Escape from Addis-catraz

Visas finally sorted until the Egypto-Libyan frontier, I catch a coach to Gonder. It takes 2-3 hours to wind up and over a mountain range, at close to walking pace to stop us plummeting below. The road leads on to Lake Tana (the source of the Blue Nile). Its then 4 hours or so to Gonder through mountain passes that look like they belong more to the Peak District than Africa.

The contrast between town and country is some of the most marked I’ve seen. A town will end with a property’s boundary wall and then the scene becomes one more expected of Medieval Europe: oxen used to plough fields, people using pits as wells for drinking water.

Gonder was once capital of Ethiopia (as have been most towns with more than 14 people at some point) and has a World Heritage listed compound of 6 castles dating from 1632 onwards to show for it. They are perfect fairy-tale fortress-palaces.

My sleep is interrupted by a distinctly English voice down the corridor, returning from the communal toilet by saying “Well that was…horrid. Let’s go!” The only saving grace to the place where I slept the night is that its 5 minutes walk to the bus station where minibuses to the Sudanese border are so easy to come by drivers are snatching, dragging, and manhandling potential passengers to their particular vehicle.

We drive through hills and mountains again. It is the sort of landscape I shouldn’t be able to get tired of, but I have. The hazy green rises as far as the eye can see, and are broken by infrequent shear escarpments or jutting fingers of rock.

I cross the concrete bridge over the dry river, into the Republic of Sudan. A plush newish minibus, with only 3 people per row, takes me the 3.5 hours to Gedaref, the first major town. The land flattens out almost straight away, remaining fertile. Like crossing into Somaliland/Djibouti, it feels as if the temperature instantly jumps a few degrees. Its like going from a chilly spring day in England to a holiday on the surface of the sun.
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