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Wof Washa – A Land of Milk & Honey … and much more.

View from of Rift Valley edge near Gosh Meda

Wof Washa (meaning Bird Cave) forest blankets over 6,000 ha of the Rift Valley escarpment with natural forest. A mere 130km north east from Addis Ababa this forest extends from Ankober, seat of Menelik former palace, towards Debre Sina. At the highest levels (around 3,500 meters above seas level) the forest consists of Afro alpine vegetation of Giant Lobelia and Giant Heather trees (Erica arboreal). As you go lower increasingly there are massive Juniper, African Olive and Podocarpus trees. Some of these trees are over 500

Podocarpus & African Olive trees among the giant trees in the forest

years old. I have never seen such large Olive trees. There are many other species too, but I’m no expert. I saw Hagenia (Kosso) and the yellow flowered Hypericum in the forest but there was much I didn’t recognise.

With the changing altitude was a variety wildlife. Above the escarpment was Guassa grassland with little rodents scuttling into burrows before us and large troops of Geladas. Reliable reports indicate that Ethiopian wolves can be seen here too best seen early morning and late afternoon. Fortunately at one such location: Gosh Meda ( Buffalo grassland – but no Buffalo’s left these days!),

Gosh Meda guesthouse near the top of the Rift Valley escarpment

SUNARMA have supported the local villagers to build guest houses. The views from the escarpment here at an altitude approaching 3,600 m are stunning. But the wind and altitude can combine to make it very cold. None the less this is a great place to see the Afro Alpine flora and fauna with out having to travel far from Addis. The great raptors such as the Lammergeyer patrol the escarpments on thermals in search of rodents or Hyrax (which look like overgrown guinea pigs) large troops of Gelada graze on the grasses, and if you are lucky you could see an Ethiopian wolf.

Hagenia Abyssinica & Giant Juniper trees in the upper forest

There is a good path down from here past the villages developed spring water source (a great place to top up water bottles) into the forest. As you drop down in altitude Juniper and other relatively lower altitude trees appear. In addition to the trees you will notice a myriad of different coloured flowers, butterflies and birds. Anyone with an interest in plants will be fascinated and be scrabbling for their notebooks. The regular rain with the varied altitude make this one of the best places to see flowers and different plants.

In terms of mammals, in my few days I’ saw Geladas

Mescha guesthouse nestled into the forest edge

and Colobus, heard Hamadras baboon, saw trees moved most likely by Grivet monkeys, seen prints of leopards, heard hyenas, seen tree hyrax, seen excrement we were told was from what is either a Cerval or Civet (both are present), heard and seen Menelik’s bushbuck and seen porcupine quills. Wow!

The walk to the bottom of the forest ends in Mescha. Surely one of the most scenic places you can imagine. Jagged forested peaks ring Mescha on three sides. Low level fields were full of crops of barley and a kind of

The vale of Mescha on the lower edge of the forest

broad bean called bakela. Water gurgles by in streams. Another quite different village guesthouse awaits. It’s a place you never want to leave.

The name Mescha comes from an event in 1701 (Ethiopian calendar) during a famine. After praying Mana came down from heaven to feed the hungry population around the historical church of Mescha Mariam. This led to the naming of the area as Mescha meaning ‘comes down’ as the Mana did in the time of Moses.

Next morning I was woken up with the serenade of the

Kniphofia Foliosa – Red Hot Pokers – found throughout the forest in clearings

Colobus (Guraza as they are called in Ethiopia) a kind of rumbling roaring that is unexpected if you never heard it before. Shortly after we went on a forest walk south from the guesthouse with the hugely knowledgable camp manager. The highlight was seeing a number of scarlet winged, White-cheeked Turacos.

