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LIKE MANY MARRIED couples, my husband and I have very different ideas about what constitutes a fun vacation. Last February, for example, while he took off for a week-long European skiing trip with his friends, I opted to spend two weeks traveling solo around dry and dusty northern Ethiopia. I’ve been drawn to Ethiopia ever since my high school years, in Flint, Mich., when a classmate, who’d moved from Addis Ababa to the U.S., regaled me with stories of the country, with its prototypical, fairytale-like castles and elaborate churches carved out of rock. It sounded pretty exotic to my teenage self. More than two decades later, as my guide, Dawit Teferi, who along with a driver, took me around the rock churches in the Tigray region and then to see the verdant peaks and valleys of the Simien Mountains, northern Ethiopia delivered on those early promises. But I never expected anything like Lake Tana.
The largest body of water in landlocked Ethiopia, Lake Tana is about 1,400 square miles, a fraction of the size of Lake Michigan, my childhood stamping grounds, but with an outsize claim to fame: It’s the source of the Blue Nile, which, once it joins with the White Nile, in Khartoum, Sudan, becomes one of the world’s longest rivers. But Lake Tana isn’t just holy ground for geography nerds. Within the lake’s copper-colored waters are 37 islands, many of which shelter centuries-old churches and monasteries filled with brilliantly colored frescoes and paintings. And since custodians of sacred religious sites tend to be gentle on their natural surroundings too, last year Unesco declared Lake Tana a biosphere reserve.
‘A young nun in flip-flops took out a 700-year-old holy book.’
The morning Dawit and I arrived in Bahir Dar, the largest city on the shores of Lake Tana, we had already spent three sweltering hours driving in from the old royal capital of Gondar, and I was champing at the bit to see the Blue Nile waterfall. The churches could wait. After checking into our hotel, we drove another hour, on a horribly bumpy road, to a riverfront village where we caught a small ferry to cross the tributary waters of the Blue Nile. Three minutes later, we were on the opposite riverbank, walking past fields of sugar cane, onions and khat (a popular local stimulant). We soon rounded a bend, and seemingly out of nowhere appeared the falls, pouring down a 147-foot rock face. Dawit told me that the falls—also known as “Tis Abay” (“Smoke of the Nile”) in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language—were half the volume they’d be right after the rainy season, which ends in September. Even so, they gave off an impressive spray. We watched as locals climbed on the slippery rocks, eager for the cooling mist, but I worried about getting too close; falling into these hippo-filled waters seemed a surefire way to ruin a vacation. So after some manic photo-taking, we headed back, passing by a rickety bridge that connects the two sides of the river. A farmer walked his three donkeys across, seeming to take no notice of the sway. Dawit bought chickpeas, still on the branch, which we munched on as we walked back to the boat dock in the glaring midday sun.
After lunch back in busy, palm tree-lined Bahir Dar, we hopped on a small ferry to take us across Lake Tana toward the 16th-century monastery of Ura Kidane Mehret, built on the Zege Peninsula that juts into the lake. It took our little boat about an hour to reach the shore, and then we trekked uphill another 20 minutes, passing coffee bushes, screeching monkeys and vendors selling hand-carved figurines and sistrums, musical instruments to accompany chanting. Sweaty and cranky from the heat by the time we arrived, I stepped inside the candlelit church—shoes off—and was immediately soothed.
Like most Ethiopian Orthodox churches in Lake Tana, this one was round, fragrant with incense and awash with murals and paintings, all done in golds, vivid reds, greens and blues. Many depicted biblical scenes of Mary, while others illustrated Ethiopian saints, such as Takla Haymanot, who, it is said, prayed for so many years standing on one leg that it finally broke off. Dawit told me these paintings were about 250 years old but that other nearby churches had much older works and relics. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, Lake Tana’s isolated monasteries served as hiding places for both people and religious treasures, including, legend has it, the Ark of the Covenant. (The ark is now said to be in the city of Axum, in the far north.)
On our way back to Bahir Dar, at the end of the day, we stopped at the small forested island of Entos Eyesu to visit one more church. There, a young monk in a white robe greeted us and led us into another small round sanctuary, explaining that the chapel was rebuilt in the 1990s, but the original church dated back to the 1400s. In the monastery’s tiny museum, a young nun in flip-flops took out a 700-year-old holy book to show us the drawings of St. George, the patron saint of Ethiopia, depicted on its goatskin pages. For the umpteenth time during my trip, I was thrilled to be exactly where I was—and not skiing.
THE LOWDOWN // Exploring Ethiopia’s Lake Tana
Getting There: You can fly to Bahir Dar from Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines. Or you can drive about three hours from Gondar to Bahir Dar.
