by Jenny Makepeace

Our room at the Summerland was still unmade up on our return, but quite quickly put right. A hot bath and a whiskey restored us. Supper in the hotel, a rather unappealing European menu, so good bowls of soup and an omelet for John.

These people are often very beautiful; the girls straighten and curl their hair into glossy ringlets, beautiful teeth and quick to laugh.

There are huge poinsettias, jacaranda trees with panicles of wisteria blue flowers, coffee bushes, oleander, and ubiquitous eucalyptus.  Overcast weather, chillier than expected.

Tana and islandThe vast lake, Tana, also is the source of Blue Nile has beautiful islands.

The Blue Nile Falls used to be a wondrous site and indeed the brochures suggest that they still are.

We had a very pleasant walk to see them, crossing the river over a 17thc Portuguese bridge, a pretty landscape of fields and peaky hills passing few people.

Three men with huge bundles of hay supported by sticks, a very handsome man with his donkey, volcanic rock, currently harvest time, children guarding their cows – quickly left to their own devices when they saw us.

Another crossing of the river on foot, a group of men offer to carry one over, but that seemed more precarious than leaping from rock to rock.

There are no enclosures; the boys keep the stock off the corn.  No begging as such, just small children trying to sell mainly colored scarves and the odd bit of jewelry, some of them wear tiny leather pouches attached to a cord round there necks – a type of amulet to ward off evil. Some have a type of seed pod.

This led to a hilarious conversation between Wossan and John – mistaking eyes for aids, John rather sternly asked if Wossan knew how to prevent it.  I.e. no sex or protected sex, I suggested condoms – the mistake was soon discovered.

The Falls were a disappointment, there are two electro power stations, one built years ago by the Italians, the other more recent, and these take most of the water, only occasionally letting a full flow over the falls.

There was a small fall but not spectacular.  Still, the walk was good exercise as on these journeys one does not walk as much as at home. Lunch on the terrace at the Tana Hotel which is well placed on the edge of the lake, but we were assured that the facilities are not as good as the Summerland, there were no rooms anyway.

We decided to skip the afternoon program and laze about reading in the garden here.  We met two interesting people – Stig from Wisconsin where his family farm and his Ethiopian wife, Yemy who has a ‘design’ shop in Addis selling furniture redesigned from ethnic ideas, her sister Kuku is a well known singer.

Stig works for an aid organization through the Orthodox Church, promoting  the control of diseases.  They spent most of their lives in Nairobi, Peshawar and here. They are having a house built on the shores of L.Tana.

Breakfast at the Summerland would be a great subject for Victoria Wood (comedienne), couples enter slowly looking about for a table, one or the other orders: Eggs, yes, but hot?

Probably not; juice No, no papaya, no anything else. Toast, yes, huge slabs in baskets. Tea, yes, but no milk unless requested.  A French family enter, mother and father first, followed by frayed grandmother and two young children and maybe aunt.  All have had a bad night, especially grandmother.

Unicef vehicles pass the hotel where the Italians are waiting for their vehicle.  Opposite is a large building to do with AIDS, HIV.

Bahir Dar has an enormous expensive monument to the dead of the Eritrean War, might have been better to build housing, clinics and provide some tractors for the farmers. We passed this monument on the way up to a palace, which was closed, nice view. Many new villas are being built up there, protected by razor wire.

On the way out of Bahir Dar we stopped to watch pilgrims and locals gathering at a church to celebrate St, Gabriels Day. Mainly dressed in white, men to one side of the church and women to the other.

Loudspeakers relayed prayers to the quiet and orderly crowd who sat or stood, and where they will remain until the replica of the Ark of the Covenant is paraded amongst them.  It was a truly biblical scene.

On the women’s’ side a priest dressed in glorious robes was giving blessings – a person approaches bends down and is tapped quite hard on the back, she then uprights herself and is tapped on the breast and stomach, she then kisses the cross and shuffles off.

Towards Gondar

We traveled in a beat up old Toyota 4 wheel drive with windows stuck shut apart from one front one which was in danger of collapse. The Chinese built highway was smooth with little traffic, rural scenes, laden donkeys, cattle herders, sheep and goats.

We visited a village supported by USA and UK funding which was established by a modern day prophet who from an early age recognized the disparity between men and women’s workloads, he believed in the equality of the sexes, peace and education for all.

The young woman who met us was fluent in English and fervent in her belief in the system.  We saw the school and library with many English language text books.

The old people have a dormitory to themselves and several were sitting on a bench in the shade; John challenged her with this system, suggesting it was better for the old and young to mix and share in a fully integrated manner.

Some women were weaving in their own homes, others in two big weaving sheds, or spinning cotton by hand.

Another group was dividing the sweet corn harvest into equal piles. The dairy was clean and cool, three healthy calves and a large contented bull were its only occupants, the six cows out to graze. We drank a very sweet chai and wrote in the visitors book.

castle of GonderGondar appeared at first sight to be yet another dusty African town.

But after checking into the Goha Hotel our delightful guide took us to the complex of palaces.

They are dating from the 16thc for the entire world like a western English heritage site.

Stone built, well preserved and impressive. Each successive ruler built another palace or banqueting hall, music hall, stables, lion houses etc.

Restoration is going on, the lime mortar is mixed with water and sieved in large square metal sieves, it is prepared over ten foot square pits which are covered and dated,  here it remains for a number of years until cured.

The new pointing we saw was very similar to the original, the mortar mixed with coarse stone and pretty much color matched. It was very beautiful in the evening light.

A lively exchange took place about King Tewodros. The great Queens Bath is set in a courtyard, is several meters deep and has a pretty pavilion in the centre.

Whilst empty at this time, it is filled once a year for some religious celebration – the 9th January which is their Christmas. The surrounding low walls have the most spectacular banyan and parasitic fig roots growing over them.

Debre Birhan church, 1694 (possibly rebuilt in the 19thc) is a short distance away fromGebrebirhan Silassie Church the town centre. Legend has it that it was saved from destruction by the dervishes when a swarm of bees flew out and attacked them.

This little church is remarkable in several ways.

It is quite small, entered through a courtyard and then wonderful big doors from a solid plank of possibly juniper.

Its interior is completely covered in murals painted by a hermit who came out of his retreat to paint the story of Jesus on cotton canvases, these decorate the entire interior.

The ceiling is painted with angels faces, wide eyed and staring – these angels are the subject of a postcard available from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and was sent to me by a friend on our return.

The altar area is shrouded with drapes of silver and gold embroidered cloth.  A very tired priest – probably exhausted after a day of blessing pilgrims, was sitting in a dark corner leaning on his prayer  stick.

In the center of the church was piled a heap of prayer sticks – these come in many forms often with a cross at the top and are used by the priests and congregation to lean on when the  going gets tough.

The services can last all night.  The big drums were there too as they are also used during the chanting.

If you want to read the continuation of Jenny’s exciting Ethiopian experience
Click here for the third part of her story

Click here for the 1st part of this story

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

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