From lake to falls: Lake Tana and Blue Nile Falls


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Africa » Ethiopia » Amhara Region » Bahir Dar
February 4th 2014
Published: February 5th 2014
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Paddle, paddle, paddle your boatPaddle, paddle, paddle your boatPaddle, paddle, paddle your boat

It is a LONG way to the mainland. There is nothing enviable about this job.
6 November, 2012

We arrived in Bahia Dar, met the truck and made for a campsite on the edge of Lake Tana. Over the next couple days, we made the most of the wifi, the bar with a large selection of drinks, the television and the rooms that some decided were worth the upgrade from the tents. The truck was parked in a large open space where we could set up the kitchen and chairs and it was a walkable distance into town. A café across the road served great coffee (so I'm told!) and Ethiopian dishes but Kevin and I found a pizzeria on the second floor of a building in town and settled on that instead. Nico and Alexis also had the same idea. I think the last time I'd had pizza was in Ghana and this one was actually pretty good!

Early the next morning we met a boat down at the lake's edge. Boys were jumping off the rocks, some doing somersaults and twists before neatly diving into the water. Others chose to hug their knees to their chest for maximum splash. Women walked past, dressed up and I'm sure they looked at us, dressed in varying states of dirty cargo pants and t-shirts.

Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile, with approximately 70% of its underwater fauna endemic. With water levels changing, there isn't as many islands as there used to be but a 20th-century geographer named 37 islands, of which 19 either have or had monasteries or churches on them. We would be visiting two and our first stop was Ura Kidane Meret monastery.

The boat journey was slow. It was large enough for us all to fit comfortably but didn't really have the engine power. We putt putted along, only managing to overtake a canoe full of wood. And he was going the opposite way... Pulling up at the short pier, we head off along the narrow path to reach the monastery. We were meant to be staying somewhat together, not stopping to take photos of fungi and such, but I caught up and we arrived at the cleared monastery grounds. I didn't go in, happy to walk around the perimeter and then sit in the shade.

From there it was back to the boat for the journey to the next island. Unfortunately I haven't been able to figure out the name of the island but it was bigger, with stalls lining the pathways, a café burning incense and brewing fresh coffee and soft drinks kept in an esky (that's a cooler to you non-Aussies). Making the usual promises to stop on the way back, we arrived at the monastery and stepped into the cool interior. The artwork was exquisite, in such good condition that it could've been painted yesterday, not hundreds of years ago (though I'm sure they've had some restoration work, they kept certain areas covered with cloth to protect them from the harsh sunlight). Brightly coloured, they favour Mary and St. George, with many depictions of him killing the dragon. There were also a lot of people being killed in a variety of ways. You could spend hours looking at the walls and always spot something new but we thanked the monks and took leave. Some stopped and shopped at the stalls while others sat for coffee.

That evening it rained, making it perfect weather to sit under the hotel's awning with a drink and Uno cards, also giving a running commentary on television shows we couldn't understand. It was then a run for the tents when there was a break in the weather. Apart from having wet clothes and nowhere to put muddy shoes, I loved snuggling into my sleeping bag and listening to the rain fall.

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7 November

We've driven to the Tis Isat, a small village near the Blue Nile Falls, also know as Tis Abay ('smoking water' in Amharic) to park the truck. Walking through some seriously muddy terrain, my choice of footwear was not up to scratch. The sun was beating down and I was glad I was carrying water as none of us knew how long the walk was.

As expected, you could hear the falls long before you could see them. Coming the way we did, we were at the top of the falls, alongside the drop. Jumping across stones, I was soon standing in the middle of rushing water, trying to clean my shoes. From there I made the slippery, somewhat dangerous (given my knees' condition) descent to the bottom of the falls, being rewarded with a refreshing spray of water. Nico, Talbot, Suse and others were sitting right on the edge of the precipice looking tiny. Cows ate grass nearby and locals walked across the long suspension bridge across the gorge. It was picturesque and apart from losing a shoe to the mud on our way back to the truck, a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.


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Trying to keep cool, Blue Nile FallsTrying to keep cool, Blue Nile Falls
Trying to keep cool, Blue Nile Falls

photo credit: Kevin O'Kines
Cleaning my shoes in the Nile!Cleaning my shoes in the Nile!
Cleaning my shoes in the Nile!

Thanks to Fred Jones for the video he made where I grabbed this shot!
Blue Nile FallsBlue Nile Falls
Blue Nile Falls

Not looking overly blue...


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