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Bahir Dar, wildlife and culture on the shores of Lake Tana

Bahir Dar in north west Ethiopia is ideally located at the southern shores of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. A beautiful spot to relax and have an adventure.

Around Lake Tana lives an abundant range of special birds and other wildlife. In addition to that, there are several inhabited islands in Lake Tana. Here, old monasteries keep some treasures of the Ethiopian Coptic Church.

In 2002, we stayed here for a few days during our travels in Ethiopia. Our tales are described below.

If you want to go there as well, find out whch adventure travel tour in Ethiopia goes there.

Treasury island in Lake Tana
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More Adventure travel tales in Ethiopia:
Bahir Dar, Lake Tana
Lake Langano
Omo Valley
Ancient African Tribes
African Christmas
Other African Tales:
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Masai Tribe, Kenya
Ngorongoro Area

Ariving in a small paradise...

When we arrive at Bahir Dar, we make camp at a campsite on the shore of Lake Tana. With a great view over the lake, where pelicans are fishing.

There are vultures in the trees as well, and we spot hornbills and fish eagles.It’s a small paradise and we spend the rest of the day enjoying it.

Early the next morning, our excursion to the islands of lake Tana is scheduled. It's Sunday, so we can expect a service at the churches we will visit there. But that means we have to get up at 5.30 AM to have breakfast so we can leave at 6.30 AM by boat.

Sleepy faces around, and some are wondering why they need to go on this excursion. But once in the boat, everybody is awake, and we enjoy the serenity of the lake and the pelicans flying close by.

a ceremony on the island in Lake Tana
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The boat trip takes more than an hour, and then we set foot on one of the islands.

We are expected, and a group of children accompany us when we walk over the island. They ask all kinds of trivial questions, a bit annoying sometimes, but apparently part of the game in this part of Ethiopia.

A Christian Coptic ceremony

After a short walk through the jungle, we arrive at a church.Not a church as we know it, but a large round hut with thatched roof.

There are a number of priests outside, and together with some locals we wait for the service to begin.

Our guide Teddy talks to the priests, and convinces them to start quickly, although they tell him they just finished.

We imagine ourselves what our priest would say if some tourists would arrive at our church, asking “We just missed your service, can you start all over?”.

The ceremony consists of two rows of priests who move slowly towards each other and back, while murmuring some prayers. It is accompanied by two man with big drums. The head priest looks a bit awkward, he doesn’t do much.

We are waiting for a climax, but it never comes.

Ethiopian coptic painting inside the church
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After the ceremony we are allowed to take a look inside the church. It is a big round pavilion full of colorful paintings inside. Teddy explains the scenes on the paintings, some of them looking horrible.

Other than these bright paintings, typical for the Ethiopian Coptic church, there is not much to be seen inside. Apparently the services are being held outside, so there is no altar, chairs, or anything.

Crowns in the treasury room

We move on through the jungle to a second church, similar to the first. But here we are allowed to have a look in the treasury.

It almost looks like a shop, where the shopkeeper is selling crowns. Not very fancy ones to western standards, but for here it’s quite impressive.

Invited for local delicacies...

Makeing Injeera in a hut in Ethiopia
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After visiting the churches we are invited for a coffee ceremony.

We follow the local people through the jungle to their village. But the walk is long, the children become more annoying, and the monkeys and hornbills we saw earlier are gone.

Finally we reach the village, and enter the hut we are invited in. We already knew about the traditional coffee ceremony, but here we also witness how they make the traditional Ethiopian dish Injeera.

Injeera is some kind of pancake, served with different spicy sauces. We get to taste it as well, but it is a bit too sour, and the sauce too spicy for our taste.

We are also offered the locally brewed beer. It is served in an old jerrycan, and poured in filthy tin cans for us to drink from. We politely pretend to take a few sips, but decide we want to return home without any illnesses.

We walk back to the boat, and although Teddy wants to show us some more churches, we decide we have seen enough for today. The churches are very interesting, but probably more of the same. We ask him to bring us back to Bahir Dar.

Watching the pelican colony

After lunch, we decide to watch the pelican colony nearby. On the short walk to there, we are accompanied by a local boy. Not another annoying kid this time, but a friendly one, practicing his English and telling as much as asking.

Fishing with pelicans on lake Tan
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At the pelican colony is a terrace, where a lot of Ethiopians are enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

Taking pictures of the colony costs 4 Birr, a video costs 30 Birr, but just watching is free.

The pelicans are pretty ugly from up close, but there are many of them, sometimes fighting for some caught fish.

We also get to see some king fishers, and an African darter. We also enjoy a drink, and watching the locals.

Visiting a local festival

Walking back to the campsite, we hear about a festival a bit further down the road, so we walk on.

It appears to be a quite large festival, with popular Ethiopian music. It sounds great, and most of the locals agree with us.

The band is surrounded by security officers with large sticks. But occasionally they cannot prevent someone breaking through, only to kiss the female singer on the cheek.

Later, girl breaks through, kissing the male singer. And the funniest moment comes when a man breaks through, not to kiss the female singer, but the girl who just returned from kissing the singer.

After a few songs, a dance contest is being organized by the band. But this leads a bit to chaos, and when the security officers loose control of the situation, the rest of the show is cancelled.

A pity, but not many people seem to mind, it was probably almost the end of the show anyway.

The local circus of street children

One of the street children in the circus of Bahir Dar
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Back at the Bahir Dar campsite, we are just in time to join the group to the circus.

We are picked up and brought to a small school. In an old sea container they show us some medals and photographs, and tell us about the circus.

Then we are brought outside, where we sit on some small school chairs. The artists are all orphans or street children, who are trained here.

What we see is fantastic. The children are talented, they can fold themselves as we can only see in the Chinese state circus. But what is especially great is the fun and enthusiasm they have in what they do.

Bahir Dar at lake Tana is a great place to be. There is great wildlife to enjoy, there are cultural excursions to the islands with Ethiopian Coptic treasures, but moreover the local people are great.

Yes, they are poor, but they are willing to make something from their lives. Which is more than we can say about most western people.

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Bahir Dar near Lake Tana is one of the great places to go to in Ethiopia. Find more of these places on the Adventure Travel Ethiopia page.

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