A wee while back Tim and I went to Bahir Dar for a weekend away from Addis. Bahir Dar translates as “Sea Shore” in Amharic. Although Ethiopia is landlocked, Bahir Dar is home to Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake in Ethiopia, with a surface area of over 3000sq km, and measuring 84km at the widest (longest) part. It is a relatively shallow lake, only 14m at the deepest point (or so I was told by a guide while we were there), but this can increase by up to 7m during the wet season, which also increases the surface area…
The lake is home to many small islands which house centuries-old monasteries and churches. Most of the islands are also inhabited by people – we visited one which has monks and nuns living on it.
Bahir Dar is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Ethiopia, because it is also home to the Blue Nile Falls, the source of the Blue Nile, the outlet of the Blue Nile and of course the Blue Nile river.
We arrived on Friday and in the afternoon we took a trip to the Blue Nile Falls. The Falls are totally famous worldwide, however, in recent years most of the water has been stolen (re-directed) for the hydro dam scheme which provides power to most of the country. As a result the Falls are now much smaller. We took a minivan in the afternoon from the Ghion Hotel in Bahir Dar, about 30km to Tis Abay, the nearest village to the falls. From there it was a short boat trip across the river and a ten minute stroll across lava flows and through paddocks – mostly barren, but some with chat and shiro plants – to get to the falls and a massive, dodgy looking swing bride.
Here is a picture of the Falls in their former glory:
STOLEN from Wikipedia!
Here is a picture of them today:
Tim standing on a bigger rock on me, CLEARLY the reason why he looks so much taller than me
Everyone gleefully jumped on this huge swing bridge, laughing and shrieking and swinging and bouncing… but the Germans and the Kiwis (us) were the only ones to give it a miss. A large crack in one of the blocks which fastens the bridge to one side of the massive gorge/valley put us right off. The German took one look and said “I do not trust the bridge. I do not go on it.”
Only the dubious Germans and the cautious Kiwis didn’t partake in the Swing Bridge activities…
The following day we hired a boat and made a day trip of visiting various monasteries on the islands of Lake Tana and on the Zege Peninsula. Everyone had told me to be careful when hiring a boat – most of them are low horse power and pretty gutless. Although it was a still morning, Tim said that if the wind were to pick up in the afternoon, and you were going into it back to Bahir Dar, it would be no fun. We asked the owner of the boat who told us 25hp. Not as great as 40, but better than 15, right? No sooner were we out on the lake, Tim noticed a “Castrol Oil” sticker conveniently placed on the boat engine: at a glance it looked like it was supposed to be there, but look closer and you could see it was covering the 9.9hp logo. AWA. Although we paid good money to hire the boat for the day, we were rushed to only a couple of monasteries where they mercilessly ripped us off before being taken back to Bahir Dar. We were promised a trip to the outlet of the Blue Nile by the owner of the boat, but when I asked, the operator of the boat requested more money, saying his boss would kill him if he used too much petrol. So we idled slowly back to Bahir, moving at a pace slower than that of the snail, until the operator got a phone call about another job – it was only then that he opened up the throttle and we made the rest of the journey at a quicker pace. He dropped us at a shitty hotel on the waterfront where we drank coke in the shade, before hopping on a bajaj to a better café. The day was riddled with AWA-ness, but, hey, we are in Ethiopia and we would expect no less from them!
Tim on Lake Tana
14th Century church on the Zege Peninsula
This church is called Azure Maryam (Mary) and was built in the 14th Century. The paintings inside were completed in the 16th Century and the paints are all made from natural pigments – mainly crush flowers that have been treated in some way to make their colour last longer. The paintings were painted onto cotton sheets and then fixed to the walls on the inside of the church. The paintings were restored again in the 18th Century. As with all of the churches I’ve visited in Ethiopia, there were three parts to it: the first is at the centre of the building and is where the replica of the Arc of the Covenant is kept. Ethiopians believe that the Arc of the Covenant was not lost and that the original is in a church in Axum. Each church has its own replica. The second is the congregation area, where the holy communion is taken, and the third, the area around the edge of the round building – is the chanting area, where singing, dancing and celebrating takes place.
Coffee Plants on the Zege Peninsula
Most of the 10,000 people living on the Zege Peninsula make their living by collecting firewood and selling it at the market in Bahir Dar. But it’s a 30 minute drive or a 40 minute boat trip, and petrols is expensive, so they can’t make the trip often. As a result, the people have very very little, however, once a year the coffee plants on the Peninsula can be harvested (they were due to do this two weeks after our visit) and sold. The money made from coffee bean sales has to last them for an entire year. The beans are dried and some are roasted before being sold. Because the coffee plants are pretty much their entire livelihood, the people hate the monkeys! Monkeys eat the sweet red fleshy bit which covers the two beans inside. While we were visiting a quiet monastery, a Priest suddenly jumped up, sprinted over to a tree and started yelling at it and shaking his prayer stick at it! Turns out he was trying to scare off the monkey that was feasting on the coffee plant…It is rumoured that some trendy foreign company is trying to work with the people from the Peninsula to obtain the beans for export – no doubt so they can be consumed in some super-trendy cafe in Europe.
While we were on the Peninsula, we saw this guy making paintings to sell at one of the stalls. His paint brush is made form horse hair, and the paints are all natural – the colours come from plants. He crushes the plants to get the colour, mixes then with something and then buries this paste underground for six months, inside the horn of a cow. This is supposed to make the paint last longer once it is on the canvas. The canvas is make from goat, sheep or cow leather.
View from Entos Eyesu Monastery, which is on an island on Lake Chamo
On Sunday, after a 5am check in and a two hour wait, we finally boarded the plane and made the short 45min trip back to Addis. Of course, the AWAing wasn’t over (it never really ends). While airport security across Ethiopia is pretty strict – their motto is “metal is bad” – to the point where the metal shaker ball inside a twink pen is seen as evil and as some kind of spy tool – people consider talking on their mobile phone during take-off, landing and anytime in between acceptable. This guy wasn’t even sneaky about making a call during the flight, just whipped out the phone and started talking.
Oh, one more thing: we were also lucky enough to see these guys while we were there:
Hippos on Lake Tana