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IN PICTURES | Along the banks of Ethiopia’s Blue Nile

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The Blue Nile pours out of Ethiopia’s Lake Tana as a gentle bubbling stream. Around is an ancient land with life-giving waters.


If one needs to be transported to biblical times, the time machine to do so resides on the banks of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. This ancient land of many cultures and religions has resisted modernity, leaving many of its traditions intact, as I witnessed traveling through the historic Christian circuit of Ethiopia.

The mysterious Nile was long-hidden from Western geographers and explorers. It was not until the expeditions of such great travelers as Bruce, Burton, and Speke in the 18th century that the origins were confirmed: the White Nile originates in East Africa’s Lake Victoria, while the Blue Nile pours out of Ethiopia’s Lake Tana.

It merges with the smaller tributary, the White Nile, at Khartoum, Sudan, to form the mighty Nile River.

The Blue Nile was responsible for the annual floods that contributed to the fertility of the Nile Valley and subsequent rise of the Egyptian civilization. This ended with the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s in Egypt.

For my exploration, I started in Addis Ababa and flew into Bahir Dar, a clean, safe and well-maintained city (by African standards) and the closest approach to the Blue Nile.

It offers access to more than 20 of the world’s oldest monastic churches that date back to the 14th century, located on the peninsulas and islands of Lake Tana. I hired a boat that regularly plies Lake Tana to visit many of its churches and small villages.

I was quite surprised to see locals operating papyrus boats (tankwas) that have been in use since the 9th century BC, either to fish or transport firewood across the lake. The only other place where I have seen papyrus boats still in use was in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. 

My biblical adventure took me first to the magnificent 14th century Ura Kidane Mehret church decorated with its astoundingly beautiful murals painted more than 250 years ago.

From a rather humble building, some of Ethiopia’s fabled treasures were revealed to me by a priest of the church: ancient parchment books from the 9th century, jewel-studded crowns of emperors, historic battle implements and the mummified remains of 14 of Ethiopia’s most revered emperors.

I was quite surprised at the poor quality of the storage cabinets and an absolute lack of proper security for such priceless treasures.

It barely took a five-minute drive from the lakeside town of Bahir Dar to reach the spot where the Blue Nile flows out of Lake Tana as a gentle bubbling stream. But driving further downstream for about 40 kilometers, the power of the first cataract of the Blue Nile can be appreciated at Tis-Isat village. The village is a market settlement of the Amhara people who have inhabited this area for over 2,000 years, farming crops like wheat, sorghum and teff (from which injera, the delicious national bread, is made).

The footpath leaving the village meanders first beside fertile open fields, then drops into a deep basaltic rift. After about a 30-minute walk, a stiff climb up a grassy hillside is rewarded by a magnificent view of the falls, breaking the smooth edge of the rolling river into a thundering cataract of foaming white water.

The approach to the falls was surreal with cowherds playing the flute and local women gathering water from the river in ceramic amphoras (ancient jugs) – scenes that were truly biblical. The Tis-Isat falls had been one of Ethiopia’s major tourist attractions until a decade ago.

Little did I realize that what I saw, despite being impressive, was a far cry from its gloried past. Since 2003, a giant hydroelectric power project has reduced the giant half mile wide water curtain to a mere third of its size. Even though there were many gorges nearby to install a power plant, the government decided on this easier location which has unfortunately affected fish farming in Lake Tana and tourism in the area.

Unlike some of the great falls of the world – Niagara, Victoria and Iguaçu – with endless hotels and tourist offerings nearby, the falls of the Blue Nile are located in a pastoral and primal setting that should showcase its natural might, but it’s being slowly being dammed into silence. Many young rural women and some men in the area sport tattoos of traditional designs, which are as diverse as Ethiopian society, usually indicating the bearer’s cultural, religious and ethnic background.

Traditional tattoos have many forms — from rows of blue or black lines from chin to chest, dots on the forehead to crucifixes or crescents on the back of the hand and tattoos designed to darken pinkish gums.

