Ethiopia: Abyssinia Adventure - Hwy 3
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours
  Lake Tana is visible to the west at several points of this sections but the road engineers determined that the most expeditious way to get from Adis Zemem to Gondar was not via the lake shore but on a direct route over several ridges.  By the time you reach Gondar you are at the hills the foothills of the Simien mountains.  
Elevation profile: Highway 3, Adis Zemen to Gondar, Ethiopia
[Graphs are built with incomplete data and are only general representations of the topography.]
Vista, Hwy 3, near Adis Zemen, Ethiopia
In contrast to the topography of the previous section, this section has more than twice the vertical difference -- more than 400m.  While there were long sections between the ridges that were relatively flat, there were sections on the climbs that were over 12%.

The redeeming value of the hills in Ethiopia -- and most other places -- is that they produce fantastic views.

Vista, Hwy 3, near Adis Zemen, Ethiopia
Women hauling wood near God's Tooth rock formation, Adis Zemen, Ethiopia

Group along Hwy 3, near Adis Zemen, Ethiopia

God's Tooth rock formation, Adis Zemen, EthiopiaGod's Tooth rock formation, Adis Zemen, EthiopiaA focus of the climb out of Adis Zemem is a lava plug called "God's tooth".  The gray, overcast morning doesn't do justice to any of the topography, but even shrouded it dwarfed its surrounding and exhibited and exemplify the long geological history of the area.

As we headed up the hill, groups of people were walking down, presumably heading for the market in Adis Zemen. Unhurried, some would stop for a chat, but we were near total failures at speaking Amharic so the conversations could only go as far as their English could take it.  It was nice that they made the effort to accommodate us.

God's Tooth rock formation, Adis Zemen, Ethiopia
Boy along Hwy 3, near Adis Zemen, Ethiopia Girl along Hwy 3, near Adis Zemen, Ethiopia Man along Hwy 3, near Adis Zemen, Ethiopia Man along Hwy 3, near Adis Zemen, Ethiopia Woman, Amo, Ethiopia
Bike Friday, Amo, Ethiopia
Woman making injera, Amo, EthiopiaMorning is when injera is cooked for the day. We stopped to visit and watch a group that was cooking near the road. The activity seemed to be as much social as it was productive. The half-dozen women gathered around talking represented several generations -- only a couple of them were actively involved in cooking.
Cornfield, Hwy 3, near Amo, Ethiopia
Again, the micro-climate changed as we descended and with that the vegetation and economic activity.  The grain at the bottom was sorghum (left). 

Along with the agriculture there was animal husbandry and veterinarian services (right).

Veterinary project, Hwy3, near Amo, Ethiopia
Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia Guzara Castle, near Infranze, EthiopiaRoad to Guzara Castle, near Infranze, EthiopiaGuzara Castle, (World Heritage Site) is five kilometers south of Infranze (Emfraz). It has a commanding position on top of a hill that is accessed by a couple kilometers of gravel road.

From the top there is a view that extends to Lake Tana in the distance.

View from near Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia
Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia

The Castle's history is a little unclear.  The most common recitation is that it was built around 1571-1572 for Emperor Sarste (Sarsa) Dengel (b. 1550 - d. 1597) (reign 1563-1597). Emperor Sarste Dengel was the founder of the Gonder dynasty, thus Guzara would represent the prototype of Gonderian design. Guzara‚Äôs architectural resemblance to the Gondarine castle has led recent expert speculation that it was built later. These hypothesis suggest Emperor Susneyos (b. 1572 - d. 1632) (reign 1606-1632) or his successor Emperor Fasilidas (b. 1603 - d. 1667) (reign 1632-1667). Fasilidas established Gondar as the Capital in 1636 and built the first structures in the Royal Enclosure, Fasil Ghebbi, a few years later.

The guide at the site gave five reasons for the selection of this location for Guzara Castle:

  1. It is strategic position.
  2. It is near existing trade routes, and the trading / commercial center of Emfraz.
  3. It is above the malaria zone. (It is usually said to be 2000m, which Guzara is just below, but the limits of the malaria zone have changed over time.)
  4. The area is good for agriculture.
  5. It has a good esthetic view.
  Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia  Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia Guzara Castle, near Infranze, Ethiopia

Now-a-days, Guzara Castle is only a shell of a building and perhaps most intriguing as a photographic subject or backdrop for a photo shoot.

Khat growing field, Infranze, Ethiopia Khat weighing scale, Infranze, EthiopiaThe river valley below the castle is a khat growing area (also called chat, qat, qaad and other names). It is endemic to arid areas of the Horn of Africa and Arabian peninsula, where khat chewing is a social custom dating back thousands of years. Here, it is sold at stalls that line a short section of roadway. I don't know the price, but it is valuable enough that it is weigh with a scale. Typically it is transported, with the leaf still on the branch, in plastic bags.

Khat's appeal is it contains a monoamine alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant, which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria. People who are very high on it can act very stupid.

Khat being carried in plastic bags, Infranze, Ethiopia
The boys t-shirts says "Obama". He was very willing to be photographed in it.

In Infranza, we had coffee and tea in a shop were willing to be photographed. The young girl took a number of coquettish poses. It is a mystery where she learned them, but the top suspect is her very stylish mother.

Out of Infranza the is another 200m climb and about equal descent, after which it is rolling without a lot of perceptible net elevation change.  In fact, over the next 40km there is a net 300m of climbing.

