Ethiopia: Abyssinia Adventure - Hwy 3
Bahir Dar / Bahar Dar

Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours
 
       

Bahir Dar's origins date back to at least the sixteenth century. The earliest mention of the town is by Pedro Páez, a Spanish Jesuit missionary in Ethiopia (1603-1622). Occasionally an Emperor came by and spent some time here. Emperor Haile Salassie considered it for the location of the capital at one point. One of his former palaces is located on a hill, overlooking Lake Tana, a couple of kilometers north of town. And the Italians occupied the city from their base in Gondar for a portion of WWII

Orthodox Church, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
 
On the outskirts of Bahir Dar is a large and elegant Medhanialem Orthodox Church.  Consistent with the traditional layout of the grounds, it was surrounded by trees, which make it a challenge to photograph. Even falling short on capturing all of its majesty, it still shows a strong presence.

Prior to visiting Bahir Dar much of what I had read was about its tourism sector and how much hustle and hassle there was, so I had my guard up.  As we approached the city I was taken aback by how open and friendly people were.
 

Warm welcome to Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
lines of massively loaded donkey carts hauling cut grass, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
 
lines of massively loaded donkey carts hauling cut grass, Bahir Dar, EthiopiaBahir Dar (1800m) is the commercial focal point of  northwest Ethiopia and Ethiopia's third largest city.  It is primarily known for tourism, but most of the local inhabitants outside of the city are involved in agriculture and it has a major university.

On the road approaching Bahir Dar, we passed lines of massively loaded donkey carts hauling cut grass towards the city.

The photo to the right is the Hard Rock Cafe and Restaurant, in the southern outskirts of town.
 

Tuk Tuks lined up for gas, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia For reasons that I don't know the tuk tuks (Bajaj) prefer a gas station at the very southern edge of the city and a gas station at the very northern edge of the city. What ever it is that these gas stations have the tuk tuks are willing to wait in long lines to get it. Tuk Tuks lined up for gas, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Divided boulevards, with a planted center median, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
 
Apartment block, Bahir Dar, EthiopiaCloser to the city, but still in the suburbs, the road turns into a broad divided boulevard, with a planted center median, lined by apartment blocks for a long section.. The apartment seem to all use the same basic blue prints for construction. Many flats sport and exterior dish antenna.

Where the adjacent land is not fully built out with apartment houses and industrial buildings, the space is taken up by plant nurseries and horticultural projects producing flowering and garden plants destined for local home improvement projects.
 

Road side plant nursery, Bahir Dar, Ethiopai
University of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
 
Going down the main boulevard I got a couple of hustles from tourism touts, but before I found any actually tourist traps I came upon the University of Bahir Dar -- further validating that the city is multi-dimensional.  There are several campuses to the university and this one has an impressive main building.

In the traffic circle in front of the university's downtown campus there is a sculpture labeled "Sculpture of Wisdom", showing an adult woman carrying a torch and leading a child by the hand.
 

Sculpture of Wisdom, University of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
University of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia To both the south and north, well outside of the city, are additional campus of the University of Bahir Dar. At least ten kilometers south of the city is the School of Law and Institute of Land Management. At least as far north of the city is the Bahir Dar University College of Agriculture and Environment and Science. Both are impractical to access for most people without motor transport. There is some irony in having both an institute for land management and a school of environment in their respective carbon-heavy locations. Bahir Dar University College of Agriculture and Environment and Science, Ethiopia
Palm tree along boulevard, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia Bicyclists on boulevard, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Bicyclists on boulevard, Bahir Dar, EthiopiaTree-lined streets and other urban greenery made for a very pleasant environment in downtown Bahir Dar. In the mix was a fair amount of bicycling, but it would have been nice to see even more bikes and fewer motor vehicle.  Given the topography, climate, space and general tranquility of the city, it seems very conducive to bicycling. But with all the aggressive motor vehicles you have to be a bit intrepid to bicycle in the center city.