Meran Kabede, a young lady in her 20s peered through my car window, as I was taking photos of her tattoos. “I am ashamed of my tattoos. My mother told me that it would beautify me but my friends in Bahir Dar tell me that it’s a sign of backwardness and ignorance,” she said in halting English. While I appreciated the beautiful and unique facial decorations, I could very well see her desire to shed her rural identity for more modern times.

Not much has changed along the river bank over the centuries; donkey carts transport goods inland while papyrus and dugout boats carry people across the different villages lining the river.

One man, carrying an ancient firearm on his shoulder, claimed to be protecting himself from any number of ethnic conflicts that could arise. The Eritrean, Somali, South Sudan and Kenyan border areas have always been areas of unrest. In fact, I was fully escorted by a Kalashnikov-toting soldier for my tour of the highlands near the Eritrean border.

This ancient land with life-giving waters, in an otherwise parched landscape is both a blessing and curse for Ethiopia. The sharing of the Nile waters has become a contentious issue in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia where the population explosion has put pressure on water consumption. It is often said that the world’s next war will be fought over water and there are few places as tense as along the river Nile.

-Ramdas Iyer

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Executive Travel: NaakMusiQ’s Dubai

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The South African actor and musician was impressed with the city’s architecture, food and work ethic. 


South African actor and musician Anga Makubalo, known by his stage name NaakMusiQ, calls the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai a luxury destination.

NaakMusiQ, who hails from Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, shot to fame after appearing in the award-winning South African soap opera Generations and has since been in a number of television shows.

He has also had a chart-topping music hit, Ntombi ft Bucie.

NaakMusiQ’s first trip to Dubai, known as the melting pot of the Middle East, was last year on an Emirates flight when he traveled Business Class. The fashion-lover admits to being a light packer, although there are some items he would never travel without, such as cologne, a pair of sneakers, and his music.

READ MORE | Executive Travel: Nomzamo Mbatha’s Kenya

“I also carry my scripts all the time. Because of the long flights, I can get tired of watching a movie, I can get tired of listening to music, so the next best thing is to get into my script and get a head start.”

He has been to Dubai before, but only transiting the airport connecting to another flight, so this was his first official trip into the glistening city.

“Dubai is everything that people say it is,” he says. “We went to the mall. It was crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it before. [The Dubai Mall] has a full-on aquarium inside. In the middle of the center, there’s like this huge fish tank. It’s crazy! That was probably the highlight of my visit.”

The actor was also intrigued by the city’s architecture and skyscrapers.  

“I’m actually very huge on architecture. It’s actually something I wanted to study. Their engineering is absolutely insane. The way they’ve built this place and the designs – it’s luxury, one after the other. We drove for hours admiring the architecture because I’m such a nerd when it comes to that. I love it.”

Dubai has a sizeable African expatriate community, and no dearth of African culture. As a musician, NaaqMusiQ had been invited to the city.

“Africans that have immigrated to Dubai request their favorite African artist to come over so that they’re still connected to Africa and home. The nice thing about that is, as much as it is our people that have invited us there to perform, they have influenced people from there [Dubai] and other parts of the country [UAE] to come and listen to our music.

“Because they’ve become residents there, they have friendships where they introduce African music to the people of Dubai. So when we went there, there were quite a lot of people, even though some couldn’t sing along, there were a lot of people who went crazy when my song [Ntombi] played.”

During his time there, NaakMusiQ was also taken to restaurants serving African food. This came as somewhat of a surprise for the actor that the Arab city boasted a range of eateries specializing in African cuisine.

“We had a lot of Kenyan food that I hadn’t tasted before, which was really nice. They’ve got Tanzanian food, they’ve got South African food, Zambian food; it’s just a whole African experience there. And they do well actually.”

READ MORE | Executive Travel: JJ Schoeman’s Prague

While NaakMusiQ didn’t interact with the natives of Dubai, he did get a sense of what they are like. The hustle and bustle of the city left him greatly motivated.