Vista, hill between Infranze and Maksegnit, Ethiopia Vista, hill between Infranze and Maksegnit, Ethiopia Vista, hill between Infranze and Maksegnit, Ethiopia Vista, hill between Infranze and Maksegnit, Ethiopia Vista, hill between Infranze and Maksegnit, Ethiopia Vista, hill between Infranze and Maksegnit, Ethiopia
Dashen Brewery, Gondar, Ethiopia University of Gondar, EthiopiaOn the outskirts of Gondar are a couple of landmark: The Dashen Brewery and the University of Gondar.
Statue of Emperor Tewodros II, in the Piassa, Gondar, Ethiopia As you arrive in the center of Gondar, you are greeted by a statue of Emperor Tewodros II (reigned 1855-1868). His rule came a century after the end of the "Gondar Dynasties" that provide the town its distinction. Tewodros II is often placed as the beginning of modern Ethiopia. He came to power in the Era of Princes, with many contentious, semi-autonomous provinces, and helped bring it to an end.  He labored to unify the country and resurrect the Solomonic Dynasty.  In the process he was challenged by conflicts with rebels and rivals, and encountered difficulties with the European powers, which were, unsolicited, grabbing pieces of Africa to call their own. 

Though he never realized his dream of restoring a strong monarchy, he took some important initial steps: He sought to establish the principle that governors and judges must be salaried appointees. He established a professional standing army, rather than depending on local lords to provide soldiers for his expeditions. He intended to reform the church, believing the clergy to be ignorant and immoral, but he was confronted by strong opposition when he tried to impose a tax on church lands to help finance government activities. His confiscation of these lands created enemies in the church and little support elsewhere.

Statue of Emperor Tewodros II, in the Piassa, Gondar, Ethiopia
Street scene, Gondar, Ethiopia

Curio shops, Piassa, Gondar, Ethiopia

The character of "Gondar" prior to 1636 is unknown, but in that year Emperor Falisadas, the son of Emperor Susenyos, established Gondar as his national capital.  Prior to this, the Emperors and there large entourages tended to live in roving tent cities that taxed the local people for surplus food and cut down the forests.  When the local resources were impoverished and exhausted they would move on.

Gondar is built on a number of rounded hills with streets curving around them. Within the city numerous trees that enhance its beauty and livability.  Perhaps this is the basis for the reference to Gondar as the "Camelot of Ethiopia".

There are two main reasons most tourist are drawn to Gondar: to access trekking in the Semien Mountains, or to see Fasil Ghebbi, the Royal Enclosure of Gondar. But beyond these draws, the town itself has a pleasant ambience with sidewalk boutiques, cafes, quality restaurants, good views, a variety of public buildings, and plenty of vegetation.

Curio shops, Piassa, Gondar, Ethiopia

Clothing stall, Gondar, Ethiopia

Street scene, stone-faced building, Gondar, Ethiopia

Display of posters of notable people, Gondar, Ethiopia

There seems to have been an attempt to tie some of the architecture together by building stone-faced modern buildings that roughly replicate the look of the royal palaces at Fasil Ghebbi (left).

At one point, a minor attraction in town was the Dashen beer building. The building is still there but the beer has moved on, so only half the former sign remains. The banner used to read "Dasen Beer".  [Note: 2015, the sign is totally gone.]

The wall of a cafe provokes a discussion with display of posters of great people (right). Left to right, top to bottom, they are: Emporer Tewodros II, Abe Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara, Alexander Graham Bell, Stephen Biko, (unidentified), Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, (unidentified), Helen Keller, Beethoven, Mother Teresa, Marie Curie, John Kennedy, and Thomas Edison.  I wonder if it is a collection that the cafe selected or a collection curated and sold by someone else. Who would be on your list?

One of the cutest (as in Dr. Seuss cute face) sights in town is the statue of an endemic Walia Ibex in a traffic circle (right). It looks quite forlorn isolated in the urban environment. [Note: 2015, it has been removed.]

Old Dashen beer building, Gondar, Ethiopia

Endemic Walia Ibex statue, Gondar, Ethiopia

Avocado, Gondar, Ethiopia Avocado smoothie, Gondar, EthiopiaA regular treat in the towns of northwest Ethiopia is the smoothie shop.  I don't know how long the season is, but we are fortunate to be visiting in avocado season.  Avocado trees have not been apparent along the roads, so I don't know if the produce is local or trucked in.

Typical of other Ethiopian towns, a lot of the commerce is in small shops.  This one offers an interesting mix of fresh fruit and plastic ware (right)

Public Library, Gondar, Ethiopia
It was nice to see a public library.  Its stone walls and arches are architectural treatments that clearly connected the building to the legacy of the royal enclosure.  It was closed at the time so there was no way to look inside.

In the city, most of the building had some element of non-traditional materials or construction, but tucked into one plot was a tightly grouped cluster of traditional small, round thatched-roof buildings (right).  Most of the people in the area look like students so conceivably this could be some kind of student housing. From the edge it is hard to know what is happening here.

Garden, Lodge Fasil, Gondar, Ethiopia Courtyard, Lodge Fasil, Gondar, Ethiopia Courtyard, Lodge Fasil, Gondar, Ethiopia Doro Wat being served, Lodge Fasil, Gondar, Ethiopia Doro Wat lunch, Lodge Fasil, Gondar, Ethiopia
During our stay in Gondar, we resided at the Lodge Fasil.  It is centrally located, beautifully landscaped, friendly, helpful, comfortable, and clean, and the manager arranged for us to have a lunch of Doro Wat (the national dish, common at weddings and celebrations, but not often served in small town and roadside restaurants). Though addictively delicious, it exceed the spice threshold for some northern pallets.
Doro Wat being served, Lodge Fasil, Gondar, Ethiopia

(Royal Gondar)


(South: Bahir Dar to Gondar) (North: Gondar to Zamira)


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Ethiopia Bicycle Tour: Gondar Region