|Our boat on Lake Tana|
Lake Tana is Ethiopia’s largest lake, measuring 95km from north to south and covering over 3500 square kilometres. Its waters are the source of the Blue Nile, which flows 5223 km north to the Mediterranean Sea.
Our first sight of Lake Tana came when we arrived in the resort town of Bahir Dar. After dropping off our bags, we went out in search of food and drink. Taking a recommendation from our guide book, we headed for Mango Park restaurant which is located on a floating platform close to the shore of the lake. We paid a small entrance fee to go across a rather precarious walkway to access the bar/restaurant. Once ‘on board’, we ordered beers and tried to get used to the constant motion caused by the water below us. We had acquired a self-appointed guide by this point, but, after some discussion, we realised that there was no food to be had, so we drank up and left, sadly not before being royally ripped off by our ‘guide’! Fortunately, we found an alternative eatery close by where we enjoyed a very good cheap meal.
|A boat from the monastery heading to Bahir Dar for supplies|
|A hippo in the lake|
|Pelicans in the distance|
|People fishing using a papyrus boat|
The next morning we had a very pleasant boat trip, with our guide, Mas, across the lake to visit the churches and monasteries of the Zege Peninsula, the subject of my next post. In the distance, we could see a huge number of pelicans. We also spotted several tankwa canoes. These local boats are made from woven papyrus and appear to be very flimsy, but we were told that they can carry huge loads. They last for three or four months on average before they disintegrate and need to be replaced. On the way back from the churches, we detoured to the start of the Blue Nile in the hope of catching sight of hippos. We were in luck and managed to see two of them playing in the shallows. Once back in Bahir Dar, we had lunch in a lovely lakeside fish restaurant, enjoying the views and the breeze coming off the water.
|Gorgora to Bahir Dar ferry|
After leaving Bahir Dar, we didn’t see Lake Tana again until the very end of our trip. The rest of our group had gone and Mark and I were left alone in our hotel in Gondar. We decided to spend one of our extra days taking a trip to Gorgora, a small town on the north shore of the lake which had once, briefly, been Ethiopia’s capital. By doing this we felt we had ‘completed the circle’ which was our trip around northern Ethiopia. We got in touch with Bini of Simien Experience Tour and Travel who had been our guide in the Simien Mountains and arranged for him to take us. It was only a 60km drive, but from just a few kilometres outside of Gonder the road was under construction, so the journey took several hours. On arrival, the town of Gorgora had nothing to detain us at all and we wondered why we had made the effort to come! However, we pressed on and met our local guide at the Gorgora Port Hotel, a very run down establishment on the shores of the lake. He took us to show us the ‘port’. There is a weekly passenger ferry between Bahir Dar and Gorgora which takes two days to make the 95 km journey. Our guide told us that the boat carries 1000 passengers – I think something must have got lost in translation!
|The church of Debre Sina|
From the port, we walked to the church of Debre Sina, meeting a very old nun on the way. She had just picked a handful of coffee beans to dry and didn’t take kindly to our guide taking some of them from her to split and show us what was inside! The church itself was built by Emperor Fasiladas, the future founder of Gonder, in 1608, on the site of a 14thcentury monastery. Inside there are lots of original paintings, many of them fading, which were described to us by the priest and two of his deacons. Surrounding the church are old stone buildings which are home to 28 monks and 15 nuns. Our guide wanted us to go into the room occupied by a couple of novice monks, but I drew the line at interrupting them having their lunch!
|Salome getting the head of John the Baptist|
After visiting the church, we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do. It turned out that Bini hadn’t been to Gorgora before either! However, I had read about a resort close to town – Tim and Kim Village – run by a Dutch couple. Bini dropped us off there and it turned out to be the perfect place to spend a few hours. It is a collection of solar-powered thatch-and-stone cottages in a valley on the shores of Lake Tana. There is a bar and restaurant on site which serves simple but delicious food. It is the only place in Ethiopia where I was offered ice in my drink – bliss!! The owners were away on holiday back in Europe, but they had left a young couple in charge who made us very welcome. We had a look around the site and would love to return some day for a few weeks, staying in one of the cottages and spending our days swimming in the lake, reading and relaxing. There was only one guest staying at the resort whilst we were there, a British guy who had cycled from his home in Tokyo! He had been heading for London, but when he reached Istanbul the increasingly cold weather caused him to change his plans and he flew to Egypt instead. When we met him, he was travelling south through Africa and was spending a few days at the resort whilst he waited for the weekly ferry to Gonder. I can think of worse places to be holed up!
|The bar at Tim and Kim Village with a view of the lake|
|One of the rental cottages at Tim and Kim Village|