“Everyone in Dubai is there to work. Everyone is there to hustle. People think that Dubai is this big, fun place, which it can be, but even people from there aren’t out partying every night. It’s people from the countries that are visiting that are out partying. Everyone else is really working. Some people are so hectic when it comes to business and money that they don’t have a life outside of their work.

“When they do have nights off, they choose to be at home or to put in extra hours working. It just made me want to work harder. That is the impact… Everyone there wants to do better. The standards there are incredibly high. What we would consider as good here is probably entry-level there,” says the hit-maker who now plans to return to Dubai wealthier and with more cash to splurge.

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Executive Travel: Nomzamo Mbatha’s Kenya

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The South African actor immerses herself in all things Kenyan, from the natural wonders to cultural experiences, and has an awakening.  

It’s a Wednesday afternoon in Sandton, South Africa, and the sun is a couple of hours away from its daily disappearance down the horizon. FORBES AFRICA makes a phone call. A voice at the other end says a deep “hello”. It is award-winning South African actor and entrepreneur Nomzamo Mbatha, who is in New York City and has just woken up.

From the Big Apple, her mind travels to Africa.

Nomzamo Mbatha describes Kenya as the warmest place in Africa. Picture: Supplied

When she’s not scorching television screens, in the award-winning South African drama-series, Isibaya, Mbatha spends a lot of time traveling.

She has been to 13 countries, but as an African, none has made her feel at home quite like Kenya.

She describes it as the warmest place in Africa and speaks of her endearing memories of the East African country.

“Kenya makes you feel like you should live there. Kenya makes you feel like you’re at home…” says Mbatha.

She traveled there for the first time when she was 16, handpicked by Save the Children, a non-governmental organization promoting children’s rights, as one of three South African children representing the country at a conference hosted by Kenya.

Mbatha recounts her first impressions.

Nomzamo Mbatha traveled to Kakuma on a United Nations mission in 2018. Picture: Supplied

“I remember seeing furniture doors just piled up on the side of the road and thought ‘whoa! I’ve never seen this’ and then I just remember Kenya having lots and lots of bananas.

“Because we were always on a bus, we didn’t get to see it (Kenya). My misconception of it, as a child, was that there’s not much to do as a tourist.”

In 2018, Mbatha was in Kenya again, flying first class on Kenya Airways with a carry-on and two big bags. “I don’t know how to travel light,” she confesses.

She recalls there were times in the earlier years as a traveler when she would pack everything, leave the house and get to the airport only to realize she wasn’t carrying her passport.

“So passport… that’s like your golden item! The number two [must-have item] I’d say is sneakers. It’s always great to have comfortable sneakers so you’re able to walk around the city, around the towns and just be comfortable. So always carry sneakers no matter what!

Nomzamo Mbatha in Kenya. Picture: Supplied

“Number three – I always have a nice little bag of small decanted toiletries. I have like 20 different things that I use.

“So when you’re traveling, especially long-haul flights, you want to be able to have your [face] cream because you don’t want to end up using what the airline gives you…

“When I’m traveling and connecting flights, I always make sure I go to the bathroom and use my products and keep my skin hydrated and clean.

“And, of course, the fourth must-have, is a book; it’s always a great travel mate.”

On her last trip to Kenya, Mbatha traveled with her manager and they were scheduled to fly out to Kakuma on a United Nations mission, however, she requested three days to be in Nairobi before the trip.

“I really just wanted to experience it and see more of it. Also, I was in a space where I hadn’t traveled in a while.

Nomzamo Mbatha visited the K1 Flea Market in Kenya. Picture: Supplied

 “It completely changed me. I went to the K1 Flea Market which is so amazing. Everybody has a smile. Everybody is so welcoming.

“I got to go to the Maasai Market which is absolutely fantastic. And there is so much art and craft you can find there… And then the fanciest restaurants; five-star restaurants they don’t tell you about, that they don’t show you. The party scene in Kenya is amazing. And what I really loved about Kenya is I felt completely safe.”

