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Pole to Pole

Day 78: Gondar to Bahir Dar

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleIn one corner of the grounds there is a cage and in it the first lion I have seen in Africa. His name is Tafara and he once belonged to Haile Selassie, the last Emperor. Selassie died in 1975, a year after he was deposed by Mengistu, and with him died imperial Ethiopia. Tafara, the lion that was the symbol of his power, lingers on, an embarrassment, one feels, to almost everybody. His cage is small and he paces it restlessly, with only flies for company. There are raw wounds on his back and legs. He had a partner who has long since died. Now he is twenty years old and one can only hope that he does not have to suffer this indignity much longer.

By the time we leave Gondar darkness is falling, and we are soon in the thick of a tremendous electrical storm, the longest and most spectacular I've ever witnessed. Torrential rain pounds the vehicles, and for over two hours fork and sheet lightning rip and burst across the sky. The flashes occasionally reveal dramatic pinnacles of rock and abandoned tanks by the side of the road, frozen into negative for an instant by the intensity of the lightning. At other times they reveal my suitcase, riding uncovered on the roof-rack of the vehicle in front. This is the sort of test they write commercials about.

We arrive at the town of Bahir Dar, 110 miles from Gondar, at ten o'clock at night, having dropped about 2000 feet in the process. The rain has stopped. The storm has passed on. There is a chain barrier across the road, and after some moments a bleary soldier wrapped in a pink blanket with a rifle over his shoulder emerges and looks at our 'safe passage' note. I can tell by his face that he doesn't understand a word of it. He stares hard at it, then back at us, yawns powerfully and waves us on.

My suitcase hasn't survived the onslaught. Red dust and rain have turned some of my shirts an interesting colour.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 78
  • Country/sea: Ethiopia
  • Place: Gondar
  • Book page no: 169

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