Thursday 18th January, 2018
We start the day with our first warm shower in days. After breakfast, and spending about an hour trying to download emails in the hotel lobby, we walk down to Fasiladas baths. This will be the site for the Timkat celebrations.
Fasiladas baths is a small building, sitting in the middle of a large rectangular pool, and located in a lovely and peaceful walled compound. It was originally created for religious purposes, but was also used for swimming by the Ethiopian Royal family when they resided in Gondar. Nowadays, the moat is only filled with water once a year for the TimKat celebrations.
We sit down in a small cafe to have a coffee, and then walk back to the hotel. Excitement is building up in the streets as more pilgrims arrive, as well as the odd tourist. There is one Austrian that we met in Aksum, and then again in Gondar. Lacking local contacts, he flew from town to town, hiring local taxis and guides.
We head back out in the afternoon to see our first Timkat procession. Each of the seven main churches in Gondar parades towards the Fasiladas baths, carrying their Tabots. These tabots are a representation of the Arc of the Covenant and the ten commandments. A procession comes with lots of chanting and shrilling. Devotees are all dressed in white and walk in front of a number of priests. Those carry colourful velvet and embroidered parasols, and are blocking the view of the main priest who carries the Tabot, wrapped in beautifully embroidered cloths, on his head. He is followed by more priests, all singing and dancing to the music.
We catch up with the procession from the church of Yohannes and follow them to Fasiladas baths. It is slow going, the procession moves forwards on a set of carpets that are moved from the back to the front, to form a continuous carpet on which the procession proceeds.
All seven processions arrive at sunset, and the atmosphere is electric. Women are shrilling, and the noise reaches hysterical levels. The seven priests, each carrying their tabot, are gathering and crossing the single small bridge into the building in the middle of the pool. They will stay up all night, praying and chanting. And so will a large number of the people gathered here.
We slowly walk back to our hotel. As with all other cities in Ethiopia, Gondar may have street lights, but they don’t work. Gondar also has a sidewalk, which consists of mosaic tiles and concrete slabs that cover the drains. These slabs are not continuous, and have smaller and larger holes, and are occasionally collapsed down into the drain.
As we walk back in the increasing darkness, we do our best to avoid the potholes. Alas, within shouting distance of the hotel, I step into a big pothole and drop two metres straight down into the drain. Standing ankle deep in soft squashy whatever, trying not to slide deeper down, I look up to the small hole way, way above me, and see a number of concerned faces. Mike manages to pull me out quickly. Some nice locals insist on driving me, wet and smelly, to the hotel in their van.
My injuries are limited to some nasty scrapes and bruises, and a nightmare experience. I fell straight down, avoiding catching my head on the various steel bars sticking out of the concrete, I was lucky!
Travel details and Tips:
Accomodation: Jantekel hotel, Gondar.
Tip 1: Araki, the local home-brew spirit, makes for an excellent disinfectant! It cleared up my bruises and cuts very quickly!
Tip 2: Always, always carry a head torch with you when you expect to be out after sunset (or before sunrise)!