After breakfast we walked west around the valley to see the Thursday market in Mescha village. We walked through carpets of red hot pokers in the clearing and through attractive farmland. Milk production is very successful in this area, with all year round green fields,

Farmhouse near Mescha

and the crops looked very healthy. But as we neared Mescha we noticed biscuit and sweet rappers on the trail. We stopped at the school to discuss environmental issues and how to handle tourists with the young school director. Hopefully kids will greet visitors without begging (not that any were begging) and Mescha can now be the cleanest town in North Shoa (or at least do better than before) as dropping rubbish is something no one gives a second thought to. In the market we bought tasty little oranges from the lowlands which were being sold along with a smattering of vegetables and other materials. We sampled the local araki in a bar and had a

The market at Mescha, just below Wof Washa forest

superb cup of coffee before continuing on our way.

The trek to Lik Marifya took about 4h30minutes, and went through lovely scenery, mostly following the contours around the edge of the forest and the higher agricultural land. One of my companions went off in search of honey and came back with delicious unprocessed honey as scraped out of a traditional hive. Honey is one of the important forest products that is sold locally. But much of it is used for making tej, a local honey wine (mead). Also on the trail we stopped to watch a pair of Verreaux Eagles being attacked by crows. As the afternoon wore on we climbed up a steep

Cutting hay and the view back towards Mescha

pass to get to the Lik Marifya valley. The views each way from the top were stunning, as was the descent into a forest of giant Olive trees. The biggest I had ever seen. Again the guesthouse is set on the forest edge with views out to the agricultural land below the forest and into the densely forested slopes adjacent to the lodge. We had spent the whole day on the go, and arrived shortly before sunset.

Next morning we went off down the valley to the Falasha monastery. The Falasha are an ancient Jewish people who have lived in Ethiopia since time

Forest of African Olive on slopes above Lik Marefya

immemorial. However there are very few left now as since the 1980’s Israel has ‘repatriated’ them to live in Israel. This community have however refused to leave. Intrigued, I set off down the dirt road spotting Colobus monkeys and White-cheeked Turacos along the way. After about an hour’s walk we came to the grinding mill owned by the Falasha. It was given by donation and they had just received a new mill the day before from the latest donor. We were received into the main compound and into a building – a 2 story mud and wood building, very simple and spartan inside. We

The forest & valley in early morning – Lik Marefya

discussed with two strong but older men from the ‘monastery’ one who was their leader. The most curious point was that they said they were Orthodox Christians and believed in Jesus. They claimed to have converted many centuries before, but claimed their ancestors travelled with Menelik I (son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba) and presumably the Ark of Covenant from Israel. However later they confessed to not really knowing their history as it went so far back. In addition on our way out I observed that there was a curious large round building at the centre of the compound with a

round design on the roof – which was not a cross. The

Falasha ‘monastery’ near Lik Marefya

women’s compound was to one side and the mens to the other. This would seem to suggest the round building was in fact their synagog. No married people lived in the compound, but rather married Falasha couples lived outside in other parts of N.Shoa. The population at the monastery consisted of ageing Falashas and some with disabilities. They employed local people to be their labour force.

We tried to discuss future tourist visits which they seemed happy to accommodate, and I suggested that

Colobus monkeys in the trees over a river

they sell some of the crafts that their community produce. But it seems little is produced at the monastery, although their associated population do produce artisanal goods (pottery and cotton shawls). However the leader firmly believed that monastery would need a donation to make this work!

We had by then spent all morning with the Falasha and so trekked back up the valley and climbed up to the top of the escarpment. It was a lovely but gruelling walk which took us some 3h30min virtually without a stop.

Lik Marefya guesthouse nestled in the forest

However the walk up from Lik Marefya to the top between Ankober and Kundi would take about 4h30m at a more leisurely pace with stops. As we were short of time we then got a lift along the top to within 1km of the Kundi guesthouse. By now it was set in the cloud, with Geladas grazing all around. After a look around the new guesthouse, I left Getachew in charge of the cook training and drove back to Debre Berhan and on to Addis. This was somewhere I would come back to as often as I could.

