Oh Bahir Dar… a city that I was afraid that I would hate when I first came to Ethiopia and has become a city near and dear to my heart.
Thanks to a happy mixup with our driver, we ended up in Bahir Dar a night early, giving us an extra day to explore the city I love. The first morning we got a Lake Tana boat/monasteries tour with a VSO couple currently living in Rwanda and a German woman travelling alone through Ethiopia.
I’ve been struggling with this post for a few weeks, because I feel like I have been really negative lately, such as my rant about the harassment in Harar and Dire Dawa. But every time I pull up this post the emotions resurface and I can’t help but feel like I have to share it. So, here is another rant from me but this time about tourism and tourist pricing… avoid if you want to.
I seriously hate farengi pricing. I hate it. I understand that many people think that Americans and residents of other Westerns, such as the UK or Germany, sit around all day and money falls out of the sky, but almost anyone who has ever lived or worked in a Western country understands that most people work for their money—and they work hard. They work long extended hours at jobs they may love or hate, but they work hard regardless.
Therefore, when someone is trying to take advantage of a foreigner simply because they are foreign really frustrates me. Just because I am fareng does not mean I should be subjected to a different price, nor should any other fareng. Yes, maybe my parents can afford to pay a little more than I—as a Peace Corps Volunteer—can pay, but my parents also have worked hard for the money they have. They’ve worked hard for the past 40+ years sometimes well over the standard 40 hours a week and just because their skin is a different color doesn’t mean they should be punished.
So we get to the Zege Peninsula on Lake Tana to visit (what the guidebook says) is the most beautiful monastery. The first thing that happens upon landing, is that we are forced to take a guide. This frustrates me, I don’t react as well as I should have, I argue a little and the guide keeps an eye on me the rest of the time. And by keeps an eye, I mean he won’t let me talk to any of the vendors on the island alone. For example, I look at a cross that I know shouldn’t cost any more than 50-70 birr… I ask the woman the price and our forced guide responds, “Three hundred and fifty birr.” What?? That is seven times the correct price!! And people happily pay it because the guides are sure to tell you what a good price it is.
I don’t want to turn this entire post into a rant, and I find it really unfortunate the guide left such a bad taste in my mouth about a beautiful monastery and treasury. But I digress…
After we left the big monastery, we headed to a small island with the dual monastery-convent of Entos Eyesu. It wasn’t near as large or grand as the previous one, but it was all the more beautiful and extremely peaceful. A young monk who spoke no English showed us their paintings and we wandered around at the top of the island for a bit, listening to the monks and nuns chanting. There was also an old prison on the island, which was really interesting to see.
We got back to Bahir Dar in the early afternoon and we did a little shopping and stopped by the Bahir Dar market. The next day was a beautiful day of rest as we just explored Bahir Dar, ate good food and headed out to the Dashen Beer Garden to taste some of Dashen’s cellar beer, a beer on tap you can only get in three places in all of Ethiopia!
The next morning we had a half day excursion to the Blue Nile Falls planned. It was quite a hot, dusty hike across the Portuguese Bridge up and around to see the falls, but it was definitely an amazing experience. The falls were low due to it being the super dry season right now, and I can only imagine what they look like after rainy season!!
The place we stayed in Bahir Dar was called B&B The Annex, a wonderful guesthouse run by Negist, located in a very convenient location in Bahir Dar. My parents and I got the "family room" which had sleeping space for five, along with an en suite bathroom, and it was a great price!! Along with a great breakfast each morning, it was a great place just to hang out. If anyone is looking for a place in Bahir Dar for family visits—I highly recommend checking it out.
The next morning we headed off to Gondar via minibus (my parents really are adventurous and very good sports!) to see the City of the Kings. Stay tuned for parts 4 and 5 as I cover the end of our trip!