Ethiopian Excursion: Blue Nile Blues

Travel Weekly editor-at-large Arnie Weissmann continues his journeys through Ethiopia. Following is the third in an eight-part series telling the tales of his travels and travails:

he day before, I had had no trouble conversing with my guide, Mr. Kindu, but as we drove to the trailhead for Blue Nile Falls, we were misfiring.

"What's the name of the bird on that wire?" I asked.

"It is an oil refinery," he replied, the wind having garbled my question to God-knows-what.

The day seemed destined for misfires. I was pondering just how worried I should be about an early-morning visit I had received from the manager of the local tourist office.

"I must warn you," he said in a quiet voice, "that the falls are not going to be as good as usual." I told him I knew I was there in a dry season, but he interrupted and said that was not the problem.

Work on this hydroelectric dam has diverted the flow of the Blue Nile River from Blue Nile Falls."No, they are building a hydroelectric dam, so some of the water is being diverted. I thought you should know."

I have for years seen photos and woodcuts of the Blue Nile Falls (or, as it is known locally, Tissabay Falls), and I imagined them to be an awesome sight. As we drove on, I wondered just how much water was being diverted.

At the town of Tissabay Falls, we paid a small access fee, then drove on to where the trail to the falls begins. We climbed, we descended, we climbed again. As we stepped onto an old, stone Portuguese-built bridge, Mr. Kindu seemed suddenly apoplectic. The small river -- it really could have qualified as a large creek -- at the bottom of a canyon 70 feet below us was the Blue Nile.

The Nile was running at levels well-below normal far beneath this Portuguese-built bridge.Mr. Kindu said the entire gorge was usually filled with water.

We walked for about another 20 minutes, and at the sight of the falls themselves Mr. K stood in open-jawed silence. He turned to me and said, "I'm really so sorry." He had been coming to the falls for 17 years -- he had been there just a week before -- and he had never seen them so small. "It is only a fraction of what it should be on the worst day of the dry season," he said.

We were looking at it from a vantage point opposite the falls, and I have to say I have seen more impressive cascades in state parks in the U.S. Mr. Kindu said that a week before, we could not have stood where we were standing -- the spray would have been too thick and we would have been drenched, even there on the opposite bank.

The Blue Nile Falls usually spill over most of the ledge visible in this vista.We pushed on, following a nameless shallow tributary, and jumped on stones across the water to approach the falls from the other side. Ultimately, we stood within yards of the cascades.

Inspired by the rainbows in the rising mist, I tried to come up with a silver lining to this disappointing sight. I found some comfort -- cold comfort -- with the thought that, while I might not be seeing the majestic display I expected, at least I was seeing a sight even the greatest explorers of Africa could never imagine -- the tap turned off of Blue Nile Falls.

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The Bead Collection.Arnie did the traveling, but you can win the souvenirs.

This week's prize, pictured here, is the Bead Collection, and includes three necklaces, a bracelet and a rosary.

Just send an e-mail to Arnie at [email protected] for your chance to win this second of four prize groups. (Editors' note: This contest is closed.) 

Be sure to check back Thursday, July 19, where in his next installment, Arnie will get caffeinated in a most unusual way.

For the complete archive of Arnie's Adventures in Ethiopia, click here.

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