She then explored the Karura Forest, saved from deforestation by conservationists led by the late Wangari Maathai (Nobel Peace Prize laureate, leader of the Green Belt Movement, and environmental and political activist). Karura presented the most memorable moments for Mbatha while in Kenya.

Nomzamo Mbatha enjoys the meal at the K1 Flea Market in Kenya. Picture: Supplied

“It was lush. And it was just inspiring to know that a woman’s name was behind all of this. I just remember thinking how massive it was. We just stood there and it was one of the best experiences of my life… it was beautiful. For me, it was better than seeing the Eiffel Tower. It’s nothing like you’ve ever seen.”

While the visit to Karura Forest left Mbatha in awe, it also taught her a valuable lesson.

“It was emotional in the sense that there is so much we can do for the planet. And it implores one to really do better in terms of our own social responsibility when it comes to environmental sustainability.”

Nomzamo Mbatha outside the K1 Flea Market in Kenya. Picture: Supplied

Mbatha says the African continent has much to learn from Kenya.

“A lot of innovative businesses in Kenya [are] self-started. The government of Kenya is very cognizant of the fact they are not going to bring international brands. In fact, they empower local brands to start their own businesses, down to potato crisps. It’s very motivating for people to have the entrepreneurial spirit,” says the globetrotter in love with Africa.

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Fancy A Butler While Camping?

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The great outdoors now come with all luxury trappings. Glamping offers comforts that, at times, exceed services provided by five-star hotels.


Tourism in Soweto, a township in the south west of Johannesburg in South Africa, has grown exponentially over the years, contributing millions to its economy. And with disposable incomes in such urban township economies increasing, more people are finding ways to spend money through means they historically didn’t have.

Thato Mothopeng is one of the few entrepreneurs in the tourism sector here without a formal degree or training, but has a roaring business nevertheless.

His passion for enterprise and fun made him pour all his savings into his startup, Ghetto Mentality Entertainment, which birthed four other products: the Township Small Business Showcase, an annual event showcasing township businesses to other businesses; a restaurant called Sanchos outdoor kitchen that’s a food and art kitchen; then the Soweto Tourism Association with a mandate to develop tourism businesses in Soweto, creating employment opportunities and skilling the youth; and last but not the least, the Soweto Camp Festival that has been running for seven years now.

“This is one of my difficult projects because you have to get everybody into the [singular] vision of creating an economy using our own products. I try and show that potential at the Soweto Camp Festival where I fuse small businesses together to render services for people coming to the festival,” Mothopeng says.

The festival happens every Easter, on the long weekend, boosting Soweto’s tourism prospects.

This year, the camp is offering free stalls to emerging businesses in the art, craft and fashion industries.

The festival started as Camp Chair Sessions, a weekend event promoting outdoor activities in 2010 prior to the Soccer World Cup, at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, 17kms from Johannesburg. In 2011, it was converted to the Soweto Camp Festival after guests wanted to camp with the hosts.

The Soweto Camp Chair Sessions encourage artists, entrepreneurs and people from different disciplines to promote the idea of camping, says loyal attendee and now the general manager of the Soweto Camp Festival, Kgomotso Morotolo.

“I met Thato at the camp chair sessions. At the sessions, we would have between 2,000 to 4,500 people coming with their camp chairs and it was housed at Lebo’s Backpackers. So, we were creating a lifestyle of traveling and camping, entrepreneurship and socializing,” Morotolo says.

 The first three festivals were hosted at the same venue where the sessions were held. Slowly, the camp site was getting smaller because of the sheer volume of attendees; Mothopeng had to look for another space.

Mothopeng and the owner of Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, Lebo Malepa, had to part ways.

“Thato saw the bigger picture, one of the reasons we parted was because he wanted to go big and I wanted to go small. He was used to hosting big gigs and I’m not used to hosting such because I deal with tourists and tourists usually want smaller groups of people for the safety. That’s when we agreed that he can move on and he had a lot of ideas which he is including now in his package,” says Malepa.

