March 17, 2008Hotel: Hotel Summerland, $45
Today we had arranged a tour to go out to the island monasteries in the morning, then in the afternoon we would go out to the Blue Nile falls. The Blue Nile starts its journey from Lake Tana, the largest in Ethiopia. There are a dozen or so monasteries scattered on islands throughout the lake. Breakfast at the hotel took forever, in general you can't be in a hurry to eat in Ethiopia. We had to ask for a bottle of water several times before finally going down to the bar and just buying one. And it turns out breakfast wasn't included for the $45. Our ride wasn't here yet so we spent a few minutes out on the street just watching people go by.
They had tuk-tuks here, painted bright blue like the other public transportation. Finally our minivan arrives and takes us to a nearby park where the boats to the islands depart. It was pretty warm already (80's) and was wondering about being in the sun for several hrs, but it turned out all the motorboats were covered. We were still waiting on another group to arrive, so wandered around the park for a few minutes and discovered a troop of green monkeys swinging in the trees. The other group arrived, turned out they were Americans as well, a family from Virginia with two cute daughters. The eldest daughter was living in Ethiopia working as a photographer.
The ride to the first monastery took maybe 30-40 minutes, the first one we visited was Entos Eyesu. We disembarked onto a lava breakwall and wandered into the forest.
Entos Eyesu Monastery, Ethiopia
The island was covered with lush tropical vegetation, there were banana and papaya trees, coffee, etc. We paid our entrance fee, then the priest opened the doors to the monastery. This one was pretty small, a round building maybe 25' in diameter. We all had to take off our shoes and the girls had to go in a different entrance. The walls inside were covered with brightly painted religious themes and Bible stories. This monastery must have been newer or refurbished as the paintings looked brand new. The priest stood by reading from his book the whole time we were there. Wandering back down the hill, we found another priest sitting outside studying a beautifully illuminated book. We bought some fresh bananas and papaya to much on before getting back on the boat.
The next monastery we visited was Khebran Gabriel.
No women were allowed in this monastery, one of the oldest in the lake and dating back to the 1300's. The girls had to stay behind while we walked up the hill. The guide here showed off some of the church treasures, these were the most impressive we had seen, more crosses, crowns and goatskin books. The monastery itself was huge, but again in the same style as the first we had seen. The main building is round with a square internal sanctum. There were 12 pillars representing the apostles. The paintings here were definitely much older, but still very vivid colors. After Khebran Ghabriel, the boat headed towards the start of the Blue Nile and the Debra Maryam monastery. The ride took about 40 minutes. Sometimes hippo and croc can be seen around the river but we only saw flocks of birds.
We passed by several papyrus reed boats along the shore before disembarking. The walk to this monastery led through qat fields; qat or chat being a mild narcotic commonly chewed in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. This was another impressive monastery, the priest here seemed quite proud to show off the books! This was our last stop and we headed back towards Bahar Dar.
We had lunch at the same hotel we'd eaten the night before, then went to the Ethiopian airlines office to see about changing our tickets again. Unfortunately they said we'd have to do that in Addis, they couldn't check the availability here. We had a short nap then before our guide came to pick us up for the trip out to the Blue Nile falls. The other group had backed out, so it ended up just being the two of us in a minivan.
The road soon left town and turned to dirt, passing by mud hut villages, fields of sugarcane, and people walking everywhere. Amazing scenes of daily Ethiopian life! The landscape was quite flat and dusty here. It took almost an hour to go the 30km to Tis Abay village. Once we arrived, several 'helpers' offered to be guides. There are two ways to visit the falls, one is long and flat, or the other is short but a walk uphill. We decided to do the 2nd one! After buying our tickets it's about another km past the hydroelectric plant to the start of the trail. The Falls aren't as big as they used to be since they built the hydroplant, but we were lucky today as one of the turbines was offline and the water flow was more than usual. It took about 40 minutes to walk to the falls, across an old Portuguese bridge and up the hill through a small village.
The view of the falls was quite impressive, water tumbling off the lava escarpment, but only 1/4 probably what it would be in full flow. The drive back to town was similar, this time we saw kids who were on their way back from school.
For dinner we wanted to try out a place recommended for their fresh fish; we hopped in a tuk-tuk on the street for a ride of maybe a mile and a quarter, then he wanted $5! That seemed quite outrageous, but he wouldn't back down from $4. To top it off he'd taken us to the wrong restaurant, this one didn't have the fish! We ended up getting the national food plate, injera bread with tibs, kitfo (steak tartare), etc. We decided to walk back to the hotel, it was darker part of town here but there were still women and couples walking around so we figured it was still safe. We went back to the Belageru club for more minstrel music. The same dancers were here tonight, but it was a different singer. One tradition here is tipping the dancers, you stick a 10 birr bill to their forehead to tip them. Well when the dancers got me up again tonight, I must have been doing a good job because another one of them came over and gave me a 1Birr tip!!