Day 1,438: The Camelot of Africa

Sat 08.12.12:

Before Addis Ababa was founded around 100 years ago (Addis meaning ‘New’ and Ababa meaning ‘Flower’), the capital of what we now call Ethiopia had a tendency to move around a lot, much in the manner of the baddie’s castle in Krull. In fact, from around 1270 to 1636, the capital was wherever the king rested his weary head, much to the chagrin of the hapless locals who would have to stump up the readies to look after him and his extensive court should he turn up unannounced on a otherwise unremarkable Thursday afternoon.

Then in 1636 Emperor Fasiladas decided to break with the old ways an established Gonder as the new permanent capital of Ethiopia. The two hundred years that followed were ones of great architectural, culture and artistic endeavour, while also being a time of Machiavellian plotting, court conspiracies and some rather brutal assassinations that make Game of Thrones look a bit tame. Maybe Harry Lime had a point after all…

This morning I was up for 4am and heading over to the bus station to catch my ride north. Gonder awaits! The journey was great – spectacular scenery as we weaved our way through the northern highlands. I sat at the very front of the bus for much of the journey, chatting with the driver’s mate and gathering footage that I wished looked as good as what I was seeing with my eyes (I’m so getting a couple of wireless CCDs put in my eyes one day).

We arrived at sunset, which was a shame as I didn’t get to have a look around The Royal Enclosure; a walled collection of castles, temples and churches from when the kingdom of Gonder was at the height of its powers. It’s a well deserved UNESCO world heritage site and the fact I didn’t have time to go exploring gives me a great excuse to return to Ethiopia some day. Not that I really needed a excuse: Ethiopia has, without a shadow of a doubt, muscled into my top ten favourite countries, which, at current standings (and excluding the UK, for the sake of fair play, I mean, come on, the UK) are:

1. Palau
2. Egypt
3. Thailand
4. Bolivia
5. Madagascar
6. Iran
7. Ethiopia
8. South Korea
9. Nepal
10. Colombia

I arranged to be picked up by a minibus to the border at 8am the next morning, checked into the Belegez Pension (Birr115 for a single), found somewhere that was showing the footy (everywhere was showing the footy… the cinema was showing the footy) and settled in for the evening with a bottle of St George’s Ethiopian beer.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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