Vertical Gondar Challenges Foolish Flatlander
(Gondar, Ethiopia)—Before I came to Gondar, I heard that it was hilly. As a graduate of the University of Kansas, and long-time professor at Park University, I took this news smugly, since both of my universities are known for their hills. I naively believed my KU and Park experience had prepared me for any vertical collegiate challenge.
I could not have been more incorrect.
First, the hills here aren’t hills, they’re mountains. Gondar itself is up in the mountains, and surrounded by larger mountains. In the city, the highest point is, you guessed it, the University of Gondar (UoG). Thus, approaching from either direction, one takes a nearly vertical tack to reach the university’s main gates. To avoid a coronary, I usually take a bajaj (a small three wheeled vehicle for hire) up to the gates.
Tragically, the gates are only the halfway point. The highest point on Mount UoG is the building housing the journalism department. From the entrance gates, it takes an exhausting 10 minute hike, again seemingly straight up, to reach the journalism building. But wait—there’s more. The journalism department is on the fifth floor, and, you guessed it, there is no elevator.
|Steps of Eternal Peril & journalism building (top), |
as seem from my apartment
An alternative route is around the back side of campus. One starts with a slight uphill climb along a road being constructed and aside the soccer field. The climb gets more pronounced as one reaches the dorms. Making a left after the dorms, one is left gape-jawed and breathless at the sight of the doom that awaits, which I have dubbed the Steps of Eternal Peril. The sadistic Steps of Eternal Peril features 216 stairs (I counted) seemingly arrayed at a 90-degree angle. My first stab at the Steps of Eternal Peril, on my first day in Gondar, I had to stop three times on the way up. Now, I’m in reasonably decent shape, and was surprised at having to stop at all. The second attempt, I had to stop only once, halfway. On the third try, I made it 140 steps, 2/3 of the way, without stopping.
|Steps of Eternal Peril, Univ. of Gondar|
Even after having conquered the Steps of Eternal Peril, one is still faced with a steep, five minute walk to the journalism building. Then, of course, there’s the stairs up to the fifth floor.
Another issue is the elevation. Gondar’s elevation is 2850 meters (9350 feet), about the same as Bogota, Colombia and Quito, Equador, and only 600 meters lower than Lhasa, Tibet. (The highest point in Missouri, where I live, is 1645 feet). I noticed the altitude immediately as I huffed and puffed my way around campus. Again, being in decent shape, gasping for air has been a new experience for me. Thus, in Gondar, not only does one battle the Steps of Eternal Peril and the staircase up to the fifth floor, but the altitude as well. I’m slowly acclimating, though I still find myself breathless at times.
The good news, of course, is that this is a great place to get in shape. I can almost see the pounds melting off. The Steps of Eternal Peril are the world’s best workout facility. Once I make it to the top without stopping, I’ll work on picking up the pace, and perhaps mount the steps while carrying some weight in a backpack.
At the end of the day, once I’ve hiked around the Matterhorn/UoG campus, I make a leisurely stroll downhill to my apartment, which is located on the fifth floor. Predictably, there is no elevator.