After coffee and a walk around the grounds at Kuriftu Resort and Spa on Lake Tana–see last photos of previous post, we headed south. This was not the kind of trip where I could stop whenever I wanted to take photos so many of the photos you see on these Ethiopian posts were taken from a moving car. A typical house along the roadside. Eucalyptus may be invasive; nevertheless, its uses here seem endless–the house, the fence. A new housing development along the road all framed in eucalyptus. In fact, nearly everything is made from eucalyptus except the metal roofs and the final coats of mud on the outside. I wondered about the advisability of the modern use of metal. Since no one heats or air conditions, metal can be both hot and cold whereas the traditional roofs act as insulation. Of course, they take a lot more work for upkeep. The land immediately south of Bahir Dar is flat. Farmers grow eucalyptus commercially. They use irrigation canals and grow onions and tomatoes as well as other vegetables. If you want to drive in Ethiopia, you must learn to dodge people and animals because the highways remain the primary transportation routes for everything, not just modern vehicles. Although the houses may be mostly mud plastered with dirt floors, nearly everyone has electricity. So many rivers nearly overflowing during the rainy season, it is hard to keep track of which one is which. Even the official map does not contain all the rivers we crossed. This one is often referred to as the Little Nile (Lesser Abay). Some even claim it is the real beginning of the Nile (Abay) because this river feeds into Lake Tana from which the Blue Nile flows. However, the Lesser Abay is not the only water input into Lake Tana. Few overweight people can be found in Ethiopia. Why? They walk; they carry heavy loads. Bridge over the Little Nile. For most of the day we drove through heavy rain. This huge rock suddenly appeared, sticking up among the grass and fields. Except for water everywhere, it reminded me of things one sees in the western United States. When I tell people that I have never seen so much green and rain or experienced so much cold in a three week period in my life, they seem amazed this occurred in Ethiopia. We stopped at this lovely lake, not only because it is beautiful but also because Colobus monkeys live here. I tried to photograph them and gave up; they fly through the trees with incredible rapidity. Lake Zegena between Injibarra and Bure at 2529 meters altitude. Here it even rains during the dry season. The incredible number of plants and mosses growing on the trees made me think of Costa Rica where as many as 150 different species of plants can grow on one tree. Dino and Alemu appeared very excited to see this for sale. Yes, it is edible–tiringo. They cut up slices and ate them with big smiles on their faces. I tried it; too sour for me. The flesh is somewhat like an apple but tastes more like lemons. However, I am not a fan of citrus fruit–these are a type of citrus–so was not surprised to find I could do without this one. In this area charcoal is made and sold commercially everywhere along the road. We stopped to buy a bag of limes from these girls. Most of the day we drove through lush agricultural country. We arrived in Debre Markos in the perpetual rain. Although the hotel where we stayed was only two months old, not everything functioned. I had to change rooms and even then, the bathroom door would not shut and a tile was missing just above the door. By this time, I had come to the conclusion that the really old things in Ethiopia, not unlike elsewhere in the world, were better made than new construction. The 1000 year old churches in Lalibela still function perfectly. This hotel definitely will not last 1000 years. Like everywhere in Ethiopia, no heat existed anywhere in the hotel. Aesthetically, the hotel received a very good score. Beautiful linens, lovely decor (everything had been painted by Dino’s sister’s company with the exquisite paint she imports from Italy), a well stocked bar. I hung out in the bar a while with Dino drinking sambuca romana trying to get warm. It failed to work. Sleep seemed impossible–too cold. Finally, after lying in bed cold for over an hour, I arose, put on two pairs of socks and tried again. Finally warm enough to sleep. The view out my hotel room in Debre Markos demonstrates a typical Ethiopian city view–the contrast between the new and luxurious and the elemental.
Of the 37 islands on Lake Tana, 20 shelter churches and monasteries, very old monasteries, many of which remain in use today. While some are closed totally to women, we visited Ura Kidane Mihret with no problem. It is part of a larger complex, the Convent of Mercy founded in the 14th century. Various buildings date from that era to more recent times. To reach the monastery you have to climb in a boat and ride across Lake Tana to the Zege Penisula. We boarded our small boat at the far end of this garden at the hotel–there were four of us and the helmsman–and headed across the lake. On the way we passed a number of fishermen paddling their papyrus boats. We also sailed past a couple of islands like this one where one monk lives alone. On another island lives a priest. Women are not allowed except on one, just at the edge near the dock. We did not go there. Once you arrive at the dock you hike up a hill past various vendors selling everything from religious paintings to hand woven scarves. This young man used all natural materials to paint small replicas of the paintings found in the monastery itself. In retrospect I wish I had purchased at least one; I never saw anything quite like them again. Like most religious buildings in Ethiopia, all the buildings in this complex are round. The only place in Ethiopia where I saw rectangular churches was in Lalibela. Every piece of space on the interior walls is painted with religious scenes from the Bible and Ethiopian religious history. The current paintings date from 100-250 years ago when, as the paint began to deteriorate, they used a special process to repaint them. This particular monastery is noted for these incredible paintings. The tops of all the buildings are adorned with different symbols for peace. Sometimes they also represent the disciples of Jesus as well or other religious symbolism. A new visitor center remains under construction; it seemed nearly complete. The visitor center is the rock building on the left, the monastery the building in the rear. On the path back to the boat dock vendors sell scarves and jewelry. I bought several scarves, one of which was totally different from any I saw anywhere else. If I had only known just how unique it would be, I would have bought the other one–she had only two. These scarves are hand loomed and in some cases the yarn is also hand spun. Finally, back near the dock we stopped for coffee, indulging ourselves in the totally Ethiopian experience of their coffee ceremony. You have not truly sipped coffee until you participate in one of these. There is nothing anywhere quite like it.
