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Pole to Pole

Day 79: Bahir Dar

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleOur hotel gives onto the placid grey waters of Lake Tana, which is considered to be the source of the Blue Nile. It has taken us the best part of a month to follow the river down from Cairo. The gardens running down to the lake are rich with hibiscus and poinsettia and the approach to the hotel is dominated by a flowering euphorbia, a goblet-shaped tree that looks like a giant cactus.

We gather at nine a.m. to make an expedition to the Blue Nile Falls, or the Tissisat ('Smoking Water') Falls as they are known locally. Leaving Bahir Dar we pass a huge and graphic anti-Mengistu painting by the roadside. Leering horribly, he has one arm raised in a dictator's clenched fist salute, and the other securing a crutch beneath his armpit, as the lower part of his body decomposes onto a heap of skulls.

Outside the town a pair of storks rise lazily from the fields and away over a road busy with groups of people carrying bundles of wood into town. These resilient figures are of indeterminate age, with legs as thin as the sticks they carry.

At the village of Tissabay, eighteen miles from Bahir Dar, we have to disembark and walk the last mile to the falls. We are not to be alone. No sooner have our vehicles been glimpsed than we are pursued by a crowd of boys waving and shouting. They all want to be our guides. Their technique is to press long sticks into our hands and as soon as anyone should grasp one, to stand proprietorially beside them. After much heated and exhausting negotiation we choose a group of guides and bearers and set off across a difficult stony path through the fields. Tadesse, twenty-five years old, and Tafese, a couple of years younger, are my 'guides' and I am their 'foreigner'.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 79
  • Country/sea: Ethiopia
  • Place: Bahir Dar
  • Book page no: 172

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