From Fish to Freedom – Tis Issat Falls

If yesterday was a disappointment, today more than made up for it.

It began at 5:30am when I woke up for an early morning stroll down to the river (about a mile away) to see if I could spot any hippos. In the pre-dawn there were already quite a few people gathering water in buckets for the days usage by the Bahir Dar bridge. An AK-47 wielding security guard wasn’t keen on me taking pictures at the bridge (he thought I was a spy) so for a moment I thought I wouldn’t get to see the hippos afterall. But a friendly Ethiopian named “Freedom” saved the day by offering to show me hippos. Off we trekked upstream a ways over rocky boulders. I was surprised how well he moved considering he had a bad limp from being shot in the leg during the Ethiopian-Eritrea conflict. There was a great spot of rocks that jutted out into the river where we spent about an hour watching hippos splash around and blow blasts of watery-mist in the air as the sun slowly rose over the dusky African bush. Could hear them grunting too, though he assured me hippos are quite safe and never bother the villagers. That was reassuring until he told me there are crocodiles too and they aren’t safe at all. Whatta deal. I got some pictures but can’t put them online until I have wi-fi on my laptop.

This hippo adventure was followed by an egg-sandwich breakfast back in town at a local cafe and then a walk to the bus station. It wouldn’t be right to stay in one place long. The point of traveling is to travel.

After locating the right bus to Tis Issat falls, I entered the crazy thing and waited. When the bus filled up (many moons later) we took off. The relic belched black smoke like it ran on coal. Folks inside had pretty amazing costumes too. I finally felt like I was in Africa proper. Many were wrapped in blanket garb holding their trusty ol’ stick; not unlike Rafiki in the Lion King.

Usually when I travel via bus the luggage carriers up top hold smart-looking backpacks. On this trip they were filled with burlap sacks of produce and dusty old plastic water buckets.

After an hour-long journey of jarring along on dirt roads – passing through multiple mud-hut villages – we arrived. I declined the guides who flocked to my aid (since I was the only white person on the full bus I was the primary target). I declined the guides because my official Lonely Planet guidebook said they were unnecessary. One persistent teenager (John) decided to guide me anyways, even with no promised fee (he wasn’t an official guide, just a kid who lived in the Tis Issat village). Turns out he was the best guide I’ve had so far in my journeys – at the end I paid him the guide service fee which he was happy about (and I’m sure gunning for the whole time).

Hiking around the falls took several hours. I was the only “farenge” there which made the experience that more authentic. The falls are pretty stupendous.

Highlights of the trek included: 1) drinking coffee in a mud hut with locals – a little boy was scared of me and ran out 2) walking across the dizzying gorge on a swinging footbridge 3) watching the thunderous water plummet 100+ feet to a pool below 3) swimming in said pool 4) seeing the very tree the Mysteries of the Nile film crew tied their ropes to when rappelling down the falls in the movie 5) crossing the Blue Nile river upstream of the falls in a motor launch.

Getting to know my guide John was rewarding too, he was a helpful and knowledgeable fellow. Humble. 16 years old. Had a great attitude. And he was all for jumping in and swimming. Twas a hot day.

The bus ride back was slightly packed. First, the regular seats filled up (if 3 to a seat can be considered regular). Then the middle aisle filled up with people standing. I was sitting towards the back and the bus had both a back and front door. When the aisle filled up people began loading into the area where the stairs are at the front and back entrances. Then we took off.

But! there were more people along the road who also wished to catch a ride. Of course we picked them up too. I didn’t see how another body could fit in the bus, but every time we stopped and the doors opened everyone would just skoosh inwards a little and the next stick-wielding bushman hopped in. Incredible.

A college aged guy I was sitting next to had the name of Fish (what’s with the weird names today? First Freedom, and then Fish!?) He turned out to be good company. We jawed for nearly an hour before the bus embarked, then hollored at each other over the noisy babble and blaring Ethiopian pop songs on the jouncy ride home, then grabbed some supper together at a local pizzeria (I chose pizza over Ethi-cuisine as I’ve eaten my share of Ethi food lately… plus I was paying). Couldn’t believe Fish had never eaten a piece of pizza before in his entire life. And he still hasn’t, because he got spaghetti and wouldn’t try a piece of my cheese pizza as cheese isn’t on his diet for some special religious holiday he is currently celebrating. I think the religious holiday is Easter. Though I don’t remember anywhere in the Bible it saying I can’t t eat pizza just because Christ resurrected from the dead.

Fish and I then ran around town doing a few errands like buying Bibles from the Bible Society of Ethiopia (one of which I gave to Fish) and getting transportation lined up for me tomorrow to Lalibela. This was followed by meeting up with the Dad of a guy I had randomly met in Addis. This father-guy met us at a local cafe for a coke and turns out he was the nicest Ethiopian I’ve met so far! A highly educated man, he is a veterinarian and also a lay pastor to boot. A Christian, he converted from the ubiquitous Greek Orthodox Church to faith in Jesus a number of years ago. Now his entire family also believes in Jesus. He has traveled too, having lived in Russia 6 years at one time. Fish, the veterinarian, and I had a great visit – the vet guy even began witnessing to my Fish about Jesus Christ! Had Fish lookup certain references in his new Bible.

It seems a strange life I live.

Finally, everyone left to go back to their respective homes. And now I too, after having duly recorded the days proceedings for the benefit of mankind and future progeny, am heading towards crashing in bed after another eventful day.

Catching a bus to Lalibela 7am tomorrow.

Hope this post wasn’t too boring.

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