It was out on the lake, gliding smoothly on the silvery turquoise surface when we thought, yes – we can do this! We had borrowed local papyrus boats for the day. They don’t look it, but they are much more robust that we imagined. The main question playing on our minds: can we paddle from north to south across Lake Tana without dying?

Waiting for dinner

A few days back, we had been so relieved to finally reach Tim & Kim’s Village after a series of rock throwing incidents. It had left us mentally and physically bruised. Fortunately, my leg had miraculously healed and I wasn’t walking like an injured duck. Our mental state took longer to catch up, though and we needed a few days to recover. Tim & Kim’s Village was the first actually quiet and relaxing place we had found in Ethiopia.

Our campsite under an old tree

The campsite has a reputation with overlanders and for a good reason. It’s situated on the north shore of Lake Tana and is peaceful and picturesque. The loudest noises you’ll find are the birds above. You can hear them chirping loudly and their wings fluttering as they move from branch to branch in the massive, old tree situated in the centre of the campsite… Just be careful they don’t shit on you. I nearly got some ‘white sauce’ in my food!

The place has a nice open-planned restaurant. I was glad to walk in and find a shiny guitar gleaming back at me (I had just given my travel guitar away). Having no one else camping meant I could sing to my hearts content, without someone calling the police.

The restaurant

We had the entire place to ourselves – probably owing to the fact that Ethiopia is in it’s second state of emergency with spontaneous protests erupting all over the country. Obviously, this is bad for business. But we did welcome the quietness we found ourselves in and enjoyed our private beach area. Jumping into the Lake and swimming around was fun, provided no hippos popped up to say hello.

Small island near the shore

We watched the fishermen on the island in front. Twenty minutes after jumping in, he reached the island, gulping for air. He recovered while watching the massive pelicans bobbing in the waves nearby. The birdlife was fantastic. So many different colours, sizes, shapes and sounds.

Fish eagle on the lookout

Somewhere during our time by the Lake, we got the bright idea to paddle the length of it…. in a tankwa. A tankwa is a boat used by fishermen made entirely of papyrus. They are nifty little things but don’t last that long. They replace them every three months. What led to our borderline suicide idea was that there was no longer a ferry over Lake Tana any more. We had wrong information. It still went from time to time, but the schedule was irregular… maybe once in three weeks!

A tankwa – a local boat made entirely of papyrus

So we faced a choice: go back the way we came (hello no!) or paddle across Lake Tana all the way to Bahir Dahr. Yes, looking back, it was a pretty stupid idea but in the moment, we were so excited. It injected a new enthusiasm into our trip. It was a new challenge for us. And the best of all – we wouldn’t have to deal with Ethiopians for a while.

At the harbour, we rummaged through the shipyard for a boat. All were metal and even if we could fix the holes, if water came in we would sink immediately! No – our only real option here was a tankwa.

Our two new friends

We were quite impressed and happy with the tankwas after borrowing some from locals. We spent a day, with the help of a local man, organising the last two tankwas left at the shipyard, custom made wooden paddles and plastic barrels from the next town to keep food and water in. It was a lot to do and we were pretty pleased with ourselves when everything was organised.

Zulu the cat at her favourite spot

As the proud owners of two new tankwas, we went to the shipyard to paddle them along the shore to Tim & Kim’s. We eagerly placed them into the water, hardly containing the smiles on our faces. As soon as I sat in the boat, however, I knew something was wrong. The boats started to sink… along with our dreams.

They had immediately filled with water and it was unstable. To prevent myself from going overboard, I had to keep my legs overboard on either side, knee-deep in the water. This was not how we imagined the start of our temporary adventure. With our enthusiasm deflated, we abandoned the lake trip, our dreams dashed. Now how the hell were we going to get across the Lake?

Early start to catch the boat

Fortunately, Kim and her husband, Mabratu, had a plan – an old Italian Cargo ship leaving from Delgi, a town 40 km away on a rough dirt road. We all set off early in the morning, bouncing around in the back of a lorry with our bicycles. We were so relieved when both of us, our bicycles and gear were packed onto the cargo ship.

Who has the best seat?

Half way across, we stopped at Dek Island. We ate lunch and walked around the market with a parade of kids following us around the island. When we came back to the boat, it was full of mangos. We spent the whole day on Lake Tana reaching Bahir Dahr, but it was beautiful and calm on the turquoise coloured water.

Curious kids

On the lake, we thought about our idea to paddle across it. It seemed much larger and daunting from the cargo boat. Although disappointing, it was just as well the boats sank… we probably would have been attacked by a hippo. There were many things that could have gone wrong: running out of water, the tankwas disintegrating, bumping into angry hippos who made the grassy shoreline their home, strong winds. On the other hand, there’s no denying it – it would have been an epic adventure.

For more photos from Ethiopia, see here.

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