Ethiopia 2/3: visit to the north


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Africa » Ethiopia » Amhara Region » Bahir Dar
October 28th 2015
Published: October 28th 2015
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I decided to grab a bus towards the north. My bus left Addis Ababa at 6am so it was an early start of the day. The journey to Bahir Dar took 11 hours and on the way I was able to enjoy the beautiful Ethiopian countryside, including the spectacular Blue Nile Gorge! Bahir Dar has about 300 000 inhabitants and lies at an altitude of 1800m at the southern shore of Lake Tana.
On board I started to speak to one “faranji” (white person in Amharic) who was also going to Bahir Dar. His name is Alex from Belgium. Neither of us had booked a place to stay yet but we had names of a few pensions. The moment we arrived, people didn't even let us get off the bus and they already started to ask if we needed a place to stay, a taxi or a bajaj (tuk-tuk). Incredibly annoying! We knew this particular pension was on a walking distance and one guy walked with us all the way there (he probably got a little commission from the pension because from us he didn't). Then he offered a boat trip on Lake Tana but I asked him to bring us to the actual tour office because I wasn't going to give money to a random stranger I just met on the street. We arranged the trip for the next day and went. The lake is big, more than 2000 square km and is the source of the Blue Nile river. The lake has a couple of islands with monasteries. These monasteries were mostly built in the 1600's; entrance costs about $5 each and I entered only two of them. I regret going to the first one, can't even remember the name (I think it was Dega Estefanos) which was nothing special. The second one, Betre Mariam, has beautiful paintings on the walls inside and was worth a visit. All these monasteries have a round shape like the Ethiopian Orthodox churches. I didn't bother to enter the third one we went to, Ura, which was about the same according to those who entered so I didn't feel like missing anything. We continued towards the start of the Blue Nile River and stopped here on a small island for a short walk. On the bus we met with three Israeli and one Ethiopian tourists and they were on the same boat too: Eyob (Ethiopia), Oneg, Chen and Lior (Israel). We had lunch together and later in the afternoon three of us hired bikes and went cycling around Bahir Dar and in the outskirts of the city which was nice. The next day we all took the local bus and went to visit the Blue Nile Falls. First you have to do a nice 30 to 40 minutes hike and cross a suspension bridge before getting there. The falls were impressive, so much water and so much force!

After Bahir Dar, all of us went to Gondar together. Gondar has about 350 000 people and has a well-known university that attracts students from all over the country. The other travellers were talking about trekking in the Simien Mountains so we used Gondar as a base to plan and sort things out. They wanted to go for 5-6 nights while 1 or 2 nights would be enough for me. We went to the busy and hectic market and started to buy some food to take to the mountains. Also a pot, spoons, cups etc. were bought. A Polish guy who joined us had like a small stove and we bought fuel to be able to light it. The next day I decided to visit the Fasil Ghebbi complex (the Royal Enclosure). The complex consists of various castles, churches and more; built by Emperor Fasilides in the 1600's. The rest of the group didn't want to enter so I visited the site alone. Then I continued to Debre Birhan Selasie Church. The small church was built by Emperor Eyasu II in the 17th century and the walls inside are beautifully painted. The ceiling is painted with hundreds of faces representing angels. Later that day we went to an Ethiopian synagogue where I could see the Ethiopian Jews during a service. One morning we saw a part of a cycling competition in the city, a sport which apparently is becoming popular in Ethiopia.

We departed an early morning towards Simien National Park. I left my big backpack at the pension in Gondar and took only the small one. First we had to stop in Debark to pay the fees and I had to rent a sleeping bag for two nights. It’s also mandatory to hire a scout (a guard with a rifle who will walk with the group). Because I was going for less days, I had to hire one of my own (they cost like $3.50 a day) and I also had to arrange my own transport back. From Debark we organized a transport towards the national park. There we had to rent mules to carry the heavier stuff for us. Everything was set and we started to walk around 2pm, which was actually a bit late. The walk was beautiful, the scenery spectacular with deep abysses and big birds flying around. We were at an altitude of ca. 3000m. After one hour we started to hear thunder and I was worried being at a high altitude and often walking in an open area. Luckily enough the thunder remained distant and we weren't caught in the thunderstorm itself, but it started to rain later on. I had my rain jacket and pants so I put them on. I also covered my bag with a rain proof cover but the cover was too big and kept falling off. But it helped! The rain messed everything up and did not want to stop. The track became muddy and slippery, we had to cross a river about three times, my glasses were all wet or damp and I couldn't see properly. The hike became very tough and being higher than 3000m with less oxygen made it only tougher. My scout helped me a lot on the way, especially in the last bits before arriving at the camp because it was really hard. I was absolutely hating it and wished I stayed in Gondar. We arrived at dark at the camp, around 7:30pm. Luckily it stopped raining like 1.5 hours before. Our stuff on the mules were completely wet too, including my sleeping bag. We tried to cook pasta but the water would take too long to boil so we just ate bread with tomato and sauce instead. At the camp there were some other tourists too and there was a fire in the hut where we all sat down. We slept in the hut and it was very uncomfortable in the wet sleeping bag. I kept my rain clothes on while sleeping and it was cold, I couldn't fall asleep easily. I told the group that there was no way I was walking to the next camp with them and the next morning I left back to Gondar. It was an experience after all! Back in Gondar I decided to stay two more nights to relax and rest, do laundry etc.

