We're in Bahir Dar, yet another rest day - the third within five days and one of the originally scheduled rest days. This town is like a relaxed version of Gondar, with fewer people trying to hassle us as we walk down the street and a generally more laid back atmosphere. The internet speed seems marginally quicker than Gondar in any case.
The big attraction here is Lake Tana, supposedly the third biggest lake in Africa. It is quite pretty and quite undeveloped compared to most lakes in the Western world. There a few hotels/resorts which line the shores but for the most part there is nothing but green bush. Accessible via the lake is a peninsula which contains a population of 15,000 who work mainly farming a vast area of coffee being grown. On this peninsula sits a Christian monastery and on two islands in the middle of the lake sit another two monasterys, one of which is only open to men.
Most of my friends will know that I often struggle to understand religion, and Christianity sits high up on the list of religions I do not understand. Like copyright, it strikes me as an antiquated set of rules based on a fallible set of logic. In any case, this isn't a religious blog so I'll leave it at that. The monastery was less impressive than the Buddhist monasteries we visited in Nepal and the Jain dharamsalas we visited in India.
I was expecting a small but noticeable population of religiously dressed types walking around and performing their daily duties, a clean, sparse but peaceful enclave in which they could lead a life of piousness and study. Instead, all we saw was a circular building in which there was a rectangular structure covered in tapestries. Like another rider commented, it looked like a giant comic strip. On the outside of the building was some noisy construction work (so much for the peace) and the whole place just smelt slightly odd. There were a few shacks around this main building where I assume people slept. As for actual monks, we saw just two. A waning population or what? We saw a similar number in the men only monastery we visited and I think the third monastery was similar. Aside from these drawings then, there was nothing outwardly impressive about these places.
Last night we had a Mardi Gras themed party - a tradition for when the tour reaches Bahir Dar. People made varying efforts to dress up and many enterprising riders acquired plenty of tinsel and masks to complete their costumes. The most terrifying of these attempts was that by Stuart and Dave - both of whom decided to dress as women. Hardy had an interesting take on his costume, choosing to wear a vegetable sack, while Paul - tour director - went for a different sort of terrifying, dressing as a local priest. My own costume was rather lacklustre, not wanting to waste either money or tinsel, opting only for a smarter-than-normal short sleeve shirt.
We've been gorging ourselves in a local cafe called 'Starbacks', which bears little resemblence to the Starbacks we all love and hate. In addition to the cafe (which serves probably the best hot chocolate I've had so far in Africa), there is a reasonably priced restaurant which serves a pretty decent spaghetti napolitana. We've been to eat there three times now and dinner is fast rising up the list of immediate priorities. The waitresses are getting better now but initially it was a shock to them that for a table of 6 people, we were attempting to order 11 main courses. After the first meal and observing Ruben's stack of four plates, it has become slightly less outlandish in their eyes and hopefully our dinner order will go much smoother.
As I walked down the street yesterday, there was a man with a weighing scale on the sidewalk. Seizing the opportunity to see what effect burning over 90,000 calories since we began riding has had, I jumped on the scale and watched the needle settle. Disappointingly, it appears I am near enough the same weight I was when I left home in January. Perhaps I've lost half a kilogram or so but I had thought more would come off.
Anyway, we ride on tomorrow morning to reach Addis Abeba in five days time. I'm looking forward to reaching Kenya soon after. For those who don't know my geneology well, both my parents and hence most of my immediate family are Kenyan - they were born and grew up there. I have some relatives left there who hopefully I'll get a chance to meet - if not in March then in May when I return from Cape Town. (Some of my grandparents are Indian but we have only a few distance relatives who I do not know living there now.) In addition, Kenyans are quite friendly generally and as far as I am aware, you don't get rocks thrown at you.