Ethiopia is landlocked, but Lake Tana is large enough to be considered, by locals, a sea in its own right. Hence the name of the city that adjoins it: “Bahir Dar.” “Bahr” means “sea” in Arabic, and “dar” means “dwelling.” Some locals told me that “dar” means “next to” in Amharic, but I didn’t find it in my English-Amharic dictionary. Few Ethiopians, even Muslims, speak Arabic. Amharic speakers are, as a rule, unable to pronounce the gutturals so characteristic of other Semitic languages (such as the voiced “h” in “Bahr”) so it ends up sounding something like “Bar-dar”).
When we first arrived in Bahir Dar, we stopped to get something to eat and I noticed a “chat” (“khat” or “qat” in Arabic) shop across the street:
I’d been meaning to try some “chat” while in Ethiopia; it would be my second time, since I once tried some in Israel. I also wanted to get a better shot of the attractive, tattooed, lady, so I purchased some, and got a better shot of the shopkeeper as well:
Like many Ethiopian women, she sports traditional tattoos on her face, and I never tired of seeing them – or of photographing them. The chat had a somewhat sweet flavor, but I didn’t chew enough of it to experience any kind of psychological effect. My driver had been suffering from a stomach ailment, so we stopped at a local drug store. It was early afternoon, and the clock on the wall was correct:
Ethiopians count their hours from sunrise (what we would call 6:00) so 7:00 Ethiopian time would be 1:00 in the afternoon our time.
After checking into a hotel, my first order of business was a visit to the Blue Nile Falls, which is almost an hour outside of town. The drive was like many others in Ethiopia: Over dirt roads and through poverty-stricken villages. Upon reaching the end of the road, and the entrance to the park, I took a small boat to a footpath that led to the falls. On the way, locals sold their wares. Notice the larger coin the top woman is wearing around her neck. These “Maria Theresa Thalers” are used as jewelry all over Ethiopia. At one time, they were the common currency; I bought one of those later, on an island in Lake Tana for 350 Birr (about $18):
I ended up buying that self same flute. Here’s a view of the waterfall:
I was hoping to swim in Lake Tana, but other tourists warned me against swimming in African fresh water; I could end up with nasty parasites or worse. Instead, the next day, I joined a motorboat cruise on the lake. Almost immediately, we saw the reed fishing boats (called “tankwas”), whose design probably hasn’t changed for thousands of years, being used:
Then we spotted some monitor lizards on a nearby rock:
Hippos also occupy Lake Tana, and we got to see some of them too:
There are several islands, and peninsulas, in Lake Tana, and we stopped at three of them. Apparently, each island features its own church or monastery. Each one has an admission fee of 100 Birr. Here is a photo inside one of the churches I actually entered. I think it was Ura Kidane Mihret on the Zege Peninsula:
Somebody else has written a much more comprehensive post about these churches. Check it out here. One monk caught my attention:
When I showed his photo to my local guide, Abebaw, he told me that the man was a soldier under the notorious Mengistu, the “Butcher of Addis.” I’m sure he had much on his conscience – or perhaps he has many enemies. Maybe both.
After Lake Tana, Abebaw took me on a very nice tour of the Bahir Dar marketplace and some highlights of the city. I think this is a good place to praise Abebaw, and the drivers/guides of ETT in general. Though I won’t discuss prices on this blog, after shopping around, it became clear that Ethiotraveltours (ETT) provided the best value, by far, for the money. The owner, Bisrat, is a very friendly guy. Both he, and his staff, take great pride in what they do.