I left Gondar by mini-bus and had to transfer about three times before reaching Gashena, where I spent one night and in the morning I grabbed a bus to Lalibela. Famous for his monolithic churches, Lalibela is a very particular place to visit. The town has about 15 000 people and you basically just visit Lalibela for the churches since there isn't anything else to do around, except for hiking/trekking. I stayed with a nice, local family who have about four rooms in the garden which they rent to tourists. Arega, the man of the family, is studying to become priest and offered to be my guide at the churches for a small fee. The entrance fee to the churches is US$50 and valid for 5 days, while you do not need 5 days to see it all! The price is exaggerated considering the fact that it was suddenly increased about a year or two ago when they nearly tripled the price overnight. At two of the churches people asked for a small donation, I told him that they must be kidding! Ethiopia is great and I loved it, but I seriously HATED the fact that almost everywhere, many try to squeeze as much money out of you as they can. Really disgusting and it’s more than everywhere else I’ve been to so far.
The monolithic churches of Lalibela were built when king Gebre Meskel Lalibela was in power during the 12/13th centuries. The day I arrived, I visited the first area of the churches consisting of Medhane Alem, Bet Maryam and Bet Golgotha among others. It is a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site and worth visiting; impressive to see the churches people made so long ago by carving them out of rocks. The next day I went back to the churches with Arega, who has a good knowledge about the history of the churches and their interior. We visited Bet Amanuel, Bet Abba Libanos and Bet Merkorios. To get to another side we also had to cross a dark tunnel and Arega said not to use lights because the tunnel symbolizes the darkness of hell. The most particular church was Bet Giyorgis, built in the form of a cross which can be seen from above. Nearby we also strolled around the busy and chaotic market where people sell animals, grains, fruits, vegetables, clothes etc.

The bus back to Addis Ababa takes two days and I decided to fly. Since I went to Ethiopia with the national airline, I get cheap domestic flights and the flight took just one hour. Back in Addis I relaxed and planned my visit towards the south, more in the next and last blog-entry from Ethiopia.


Additional photos below
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29th October 2015

Ethiopia 2/3
Hey Elton ... I just love this place. Great photos. Take care x
14th November 2015

Thank you very much Pam!! :)
29th October 2015
Simien Mountains National Park

Lovely photo
We visited Ethiopia back in 2005, before we started our blog, and Lalibela was a fascinating place to visit. However, today I pick this photo as my favourite/Ake
14th November 2015
Simien Mountains National Park

THanks Ake! I guess Ethiopia changed a lot during these last 10 years.
29th October 2015
Fasil Ghebbi complex (the Royal Enclosure), Gondar

Bahir Dar, Gondar & Lalibela
A part of Ethiopia that fills me with excitement each time I recall my quest for Prester john, the fountain of youth and reaching enlightenment. How good is it to wander the mountains, through churches of the first Christian kingdom and then there are the castles? How lucky you could do so.
14th November 2015
Fasil Ghebbi complex (the Royal Enclosure), Gondar

Thank you for the comment. It is a lovely country, amazing and recommended!! :)
7th November 2015

On the road
We've been following your adventures for a long time now. How long have you been on the road? How much longer will you travel? What a fascinating blog. Once again Elton, thanks for sharing.
14th November 2015

Hello Dave and Merry, I've been away from home for 2 years and 3.5 months now. I will be back home in about 5 weeks, after 2.5 years being away!
7th November 2015
Girl at the market in Lalibela

Children
I love this one

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