Staying There: The finest hotel of my trip, Kuriftu Resort and Spa, on the banks of Lake Tana, has a large pool and stone-and-wood cottages decorated with locally made furniture. The hotel also offers Wi-Fi, which is still a big luxury in Ethiopia. The wood-paneled dining room, overlooking Lake Tana, serves excellent food, including steamed local fish in a Balinese curry and chicken breast with a pungent rosemary sauce. The wines on offer are good, but the local coffee is even better (from about $100 a night, kurifturesortspa.com).
Touring There: The best time to visit northern Ethiopia is immediately after the rainy season, June through August, when the region is lush and green and the Blue Nile Waterfall is roaring. My guide, Dawit Teferi, specializes in both northern Ethiopia and the Omo Valley in the south of the country (understandingethiopiatravel.com/index.html). Kibran Tours, an Addis Ababa-based luxury travel company, provided the transport and hotel bookings (kibrantours.com).
Corrections & Amplifications
The Nile is one of the world’s longest rivers. An earlier version of this article used the broader term “second-largest” without specifying the measurement. There is an ongoing debate about whether the Nile or the Amazon is the world’s longest.
This article is one in an occasional series about “living solo,” by choice or by circumstance.
(CNN)After breaking up with my Australian boyfriend, I was left with nothing but heartache and a plane ticket Down Under.
No safari is complete without seeing them. The big five did not come about because of size, otherwise giraffes and hippos could be among the big animals as they are bigger than lion and leopard.
Hunting was the main reason people from overseas came to the Africa Long before the National parks were established. This started in the 1800’s. This hunting took place a long time before conservation was even thought of, and there were no laws regarding hunting animals back then.
The hunters would target all sorts of animals and after a while a pattern had developed, as hunters were often getting killed by 5 animals in particular, these 5 animals were considered the most dangerous Game to hunt and also the most prized animals to use as trophies. The word then spread about the Big Five, and this name stuck in peoples minds and later became a great tourist attraction for foreigners to come and see the wild untamed Big Five. A lot of people ask why these animals were chosen, as mentioned above they were extremely dangerous to pursue on foot and many hunters lost their lives while trying to get that prestigious trophy.
I am sure a lot of us would have read about Coriolis effect as part of our Physics course back in school. But, I am not sure if many of us remember what it means and its significance. However, if you are standing on the equator at Nanyuki in Kenya and see this experiment live, the Coriolis effect will have a long-lasting effect on your memory.
The Nanyuki town, which is right in the center of Kenya, is known mainly for its equator point and hoardes of locals and tourists alike pay a visit just to stand on the equator. But, for those who are technically interested, locals arrange for an experiment to depict how the Coriolis effect works.
The setup is fairly simple. One jug with a hole at the bottom, one liter of water and 2 small pieces of sticks (like match sticks) and an empty bowl. The first step of the experiment is done at 10 feet north of the equator. Here the water is poured into the jug while the hole at the bottom is blocked by our finger. The sticks are allowed to float on the water. Then, the final step is to remove our finger from the bottom of the jug and allow the water to flow into the empty bowl below. At this instant, you will see that the sticks start rotating in a clock-wise direction. When the same experiment is repeated at 10 feet south of the equator, it is noticed that the sticks move in an anti-clockwise direction and when the experiment is conducted on the equator, it is noticed that the sticks don’t move at all. This basically shows the deflection or the force that is an artifact’s of the earth’s rotation.
Once the experiment is complete, the locals will also entice you to buy a certificate stating that you have witnessed this experiment at the Nanyuki Equator Point (for a price of course) and also take you to their shop in the nearby Equator market to buy some batiks, masks, wooden or cloth items. Nanyuki makes a great pit stop while heading from Nairobi to North Kenya.
Some animals that share the same name are different by appearance and colour and skin colour patterns. The Grevy’s zebra are found north of the equator and common ones in the southern hemisphere. This animal has thick stripes that run all the way under its belly, like this: Grevy’s zebra (E. grevyi) has thin stripes that don’t extend under its belly. The Masai ostrich too that are found in the southern hemisphere and their thighs and neck are red in colour. Somali ostrich have light blue necks and thighs. Somali occupy the northern hemisphere and ostrich the south.
The packing list below is just a mere guideline as you may have your own preferences:-
– 1-2 long sleeved shirts
– 3 short sleeved t-shirts
– 2 –3 pairs of light weight slacks/trousers – that can dry quickly (if wearing on treks)
– 1 pair of shorts
– 1 sweater or sweatshirt
– A waterproof and windproof jacket
– 1 skirt ( for women)
– Gloves – gardening or similar (for gorilla trekking)
– Strong waterproof walking boots – pants should be tucked into socks and boots while trekking
(heavy soled rain boots also work well)
– Pair of sports sandals like Tevas
– Hat-wide brim or with a visor for sun protection
– Lightweight wool socks
– Swimsuit (and a plastic bag)
– Sunglasses with neck strap
– Insect repellent with DEET
– Small day pack
– Extra batteries
– Camera and extra lenses
– Film particularly fast film for the gorillas.
