On the trail of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia’s Lake Tana

The African bush and world-renowned religious sites are meant to be two separate holiday options. Stories about examining ancient Christian scrolls and searching for the tell-tale bubbles of an irate hippo coming to flip your boat aren’t supposed to share a paragraph.

But the residents of Lake Tana in northern Ethiopia would beg to differ. This aquamarine, sun-baked lake sits on the foothills of the Simien Mountains and is where Sub-Saharan Africa and medieval churches meet. It has a shoreline littered with paint-box-coloured Orthodox Christian churches and thousands of equally jazzy flamingos. It attracts hyenas, leopards and fish eagles, but also hundreds of white-robed pilgrims who pour in from around the country.

I arrived in Ethiopia as an unlikely Indiana Jones figure. My brother and I were tracing the watery route of the Ark of the Covenant, which was allegedly brought to Ethiopia in 400 BC and then proceeded to take a tour of the lakes for the next 800 years.

After a short flight from Addis Ababa, we set sail on a rickety boat on a hot March morning, leaving from the shorefront city of Bahir Dar and heading for the rocky outcrop of Tana Kirkos. This is where, according to local lore, the Ark was housed for half a century.

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