As the sun set and the moon rose, Lake Tana glittered.
The hotel, known for its gardens, provided lighted pathways for evening walking. The next morning as we sat on the patio for breakfast, company arrived.
We crumbled toast to see what would occur. These weavers loved the treat. A hotel employee, viewing them as pests, ran out and drove them into a nearby tree.
Fisherman still use the same papyrus boats used during the time of the pharaohs. The pelicans at Lake Tana display snow white plumage.
These fisherman customarily row two hours out into the lake to fish and when finished, two hours back. Yes, I said row, no motors. Talapia is the primary catch. After boarding at the hotel dock, we made our way across a tiny portion of the lake in a relatively small boat powered with a motor.
Lake Tana is huge. The ferry that crosses from Bahir Dar to Gorgora takes ten hours. When we boarded the motor boat, it never occurred to me that we would actually go to the place where the Blue Nile begins, but suddenly here we were. Just thinking about it as I write this makes me shiver. I am here again, where the river of all rivers, the Nile, actually begins.
And suddenly we are on the Nile, no longer in Lake Tana.
The light colored objects along the river bank are papyrus boats.
The tall plants in the background are papyrus. In Addis I saw them used as ornamental plants in the gardens of the Sheraton. Here they grow wild along the Nile exactly as they have for millennia.
Just past this point, we rounded a slight bend in the coastline. A naked man bathing in the water quickly scrambled up the bank and pulled on a pair of pants.
We zoomed here and there so rapidly that at times I remained uncertain as to whether I was in Lake Tana or the Nile. No matter, it was warm, the company was stellar, my body smiled. What could possibly be better than this!!!
From Gonder to get to Lake Tana, you must retrace your route to go to Bahir Dar, the largest city on the lake. The road around the west side of the lake is not a major highway so we traveled back past the Finger of God, past my favorite castle, through the valley with miles of rice, through Addis Zemen. Altitude declines the closer you drive to Bahir Dar. Although Simien Mountain National Park remains one of the most scenic places I have ever visited and Gonder is a city filled with unique history and beauty, I felt happier and happier as it became warmer, more tropical. In keeping with the previous week, the emerald landscape continued.
Here cattle grazed in the seemingly endless pastures. As usual, livestock walked along the road. The species of livestock varied with altitude and locale.
When you drive through towns and even larger cities, expect to dodge people and animals. Even in Addis, we saw goats.
These intensely yellow flowers in the foreground grew everywhere. No one seemed to know their name.
Dino wanted to buy the hat so we stopped to talk to this boy herding his animals along the roadside. He told Dino he spent two days making it. The hat along with baskets and other items bought on the trip took one and one half months to arrive in the US after being shipped from Ethiopia.
In this area, these same yellow flowers appeared everywhere and in some places so close together as to make a fence. Upon detailed inspection, I concluded they are some type of thistle. Later, we learned they are poisonous to the touch and cause massive swelling. And to think I seriously concerned touching them. Finally, we arrived at Bahir Dar and drove onto this street.
We reached a promontory overlooking the Nile. The Nile!!! All my life I have heard of the Nile.
Here below me, flowing out of Lake Tana, the source of civilizations thousands of years old, the Nile begins its long journey to the Mediterranean Sea. We drove further down a dirt road to this overlook.
Unlike the previous point, no one was here except two youngsters and us. We watched cattle graze along the Nile, a couple walk on a pathway along the river, and a hippo cross from the near bank to the larger island, but too far away to capture with my iPAD. Even now I can feel the emotion, an overwhelming, indescribable sense of amazement–the Nile, river of rivers, laying there below me.
I stood spell bound for a long time, watching, feeling, thinking: I cannot believe this, I am looking at the Nile. Later, on the way to the hotel, we crossed a bridge over the river where hippos lounged. We stopped, hoping to take photos, but the river guard said no. We could look but no photos–he explained it is a strategic bridge. We checked into our hotel on the shores of Lake Tana.
Still, now, writing this, I feel the magic, the mystery.
I spent yesterday evening and today here in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, looking at, riding across or around on Lake Tana and the Blue Nile. The out flow of Lake Tana is the beginning of the Blue Nile, the world’s longest river. I crossed the Nile three times today in a relatively small motor boat. Due to a diversion of water for hydroelectric power, the Nile falls are only a fraction of what they used to be. Fishermen still fish Lake Tana in boats made from papyrus, scarves are still woven on hand looms, and corn, beans, and sugar cane are cultivated by hand, The following photos were all taken today, including the exquisite gardens at the restaurant where we ate lunch.