2 Days on Lake Tana

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Africa » Ethiopia » Amhara Region » Bahir Dar
March 4th 2012
Published: March 23rd 2012
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We were told to be at the ferry dock for 6.30 a.m. as it would be leaving at 7 a.m. Even though, we very much doubted this, we arrived just before 7 a.m. and sure enough it didn't leave until after 8 a.m. (not bad going really in hindsight). The MV Tananich is a weekly ferry between Bahir Dar and Gorgora, which makes several stops en route, including an overnight in a small village called Konzula. We decided to take this as Gorgora was quite close to Gonder where we were returning to organise a trek in the Simien Mountains. We thought it would be more interesting to see a bit of Northern Ethiopia right off the tourist trail and there was also a certain romance about sailing across Ethiopia's largest lake.

Any illusions of romance were quickly dispelled as we were packed on to the upper deck of the ferry, not being one of the lucky ones to get seats. The lower deck was jammed with cargo of mud bricks, furniture and boats made from sticks, beer, soft drinks and a donkey or two. Jack and I weren't the only faranjis on board though. We met Alan from Wales, who had been working in Rwanda for a couple of months post retirement and had come to Ethiopia on the way home for a 'holiday'. I don't think this ferry journey was what he had in mind.

The first stop was after about 2 hours at Zege Peninsula. A good portionof the passengers got off here and I managed to get a seat until our next stop, which was Dek Island. We were told the boat was stopping here for at least an hour so we got off and had a wander around the island.

The population on the island is supposed to be 6,000 and it was quickly evident that they don't see many faranjis. All the buildings were mud huts with straw roofs, except for the odd newly built one. I also didn't notice any evidence of any electricity. We had a legion of kids following us. Unlike the other parts of Ethiopia we had been thus far, which are used to seeing tourists, very few of these children asked us for anything. They seemed to be following us out of pure fascination. When we started to take photographs some couldn't have enough photos taken, while others would cower from the camera as if it was a gun I was pointing at them.

After an hour or so, we got back on the boat, which was now much less crowded. We arrived at Konzula in the late afternoon, where we would be spending the night. We walked up from the pier to the town, which was very like Dek, albeit a bit bigger. We were looking for the one 'hotel' in town, when I heard Sky Sports commentary blaring from one of the mud huts. I had a look in and the second half of the Newcastle - Sunderland derby was on the television. I also discovered that they had rooms out the back and it was where we ended up spending the night.

After getting some food, I was taken to the church in town by one of the local kids. This was set in a wood and the original was in ruins, but another was built beside it. There were several groups of people praying all around the grounds and I was taken to see who I assume was the priest, who was delighted for me to take his photograph. In fact in this town, many of the adults asked to have their picture taken, not just the children as in most places.

Afterwards, I went back to our 'hotel' and was talking to the guy in charge, who must have only been about 20. I was looking to see if there was any running water for a shower or a wash (very precious of me) but he couldn't deliver. He could tell me that Scott Parker was suspended and Gareth Bale was injured ahead of the Man Utd - Tottenham Hotspur game. I had no choice but to order a beer and wait for the match to start, by which time the small room was completely packed with over 100 guys, all seemingly Man Utd fans. They kept on losing the signal, but got all of Man Utd's 3 goals in, the reaction to each was every single guy in the place jumping around yelping. I genuinely have never seen any reaction in a pub in Ireland or England that would come close!

We were up at 6 a.m. the next morning. Again we were told the boat was leaving at 6.30, again it didn't leave until after 8. There was something of a community feel on the boat, which we were actually part of. The remaining passengers took it in turns to come and be fascinated by us. When I started listening to my iPod and gave one of them an earphone, he gave the iPod a good examination, trying to figure out where the music came from. Jack took out his laptop to watch a movie and put one of the passengers on webcam. I thought his head was going to explode. They were even fascinated by our books, especially our guidebooks to Ethiopia. I suppose that they would know all about the most famous places in Ethiopia, but most likely have never been there and maybe not even owned a book with the pictures in them.

The first stop of the day was Eseydbir, which was very similar to the towns of the previous day. We got off to stretch our legs and find something to eat and were met by the greeting of 'You, you, you, you', which was quite familiar at this stage. The more cheeky ones would ask for pens and the longer you spent the more grew the courage to ask for a pen, or money, or an exercise book, or my shirt. It can get a bit tiresome, but I think the only way to deal with it is to smile and shout 'you' back at them, or else ask them for a pen.

Whoever started giving these kids pens has a lot to answer for, but not as much as the likes of Bob Geldof, who have created this culture of the 'white man will provide for us'. If the only problem with this was that a few tourists got p***ed off, then it would be fine, but the main problem is the vicious circle of dependency that is created by giving a group of people strings-free money etc. and expecting them to all of sudden become self reliant. I think this is especially a problem with children. If from an early age they think it is proper to put their hand out for money, you don't give them much of a chance of changing their attitude as adults. Anyway, a lot more knowledgable people than me have wrote more succinctly on this subject than me, so I'll stop, as I'm sure most of you are saying "stop being a scab and give them some Birr".

Back on the boat, our next stop was Delghi. This was to be our last stop before Gorgora, but if only life in Ethiopia was so simple. We were told at Delghi that the boat would not leave to Gorgora until the next morning, because it was impossible to get there before dark. None of us fancied spending the night in this town so we found a bus that was leaving to Chilka. From there we were told we might get a bus to Gonder. We were packed on to the bus and hoped we would move soon. The bus was then cleared so there was one person per seat and I began to think that this journey might not be too bad. Just outside of town we were stopped by a policewoman who got on to check the bus was not overfilled. After getting the go ahead, we continued on, but after 5 minutes, the people who had been cleared off the bus were waiting and all piled back on to the bus, which made the journey to Chilka fairly uncomfortable.

We managed to get a minibus going to Gonder from Chilka, more or less immediately and got in at around 7. Jack and I checked back into the Terera and later met Alan for some dinner and some well deserved beers.

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