My friend Merianne and I are highly opinionated about tour guides. Although we knew we’d need guides on our trip to the Northern Circuit of Ethiopia, we were also wary.

With our guide Bob on Lake Tana

We hate being lectured to, especially when guides rattle off dates and events that sound like a 19th century history lesson. We’re much more interested in how people live their everyday lives, and we’d prefer to ask questions than listen to memorized spiels.

So we’ve been delighted here on our first few days in Ethiopia. Our guide, Yinebob Mezigebu, who we connected with through Travel Ethiopia, is our ideal. Bob, as he told us to call him (though the word sounds more like Bohb here), speaks excellent English, always a plus. But what we liked most about him was: he asked us questions before we set out.

We had a set itinerary for our two days here – the usual tourist stops. But Bob wanted to know what we were interested in. Yes, we wanted to see one of the famous 14th century monasteries on Lake Tana, but one was enough. No, we didn’t want to go to the Blue Nile Falls; they’ve been dried up by a government hydroelectric project. Yes, we’d love to see the Nile itself as it flowed out of the lake on its way to Egypt.

Yum! Ethiopian "national food."

We love to visit schools and farms and villages, we told him, not so much monuments and museums.

Perfect. We spent our first morning with a glorious boat ride on the lake, just our group of four American women, Bob and the boat captain. He offered us a choice – there was a longer walk to see the most beautiful monastery on the Zege Peninsula, but we could also visit a nice one where we didn’t have to walk so far. We like to walk, we assured him.

When we needed to bargain with the vendors along the walk, Bob helped us make choices.

14th century painting in the monastery church at Ura Kidane Mihret

Inside the monastery church, he shared both his formal knowledge of the striking canvas murals of Christian Biblical scenes and stories unique to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but he also told us about his own experience of Christianity.

In the afternoon, abandoning the planned agenda, we visited a school, then walked in the fields among herds of Ethiopian Baran cattle. (Show me livestock and I am a happy camper.)

You can never see too many cattle.

In the early evening, we sat on the terrace outside our hotel, overlooking the lake, drinking wine and eating chocolate, and asked lots of questions about Ethiopian history and everyday life – the way we like to learn.

Before dawn this morning, Merianne and Jean set out with Bob to see an exorcism (yes, you read that right) at a local church – definitely not the usual thing mentioned in the guidebooks. Then the group spent the morning visiting the Grace Center Foundation, an NGO that serves 850 women and orphaned children, and this afternoon, we’re going to the food market.

When we move on to Gondar tomorrow, we’ll lose Bob. We’ll miss him. But if you come to Bahir Dar (and we really suggest you do), you can contact him at

Bob and “Siegfried,” our driver in Bahir Dar