The Northern Route

Trip Start Aug 05, 2006
Trip End Aug 19, 2007

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Saturday, February 10, 2007

After my arrival in Addis Ababa I spent a few days relaxing and saving up strength for the arduous journey north on what is sometimes referred to as the monument circuit.  Even though many of the country's top attractions lie in this region the road is often little more than a dirt track and can get pretty rough, especially if you are in the back of the bus! 

My first stop on this trek was the town of Bahir Dar, perched in the southern bank of Lake Tana.  Here, at the source of the Blue Nile there are over a dozen monasteries, many of which are only accessible via boat.  I decided to visit only the monasteries on islands close to Bahir Dar due to the expense of visiting some of the others located near the middle of the lake.  After Timket , one of Ethiopia's largest religious festivals, the number of tourists visiting this place dwindles making it difficult to find other travelers to share the expense.  The monasteries, especially Kibran Gabriel, contain rich repositories of religious artifacts and beautiful wall paintings depicting various stories from the Bible and Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity.  Ethiopia was one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity, 4th century AD, and its influence here is equally as strong as the influence Islam holds over the Middle East.  One monk at Kibran Gabriel spoke excellent English and enthusiastically displayed many of the monasteries artifacts for me including a bible that was several centuries old.  Sorry ladies.  Several of the islands only allow men to enter.  This is supposedly to help the monks stay focused on their religious studies.

Nearby to Lake Tana you can pay a visit to the "awesome" Blue Nile Falls.  I put that in quotes because when you see a picture of the falls on a postcard or on the back of the Ethiopian currency they really do look quite amazing.  Sadly the water supplying the falls has been cut by nearly 75% with the completion of a new hydroelectric dam 3 years ago.  They were still worth the trip though, simply because of the small cost to see.  There is also an interesting, old Portuguese bridge located on the path to the falls.  Just watch out for some rather persistent would-be-guides.  I had one follow me for nearly half an hour and then ask for 10 Birr even though I told him repeatedly that I did not require a guide.

A few hours to the north of the lake is the former capital of Gonder.  No, not Gondor of the Lord of the Rings fame, although it does bear some resemblance.  Founded in the 17th century by Emperor Fasilidas, this place feels much more like Europe than Africa.  I visited the Royal Enclosure which contains several castles built by the rulers of Ethiopia over about 250 years.  The most exciting thing about the area was the almost complete absence of other tourists.  The main castle was completely empty except for a few cleaning ladies on the ground floor.  I had a lot of fun just exploring around discovering all the "secret" chambers.

On the way back to the hotel I met some kids who kept trying to sell me a horse.  They seemed undaunted by my repeated responses that the horse couldn't possibly fit in my backpack!  Later on they were kind enough to take me to a local pub to listen to a lively jam session of traditional music.
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