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May 25th, 2010 | Africa

Bahir Dar and Lake Tana…

Gelagay Bayih, my tour guide for the day...

When I awoke, my lower left leg was as stiff as a board, so I decided to take it easy and spend the day sorting through my gear and seeing the sights of Bahir Dar.

Inside the little Internet room on the ground floor, I met Gelagay Bayih, a tour guide affiliated to the Papyrus Hotel. We discussed the various things there were to do in town, and after much debate, I agreed to hire a small boat and go out into Lake Tana to visit the monasteries on the various islands there.

There are 21 islands in this volcanic lake and a total of 37 monasteries can be found on them. Gelagay very kindly offered to discount his normal fee, as I was traveling alone, (usually the boat hire and guide fee would be divided amongst the members of the group he was guiding…) and we set off on the short walk down the main street, to the water’s edge… He is a hive of information, and chattered about life in Ethiopia and the difficulties the nation had to cope with to make ends meet… He was understandably very careful about the things he gave opinions on, as this is a country which is strictly controlled by the ruling party…

A monk carries another rock up the hill to the church...

The boat was waiting for us and within minutes we left the mooring jetty… Scattering flocks of Brown Pelican, and carefully avoiding fishermen on their papyrus skiffs, we went zooming across the dirty brown waters of Lake Tana, and headed towards two islands about a kilometre away. I was advised that only 12 monks lived on the island we would be visiting and that the monastery had been rebuilt by an Egyptian monk, after it had fallen into disrepair over the years. When we landed at the makeshift jetty, I noticed that there were a lot more than twelve monks on the island, and asked about the sudden population explosion the monastery had experienced…

“No, no… These are day workers, brought over from the town to assist with renovations…” Gelagay replied…

Rocks had been brought up from under the waters of the lake, and were piled on the shoreline. They were being carried from there up to the church…

With all the work going on to renovate the Church, this was the only picture I could get of the outside of it...

We climbed a steep path to what was a small museum and curio shop, where trinkets and scarves made by the monks are sold. A Python skin decorated the top of one wall, and It was explained that the people living here hundreds of years ago, believed the snake to hold special powers… The Egyptian monk was having none of that and eventually found and killed the snake to prove that the Power of God held sway over all things…

The Entos Eyesu Monastery which is on the top of the island, is linked to the area close to the shore by a tunnel which must have been formed by lava flows when volcanic activity was last experienced here, and has been enlarged and worked on over the years by the people who once lived here. The Monastery itself is a large rondavel like building, in the centre of which is a room into which only the most senior priest is allowed. A replica of the Ark of the Covenant is stored here. The outer walls of this room are decorated with scenes from the Bible, as well as others featuring St George slaying the Dragon…

These paintings are touched up by the monks every few years...

The doors to the inner sanctum, where only the high priest is allowed...

Choices, choices...!!

The entrance to the prison used to punish the hard of hearing...

I was also shown around a small prison, where wrongdoers were made to stay in tiny chambers, in complete darkness, for days or even weeks on end, while they considered their sins…

No physical punishment was ever meted out, but “psychological punishment”, as Gelagay put it, was the method used to punish “those who would not listen”…

The monastery is currently being enlarged, and rocks were being carried up the steep incline leading to it, by the workers from town… When we toured the rest of the island, we came across other monks tending gardens and planting vegetables…

A pair of Fish Eagles called to each other from the tree tops, Doves and Thrushes scratched around in the leaf litter under the Paw-Paw and Mango trees, and despite the to-ing and fro-ing of the rock carriers, there was a definite peacefulness about the place…

I came across this monk tending his garden...

On the way back to town, we took a short detour so that I could see the source of the Blue Nile, where it emptied out of Lake Tana and began it’s journey to the Mediterranean Sea… I had now seen both sources of the Mighty Nile, and I looked forward to seeing them join forces in Khartoum, in a few days time… A small pod of Hippo surfaced while we drifted closer to the outlet, and after telling me how lucky I was to see these Hippo, as they rarely appeared during the day, we motored back to town…

Gypsy Biker gives a trip out to the Monasteries of Lake Tana, the thumbs up...

The inner courtyard of the Papyrus Hotel, Bahir Dar... Priced to suit the average traveler, with friendly and helpful staff...

Should you ever find yourself in Bahir Dar (perhaps after taking a wrong turn on the way to Bloemfontein…!!) the Papyrus Hotel is a comfortable place to put your feet up in… The staff are friendly and eager to please and most of them speak English, which makes things a whole lot easier, I can tell you!!

Gelagay Bayih is a knowledgeable and easy-going guide, who can arrange boats trips to the islands, visits to the Palace of Heile Selassie, and arrange local dancers to entertain you. His contact number is (251) 918 781 507.

Tell him the Gypsy Biker sent you, if anything, just to watch his eyes roll back into his head…!!

The Internet Queen of Bahir Dar, Reem Nuru...

I spent the rest of the day working on my blog, and chatting to the young lady who ran the small internet café for the hotel. There is only one internet connection, and I spent hours on it, and she kept tally of what it was costing me, her eyes getting bigger and bigger with each figure she banged out on her calculator… I don’t think she had ever made a “sale” this big before…. 290 minutes is the new record, in case you were wondering… I was not sure when I’d have access to the net again, so asked her to stay past the normal closing time of 8.00pm, which she did… (after calling her Mother to confirm that it was OK, and receiving a cold Coke from me…)

I ordered a Lasagna for dinner and was a little perturbed by the sight of it when it finally arrived at my table… I cannot be absolutely sure, but I think the chef “took his eyes off the ball” on this one…

It took two bottles of Fanta to help it down the hatch…

"Er... Excuse me, I think this one spent too much time looking up at the heating element..."

©GBWT 2010

4 comments to Bahir Dar and Lake Tana…

  • Mike

    Hi Ronnie, Gee, it feels like I know you so well by now although you don’t know me at all. A while ago the Motorrad newsletter put out a link to your blog and a couple of us at the office have been following you since before 1 March, it’s better than television!!!! Anyway, we were chatting about your journey at lunch today and some questions were raised which prompted me write you. Could you give us an idea of some of the statistics so far – distance travelled, longest day, toughest day (and why), time in the saddle and a really touchy question – what has it cost you so far? Does someone need to win the lottery before embarking on something like this??

    Keep the stories coming!! We’re loving every minute of it (would be nice to join you on your return to SA), Keep the rubber side down, Mike

  • With

    Hi Ronnie

    yeah I’m echoing above from Mike , You have basically become daily reading ….

    My Questions if I may please … Also …COST ? Daily ? and GPS , What you using ? Maps ?

    Keep Safe
    With.

  • Hiya With…

    The cost is a huge variable, depending on your accommodation… I have been lucky enough to spend more than half the time with friends who I have known for years, or I have met along the way… In the 90 days I have been on the road, I have spent about R10 000 on Hotels and B&B’s, R 9 000 on fuel for the 18 000 kms I have traveled, and about R3 000 on border fees… I figure another R5 000 on food and beverages… I try and eat one big meal a day if I can, otherwise it’s biscuits and energy bars…

    I am using Tracks 4 Africa on my GPS, but the further north you get, the more useless it becomes…. It should be called “Tracks 4 Southern Africa”… There are huge problems with it from Kenya onwards… I have a large stock of maps that I also work from, and post home when I have used them, and I use a program called Map Source on my laptop to plan my routes and download them onto my GPS… Being able to read road signs also come in very handy! Ha-ha !!

    Take care and glad you’re enjoying the read and the journey… R.

  • The cost to get to Lake Tana and those missionaries? priceless. Just get there. great shots my friend.

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