“You cannot find peace by avoiding life”. Virginia Woolf
A few hours after my morning encounter with the papyrus boat fisherman and the hippos off the shore of my hotel, it was time to explore the beauty and mysticism of Lake Tana for myself. I convinced a few friends of mine from our reporting trip to join me on a boat tour of Lake Tana in search of hippos and ancient monasteries. 37 islands dot the waters of Lake Tana which are home to over a dozen monasteries dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. I had heard that the monasteries were magnificent and contained treasure troves of beautiful artwork inside their mysterious doors. The idea of walking inside one of these ancient monasteries piqued my curiosity and imagination.
Given Lake Tana’s enormous size (over 3,500 square kilometers ), there was no way we could possibly see everything in one afternoon. We opted for a three-hour tour with the goal of visiting 3-4 monasteries and driving out to the source of the Blue Nile in search of hippos. Our boat left directly from our hotel off into the calm, milky brown waters of Lake Tana.
The sky was gray in the mid-morning light. I was hoping that the thick cloud cover would soon disperse and reward us with a clear, sunny day. It did clear up but not until an hour or so later into our ride.
It felt strange being on a motorized boat and speeding past the fisherman in their delicate, handmade papyrus boats. I wished we could have stopped and talked with them. I am certain they would have had many stories to share.
We glided across the peaceful, calm waters of Lake Tana peering across the top in search of hippos. Apparently large pods of 20-30 hippos like to hang out and relax where Lake Tana drains into the Blue Nile River. We never saw a pod but we did see a couple off in the distance. I wasn’t able to capture any of them on film as the moment our boat approached them, they submerged like a submarine. Fortunately there was plenty of other wildlife to keep us entertained like the pelicans.
Other interesting birds and reptiles also live along the shores and islands of Lake Tana.
We even saw cows along a peninsula off in the distance. It was an unusual sight!
With no luck finding hippos, it was time to continue our tour and head over to see some of the island monasteries that makes Lake Tana so fascinating. The views along the way were spectacular even with the clouds.
The lake was relatively quiet save the few birds and papyrus boats gliding by. There were no other tourist boats on the lake for it was low season. We would be the only arrivals at the few monasteries we would see that day. The locals were eagerly awaiting our arrival in hopes of gaining some much-needed tourist dollars. Besides selling firewood, tourism was the other main industry of the islands.
Our boat was the only boat arriving that day per our driver. In high season, the The Zege Peninsula can see as many as twenty boats like ours brining in much-needed tourist dollars to the area. We were met with curiosity, kindness and lots of smiles. Meanwhile makeshift shop stalls were quickly being set up along the wooded path to the monastery.
For a small fee, we paid our local guide who was waiting at the docks. Tourists are unable to enter the monasteries without a tour guide who was with us from start to finish of our visit. We were also met with the curious smile of the local children who I could hardly resist!
First she was hesitant.
Then she gave us a big, bright smile.
We were excited to see what existed behind the dock and see our first monastery. Stay tuned…