– Personal toiletries
– Prescription medicines and possibly prescription itself
– Kleenex tissues
– Small notebook
The Great Wildebeest Migration refers to the huge annual movement of vast numbers of wildebeest accompanied by large numbers of zebras and gazelles searching for food and water between Tanzania and Kenya.
Although the migrations occur in a cycle between Tanzania and Kenya, most of the movement takes place in Tanzania which covers Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Loliondo Game Controlled Area, and Grumeti Reserve. In Kenya the migration stretches to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, bordering Serengeti National Park in the north.
From late November to mid-March, the wildebeest and other animals are already in the southern Serengeti and Ndutu in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, mainly moving between the transitional borders of the two reserves.
It is calving season for wildebeest at this time of year. With lots of calves born in the area, a host of predators like lions, leopard, hyena and cheetahs are around as they take advantage of the easy prey.
Here are 10 fascinating Great Migration facts you might not know:
1. The Great Migration sees over 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,00 zebra and a host of other antelope travelling cross country.
2. Between January and March, half a million wildebeest are born each year in the Serengeti. In February, the month with the highest calving rate, around 8,000 wildebeest are born each day.
3. The Great Migration is the largest overland migration in the world. The animals travel a total of 800km or more during each cycle.
4. While the migration may seem like a chaotic frenzy of movement, research has shown a herd of wildebeest possess what is known as ‘swarm intelligence’, where the wildebeest systematically explore and overcome an obstacle as one.
5. The reason why zebra and wildebeest graze in harmony together is because they each eat different parts of the same type of grass.
6. Because wildebeest have no natural leader, the migrating herd often splits up into smaller herds that circle the main, mega-herd, going in different directions. When considering these smaller, split herds the whole migration can cover over half of the whole Serengeti.
7. The Serengeti National Park eco-system is the oldest on the planet. It boasts a diversity of plants and animals that is unavailable anywhere else on the globe.
8. During the migration around 250,000 wildebeest and 30,000 zebra are killed off every year as a result of predation by carnivores, but also from thirst, hunger, and exhaustion.
9. The crocodiles awaiting the herds in the Mara River drown their prey by clutching them in their strong jaws and pulling them below the water, twisting them to break off bite-size pieces. A crocodile can lunge more than half of its body length out of the water to grab a potential victim and can also use its tail as a secondary weapon.
10. There are more than 3,000 lions currently living in the Serengeti ecosystem that follow the migratory herds across the reserve.
In East Africa, there are rules and regulations to be followed when viewing wildlife in the national parks. It is important for visitors and driver guides to know them so that wildlife is respected. Horizon Africa Safaris do follow these laws of the jungle to the letter.
1. Respect the privacy of the wildlife, this is their habitat.
2. Beware of the animals, they are wild and can be unpredictable.
3. Don’t crowd the animals or make sudden noises or movements.
4. Don’t feed the animals, it upsets their diet and leads to human dependence.
5. Keep quiet, noise disturbs the wildlife and may antagonize your fellow visitors.
6. Stay in your vehicle at all times, except at designated picnic or walking areas.
7. Keep below the maximum speed limit (40 kph/25 mph).
8. Never drive off-road, this severely damages the habitat.
9. When viewing wildlife keep to a minimum distance of 20 meters and pull to the side of the road so as to allow others to pass.
10. Leave no litter and never leave fires unattended or discard burning objects.
11. Respect the cultural heritage of East Africa, never take pictures of the local people or their habitat without asking their permission, respect the cultural traditions of EA and always dress with decorum.
12. Stay over or leave before dusk, visitors must vacate the Park between 6.00 p.m. – 6.00 a.m. unless they are camping overnight. Night game driving is not allowed.
Welcome to the much awaited worldwide, Eastern Africa Safari Holiday Mid-office for destination management companies, corporate establishments, tour & travel agents, home based outbound holiday organisers and wholesale tourism products supply sources. This will be launched very soon.
We are launching this solution from the discovery and study of the needs of suppliers to benefit from competitive, affordable professional and efficient partner for East Africa. Horizon Africa Safari is on ground and closer to safari accommodation suppliers and national tourism bodies to ensure that the products we offer to our clients are closely monitored and the costs for packages are second to none. By partnering with us you will be assured of unmatched products and costs and efficient turn around in addressing your questions, requests and bookings.
In conclusion, Our Mission is to provide a satisfying, rewarding and memorable experience to all our partners with emphasis placed on our core values of personal service at the highest level. Competitive rates enable us to offer flexibility and great value without compromising our service delivery. Our experienced ground-handling offices in East Africa are a vital part of our operation and boast an impressive more than five decades of combined knowledge and expertise in all destinations featured. Please log – in here www.horizonafricasafari.com and join to confirm your partnership when launched. Your will have your own portal and an opportunity to directly interact with us and benefit from affordable, competitive and unmatched East Africa safari holiday packages.