Tucked inside a tiny island in the middle of Lake Tana in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia lies the island monastery of Entos Eyesu and its people. It is a magical place that feels like another planet given its isolation and centuries-old traditional way of life for its tiny population. The monastery is not as beautiful as some of the other better known ones such as Bete Maryam, however, experiencing this tiny island is like taking a step back in time seeing a way of life long forgotten.
“Faith is a grand cathedral, with divinely pictured windows -standing without, you can see no glory, nor can imagine any, but standing within every ray of light reveals a harmony of unspeakable splendors”. – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Lake Tana is bejeweled by over thirty-seven islands scattered about its 3,000 square kilometers (1,860 square miles) of water. Around twenty of these islands are home to Ethiopia’s sacred monasteries some dating back to the 13th century. Inside the monasteries is a wealth of culture, history and art found among the beautifully painted murals on the walls and ceilings, all depicting religious scenes from Biblical times. Stepping inside one of these mystical places is like stepping back in time.
“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.
In the Amhara region of northwestern Ethiopia lies Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile. Flowing over 1,500 kilometers, snaking through Sudan, the Blue Nile joins the White Nile and is one of the world’s longest riverways. Lake Tana is a mystical place where time and history run deep. Nothing on that lake is more sacred than its flotilla of papyrus boats gliding across its waters like the wind.
I had read about the papyrus boat fisherman in Selamta the in-flight magazine of Ethiopian Airlines. The article “Papyrus and Lake Tana” captivated my imagination of this mystical land and inspired me to get out of bed at the crack of dawn despite my jet lag and fatigue.
I rose at dawn to the muezzin call to prayer reflecting off the shores of Lake Tana. Although it was almost pitch black, I jumped out of bed in excitement knowing that the early morning hours of daylight was when the fisherman set off on their papyrus boats just like they have been doing for centuries. If I moved quickly, I’d be able to catch the thousands of traditional fishermen heading out across the mystical glossy still water of Lake Tana.
As much as I craved my morning cup of coffee, there was no time to waste because there in the distance I saw him. Like one of hundreds, the fisherman was heading out across the murky blue-brown waters of Lake Tana to start his day.
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.