From Finche I wanted to travel to Kosober, 300km North. First I would have to go Debre Markos, about half way, to catch a bus from there. The problem was there were no buses from Finche, so it meant having to flag down a deluxe skybus coming from Addis. The skybus conductor tried to take my eyes out with a ridiculous price so I politely declined and kept trying, hoping a mini bus with a spare seat would stop for me. On numerous occasions I was offered a ride to Debre Markos by some private jeeps if I paid 100Birr (£3.20). This was probably a fair price considering the distance, but part of me was thinking I was being exploited, but mostly through my own stubbornness (or tightness), I refused. After an hour with no success I decided to walk a few kilometres to a petrol station. It was here where three truckers in a heavy goods vehicle stopped and let me in.
It turned out the truckers were travelling all the way to Kosober, so I spent the next 9 hours stuffed in the front cab of the vehicle eating bag after bag of Ethiopian ‘Colo’ nuts and singing Whitney Houston songs, during which time we broke down twice and were pulled over by the police for overloading the vehicle. This pretty mental day ended with us getting drunk at our destination and Ethiopian shoulder dancing in the village discotheque. The journey didn’t cost me a single penny. Some experiences you just can’t buy.
Kosober is a friendly town that sees very few white people, so every time I step out on the hotel balcony I have a dozen or so people coming to have a look, which made me feel a bit like Michael Jackson. Nobody speaks English and all the café’s menus are in Amharic. I’ve gotten a little sick of eating ‘shiro’, an Ethiopian dish made from beans so thought I’d try to order ‘Mesr’, a lentil based dish. When I walked into a restaurant waving a piece of paper shouting the word ‘Mesr’ I got the sort of looks that said “What is this white fool doing?” Shiro it is then. I found it so amusing that I couldn’t help but sit and laugh to myself while I waited for my food. The bloke across from me draped in white robes and looking like a ninja, found it absolutely hilarious.
Lake Zengena, is about 6km outside of Kosober town. The walk along the road and through Agaw villages gave me an insight to local life, even if it was kids just covered in snots following me along and asking for pens. Zengena crater lake is the second deepest in Ethiopia, and walking around the 3.5km trail was as tranquil as it gets.
I made it to Bahir Dar three days after leaving Addis. The total cost on transport – 90Birr, compared to the 350Birr for the direct sky bus. Bahir Dar is a tourist town and the first main stop over on what is known as ‘the historical circuit’. The Blackpool of Ethiopia is clean and manageable enough, although it does have the odd hustler trying to start a conversation with a hidden agenda, I normally immediately tell them that I’m SAS – a Super Army Soldier, that normally gets rid of them. The town itself holds very little points of interest, the main sight being the Lake Tana monasteries.
Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia measuring in at 65km in diameter, and is the source of the world’s longest river. Like most big Lakes, it was formed by a volcanic explosion about 20 million years ago. The lake houses over 20 monastic churches dotted about its dozen or so islands and peninsulas, many of which were founded during the 14th century rule of Amda Tsion. With the money I’d saved on transport I decided to take a boat trip out to the monasteries, I visited 5 monasteries but only decided to go in one when I realised it was 100Birr charge for each church, which for what they are, is ridiculous.
The churches are all made from natural materials sourced from around Lake Tana, Beta Mariam (the stick of Mary) is covered from top to bottom with nice paintings which serve as a visual encyclopaedia of Ethiopian Orthodox Church concerns, while also giving a little insight on what it would probably be like going on a wild DMT trip.
I’m pleased I didn’t go in every church as apparently, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Visiting the monasteries was a decent enough day out but I somehow felt that the overall aura of the place has been somewhat ruined by the greed of the people there. The pushy souvenir sellers tell you looking is for free but they fail to mention that if you do show any interest whatsoever, that’s enough to warrant buying a piece of junk for 10x the local price. I must admit I did find it strangely amusing having to physically pull an old woman’s hand from my shorts as I was leaving the island at the end of this over priced boat trip. I guess some experiences you can buy…