Bicyclist, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Construction of new central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia One of the economic engines of Bahir Dar and a tourist attraction is its central market. It was rows and rows of stalls with sections for vegetable, grains, spices, honey, green coffee, cosmetics and perfumes, tailors, ready made clothes, house wares, baskets, shoes, and the list goes on. Change is in the works. Large sections of the market have been torn down and the merchants moved to temporary stalls. In the midst of all this multi-story market building are being constructed. When it is finished building will have specialties like "spice and honey", "green coffee", "clothing", etc., and the central quad between the building is to be a park surrounded by streets. Time will tell if the merchants on the upper levels will prosper as well as those that are selected for the ground floor. Construction of new central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Baskets, central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia Spices, central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia Metal smith, central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia Vegetables, central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia Grains, central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia Ready made clothes, central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Pans and house wares, central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia Cell phone seller mini-mall, Bahir Dar, EthiopiaFemale shoe shiner, Bahir Dar, EthiopiaAnother interesting retail arrangement in Bahir Dar is a half dozen well lighted mini-malls, with 15-20 stalls in each, all selling mobile phones.

It was also please to see a significant number of women with shoe shine businesses. Not that shoe shining is so lucrative, but usually it is dominated by males.

Spices, central market, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Giyorgis Orthodox Church, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
 
This is the entrance to Giyorgis Orthodox Church, in central Bahir Dar.  Despite the impressive entrance, its claim to fame dates back 400 years and the church itself is a side note:

"Pedro Páez, a Spanish Jesuit missionary in Ethiopia (1603-1622), is credited with erecting several buildings in this city, one of which is "a solid, two-story stone structure, with an outside staircase that can be seen in the compound of the present-day Giyorgis church."

Giyorgis Orthodox Church, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Lake shore park, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia At the lake shore is a the tiered public park (left). It is an excellent spot to relax and watch pelicans, cormorants, Africa fish eagles and assorted other birds, and people watching the local Ethiopians from all walks of life, who had the park well populated and were also watching the lake.

The last picture was thought to be of an African Fish Eagle in the tree. At the best the eagle was hard to see with the naked eye. On closer examination of the enlarged image it appears to be two eagles having and amorous afternoon.

Pelicans from lake shore park, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia  Pelican from lake shore park, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia Cormorants from lake shore park, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia Fish Eagle from ake shore park, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia African Fish Eagles from ake shore park, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia African Fish Eagles from ake shore park, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia
Amharic Martyrs Monument, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia Adjacent to the Nile River is the Amharic Martyrs Monument (left) dedicated to those who died fighting the Derg. There is also a site museums covering the rebels role in the civil war to overthrow the Derg. Monument, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Boat tour, Lake Tana, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
 
Island monastery, Lake Tana, EthiopiaThere are more than 20 monastic churches built on the shores and islands of Lake Tana. Most were built between the 14th and 18th centuries. These churches have provided sanctuaries for religious relics and royal treasures. For a period, the Ark of the Covenant was said to have been stored at an island monastery in Lake Tana. (It is now said to be in a church in Axum.) Island monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
Souvenir seller, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
 
Souvenir seller, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, EthiopiaBeta Maryam Monastery receives a lot of tourists and pilgrims. Perhaps as a result of this the access path is lined with vendors selling religious items and replicas, and general Ethiopian souvenirs.

Almost camouflaged by the souvenir booths is a forest of coffee bushes (right).  The coffee plants are owned by the monastery and the beans are sold to generate revenue.
 

Coffee bushes, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
 

As you reach the more densely inhabited section of the village/monastery, the roads and trails are often narrow and lined by high rock walls.

During our visit, white-faced whistling tree ducks were in residence -- in the trees.  They are very gregarious ducks that favor fresh water lakes or reservoirs with lots of vegetation. They can hangout with hundreds and thousands of their best friends, so this group is miniscule. If you are interested, they can be somewhat domesticated and kept as pets.