We are now able to arrange tours in the forest saying at the community guesthouses. To really appreciate the place I would recommend at least 4 nights with one night in each guesthouse, and if possible perhaps 2 nights in Mescha. The cost per person per night for a group is about $63 USD p/p, excluding transport and bottled drinks.

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Treks that change lives!

Tesfa Community Treks providing income to local villagers, and open the eyes of the guests.

Enaf Tesfa village guesthouse in Tigray

An increasing number of discerning tourists are looking to the Tesfa Community Treks where villagers host the tourists and benefits flow directly to the local hosts. For while the Simien Mountains and Bale Mountains have been drawing tourists for decades, keen to trek in these Afro Alpine mountains with their unique wildlife the Tesfa treks also have wildlife and stunning views but at the same time tourists are giving a big something back, and experiencing the real Ethiopia of the highland farmers.

Since 2003 Tesfa treks have been hosting tourists in the

Mequat Mariam Scones for breakfast

mountains of North Wollo around Lalibela. Initially in Meket Woreda and more recently Gidan and Lasta woredas local villages have built 11 guesthouses organised as cooperatives to host small groups of walkers along the basalt escarpments that surround Lalibela. Included in this network of guesthouse are several on Mount Abuna Yoseph, a protected area around the highest peak in Ethiopia outside of the Simien and Bale Mountains at 4,288m.  The higher reaches of Abuna Yoseph are home to a pack of Ethiopian wolves, as well as troops of Gelada, leopards and many raptors.

Mequat Mariam guesthouse, N.Wollo

Since 2012 tourists have also been walking on the Tesfa treks in the Agame mountains around Adigrat in E.Tigray. There is a network of 7 village guesthouses with stunning walks between and a number of magnificent rock hewn churches that are rarely visited by tourists (other than those staying in the guesthouses). Again there are Geladas and amazing birds to see but as with the treks in Wollo, it is the host communities and the age-old farming life of the highlands that have the biggest impact on the visitors. The hospitality is humbling and simplicity of life prompts something to all of us coming from our cluttered and hectic lives.

Breakfast @Taga Mariam, Simiens

Now Tesfa is opening up new areas for community treks, with 3 simple village guesthouses to the south of the Simien National Park (Funded by African Wildlife Foundation) and 4 village guesthouses in North Shoa, in and around Wof Washa forest, just beyond Ankober. As with the village guesthouses in Wollo and Tigray, each guesthouse is owned and run by a community from the local village organised into a cooperative.

In each case 55% of the payment (around $34USD) goes to pay the village community and lunch (mostly provided by the village or another nearby provider), 25% goes towards local

The forest at Wof Washa, N.Shoa

guides and coordinators, and only 20% (+VAT) is kept by Tesfa Tours who provide the marketing and booking service. Each community provides not just accommodation, but food, hot drinks, and a pack animal. The cost per night also includes a guide, so all that remains is transport in and out and bottled drinks (sold by the community ) – beers, water, soft drinks and maybe some wine or gin and tonic!  Facilities include beds, with sheets and blankets, a simple sit down toilet, a dining room, and great views!

For more information contact info@tesfatours.com or pop by our Addis office.  We will also add more information on our

The view from Janamora Woreda to Ras Dashen

website in the near future.

Get out into the fresh air of the mountains and experience the Real Ethiopia!

 

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Beautiful and unique Ethiopian Calendar

Tesfa Calendars

The Tesfa Calendar is the calendar you need on your wall or desk.

Not only does it have stunning photos that will inspire you to make trips to the mountains,

but it shows the dates in the Ethiopian Calendar in a western grid (with western dates shown)

Key saints days, feast days, fasts, national holidays and other interesting information is shown.

They come in 3 formats – Wall hanging (52 x 29cm when hanging), Desk Top (20 x 18 cm ) and Agenda (20 x 14 cm closed)

 

These calendars are available from many locations in Addis:

Desk top calendar

  • Sandford School (Jim or Richard)
  • ICS (Jennifer)
  • German School (Sarah)
  • EU main offices (Lucas)
  • British Embassy (CLO – Dadly)
  • PACT – (Cassandra)

and off course Tesfa Tours office at Kebena.

