After our overlanding trip through Ethiopia was over, and the rest of our group had headed off – either homeward or onward – we remained in Gonder for a few days. This gave us time to reflect on the journey, edit and upload photos, write some blogposts, and generally relax before returning to the UK. We also took the opportunity to take a day trip to Gorgora. This little-visited resort on the north shore of Lake Tana, 60km southwest of Gonder, had earned itself a reasonable write-up in our Lonely Planet guidebook, so we thought it merited a little effort on our part.
In the event, it was more than just a little effort! Having failed to find any information about the daily bus service which is purported to run between Gonder and Gorgora, we went back to our old friend Bini, of Simien Experience, and asked him to take us. He readily agreed and we fixed a price. He advised us that it would take several hours to get there, so we arranged to leave our hotel at 7.30am.
On the appointed morning, Bini and Chambey, our driver, picked us up and we set off out of Gonder on the road which took us past the airport. Bini couldn’t give us many answers to our questions about our destination, so I resorted to reading the guidebook. The reason for Bini’s lack of knowledge soon became clear – he had never been to Gorogora before and was using our trip as a fact-finding exercise for his business! He hadn’t mentioned this when we booked! Not that I blame him – it’s good business sense to get the tourists to pay for your research!
After leaving Gonder, we soon ran out of road. This came as much a surprise to Bini as it did to us! So, about 55km of our 60km journey was made on dirt tracks, roads under construction and diversions across fields! It was very bumpy and incredibly dusty. The signage was ambiguous if, indeed, it existed at all, and we lost our way more than once, having to ask for directions to put us back on the right track. Eventually, however, we made it to Gorgora, which turned out to be a singularly unattractive, unappealing one-street town. We didn’t linger, heading instead to the Gorgora Port Hotel, where Bini had arranged for a local guide to take us to Debre Sina Church.
The hotel had undoubtedly seen better days. It was very run down and not particularly clean. It did, however, serve very good coffee, which was extremely welcome as we had left our hotel too early to get any refreshment there. As we waited for our guide, we were joined by another tourist who had come from Gonder in a minibus identical to ours. Bini told us he had known she was coming, but that she had refused to share our transport. Shame – it could have reduced all our costs. This eccentrically dressed lady turned out to be a Russian with a particular interest in the wall paintings which decorate the interior of Debre Sina. There was a problem, though, in that nobody had told her she would have to walk to the church as there was no vehicular access. It was a couple of kilometres away and she wasn’t very mobile. So, we left her pondering her predicament and set off to walk with our guide. She must have found a way, however, as we saw her later deep in conversation with a priest outside the church.
Our guide took us first to the ‘port’. In reality, this was a simple jetty from where the weekly ferry service across Lake Tana to Bahir Dar leaves. It takes a day and a half to complete the crossing and we were told it is a well-used route, carrying 1000 passengers at a time. We saw the boat and certainly wouldn’t fancy being on board with 998 other people! We were also shown the papyrus fishing boats used by the local people. These boats are totally bio-degradable and have to be replaced every couple of months.
We were then taken to Debre Sina Church. It was very similar, both externally and internally, to many other churches we had already visited in Ethiopia, but it was interesting, nevertheless. We met the incumbent priest and two of his deacons. Seventeen novice monks and one elderly nun live in the compound surrounding the church and we were shown into one of the simple dwellings shared by two of the monks while they study before taking their holy orders.
From there, we walked back to our transport, spotting lots of interesting colourful birds along the way. We asked Bini to take us to Tim and Kim Village for lunch. We had read about it in our Lonely Planet Guide and were interested to see it. It turned out to be an idyllic resort on the banks of the lake, and we were more than happy for Bini to leave us there for a few hours while he and Chambey returned to Gorgora to eat.
The resort has a number of well-appointed stone-built cottages for guests to stay in, as well as pitches for people who bring their own tents. A large circular structure in the centre of the resort serves as the bar, restaurant and meeting point. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet Tim and Kim as they were on holiday back in Holland. However, the place was being looked after by a young couple, Nico and Farah, who made us very welcome. They encouraged us to look around and served us ice-cold beer and delicious toasted sandwiches for lunch. It was a lovely relaxing afternoon. We would love to return one day and stay for a while! Perhaps, when the road is built?
As it was, when Bini returned, we had to go back along the dusty track to Gonder as we were flying home the next day.