From Gonder we travelled to Bahir Dar on the southern shore of Lake Tana. Our campsite was in a hotel right on the shore of the lake, affording us beautiful sunsets and sunrises.
The "biggies" in Bahir Dar are the lake itself which is the source of the Blue Nile, the monastries situated on islands in the lake and the Blue Nile Falls.
For the Blue Nile Falls we bundled into he newest minivan we have yet encountered, and set off on a long, dusty road to the Falls. At the end of a track in the middle of a village, we went into a small nondescript "office" to buy our tickets. Like everything else in Ethiopia, the cost for entry is very small. Then back down the road a bit and out of the van. We walked across some open land to a precarious jetty on the banks of the Blue Nile. We piled into a small boat with an outboard. The boat was old with sticks holding up a tattered canopy. Twenty Birr each for the return journey - about $2 US. Then a walk through fields with crops of all kinds to the top of the falls. They were once huge - some 450m wide - but a new power station has diverted so much water that they are now perhaps only 100m wide. Still, they were very beautiful with water crashing down about 50m. And just as interesting were the sheer rock walls stretching either side of the falls where the water once flowed - a real rift in the surface of the earth.
Visiting the monastries on the islands in Lake Tana involves a boat of course and we were sure we would be using a boat similar o the one over the river to the falls. But to our surprise, it was a flash little catamaran hulled motor boat. The lake covers 3600 square kms and is huge. It stretched beyond the horizon and we only traversed a small part of the south-east corner. Our first stop was at a monastry on the end of a peninsular jutting into thhe lake. We were taken by a local guide along a basalt rock lined path through coffee plants and small mud village houses to the church. Shoes and hats off at the entrance and no drinking inside. The circular building had an inner square room, the outside of which was lined from floor to ceiling with religious paintings telling stories from the bible. Although centuries old, the paint had extraordinary vibrancy and the colours shone. Only the monks and priests can go into the square room, so no visiting there. The doors, four of them each facing a compass point, were at least 6m high on huge iron hinges, and with fat iron staples holding the planks together. Of juniper or olive wood, there was no doubting their age. Also close by was a small museum with some religious icons, so we walked up to the small building. Fully garbed priests and monks stood around, while one blessed a young local girl who kissed his hand and the elaborate brass cross he was carrying. Another monk opened up some wooden windows to reveal a display in old wood and glass cabinets. There were crowns, crosses, old parchment books and embroidered ceremonial gowns. Just ouside the door was a 13th century iron cross, about 2m high, round and elaborate. It was from the roof of a church and here it was leaning precariously against some wooden supports. A small display but an incredibly interesting one.
The latest addition to the area was a "cultural house". We duly paid the extra 10 Birr (about $1) and went in to the house. It was a traditional mud house with twin circular walls and a passageway all around between the two. This outer area was used for storage and animals, while the inner single room was the living and sleeping area. There was a display of everyday goods used by the people, both ancient and still in use today. Ceramic water pots, leather food containers, drinking cups of horn, a huge old glass bottle, beds, costumes, stringed musical instruments, bamboo flutes and wooden drums. One intriguing item was a pair of shoes - leather thongs on top to secure on the foot and a platform wooden sole to keep the wearer above the mud. The bottom of the soles was carved so that the print left behind was of a hoof, but there was one hoof facing forwards and one facing backwards on each foot. Very handy when you don't want anyone to know which way you have gone...
Our second monastry on an island was not as interesting as the first - the paintings were only 14 years old. We had just seen the ancient ones and these were a bit ordinary! However we had a local boy try in broken English to tell us all the stories in the pictures - and he did try hard.
Back in the boat to motor over to the actual source of the Blue Nile, the outlet from the lake into the river. Even here the river is huge, flowing around an island surrounded by papyrus reeds. Fishermen in papyrus reed boats were catching quite decent sized fish on hand lines and keepinng them in a little water around their feet. Just a little further on was a spot where hippos are often seen, so we stopped the boat and peered into the marshy reeds by the water's edge to try and see one. And we did - a pair of little black ears followed by a a pair of eyes and a snout would rise ever so slightly out of the water for a breath. Just as cameras were ready to go, the hippo would lower into the water again! Photo op missed again. But it was our first hippo on the trip.