Tuesday 16th January, 2018
We watch the sun rise over Lake Tana from our villa. Fishing boats slowly make their way over the water, the birds are starting to call out, and the local kids are walking along the shore line.
Fishing is still mainly done on papyrus canoes. To get further into the lake the local villagers also have a larger boat which can load a dozen of these papyrus canoes onto it.
Lake Tana is large, about 3200 km2, the size is dependent on the rainfall. The lake is very shallow though, with a maximum depth of only 15 metres and large sections that are only 1-2 meters deep. It is the source of the Blue Nile, and an important habitat for migratory birds.
We are staying in the former dictator Mengistu’s 1970’s villa at the Gongora Port Hotel. It is an interesting place, nothing has changed here since the 1970’s, and the villa is a lovely shade of pink. It is only a few steps from the edge of Lake Tana. However, swimming is not recommended due to parasites in the water.
The toilet and bathroom don’t look too inviting though, they look like they haven’t been maintained, or even cleaned, since the 1970’s.
Morning ablutions are an interesting affair; as the bathroom sink is completely blocked we end up scooping the water into the toilet with a small plastic jug that has obviously been placed there for this purpose. It does save water on flushing though….
Our shower is of course cold, and it consists of one of those plastic hand held bath tap attachments that you can get in discount stores. It is positioned over a rather filthy bath, so sitting down is not an option, and neither is standing, as the plastic hose is too short to reach the hook on the wall.
The breakfast at the Port Hotel is simple but filling; table service in the large empty dining room with furniture and decor from the 1970’s, it is tea and bread with an omelette today. Hotel breakfast is pretty standard across Ethiopia, with occasional some cereals on offer, and usual white toast, tea and an egg in some form or another.
We walk to Debre Sinai, a church just a bit further along the shoreline. Debre Sinai is set in a large compound and there is lots of activity, cooking and washing going on. People are preparing injera breads for the day. We find a young priest offering to show us around the church.
Debre Sinai is different from the other churches we have seen to date. It has a round shape, and is made with mudbrick walls and a large thatched roof. There is a fully enclosed verandah that circles around the entire building. As you go inside, the first room is a circular corridor. Big curtains and painted walls hide the inner sanctum from our view.
The collection of paintings on the walls is stunning, the low light levels inside this building effectively preserving the bright, century old, paintings. We see the usual range of paintings, reflecting stories from the bible, images of heaven and hell, and a collection of saints, with Saint George being the most prolific. We walk around slowly, savouring the peace and quiet. It is a beautiful site! Partly because it is an active part of the community.
We spend the afternoon strolling through the village of Gorgora. This is a lovely small village. We climb up the hill beside the village, looking back over the village and Lake Tana, and can easily see rice fields in the distance.
This area has been designated as a new tourist development. It is obvious why, but that will change the ambiance significantly. Now, it is still a sleepy little town in a perfect setting.
We return to our villa for another spot of relaxing and reading, watching the bird life and see the local kids enjoying the lake.
Like yesterday, we end up watching the fishing boats come in and the sun go down, as we relax around the campfire. A crate of Bedele (beer), a couple of bottles of Ambo sparkling water and Coca Cola.
As we head to bed, a large group of local teenagers are kicking off a party next door. They are well behaved, no loud music, etc. however, the sound of slaughtering and directing a goat (chop, chop, chop….. quiet for a second, and then again… chop, chop, chop) stopped us from falling asleep. I ended up heading out and asking them to get things over and done with quickly. They were surprised and quite apologetic, and invited us over to share the barbecue, which I kindly declined. Once the goat was sufficiently cut up, peace resumed.
Travel details and Tips:
Accomodation: Gorgora Port Hotel, Mengistu Villa
Tip: This location is an absolute heaven for bird watchers. My photo’s are pretty poor and I decided not to share them here. Gorgora has been flagged as an up and coming tourist destination, with big plans for development, so try and get here sooner rather than later!