recently engaged Ethiopian couple from Addis on the taxi ride from the airport to the town of Gonder, alternatively spelled Gondar. We quickly agreed to spend the day sight-seeing together, so I checked in and dropped my bags off at the Belegez Pension, then rode in the taxi up to the Goha Hotel where they were staying. The Goha Hotel is probably the “best” hotel in town with wonderful panoramic views of Gonder town below.

View From Goha Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia View From Goha Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia View From Goha Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia

View From Goha Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia Goha Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia Goha Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia

After lunch at the hotel, where some delightful singing birds joined us, the fiances hemmed and hawed over whether she was well enough to go sight-seeing. We decided not to pay the taxi driver big bucks the following day, but instead to walk down to town ourselves to see the palaces and whatever else we could see. I liked the paintings at the entrance to what looked like a small cafe.

Bird at Dining Room of Goha Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia Paintings at Small Cafe, Gonder, Ethiopia

King Fasilidas founded Gonder in 1635 and the town remained Ethiopia’s capital for 250 years. The Fasil Ghebbi, or Royal Enclosure, includes the six palaces of King Fasilidas and his descendents, as well as a Royal Archive Building and the remnants of lion cages.

Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Royal Archive, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia

Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Ethiopian Couple in Front of Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Ethiopian Friend in Front of Wooden Palace Door, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia

Ethiopian Couple in Front of Egg-Shaped Tower, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia View of Jacaranda From Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Palaces, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia

Fallen Roof of Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Climbing Spiral Staircase, Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia

Jacaranda Blooming Near Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Palace With Spiral Staircase Tower, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Birds Kissing on Window Ledge of Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia

Palace, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Fallen Gate, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia Palaces, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia

Will in Front of Palaces, Fasil Ghebbi Royal Enclosure, Gonder, Ethiopia

In our trek across the city, we came across the old outdoor stadium used for socialist-inspired gatherings during the Derg era in Ethiopia. Every Ethiopian town seems to have one or more.

Derg-Era Stadium, Gonder, Ethiopia

We also visited Fasilidas’ Pool, which is dry year-round except for the Timkat (or Epiphany) Festival each January.

Fasilidas Pool, Gonder, Ethiopia Fasilidas Pool, Gonder, Ethiopia Old Tree Roots by Fasilidas Pool, Gonder, Ethiopia

Fasilidas Pool, Gonder, Ethiopia Fasilidas Pool, Gonder, Ethiopia Fasilidas Pool, Gonder, Ethiopia

After our tour of Gonder, I return to my room at Belegez Pension. On the door of my hotel room is an AIDS prevention sticker.

Belegez Pension, Gonder, Ethiopia My Room at Belegez Pension, Gonder, Ethiopia AIDS Prevention Sticker on My Room at Belegez Pension, Gonder, Ethiopia

For one of my lunches, I ate delicious fasting food at the Habesha Restaurant across from the entrance of the Gonder palace complex. A tame goose lives inside the restaurant and eats up food scraps when the proprietor isn’t looking. I went back to the same restaurant later with a Belgian screenwriter named Eric and his son Thomas who I met at Belegez Hotel. They had just returned from a Simien Mountain trek and urged me to go, despite Eric’s knee injury during the hike to Gich.

Goose and Interior of Habesha Restaurant, Gonder, Ethiopia Interior of Habesha Restaurant, Gonder, Ethiopia Habesha Eating at Habesha Restaurant, Gonder, Ethiopia

Eric and Will, Habesha Restaurant, Gonder, Ethiopia Will and Thomas, Habesha Restaurant, Gonder, Ethiopia Habesha Restaurant, Gonder, Ethiopia

Ethiopia Reprise: Axum Museum, Trilingual Tablet, and Adwa

Following on my March 6 visit to the Axum obelisks, I entered the Axum Museum and made an excursion to the trilingual tablet stored in a shack nearby.

In the museum, they have interesting old crosses, the second of which was found near the Church of St. Mary Zion. There were also some interesting drain gargoyles, probably of a similar period.

Cross, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Cross Found Near Church of St. Mary Zion, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Cross, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Cross, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Gargoyles, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

There are stone inscriptions in a pre-Axumite language called Sabean from the middle of the first millenium BCE.

