Woke up a few minutes before nine and I was supposed to meet the tour operator at nine to make the final arrangements for a boat to the island monasteries. Rushed got out there a few minutes late and was told all was well we were just waiting for some people to arrive from the airport. An hour passed, then another hour and then the man tells me that the others have cancelled but I can do the tour for twice as much as we'd agreed. Obviously I decline and head out to see what I can arrange elsewhere in the town. I walk with some boys down to another tour operator (several kilometers away) but when I get there everything the boys have been telling me turns out to be untrue so I leave, but after being told how impossible my price is they come back with better prices so I agree. But then I'm told I have to pay fuel - and there is no way they can do it for less. At that point I get pissed of and leave and refuse to come back a third time even when they agree to my original price. Back at my hotel I let the front desk know that I'm interested in a tour if anyone else shows up. Sure enough less than an hour later I'm off to see some of the monasteries of Lake Tana with two Ethiopian women - at my price.
The two women are a mother and daughter from Addis. The daughter, Meski, has been living in Canada for the last five years so speaks perfect English - luckily because the guide doesn't. A forty minute boat ride brings us to the Zegie Peninsula to see the Ura Kidanemereth monastery.
Ura Kidanemereth was supposedly built in the thirteenth century. The inside is a octagonal (like most Ethiopian churches) structure with a circular top and the entire inner building is covered with brightly colored frescos (actually the paintings are on a canvas type material teat covers the structure rather than plaster). The priest tells us that the paintings haven't been redone or restored since they were painted 700 years ago - given the brightness of the colors I have a lot of difficulty believing that. The mother in our grcause of this (plus I got to see some of the ritual). After seeing the monastery we went to the museum (a mud brick hut) here we were shown the kings crown, some processional crosses and the original cover from the Ark of the Covenant - but again it looked way to new to be more than a thousand years old. Though the Ark was supposedly kept in one of the monasteries here on Lake Tana for 800 years before it was moved to its present location in Axum - though not at this Ura Kidanemereth. Then we had to drink Tella (the local homemade beer - yuck, though better than the millet beer in Mali) with the older monks. Finally we were given a blessing and a pocketful of coffee beans - don't ask me I couldn't understand the meaning.
The next stop was at Kebran Gabriel Island to visit Kebran Gabriel Monastery. Women aren't allowed on the monastery's land so I went alone. The highlights here were the stone gongs (sound like metal) and the collection of nearly 200 old illuminated bibles. Kebran Gabriel Monastery is supposed to be older that the last church - and again all original but I couldn't get them to understand my question about the tin roof. The paintings inside were not nearly as well preserved (restored?) as those in Ura Kidanemereth but basically the same style.
The last monastery was Debra Kota Mariam on Dek Island. Here at least the women were allowed to come in. This church was also built in the thirteenth century but it's made of stone, supposedly brought from Jerusalem. Here again the paintings weren't nearly as good as those in the first monastery and many of them were new. When the treasures were being shown off further doubt on everything's authenticity was generated when a menorah that was made of cheap riveted pot metal and couldn't have been more than 40 years old was claimed to be form the 13th century!
Luckily the Zegie Peninsula was the furthest spot and we'd been working our way back to Bahar Dar - because while we were in Debra Kota Mariam it got windy and the boat ride was now very rough and wet. Back at the hotel I had diner with Meskie and her mom then went to my room to clean up and start packing. I met with Yilma and his brother and law for a beer then shared a bottle of wine (Ethiopian wine is not for the faint hearted) before calling it a night.