Ethiopian Adventures: Gondar and Bahir Dar

I arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, in the evening to meet my college friend Tristen for an 11 day trip around Ethiopia. We choose the country because we are both a big fan of Ethiopian food and it seemed like it offered a lot of diversity in terms of things to see and for the right price. It was really great to see Tristen and hear her talk in person about her time in Rwanda. Our style of traveling really complemented each other’s as well.

The trip started off as hectic as trips can start off. We did not have the physical plane tickets for our domestic flights and we had one the next morning. The tour company we had booked them with was unable to get them to us, and our point person told us to just go to the airport and say we had a preliminary booking to get the tickets. When we got to the airport, however, we were told that we were on the waiting list to get on the flight. We had no idea that this was true. Our entire itinerary was iron-clad and we needed to get on that flight. So we stood there and told the check-in worker that whatever he had to do, we had to get on that flight. Our urging paid off and we were able to get on the flight to Gondar. Gondar is an old capital of Ethiopia. It is famous for its medieval-like castle ruins. We had a wonderful guide and it was great to learn more about Ethiopia’s unique history. We also participated in a traditional coffee ceremony in Gondar. You drink three cups of the coffee during the ceremony, and it was some of the most delicious coffee I had ever tasted.

City center of Gondar
Coffee ceremony
Delicious! All three cups 🙂
Traditional honey wine
Fasil Gebbi
Beautiful medieval scenery
Built by a woman--yes!
A pathway of lovely lavender petals
Very cool tree formations at the baths near Fasil Gebbi

One interesting story from Gondar involves these two young men Tristen and I encountered. When we got to Gondar, one young, Rastafarian man offered to show us the location of a reasonably priced pension. We though he was being nice, since we had encountered nice people who helped us in Addis. Then he and a friend of his showed us a restaurant to eat at, where we watched the coffee ceremony and had a wonderful meal. (Tristen and I ate so much injera with the sauces, but not as much meat because they were fasting for Easter). However, then they started planning our entire time in Gondar out and we felt they were smothering us, so when we parted ways for us to use an Internet café, we decided not to meet them up later. We thought we would never see them again, but the Rastafarian young man found us later in the day and was so upset that we had ditched our “tour guide” and insisted that we pay him for his time earlier in the day. We told him that we would certainly not pay him and we had not entered into an agreement with him to be our tour guide. It was our first encounter with an Ethiopian hustler. Later that night his friend showed up claiming to the hotel owner to be our tour guide who had hired a bus to take us to Bahir Dar. We had to have the hotel owner get rid of him. The hustlers all over the country proved to be very persistent.

Tristen and I took a minibus from Gondar to our next stop, Bahir Dar. Bahir Dar is located on beautiful Lake Tana, one of the Rift Valley Lakes. It was not a particularly bumpy or winding road ride, but for some reason several people in this close-spaced mini bus got sick and started vomiting into small plastic bags. We could not have gotten out of the mini bus any sooner. But Bahir Dar was worth the ride. The lake is beautiful and we took a trip out onto the lake to visit one of the old monasteries upon one of the numerous islands in the lake. Some of the monasteries are only open to men, however. From the lake we also saw the source of the Nile River. We also took a trip out to see the Blue Nile Falls. The falls are about an hour and a half from the main part of the city. We decided to take a tuk-tuk to save money. It proved to be a VERY long journey by tuk-tuk, as we did not know that the road was not paved for the entire way. So we were in a small tuk-tuk feeling every bump of each stone on the gravel road. On the way back our tuk-tuk actually broke down. First the top of the tuk-tuk began to fall in on Tristen and myself. Then, the tuk-tuk battery died and we had to get out and help the driver push it until it ran again. It was an unforgettable journey.

The quality of a $3/per person a night hotel
On Lake Tana
Papyrus boat
The island monastery we visited
Paintings inside the monastery
A sea of green

The Blue Nile Falls was not quite what we expected, as the area was using 100% of the water from the falls for energy and so there was no water running down the falls. The hike was still beautiful, and we got to hike down to where some of the river still ran and put our feet inside while sitting on large rocks. My favorite hustler from the falls was a young boy who kept insisting that he was a ‘student’ and not a guide and would only take half the price. When we told him we would not pay him he told us he hated Americans and America. Then there was an older gentleman who kept following us until I yelled at him. Then he asked if I had a boyfriend.

A glimpse of the lowered waters of the Blue Nile
Where the waterfall is during rainy season
Bridge by the waterfall
Cooling my feet in the Blue Nile
The calm waters we crossed by ferry to get back after visiting the falls

I wish we had gotten to see the other sites of Lalibela and Axum in the historic northern route. However, with limited time in a country one cannot see everything and must plan according to what is easiest to transport to. After our time in Bahir Dar, we took a flight back to Addis Ababa.

I should take the time to write a note that almost everyone in Ethiopia thought I was Ethiopian. I knew it would happen though, as there have been several times in Ghana where people here have thought that I was Ethiopian. I have similar skin pigmentation and facial features and hair to them. People would always speak to me in Amharic and I think they thought I was rude when I did not respond.

*Note: Photos from the trip are courtesy of Tristen’s camera


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