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March 9, 2002

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Bahar Dar has wide, palm-lined avenues and a waterfront setting on Lake Tana. Emperor Haile Selassie almost made this city Ethiopia's capital city. The main attraction are monasteries built several hundred years ago on 20 of Lake Tana's 37 islands. Most of the monasteries predate the 16th century and provided a safe haven for many of Ethiopia's religious treasures. We visit Debre Maryam, a 14th century monastery, and Ura Kidane Meret, a newer one where the chatty kid guides make a more lasting impression than the church's paintings. Lastly, we visit Kebren Gabriel island monastery, possibly the most scenic but not the most enlightened; it's open to males only.
Rather than the churches, it's more interesting to see the cast of characters at Bahar Dar's market.
These tankwa boats, made from papyrus, look flimsy as paper but they're strong enough to carry oxen (even though they take on an alarming amount of water). The boats are pulled up on land to keep them from getting waterlogged and sinking.
Ever wonder what is the most expensive livestock? Goat, horse, donkey, mule, sheep, ox, chicken? In Ethiopia mules cost the most - $150 - 50% more than the second place ox. Mules live for a long time, 30 years, and are tough mountain climbers.