Lake Tana and the Blue Nile Falls

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
Trip End Aug 18, 2005

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Sunday, June 12, 2005

Day the Fifth - in which Antoneh stays in bed and we wade in the Nile.


Got up at 6am to catch the dawn and photograph the lake.

Loads of birds, in particular pelicans, hornbills and these annoyingly loud cackling things that were sat on our roof at 5am. There are some huge trees around the lake, so I fear Stef took many photos. There is no help for him.
The lake was lovely, all misty, and golden light bathed the boats heading across the lake to Kebran Gabriel monastery, laden with people. It's Sunday today.

We met Antoneh for a drink - we all had espris, a mix of 5 juices: avocado, mango, papaya, guava and orange. Antoneh was sulky and removed the guava layer with a spoon complaining he didn't like it. Stef and I exchanged a glance - a day trip with grumpy chops?

We walked to the bus station for 9am. On the way Stef and I ducked into a bakery and bought some bread. Antoneh wasn't eating because his illness made him lose his appetite, but we still needed something. We hadn't told him we were going buy bread and he was surprised. This is how we usually do things when we travel, sort things out for ourselves. I think he prefers to do everything for tourists, but he'd best get used to it. Buying food is not hard, and it's degrading not being able to do it without help.

We just aren't used to having a guide baby-sitting us. We only took him on because Addis was weird. We appreciated his help getting to Addis bus station and out of the city. Sometimes, when he is not ill, he'll tell us something about Ethiopia, which is a nice insight. But at other times he scorns us in our learning curve. On the bus yesterday, we bought bananas. The last one got a bit squashed and, as none of us wanted to eat it, I gave it to a blind girl so it didn't go to waste. Antoneh told me that I shouldn't have. I didn't understand - it wasn't like I was handing out money or sweets, like so many other white tourists, feeling pity and unwittingly turning villages of healthy capable children into irritating beggars. The locals sometimes hand out a little food to those who need it, so why shouldn't we. The guilt factor is hard enough to deal with in a country as poor as Ethiopia, without him complicating things.
And, to be honest we don't need him anymore. Ultimately we are paying him to help us, and we don't need his help. We can find a place to say, get food, talk to the locals, and get on the right buses. It's simple enough - as soon as you get to the station a gaggle of men all ask you where you are going. You say the name of the place, and they lead you to a bus. If it's nowhere near full, try and find another one, or else you'll wait all day for it to fill up.
Ethiopians are inherently friendly; we would be absolutely fine by ourselves.

As you may have guessed, this is an issue, and Stef and I have been discussing it at great length.

Anyway, we were given a break today. As we sat on the bus, waiting for it to go, I suggested to Antoneh that he goes back to his room and rests. He didn't look well, and he wasn't going to get any better on a bumpy bus. To our relief he agreed, saying he would go to the clinic for a malaria test.
We talked to him about his malaria yesterday. I don't know whether it is malaria or not, but he is bad in the morning, getting better until the evening when he seems fine. You would have thought by the end of the day he'd be tired, but hey. Also, he had those 2 friends with him last night, and when we went to bed they went to the bar to watch the football match on TV. He has got quite a bit of money for guiding us and so I guess he's bound to take his mates out drinking. We all do it when we get paid, right? Except he's very ill. This morning he was very sullen and he said he's not well. We suspect he had a hangover.

He'd do better to use the money to get a course of pills. He says he is taking chloroquine. It sounds like he just takes one tablet when he feels bad. I don't think he knows anything about malaria, or how to treat it, but that's not his fault. I doubt the doctors tell these people anything, so how's he meant to know. The problem is not just that one tablet isn't the correct dose. The malaria in Africa, including Ethiopia, is chloroquine resistant. Again, how's he supposed to know? I did tell him that it's not likely to make him better. There are other tablets, but I guess they cost more. I just hope he is sensible enough to listen and to buy the better ones now he has some money.

