Ethiopia Day 3: The Road to Bahir Dar
I will drive this way twice, since the flights are full. I’m glad they are.
At the civilized hour of 0800 Ganano fetches me and we head toward Bahir Dar, a three hour drive. The road is amazingly good and will stay that way for the duration of our journey. I had heard Ethiopia was tough to get around. The road appears recently paved. Maybe things are changing. Given the green I expect it to be an interesting and pretty trip. It turns out to be much more.
We drive back through Gondar and out into the countryside traveling south. It’s all mountains and rolling hills, and it’s all a verdant green that, along with a good road makes for an almost magical ride. But then, it’s Saturday, market day and I encounter a phenomenon; throngs of people carrying their wares to market along the entire length of the drive. Again there is almost no traffic. What there is are an occasional tuk-tuk, the rare tourist van, a small amount of public transport, and a regular but sporadic line of large transports carrying goods. Besides that there are simply people, hundreds, and over the day, thousands carrying chickens, herding sheep, with bundles on their heads. Some carry umbrellas to shield them from the sun. It isn’t hot because we are at 6-8,000 feet elevation, but we are not far, relatively, from the equator and the sun is steady on this first day I encounter general clearing. We slow, occasionally stop, for a herd of sheep, a dozen donkeys, cows. I can tell when a village nears, the throng of people appears. In the villages we slow, the road a pedestrian mall, a hive of activity at each settlement. Over a high pass, down onto a relative plain and rice fields flooded in this late stage of the rain season. I’m in the valley of the Blue Nile and the water is at its highest. The crop looks good. The people keep walking, briskly, there is energy in their steps. They are working. I am enthralled, enchanted. I am also aware that I am just an observer who will leave as soon as I’ve arrived. I see not one private car along the entire length of road and when we arrive in Bahir Dar I am disappointed that the ride is over.
Again bags stowed and we’re off. Josef joins us as escort to the Blue Nile Falls, an hour drive from town. I have the pleasure in this hour (each way) of having my first “African massage,” twenty five kilometers of rock strewn, washboard, dirt road that was last graded in the sixties. We finally arrive at the village near the falls, pay our fee and I expect to disembark for the hour long walk. Unfortunately the water is so high this year that we must take an alternate route which entails more driving. Fortunately it is not far. We meet yet another guide, Jacob, and walk a short half hour to the most amazing cascade of water I’ve ever seen. The Blue Nile, at the tail end of the wet season, water, some of which may just flow past my door in Cairo in some months is simply magnificent. In the dry season it is a trickle. I am fortunate to be here now. On the way back to the van I meet some fellow tourists. The man asks me how far it is to the falls. I beam, “it’s just a short walk for such a magnificent view.” Before I can even add, “about twenty minutes,” the man barks, “I asked how far!” I choose to ignore him. He will not ruin my reverie.