Sabean Inscription, Middle of First Millenium BCE, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Sabean Inscription, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Interesting human figures, three-legged pots, coins, and miscellaneous other items at the museum.

Terra Cotta Human Figures, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Three-Legged Pot and Miscellaneous Items, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Amphora and Other Items, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Unknown Item, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Coins, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Figurines, Dishes, and Other Items, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Coins, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Three-Legged Pots and Miscellaneous Items, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Foot-Washing Bowl, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Human Figurines, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Unknown Item, Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

This woman was weaving and selling baskets outside the Axum Museum.

Woman Weaving Baskets Outside Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Woman Weaving Baskets Outside Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Woman Weaving Baskets Outside Axum Museum, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

And here is the Trilingual Tablet, in Ge’ez, Greek, and Sabean I think.

Trilingual Tablet, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Trilingual Tablet, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Here’s the “taxe” that brought me there (poor horsie!).

Horse Taxi in Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Horse Taxi in Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

We drove by Queen Sheeba’s bathing pool. And we saw a sign about a military leader apparently killed by the Eritreans.

Queen Sheeba's Bathing Pool, Tigrai, Ethiopia Military Leader Memorial Sign, Tigrai, Ethiopia

And there is a great sycamore fig tree in town.

Sycamore Fig, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Sycamore Fig, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Sycamore Fig, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Many Ethiopians and others visiting Axum stop by also at Adwa. In fact, the country celebrated a holiday related to Adwa on March 1 while I was traveling there. Ethiopia is the only African country to remain free of colonial rule. The Italians tried in the late 19th century and the Ethiopians defeated them at Adwa on March 1, 1896. The Italians did later occupy Ethiopia during World War II for some years, but basically Ethiopia is the only African nation that has been consistently free of colonial occupation.

I also thought about visiting the rock-hewn churches at Lallibela before heading on to Gonder on March 7, but decided that I had to move forward. Many people rank the Lallibela churches as a must-see and I’m sorry I had to miss them this time around.

Ethiopia Reprise: Axum Obelisks

On March 6, I flew from Addis Ababa to Axum and landed safely at the Axum airport.

Axum Airport, Tirgrai, Ethiopia

A guide from the Africa Hotel was there to pick me up at the airport. After I checked in, he assured me I could wait until 1:30pm to check in at the Ethiopian Airlines office five minutes from the hotel, then go to see the obelisks, the museum, and other sites of Axum. So, I took his advice, reading email and blogging briefly at the local Internet cafe, then eating lunch with an Italian woman, born in Libya, who was designing exhibits for the new Axum museum, not yet completed. Checking in at Ethiopian Airlines for the flight to Gonder the next day, March 7, was no problem. Then, the guide brought me to the obelisks. By the way, I really would recommend seeing Axum without a guide if you can. He didn’t really help out much.

Obelisk, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Obelisk, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

The obelisk the Italians finally returned to the Ethiopians a couple of years ago rests on its side in a few parts awaiting its re-erection probably in time for the Ethiopian millenium celebrations during our September 2007.

Obelisk Portion Awaiting Re-Erection, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Obelisk Portion Awaiting Re-Erection, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

My guide, wearing his Che Guevera T-shirt, showed me an excavation site. One of the largest obelisks has tumbled to the ground. Nearby is an eight-pointed stone compass.

Guide Shows Excavation Site, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Fallen Obelisk, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Fallen Obelisk, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Fallen Obelisk, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Fallen Obelisk, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Fallen Obelisk With Eight-Pointed Compass, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Subterranean chambers apparently held a tomb of an Axumite leader. Only rarely were the backs of the Axum obelisks carved.

Subterranean Chambers, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Subterranean Chambers, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Subterranean Chambers, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Subterranean Tomb, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Obelisk With Back Carving, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Obelisks, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia
The new Axum Museum, already mostly constructed, will soon be located just behind the obelisk field and archaeologists plan to excavate the old town of Axum once residents are relocated.

New Axum Museum Behind Obelisks, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Detail of Obelisk, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia Detail of Obelisk, Axum, Tigrai, Ethiopia

Axum is dominated by Ethiopian Orthodox Christian churches, including a church that reputedly has the Arc of the Covenant. The town has refused construction of a mosque for its Islamic residents.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Axum, Ethiopia

The next blog entry focuses on the Axum Museum and the Trilingual Tablet at Axum, both of which I also saw on March 6.