Our first trip outside of Addis Ababa was to Bahir Dar in Northern Ethiopia. I rose early to catch our short one hour flight and could hardly contain my excitement at finally being able to see the Ethiopian countryside. I had many pictures in my head of what I imagined it would be like and I was in no way disappointed.
I had been in the thick of the chaos and crazed life of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital for four full days when it was time to head out and see the more rural parts of the country, where over 85% of Ethiopia’s population of 90 million live.
Northern Ethiopia has a wow factor that cannot be denied. Known as the Historical Circuit, this region has bragging rights to over two millennia of ancient history ranging from the world-famous tombs of Aksum, to the captivating castles of Gonder and the jaw-dropping Danakil Depression whose lava lake and plains is a must-see for adventure travelers.
We were headed to Bahir Dar, a lovely town of about 170,000 located on the majestic Lake Tana and sometimes referred to as the Ethiopian Riviera given her palm-tree lined streets and stunning deep blue lake, the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile. Bahir Dar would be our base for two days while we reported on newborn health in the surrounding area.
As soon as we stepped off the plane in Bahir Dar, I was struck by the purity of the air and the lush, vibrant green color of the land. The scent of an early morning rain still hung in the air something that was becoming more common as Ethiopia entered the rainy season of June, July and August.
All six of our drivers had left the night before from Addis taking the eight-hour drive north to meet us in Bahir Dar. We would be traveling on some of Ethiopia’s notoriously bumpy, muddy, dirt roads to reach Mosebo Village the following day and the only way to reach the rural parts of Ethiopia is by Land Cruiser. Over the next ten days, we would be spending a lot of time with the drivers and it was a great way to learn about the history and culture of Ethiopia.
I have never in my life traveled in caravan of six big white Land Cruisers and I was amused by the kind of reaction and attention we received. As most Ethiopians do not have cars especially given the fact that 85% live outside of cities and earn their living from the land, big white Land Cruisers always meant one of two things: NGO or faranji (foreigner). Our caravan always got stares, waves, smiles and whenever we stopped, running children. It was something I could never get used to, being a sort of celebrity to a mass of smiling strangers. I had desperately wished I had stashed my bag with school pens and notebooks to hand out to the beaming children, whose beautiful, curious smiles warmed my heart.
I was awed by the drastic difference by Bahir Dar’s lush, peaceful beauty compared with the gritty, chaotic mayhem of Addis Ababa. It felt like being in two completely different worlds that somehow coexist and are not too far away.
Mule trains are the main form of transport throughout rural Ethiopia and also in smaller towns outside of the capital.
As soon as you enter town, “Bajajs” are the common mode of transportation and can be seen rambling around everywhere.
The palm tree-lined streets are indeed reminiscent of the Riviera and added a peaceful feeling to a rather bustling place.
We arrived the Avanti Hotel, our home for the next two days, and I was spellbound by the beauty of this magical place, Bahir Dar. There before my eyes was the Ethiopian Riviera, Lake Tana, in all her glory and my heart was smiling.
Our hotel had a pretty stellar view as well, a view I could get used to.
Best of all was the magical sunset over Lake Tana. I could hardly wait to see more!
Stay tuned…chasing hippos on Lake Tana and exploring the ancient island monasteries is next!