Among the other large birds around the lake were African fish eagles and pelicans.  We saw some of each, but never got in the right position to get good pictures.  In the end, the pictures don't matter. It was great to see them in their environment, especially the fish eagle, which has some similarities to the bald eagle.

White-faced tree duck, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia The church of the Bete Mariyam Monastery, on the Zege Peninsula, is built with the classical round architecture of Lake Tana churches. The monastery was founded in the 13th century near the tip of the peninsula; it is the oldest monastery on Zege Peninsula. The roof is thatched and the walls of the middle chambers are covered in paintings, most depicting biblical stories or other historical events.  An interesting element of the art is figure with two eyes are of good character and figures in profile, with one eye showing are bad. (The second and fourth frames below have some one-eyed figures in them.) Church, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
 
Top of the church, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Mural, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Mural, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Mural, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Mural, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Mural, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
Church, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Church, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Mural, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Mural, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Mural, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Mural, Beta Maryam Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
The monastery also houses a museum with both religious and royal treasures. Religious valuables can include manuscripts, iconography, the remains of priests, musical instruments, vestments, etc.
Musem, Beta Maryam Monastery, Ethiopia
 
Musem, Beta Maryam Monastery, Ethiopia Sacred text, musem, Beta Maryam Monastery, Ethiopia Sacred text, musem, Beta Maryam Monastery, Ethiopia Sacred text, musem, Beta Maryam Monastery, Ethiopia Drum, musem, Beta Maryam Monastery, Ethiopia
Man reading at Beta Maryam Monastery, Ethiopia Boy reading at Beta Maryam Monastery, EthiopiaLate afternoon must be reading time at the monastery and in the village.  As we were on the way out, a man was sitting on the top of the wall of the monastery studying some material, and as we walked back to the boat there were several boys and girls along the trail engaged in similar pursuits.

From our cultural orientation it was nice to see that reading is a popular pastime..

Girl reading at Beta Maryam Monastery, Ethiopia
 
Welcome sign, Entos Eyesu Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia Monk, Entos Eyesu Monastery, Lake Tana, EthiopiaThe second stop on our brief tour was Entos Eyesu Monastery.  It had some distinct differences from Bete Maryam: There were no curio sellers, no guide is required, the monks and nuns don't act like they have seen too many tourists, and there is no village intertwined with the monastery.  It had more of the ambiance of a nature preserve.  Much of this can be attributed to its location on a small isolated island, rather than a peninsula within easy driving distance of Bahir Dar.

The church itself is not distinctive, but the interior walls are covered with bright paintings depicting biblical and religious themes and stories.

Monk, Entos Eyesu Monastery, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
 
Tankwa boats (made from papyrus), Lake Tana, Ethiopia
 

Tankwa boats (made from papyrus), Lake Tana, EthiopiaTraditionally transport on Lake Tana was by tankwa boats, low-lying one- or two-person canoes-like boats made from papyrus, propelled with what looks like a kayak paddle.  Tankwas are used to haul goods (farm produce, firewood, etc.) for long distances across the lake.  When fully loaded, the boats are mostly submerged, hardly streamlined, and very slow moving. To reach their destination the tankwa paddlers might be paddling from before sunrise until after sunset -- for more than twelve hours.  These guys weren't going to get to any shoreline before sunset and then at some point they will have to paddle back.
 

Tankwa boats (made from papyrus), Lake Tana, Ethiopia
Sunset, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
 
At sunset, we were still on the lake.

Hours before, we had started with a morning bike ride. We periodically stopped along the way to get a bite to eat and have nice conversations with whoever was standing nearby. The positive experience of Bahir Dar was a welcome surprise.  And for the afternoon, we relaxed on a "cruise" and visited some monasteries, part of the core of Ethiopian Orthodox culture.  It was a full day and one of the most interesting so far.

Sunset, Lake Tana, Ethiopia
   

(South: Bure to Bahir Dar) (North: Bahir Dar to Gondar)

 
       
     
       
 

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Ethiopia Bicycle Tour: Bahir Dar