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Pole to Pole

Day 77: Shedi to Gondar

Gondar, Ethiopia 
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Ethiopian border country: tea with the troops.
Michael Palin - Pole to Pole'You! . . . you!', they shout, holding their hands out for anything. I give one of them a 'Wet One' - one of the cleaning tissues we carry with us - and mime what to do. He is still vigorously wiping his face with it when we leave twenty minutes later.

Beyond Aykel we follow a stony track over a wide upland plateau.

Thunder has been rumbling and clouds building; finally the heavens open and down come hailstones the size of marbles. It is hard to believe that ice is falling on us less than twenty-four hours after we were sweating our way out of the Sudan.

It is a wonderfully refreshing deluge and as the clouds pass on and the sun begins to come through we find ourselves on the outskirts of Gondar. Our three-day journey has turned into four hard-travelling fifteen-hour days and everyone is tired, crumpled and desperate for a creature comfort or two. As we drive into this sizeable town, 7000 feet above sea-level and for 200 years the capital of Ethiopia, we come up behind a large and forlorn crowd of men who look in a worse state than ourselves. They are walking disconsolately down the hill carrying cans or plastic containers. Apparently they are some of the 70,000 government troops garrisoned in Gondar who surrendered to the EPRDF without a fight. Deciding what to do with them is one of the problems facing the new administration - Mengistu had one of the biggest standing armies in Africa and there are an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 of his men still in custody, and two million of their dependents neglected.

The Gohar Hotel is spectacularly sited on a bluff overlooking the city and the wide panorama of mountains that encircle it. We have been nowhere like this. Built for a tourist industry that never happened, the hotel combines a museum, a repository of local arts and crafts, with interestingly designed public spaces and a decently stocked bar.

There is a sign on the back of my door which could be an offer or a dire warning: 'Room Service. Express snakes available at all times'.

Apart from the danger of express snakes the chief delights of the Gohar Hotel are electric light, hot water (for a whole hour in the evening) and a freshly made bed. It is chilly enough for me to huddle to sleep beneath two blankets.
Gondar, Ethiopia 
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Ethiopian border country.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 77
  • Country/sea: Ethiopia
  • Place: Gondar
  • Book page no: 167

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