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Pole to Pole

Day 79: Bahir Dar

Michael Palin - Pole to Pole'He is our foreigner!' they shout at anyone who tries to muscle in, and to me, solicitously, 'How you are now? Fine . . . ?'.

What with our bearers carrying the film equipment, and me in my Turkish straw hat, we must look like every clichéd pictured of the Great White Explorer. We cross a picturesque four-arched stone bridge.

'Bridge built by Portuguese,' Tadesse tells me, a few seconds before Tafese tells me the same thing. 'Cement made of egg yolk and sand' . . . 'of egg yolk and sand,' echoes Tafese.

It's hot and increasingly clammy as, after a 45-minute walk, we climb a long green slope, mount the brow of a hill and look down on one of the greatest natural spectacles I have ever seen. It is the central fall of the three that catches the eye. An immense torrent of water is plunging over it, a cascade so massive that it appears solid, as if the land itself is crashing down. A continuous subterranean rumble seems to shake the ground. Locals say they have not seen the falls so full in their lifetime.

I'm aware of Tadesse looking expectantly towards me:

'How you find it? Attract . . . ?'

'Oh yes, attract all right . . . sublime, stupendous and stunning.'

'So . . . you like?'

A rainbow hangs over the gorge and the clifftops below us are covered in tropical jungle, a mini ecosystem created by the billowing clouds of spray. An explorer called James Bruce came here in the 1780s and described the sight as 'stupefying'. He claimed to have been the first white man to see the falls, but two priests challenged his claim. Queen Elizabeth came here in 1965, and they built a viewing platform specially for her. Today there is nothing between ourselves and a 100-foot drop, except slippery grass. Patti nearly goes over, taking most of her guides with her.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 79
  • Country/sea: Ethiopia
  • Place: Bahir Dar
  • Book page no: 173

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