We ask a 200 birr donation for each calendar – proceeds go to support the community tourism.

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Crosses, Thanksgiving and Fasts

Cross shaped Amba at Gishen Mariam

In Ethiopia, October kicks off with big celebrations. This Sunday (1st October) is Meskerem 21, is one of the biggest Mariam days in the year, commonly called Gishen Mariam after a church in Wollo, not far from Dessie on a cross shaped Amba properly called Gishen Debre Kerbe which holds its annual saint’s day on this date.

There are reportedly documents at Gishen that state that Emperor Zara Yaqob (who reigned in the mid 15th century), bought a piece of the “True Cross’ on which Jesus was crucified and buried it at Gishen Debre Kerbe under the church of Egyziabher Ab (Literally God the Father). There are in fact four churches on Gishen Debre Kerbe: Egyziabher Ab, Gishen Mariam, Kidus Gabriel and Kidus Mikael (Kidus is Saint). Gishen Mariam is one of the biggest pilgrimages in Ethiopia with thousands of pilgrims making their way up the narrow mountain paths to celebrate this day at the end of the rainy season.

Celebrations in 1903 at Lake Hora

Sunday 1st of October is also the culmination of the Oromo festival of Ireeycha Birra, a thanksgiving ceremony most famously celebrated beside Lake Arsadi outside of Bishoftu some 50 km south east from Addis Ababa. This day is actually the climax and most important day of several weeks of celebration. Thousands of Oromo people descend on the town and lake from across the region.

The celebration marks the end of the rainy season and the Oromo people give thanks to God for his bounty and pray for peace and reconciliation among humans and with God. The festival is led by the elders or wise men known as haayyuu who lead the blessings by the lake and make speeches. Tragically last year there was a large loss of life at this festival.

Coptic Icon depicting Holy Family fleeing to Egypt

For those new to Ethiopia you may not be aware that the year is punctuated by fasts of varying length and importance. Each Wednesday and Friday is a fasting day, except for a month or so following Easter when people will have been fasting for 55 days in the run up to Easter. A fast implies that people eat one meal a day in the afternoon or early evening and follow a strictly vegan diet (although many do still each fish which used to be accepted but not so much these days).

On 6th October the Tsige Tsom (fast) starts and runs for 40 days through to 15th November Kusquam Mariam day and it marks the exile of the Holy Family when they fled their land and took refuge in Egypt to be away from King Herod and his slaughter of infants. It ends on the day that commemorates Kusquam, a village in upper Egypt where the holy family were said to have lived during their exile in Egypt. This fast is however considered optional and only clergy are required to fast, but never the less most establishments will serve vegan options throughout this fast.

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Ethiopian Wolf in the Simiens

NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY / ALAMY, Ethiopian Wolf, from Selamta Magazine

Flying on Ethiopian this week I was really happy to see a photograph of the Ethiopian Wolf on the cover page. The Ethiopian Wolf is a beautiful and now extremely rare and endangered animal, but we all must ensure its survival.

Tesfa Tours would be happy to arrange a tour dedicated to spotting these rare canids. Contact us to let us arrange the trip.

Have a look at the article on line here.

 

 

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Places avail -Danakil trip following Meskal

Ertale Volcano

The caldera on Ertale – feel the heat of a live volcano

Would you like to get to see the Danakil before the peak season starts?

We have places available on our trip leaving Mekele on Thu 28 Sep, returning to Mekele Sat 30 Sep.

The price is $650 USD per person. Maximum group size will be 6-12 people with 2-3 landruisers for our guests and a back up 4WD for the cook and the various guards & scouts we are obliged to pickup.

