Lake Tana

My friend from the bus insisted on showing me several hotels to choose from – I just wanted a cab to the nearest bed with a flush toilet and shower. Walked from the bus station to the main road following my “friend” from the bus – an older man who worked as an architect and was in town visiting several construction sites. As I staggered after him (with my 2 backpacks – Ethiopian men do not carry anything, they don’t even offer), managed to trip with both bags landing hard on my right knee, ripping my only pair of trousers, dragged myself up cursing, and pretty much told the guy to get lost. Of course, I was immediately surrounded by young men offering taxi services. Found a cab, at which point 2 of the men  jumped in, and insisted they worked for the hotel to which I was headed. I explained in not too gentle terms that if they wanted a ride in the cab, we would split the fare 3 ways. After much arguing, one got out, and upon reaching the destination I paid only ½ of the fare as promised.

Finding myself at the Tana Hotel, somewhat expensive by Ethiopian standards had to argue to get the price down with the manager – since there was no hot water, I pretty much stumbled to my room and had a good long nap.  The Tana Hotel in Bahir Dar is part of a string of government hotels that are all situated in the most beautiful locations, however, one is forced to pay not only a 10 percent service charge but also VAT tax which adds significantly to the price. The Tana is located on a point reaching out to Lake Tana with scores of Pelicans, flowering trees, and crocodiles! Met a lovely Ethiopian woman who lived in Switzerland, she convinced the hotel manager to make me some tea with honey, before she wandered off for a walk on the point. You could see her flowing white robes circling her as she paced the point in the dark.

Relocated to the Ghion Hotel the next day. Promised to take 2 tours, one of Lake Tana and one to a few monasteries, so I got a significantly reduced room rate. The Ghion has an incredible courtyard with massive
flowering Jacaranda, and fig trees filled with strange birds (hornbills), that are all beak. Gardens filled with strange plants and flowers surround the patio. Every night the pelicans fly to their special sleeping spot. In the mornings, the lake is covered with mist – I would have coffee in the courtyard under the trees staring at the mist-covered waters with the sound of morning psalms being chanted by the priests and monks on the lake.

At the Ghion I met a great group of people and wound up lounging for days. Visited the Blue Nile Falls – was fortunate that the dam was open that day so lots of water, and took a boat out to one of the few monasteries that allow women on the island. The lake is filled with men and boys rowing papyrus boats – fragile vessels usually loaded with firewood or cargo, being rowed to and from Bahir Dar for market days.

Unfortunately, I also picked up an admirer who looked about 16 and insisted he was 23. Followed me around for days professing his love, and kept trying to get me to let him come to Gondor with me. I finally had to be a little harsh, at which point he cried. For some reason these boys seem to put a lot of their hopes and dreams on finding a “faranji” woman to whisk them away to America. Apparently there is a bevy of American women that marry Ethiopians, and for some reason all move to Texas.

The last night in Bahir Dar a large group of us went out for dinner then on to see some traditional dancing. I arrived a bit late and found everyone shoved into a corner of the restaurant patio, with no space for the 2 Ethiopian women and myself I had invited. There was plenty of space, so I ask the men drinking coffee to move over a little bit – much to the embarrassment of the rest of the crowd (composed mostly of Canadians and English people). Although they accused me of pulling out an American maneuver those sitting on the side terrace garden confessed they were happy no longer to be sitting on cacti.

After dinner we walked down several dark streets to a bar known for local dancing, led by my admirer Abraham. Ethiopian “national” dancing consists primarily of shoulder shaking – in ways that I’m convinced you need to begin cultivating when you are around 1 years old. Everyone had to try, of course. Anyway, we were all having a great time, until it was discovered that the price of beer had been doubled (for us) when we walked in – put a definite damper on the whole party.

No one had paid up yet, so I sent everyone out, and prepared to negotiate. Found myself staring up at the “manager”, who was insisting that he was practicing “free-market.” After much shouting on my part
and his, I pretty much handed over enough birr to cover the beers at the “local price.” During the argument, glanced back at the group lined up on the streets all with shocked looks on their faces.

Explained afterward that I had a Canadian mother who would probably be horrified, but that I occasionally had to pull out characteristics of my American father.

Left Bahir Dar (reluctantly) for Axum after around a week or so.