by Jenny Makepeace

Flight 701 Ethiopian Airlines left on time, not with us on it sadly, the strikes at Heathrow left a backlog which had priority.  Ours left two hours later.

We were met at Addis Ababa by Eskinder after a longish deal getting visas – the tiny office only accepted Euros or dollars and we had neither.  Had to change money to birrs anyway so that was ok.

Addis Ababa viewAddis Ababa is spread over many square miles having grown up over the 20th century.

The original consulate was a collection of tin roofed huts near the Entotto Hills and one used to go across a vast tract of land by mule.

The Chinese have contracts to build roads and whilst some are complete, the one outside the Global Hotel is ‘up’ and chaotic with contra flow and some very deep holes.

Blue and white taxis are everywhere, not much private traffic, over laden buses with no glass packed with locals hanging out over the metal safety rails.

Piles of fruit and vegetables on stalls, bags of charcoal, flocks of goats gathered on a crossroad, people sleeping rough, scavenging on heaps of soil.  The odd cow.  Pleased to see the fruit as we were led to expect the worst with no fruit or veg.

Its quieter than Calcutta, no horn blowing unless there is a complete blockage. Huge slums behind the tin hoardings.

We lunched Western style by the Museum which is in the university compound. The collections in the museum are minimal but interesting – artifacts from several hundred years BC showing fine stone carving and good pots; a few bronze pieces.

One of the loveliest was a lamp with a dog catching an ibex from 200BC. Some interesting photographs, tools and clothes; those worn by royalty or ecclesiastes were velvet with gold or silver embroidery.

The enormous throne of Haile Selassie of wood inlaid with ivory is there alongside that of his queen. There is a fabulous sword and other weapons belonging to King Tewodros and a good painting of him riding a white horse emerging from a gorge with his troops.

There are examples of cotton spinning and photos of the many different forms of huts and various tribes. Greek influence in the early pottery, both in wine jars and painted pots. Examples of their many different forms of crosses.

Our guide was difficult to understand and fell into the trap of telling us what we could read. This evening Eskinder took us to a local traditional restaurant with Jan Burgess and Auriole Mayo travelling together and just completed the northern route.

This was our introduction to injera the national dish, made from teff, a cereal widely grown and very nutritious, however, it is made into a pancake after a fermentation process which gives it a slightly sour taste.

Ethiopian injera It is served very cold in a huge flat disc upon which various hot foods are placed, cabbage, rice, chickpeas, lentils, wat (a spicey concoction) spinach etc – all were very delicious.

One is expected to eat with the right hand, tearing off pieces of injera and using them to carry the other things to one’s mouth.

Alongside the main dish was a plate of rolled up injera, like a pile of flannels badly in need of a wash..

We drank honey mead from little carafes held between two fingers, it tastes fairly innocuous and is very acceptable diluted with a little water. Our hands were washed by a waiter bringing a large metal jug of warm water and soap dispenser, both before and after the meal.

Musicians and dancing girls entertained us and encouraged some guests to join in – including John.  They do extraordinary movements with their shoulders.

Bahirdar city and Lake Tana
The driver was at the hotel at 5am and drove through empty streets for the Bahir Dar flight.

Goodlake tana and islands breakfast at the airport – a triple omelets sandwich with chips which we passed to a nearby western group.

Wossan was our guide for Lake Tana and The Blue Nile falls.  Before setting out on the boat we enjoyed coffee by the lake in a bamboo café built around the most enormous parasitic fig.

A pleasant trip across the lake in a small boat with 15 hp engine, several papyrus fishing boats were passed – these only last a few months before disintegrating – waterlogged I suppose.

Ura Kidane Meret monastery – the peninsula’s most famous, is a short walk from the jetty along a tree lined path. There are many locals selling souvenirs, passed a little inlet where there were several papyrus boats beached and clouds of butterflies.  Monkeys leaped about eating quamquats.

The monastery is of circular construction, three spaces within represent the Trinity.  Naïve holy paintings applied to cotton fabric adorn the wattle and daub walls.  Various crowns and robes have been donated to the monastery and are guarded by two men with guns.

An elderly  revered nun had died leading to much chanting and ceremonial activity, sadly they didn’t want us to watch.

A praying pilgrim was squatting against the wall of the shady building housing the museum pieces, his lips silently moving, a rather grand priest turned up and gave him a perfunctory blessing.

Pelicans abound, many in huge flocks.  Children ply the waters in the papyrus boats laden with hay or firewood.  The second monastery was near to the lakes outlet on a small island, its floor was strewn with newly cut hay.

This monastery is dedicated to the Virgin Mary who legend has it visited lake Tana – and indeed created it – she was thirsty and pointed to the ground and God made water – rather a lot of it, it runs from here almost to Gondar and takes 6 hours to cross.

We walked along a wide quiet street – Bahir Dar has won awards for being an excellent African town, it is clean and there are many bicycles, but not particularly remarkable.

Women were weaving papyrus baskets on the pavement, there were metal workers and a small flour mill in a mud and timber building.

The market was less colourful than its Indian counterpart but in many ways similar, piles of veg, spices and herbs, a choking smell of chillis, a small group of donkeys in a central space; awful piles of Chinese plastic tat.

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

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