Lake Tana is Ethiopia’s largest lake. I wanted to see it – and I wanted to cross it. Why? Because Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and this alone tweaked my interest.

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Departing early morning from the village of Gorgora, a 2-day journey to Bahir Dar on the southern shore.

Months earlier I’d travelled to the Mediterrean, to watch the Nile flow into the sea. Crossing Egypt and Sudan overland, the Nile was often alongside me. While there in Khartoum, the Blue and White Nile converged.

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The design of these tankwa boats, made from papyrus and still used by Tana’s fishermen, seem to indicate an ancient link to Egypt.

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An ancient Greek dramatist once called Lake Tana, the “copper-tinted lake”. The weather and times of day, saw the waters change color, often.

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Lush, idyllic landscapes surround the lake. Domestic animals feast on fresh, green grass. The weather is perfect. Everything beautiful.

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Chillin’ with a bottle of red wine, late afternoon on the first day. Bliss.

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Faces … LEFT: this sweet, young girl, who on encouragement from her mum, called to me very often: “You ! You !” A greeting many Ethiopians deploy towards foreigners. RIGHT: Loving mother and bashful child, ferry to Zege; curious kids on the overnight stop in Konzula, outside a simple bar.

I stayed Konzula in a $2 room, the size of a single bed. It was the only place with power that intense, stormy night. No food served. Beer was my dinner. Drank heavily with an English-speaking local; my shout. Starving the next day – a single banana was breakfast.

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Loading and unloading … One stop of five scheduled “ports” along the shores of Lake Tana.

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Faces going places – locals on the boat. Many Amhara women have crosses or other facial tattoos. However, I don’t know why this man has an earring; items rarely seen in the older generation of Ethiopia.

Over 20 monastic churches are located around Lake Tana. Most date from the 14th century. Some are located on peninsulas; others isolated on tiny islands.

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Once settled in Bahir Dar, I took a one-hour ferry ride to the forested Zege Peninsula, visiting one of the most exciting ancient monasteries: Ura Kidane Mihret.

Early morning alone inside Ura Kidane Mihret with the most-amazing bibilical paintings. Some – not, online here – gruesome, torturous in their depictions of sin and suffering.

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“The monastery was founded in the 14th century by a saint called Betre Maryam, who started training as a priest after being visited by two angels at the age of seven (Betre Maryam literally means ‘Rod of Mary’, and is a reference to the saint’s steeliness when it came to beating off the devil and other demons”. [source: Bradt Ethiopia]

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The second day on the ferry saw a lengthy halt of many hours at the village of Gurer, on Dek Island.

I went for a wander on Dek, crowds of kids following me along the muddy path from the jetty to the village, lined by hopeful locals selling mangoes. Only mangoes. Meantime for hours porters lugged heavy crates on their backs, to eventually fill the entire cargo deck with high-stacks of boxed mangoes. No room anywhere. Just mangoes. And people. The relatively-empty ferry – now packed for the final stage to Bahir Dar.

TRAVEL ADVICE for ferry across Lake Tana

TIMETABLE: Departures = 7 am. From Gorgora to Bahir Dar on Thursdays. Bahir Dar to Gorgora on Sundays. The Konzula overnight-stay departure is 6 am. Arrival in either direction is sometime late afternoon.

COSTS: Foreigners pay $US15 (for 2 full days of lake travel). Buy ticket at Lake Transport offices; easy to locate. A bed in Konzula is $2.50 (50 birr).

TAKE FOOD (buy in Gonder as virtually nothing is available in Gorgora or at shore stops). WATER – available on route but take some as the ferry kiosk is limited to tea, coffee, bread, pepsi, and single cigarettes.

MORE INFO: Have a torch ready for the Konzula-early-morning-return to jetty, about a km of darkness. You’ll likely be the only foreigner onboard – maybe the first-ever seen by most passengers so expect constant attention. Certainly you’ll be of endless interest to some. You may even feel like a caged animal. For time-out, adopt sunglasses, a bottle and mindless gaze, and/or use headphones.

Enjoy. It’s a great trip!

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Map of the route across Lake Tana from Gorgora to Bahir Dar. [ Map adapted from my Ethiopia e-book by Bradt. Excellent resource; buy it. ]

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