So, off he went, leaving us on the bus. We had read up about the falls and the nearby village, Tis Abay. Antoneh was going to be our guide, but with him gone, we decided that we'd try and do the waterfall walk without any guide, since it doesn't need the explaining of an ancient building or something. The bus drove through town and out into the countryside. The outskirts were swarming with vultures, all with their wings wide open, catching the sun. The road became very rough, not bumpy so much as rattley - we both thought the windows were going to shatter. At Tis Abay, we routed the kids who were offering to reserve us a seat on the 1pm bus, as well as all the men who wanted to be our guides. We politely said no, and kept walking. We have found that generally if you are polite but firm they leave you alone. The small children reach out for your hands and sneakily go for the pockets too. They aren't good at it though, they're just trying it on. We bought tickets, and walked down a side road. One final guy asked if we knew the way. We did - it's left, left, left, left and then left. A man with one leg swollen by elephantitis went by - I tried not to look too much. I have studied about this disfiguring disease in a parasitology module at Uni, so I know there's not a lot he can do to cure it. We passed little houses, said hello in Amharic to a small boy and his mother, and carried on out of the village. Whether it has anything to do with it being a Sunday, I don't know, but a large crowd of people passed us, singing and holding colourful umbrellas. We grinned at them and they smiled back - it was a wonderful infectious moment of joy. We are not religious, but it didn't matter.

We continued on, gaining a group of 3 boys when they fell in beside us. We told them clearly that we didn't want guides. They stayed with us, which is fine. They were nice company and one of them spoke very good English. We had a bad feeling that they would request money at the end though...
We passed the hydro-electric dam which reduces the flow of the Blue Nile by 75%. This part of Ethiopia is waiting for the rains, so the river is low anyway. We were warned not to go, since the Falls are nothing compared with before. But we have never seen the Falls at full flow, so we won't know what we are missing.
We crossed a small bridge, a relic of the Italian period. We could see where the river used to come up to. It's such a shame, but who are we to tell these developing countries not to advance themselves when our own countries have already cut down all the original forests and polluted the rivers?

The trail took us up a little and then along the edge of the river, offering views of the falls.

While we took pictures, the boys found a tortoise. They would let it walk away a little and then pick it up - poor bugger. One of the boys started playing a wooden panpipe thing; it was lovely background music on our video.
Click here to see our video of the Blue Nile Falls
[big file, Windows Media Player. Hope it loads for you...]

The sun was getting higher and higher, and with no shade, I could feel my neck starting to burn, despite the Factor 30. We climbed down the path, and stood in the spray before the falls. It must have been majestic in full flow.

Further along, we had to roll up our trouser legs and wade across. Stepping in the Nile - sort of...
After the climb up the other side, we walked across empty dry fields.

The sun beat down relentlessly. We rested in the shade of a tree, and were instantly surrounded my little mites, trying to sell drink bottles.
We had read in the Bradt guide that a papyrus tankwa would take us back across the river, completing the loop. Obviously this has changed for now there is a motor boat. It wasn't there when we arrived, so we attempted to get passage on an old row boat. One of the boys laughed disbelievingly when we asked him to translate for the boatman. They really couldn't understand why we don't want the modern alternative. Unfortunately, the boatman sensed a great opportunity and asked for a ridiculously huge amount of money. The motor boat came and we got on. As we thought, the boys said they were going no further, and asked for money. We explained that we had said that we didn't want a guide. We could hardly have told them to go away when they joined us - if they want to walk with us then they can. We agreed that the company had been nice and the flute/panpipe playing was lovely, so we gave them some birr. But, we are not about to give money just because we are asked to, nor for a service that we didn't ask for. Clearly unsatisfied, the boys got on the boat with us and we all crossed to the other bank. They persisted through the village, and only fell away on the main road. I find it so difficult to know what to do. It makes you feel so guilty.

The 1pm bus was full, so we waited in the shade, and bought tickets for the 3pm one. I went over to a stall alone to buy a drink - I didn't get any hassle, with the exception of a guy telling me I was beautiful. Considering I was red and sweaty, I had to laugh.

The journey back went much quicker than the one there. We returned to our room and found Antoneh in the evening. He looked better and he said the test showed malaria. He had got some other treatment - I've not heard of it, but at least he's not taking chloroquine anymore.

The evening was punctuated by a rain storm. At least it shut the hornbills up...
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