My Ethiopian adventure really picked up steam in the rural city of Bahir Dar. I wasn’t looking for fast-paced experiences, just a taste of what real Ethiopian life was like; the kind of taste that is not really possible to get in Addis Ababa.
Bahir Dar is the third largest city in Ethiopia, after Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. It is the capital of the Amhara region, inhabited by the Amhara people, the country’s ethnically and geographically second largest group. In fact, Addis Ababa is reachable from Bahir Dar (and vice-versa) by long-distance bus. One bus departs from each end, each day.
Bahir Dar is a clean and well-maintained city by African city standards, and is part of the famous Ethiopia Historical Circuit, which means that many a traveller will find themselves here enjoying the rural life. Of course, some parts of Bahir Dar are well-developed, but it was the rural areas that interested me most during my visit.
Aside from the Manchester United-kitted children playing football on the mud, and the many farm animals grazing in the fields, the thing you see most commonly around these parts are bajajs! Bajajs are basically three wheel rickshaws and are the most common form of transportation in the city. None of the drivers I encountered could speak any English, but then again I cannot speak (or read) Amharic either, so simple smiles, nods of the head, and hand gestures had to suffice. 20 Birr seemed to be the going rate for an afternoon’s return journey, and I didn’t get the impression that the drivers were trying to rip me off. The city of Bahir Dar seems to laid-back and down-to-earth for that kind of thing. In addition, with Bahir Dar being a relatively flat city featuring very wide streets, bikes can be rented from various locations for an adventurous ride. I never tried this myself, but it does sound kind of cool!
Food in Bahir Dar is also interesting and it is much less ‘in your face’ than what you would see in Addis Ababa. They say a first-time visitor to Ethiopia may struggle to enjoy the local food, and that proved to be the case for me as I didn’t know “wat” I was eating! A “wat” is an Ethiopian stew that may be prepared with chicken, beef, lamb, a variety of vegetables, spice mixtures (such as Berbere), and clarified butter. You cannot travel to Ethiopia and not try some wat (hopefully with injera) at some stage of your stay. I often thought the wats were a little on the thick and unappetising side, yet upon tasting them on the streets of Bahir Dar I actually found them to be very nice.
If the sights, sounds, and tastes of the streets of Bahir Dar begin to bore you (BLASPHEMY!) then you’d be foolish not to venture further out of the city limits and explore Lake Tana and the Blue Nile Falls. It is almost impossible to choose between these two locations, but if you’re pressed for time, then you must decide if culture or natural beauty interests you most. If it’s another cultural experience, then the monasteries of Lake Tana will be great for you. If, however, you want to see some of Ethiopia’s astounding natural beauty, then the Blue Nile Falls will be a better bet. But take it from me – YOU NEED TO SEE BOTH!
And if all else fails, just stay in Bahir Dar and continue to enjoy the unique Ethiopian hospitality that you will not find anywhere else in this country! Although, tempting as it may seem, don’t overstay your Visa…