Ethiopia 09 p4

Bahar Dar

The much-lauded town by Lake Tana is only 3 hours from Gonder by road, so I took a minibus in the company of a German traveler, making the ride that much more comfortable for both of us. I learned a lot about Uganda during the trip as  he was basically on vacation from his work there, as do I learn that we are lucky not to be sharing the bus with a sheep, as is common practice (the sheep is usually kept at the back, but sometimes it jumps inside on the passengers. Apparently this is seen as hilarious.)

We both checked in at the Ghion, the price of which is largely justified by its large garden on the lake where one can spend the entire day and order food at mealtimes. The place was full of the most exciting African birds, including turacos, lovebirds and a casqued hornbill that was nesting in the tree right above me. Before sunset, dozens of pelicans flew past in single file to return to their nesting place on the lake.

Visitor in my bathroom

The locals enjoy the lake both to swim in and to wash their clothes in.

A promenade on the lake shore was accessible from the hotel, but I quickly discovered the attitude problem was even worse here than elsewhere, and backtracked to only return in a group. Steve and Caroline soon appeared at the Ghion too, although they would still sleep in their tent, renting a spot in the hotel parking. We befriended another couple, from the Netherlands, whom I would meet again by chance in Addis a few days later.

Tankwa (papyrus boat) at dawn

The next morning I was off to Tis Isat, the Blue Nile falls that so many sought for so long. As it was the dry season, the falls were only a fraction of their normal size, but still quite beautiful.

Caught on the drive to Tis Isat

The walk to the falls

 Back at Ghion, I went for a walk with Thomas and Caroline that ended at a sort of open air cafe that had nothing to drink except water, but from our seat we could see rocks that turned out to be hippos. Upon trying to get closer for a better look, we ran into a group of men bathing and ran straight back... We had a very random game of foosball on the side of the street, under the gaze of its usual users who seemed to feel it was beneath them to even mock us right then, and we headed back for a lunch of fasting food around the corner.

Tuk-tuk wash day

Mmm injera!

It was later that day that I went out to the road station to book my bus ticket back to Addis. I had just learned of the Salaam bus, which was a private, modern bus service better suited for foreigners (especially lone women) than the regular bus, and took exactly 10 hours back to the capital. I decided to try it rather than fly again. Getting to the station and booking my ticket did not go without incident, however, ending in my punching someone in the midst of the crowded station. That was when I decided I was not going out alone into Bahar Dar again. But my bruised knuckle earned me much kudos back at the hotel.

I was not leaving without a tour of the lake monasteries. Lake Tana is full of small islands and many of them have monasteries that live more or less autonomously from the rest of the world.

Priest of Debre Maryam showing the church's 13th-c. Bible

Church bell

The kindest face I saw during my whole trip

Church cornice in painted metal and bells

A cup of tea with milk and a meal of grilled tilapia on the terrace were a welcome luxury afterward...

A word about my Salaam Bus ride. It was comfortable all right, and it included a lunch break on the way at a very adequate little relay hotel. They even distributed delicious hot bread for breakfast once the bus started. But the pee breaks were essentially geared to the male passengers (in fact only two of us were female, and I was the only foreigner): the bus stops anywhere and everyone lines up on the side of the road. I had to demand another stop for myself when I realized they would not think of that on their own, and the driver stopped at a fold in the terrain where myself and the teenage girl on the bus could find a semblance of privacy... (very relative, because once I was at my business she came to crouch next to me and opened a conversation, asking, no less, if I was liking her country. Not something you would see in Beirut!)