Mothopeng was looking for something with sentimental value, a place that spoke to the inhabitants of the township, and in 2014, Mofolo Park, 3kms from the iconic Vilakazi Street seemed fitting. This is also where FORBES AFRICA is doing this interview, under one of the many trees, on a bench with the passionate entrepreneur who is wearing a colorful bucket hat; symbolic of a young Sowetan.

“When Nelson Mandela came back from prison and wanted to address students, he came to this park; the late jazz musician Hugh Masekela performed here, among others, this is a very historic space. That’s what we are trying to do, to revive the history because we also want to play a part in the making of history. We also want to be part of the history writers; we also want to talk about the greats within our time,”  Mothopeng says.

Their current venue is a source of pride.

“It’s a green site. This is a place where people get to come and relax, chill and unwind with nature; it’s something we don’t experience because of lack of greenery in the township. With that being said, we have over 100 trees in this venue.”

Running the venue and providing the best service is not without challenges.

“Having to convince City Parks [parks and zoos run by the City of Johannesburg] is a challenge and [upkeep] costs us about R100,000 ($6,900) to utilize for a weekend with toilets and fencing. It was stressful but at the end of the day we did it without a cent and we made a bit of money after that. Now I have a bit of a budget that I saved up for rainy days,” he says.

The festival has reached the 1,000 people mark from its inception when they hosted about 200 campers at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, and about 60% of them are non-Sowetans, accommodating  guests from Lesetho, Swaziland and America, among others. In 2018, the project made R1.4 million ($97,168), comprising youth-owned township businesses and service providers, and is targeting R2.5 million ($173,514) in 2019.

“I remember in 2017, we faced a loss because we were focusing on paying people we owed. We had a loss of about R250,000 ($17,351) in 2017. We had to chase that so we could recoup our name before 2018. With all the hard work, we left 2018 debtless,” he recalls.

Mothopeng attributes his growth as an entrepreneur to the many challenges he has faced along the way. Last year, their ticketing service provider went on strike for two weeks before the festival, which was detrimental for the team as it impacted negatively on sales. Since then, they have learned to take responsibility for their product by handling all bookings and ticket sales, and outsource if their work load was beyond their capacity.

The vision of the Soweto Camp Festival is to create a ripple effect where other city parks are used as camping parks like they do at Mofolo Park which showcases the history of Soweto, the artistry, culinary finesse, fashion and music. Moreover, the conventional forms of pitching a tent, starting a fire and hiding in a bush to relieve yourself, has evolved over time.

Glamping Gurus

Glamping, which is a combination of glamor and camping, provides people with all their creature comforts while also immersed in the great outdoors.

About 60kms from Mofolo Park in Soweto is a glamping farm in Magaliesburg in north Gauteng called Koesterfonteinfarm founded by Zai Khan, a coastal girl and beach lover who has been living in Johannesburg for 20 years.

“I worked in the media for 18 years until I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I like being my own boss, I wanted that life and didn’t have an idea how I was going to carve it, so I bought a beautiful farm in Magaliesburg. My dad is a bee-keeper, he makes honey and thought I should continue my father’s legacy, I bought the farm to keep bees but it didn’t work because the farm didn’t have flora,” Khan says.

Although the farm was bought to continue a legacy, it is in the heart of an enterprising environment. Magaliesburg is home to the Cradle of Humankind, as well as Maropeng and the Sterkfontein caves, among other natural wonders. Magaliesburg serves as an escape from the city and is about an hour’s drive from Johannesburg.

 Tourists also make stops in the mountain range while heading to the North West Province which is home to Sun City, an upscale resort with hotels, a casino, and a water park in inland South Africa that borders Botswana.

Khan was stuck with a farm, and was unemployed, but selling fire wood she had found on the property. Not long after owning the property, she decided to branch into hospitality, a decision she regards as the best because travel companies had contacted her to do her marketing. She has been fully booked since.

“When I bought the property, it had a beautiful barn house, a rock cottage and a structured tent and I liked it [the tent], so [I thought] if I like it, someone else might like it. So, it started with a tent and I wanted people to experience what I had experienced, and that is how I found out about glamping,” she recalls.

