Because of the continued uncertainty, I decided on a private car from Bahir Dar to Gondar rather than a public bus. First we decided to stop in Awra Amba. This is a small community notable for its efforts at gender equality and religious tolerance (more here). It was a little cultish but interesting, and the community is doing well, with a big weaving workshop, school, and home for the elderly. After Awra Amba we continued north on a gorgeous drive past green farmland - mostly corn and rice - and up into the mountains.
In Gondar we stayed at the Fasil Lodge. I'm not sure I'd recommend the location. On the one hand, we could walk right to the castle compound, which is the big tourist attraction in Gondar. On the other hand, the most visited part of town attracts a lot of hustlers and we got hassled A LOT. The southern part of Gondar might be a more attractive option on a future trip. Aside from a burned-out bus in the town center, there was no sign of the recent violence in Gondar.
The castle compound was great. We had a FANTASTIC guide named Nigusu whose contact information I'd be happy to share. The tour included six castles -
a bajaj ride to Debre Berhan Selassie church -
and another bajaj ride to Fasilidas Pool (only filled for Timkat in January).
We were lucky to have dry weather during the tour but Gondar gets more rain than other parts of Ethiopia. It started raining in the afternoon and continued all through the next morning. Our next destination was Kossoye, higher up in the mountains on the road to Amba Giorgis, and we departed in the rain. At the local bus station competing teenagers yelled at us to get into their minibuses until someone won by grabbing our bags, then we drove around town with the teenager hanging out the window yelling for passengers until we were full. Thirty minutes out of Gondar, the minibus dropped us off in what looked like the middle of nowhere - just a few shops on the side of the road. I asked a woman where the lodge was and she indicated that it was just off the road up ahead. A bunch of kids came running up so I asked for hulet 'tankara lijoch - two strong children - for the tiliq borsawoch - big bags - and we set off with our entourage to the lodge, which turned out to be close by.
Befiker Kossoye Lodge is right on the edge of a cliff at 3,000 meters but we couldn't see anything because we were in the clouds. It was really cold and a fire was built for us; it felt like a ski lodge. We were the only guests there, which felt a little weird. But once again we got super lucky with the weather because the next day was clear. The views were incredible. We were told that on a very clear day you can see all the way to Eritrea in the north and Sudan in the west.
We went on a guided hike in the morning and I took approximately a million pictures. In the afternoon we attended a reception for one of the workers at the lodge who had just gotten married. Here's a view of the sunset, walking back from the village -
The next day we took the Amba Giorgis bus back to Gondar. We visited Empress Mentewab's palace where we peered at the empress's bones by torchlight (the power was temporarily out; though it came back on, the kids asked the guide to continue with the more atmospheric torch). The rest of the day it rained and we were stuck inside.
It seems perverse that we were being tourists in a time of violence, but life appeared to be continuing normally all around us.
A few days after we left Gondar, there was a huge demonstration that was met with violence. A few weeks later, at least 26 people were reported killed in Amba Giorgis.
Read Part 4