Sometimes you get lucky when you travel. Our stay in Bahir Dar was one of those times.
It wasn’t much of a stay. We arrived (in the car that transported us from the end of our trek) around 2 pm Wednesday, and we were supposed to be at the airport for our flight back to Addis by 3 pm Thursday. In advance I had reserved space for us at a little B&B run by a French woman married to an Ethiopian. Laure had sent me detailed directions, but it felt lucky that we gave a lift to a TESFA employee who spoke good English. He helped our driver find Laure’s place, which was hidden down an unpaved side street with no real signage. Once there, I felt happy with my choice. Laure welcomed us like old friends into the compound, which consisted of two long wings surrounding a flowering garden and outdoor dining area. While we showered away the caked-on dirt of the trek, she had spicy tilapia and rice brought in for us from a nearby restaurant, and it turned out to be one of our best meals of the trip. With 2 beers and a sparkling water, it came to 78 birr — about $4.
Our guidebook says many Ethiopians consider Bahir Dar to be their Riviera. If true, this is hyperbolic. The town IS set at the base of Lake Tana, the largest body of water in the country. And someone has created long pathways along the waterfront. Steve and I set out on one of them Wednesday as the sun was low in the sky, and I was reminded more of, say, New Orleans right after the Civil War than Cannes. A tangle of plants pressed into the walkway; we noted 20-foot tall poinsettias and hibiscus. We passed derelict buildings that looked abandoned, as well as beautifully tended vegetable gardens next to the swampy shoreline. It looked like prime breeding grounds for the malarial mosquitoes that are said to infest the town; but never did we feel we were being attacked, even as the sun set.
Before our walk, we’d had a coffee at the Ghion Hotel, where we were ecstatic to find free wi-fi. There, I also had signed us up for a boat ride on the lake Thursday morning, over Steve’s strong objections. (He fretted that if something happened to the boat, we would miss our plane.)
But the boat ride turned out to be wonderful! Ten of us — Steve and I, a Dubliner and his Ghanaian girlfriend, an Argentine, two Italians, and a couple of other indeterminate young Europeans — piled into the launch and cruised north for an hour. First stop was a jungly peninsula where we hiked for a while through thick groves of wild coffee trees, heavy with ripe red beans. At the entrance to the monastery of Bet Maryam, vervet monkeys leapt through the trees. We only glanced at them, then entered the richly painted 14th-century monastery church and visited the dark and creepy museum, home to centuries-old bibles hand-copied on parchment. We returned to the boat and stopped at two other monasteries of the couple of dozen or so scattered around the lake.
Before returning, the boat also motored to the spot where the Blue Nile flows out of the lake, to start its long journey to the Mediterranean. Having cruised on the river starting in Aswan (after it joins the White Nile in Khartoum) and seen its estuary near Alexandria, I felt thrilled to visit its humble start. A couple of massive hippo heads popped up to inspect us, adding to our pleasure in being there.
Everything else went without a snag. We grabbed some fruit salad and pastry at a Bahir Dar cafe, returned to the B&B, chatted for a while with Laure, then took a three-wheeled “tuk-tuk” to the nearby airport. Although most of the terminal looked only half-built, a plane was waiting, and it got us into Addis early.
Now we’re back in the airport, barely 12 hours after arriving. We’re waiting to board a plane that will bear us eastward to Dire Dawa, gateway to Harar, one of the holiest cities in Islam. Inshallah that our good travel karma persists.