Khan used a local artisan to refurbish the farm and give it an unruffled feel; she liked it so much that she is currently working on replicating two more because of the demand from guests. 

“The tent has a king-size bed. It’s like you’re sleeping in a tented structure but its an en suite, which has a shower, a bath, and a fire pit, [to keep] you warm when you’re inside. It’s cocoon-like and cosy, it has a delta gusto coffee machine and a kitchen. Everything is there and that’s what I went with it [glamping]. Now I have a lot of big companies copying the idea of glamping, that’s how I realized I’m onto something and stuck to it,” Khan says.

Khan’s plans are to grow the glamping industry in South Africa and become a “glamping guru”, a specialist in that field, she says.

“If the tourism industry is worth trillions, then the 1% of glamping is not a market to ignore, because it hasn’t reached its potential growth, there is so much potential to grow in it.”

Today Khan is a part of on  incubation program with flight centre, and is learning about hospitality as she doesn’t have a qualification. She is also sitting on the board of Cradle of Humankind Local Tourism Association to increase her knowledge of the tourism and hospitality sector.

Khan’s farm accommodates 12 people and is being expended  to house 20 people with an additional two tents. The property has 21 hectors of land and employs two people with a turnover of R250,000 in 2018.

“Glamping is a combination of glamor and camping, its where you get to experience the great outdoors without ever having to pitch a tent because we have the tent ready with 300 tread count linen, Le Creuset pots, a delta gusto coffee machine and everything is there ready and waiting. We have no Wi-Fi, but we promise you a better connection,” she says.

Glamping is a novelty and is a growing industry that’s exploring various ways to make the experience as convenient as possible. Ever imagined having a butler at your camp site?

Karabo Sepharatla is a 35-year-old from Soweto who runs a camping butler service he calls Camping Khapela; (khapela is a name taken from a character who was a butler in popular South African soapie, Generations).

“About five years ago, I went on a camping trip with the boys to a weekend music festival in Mozambique and it was a horrible experience. We had only bought alcohol and food and some of us couldn’t even set up tents so we’d sleep in other people’s tents, and we had cramps.

“I had invited other friends who do VIP protection and they had everything; the whole set up. What they did was hire a local guy to clean and look after their camp site and prepare food while they were out having fun. I thought to myself I would pay top dollar for that and city people would pay top dollar for that as well,” he says.

He went back home and did research on why many black people were not camping. “I found historical reasons because black people were not allowed to travel. Now that there is freedom, we don’t know where to go,” Sepharatla says.

On his return to Johannesburg, Sepharatla received a warning from work for skipping work but wasn’t bothered because he didn’t enjoy his job anyway. On the same day, he turned on the radio and they were talking about how black people didn’t camp. He called in and erroneously told them he provided a camping service as though the business already existed. A few minutes later, he a received a call; a gentleman and five of his friends wanted to go to Coffee Bay, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa over New Year 2014.

“I sent a quote in three days, the client paid a deposit and I bought my first tent, and I started from there. I didn’t make profit, but we managed to get everything that was needed. Improvements continued, and we started taking pictures for social media to promote our services and the black people market showed interest,” he says.

Sepharatla says when Camping Khapela started, there were only five service providers of such and currently there are six in Johannesburg doing the exact same thing.

“The turnover is good. In my first year, I made about R60,000 ($4,164) doing six trips and this year, we’re looking at a million rand. Our services cover the SADC region and we’re aiming to expand to Zanzibar and Uganda and take over the African continent, and share our secrets because it seems like no one is doing it,” he says.

Their services range from R2,000 ($139) to R5,000 ($347) on weekend services and prices vary depending on requirements.

“Camping Khapela is the ultimate camping experience it’s like having your own butler at the camp site 24/7 who will pitch a tent, prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner and make sure your site is clean, basically a Khapela at your camp site,” says Sepharatla.

Such experiences seem to have certainly given outdoor hospitality a new look.

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