We have the best guides, we use excellent hardtop

potash and sulpher deposits

Spectacular mineral deposits at Dalol

landcruisers (working A/C) with experienced drivers and have a good cook to keep tummies very happy.

If you are interested or would like more details please email Yeshi@tesfatours.com or telephone us on 011 124 5178 /or mobile 092 349 0495.

Spend a night on top of the majestic Erta Ale volcano and witness the lava bubbling in the caldera. And spend a morning (before it gets too hot) exploring the Dalol depression, with the

Tesfa Tours own well-maintained 4WDs

Martian like mineral deposits and the canyons of salt.

As the Danakil is no longer on the list of ‘not to visit places’ with the British government and others, we anticipate a big increase in tourists going there this season, with a corresponding increase in litter and mess. Hence the suggestion to go ‘out of season’ .

Don’t miss this chance!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ethiopian New Year & the month Meskeram

Meskal flowers in Meket, North Wollo

September is a wonderful time in Ethiopia and particularly the Ethiopian month of Meskerem that runs from 11th September -10th October marking the beginning of the Ethiopian year. The countryside is lit up with the masses of bright yellow ‘Meskal’ daisies and more sunshine flickering through the rain clouds, and it brings with it all the promise of the new year.

However 2009 ends with that Ethiopian peculiarity, the 13th month or Pagumay. It is generally 5 days long, but on leap years it is 6 days. It works as a fill in with all other months being 30 days and 12 x 30 being 360, so it adds up the year to 365 days. There is one very special day in Pagume– St Rufael’s day which is on 3rd day of the month (8th Sept). If it rains on this day the rain is holy and blesses those it falls on.  A great day for dancing in the rain! St Rufael for those that did not know (and I had to look it up!) is an archangel coming 3rd in rank after St Michael and St Gabriel.

The Demara – the flames of the Meskal fire.

So what are the celebrations for New Year? It is of course not only a national holiday but a feast day and families will celebrate the New year together on the 11th – Enkutetash as the day is called. They will visit and be visited by close friends and relatives.

It is closely followed by Meskal which his celebrated across the country but most especially in parts of the south such as Gurage, Wolaita, and in the north in the town of Adigrat. Across the country bonfires – demara -are erected around a central pole that holds a cross and are decorated with the Meskal flowers. In Addis they are lit on the night before Meskal 26 Sep or Meskeram 16.  The big demara will be in Meskal Square but they are in every neighbourhood, roundabout and street corner. The fire is lit and goes up with much dancing and wielding of sticks and the direction which the cross falls is said to predict the success of that years harvest. Meskal day itself – the 27th is another public holiday, and families will again celebrate with a feast at home.

Stick Dancing in Meket

Meskal (itself means cross) is a ceremony that commemorates the Finding of the True Cross. Legend has it that in 326 AD, Queen Eleni (Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great) was guided by a dream to light a fire and follow the smoke to find the True Cross. The smoke rose high in the sky and descended at the point where she found the Cross. Many think that Meskal marks the end of the rainy season, well not quite, but its true the rains get less frequent, the flowers are in full bloom and the promise of a new harvest is seen around the country. But don’t put away your rain clothes, for the end of the rainy season – as per the old time calendar – is Meskeram 25th, or 5th October.

If you want to know in advance of the holidays coming up and the workings of the Ethiopian calendar then why not pick up a Tesfa Calendar from Tesfa Tours. It starts on 1st Sep 2017 and runs til 31stAug 2018. it has Saints days, fasts, Ethiopian dates and a wealth of other information set into the western calendar, with wonderful photographs from the Tesfa Village treks across the country – which will make you want to get out of Addis and explore this beautiful country.  Please contact calendars@tesfatours.com or tel 011 124 5178 to get your copy.

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Danakil trip – places available

Ertale Volcano

The caldera on Ertale – feel the heat of a live volcano

Tesfa Tours is running two Danakil trips in September.

Each is a 2 night / 3 day adventure taking in the desert with the stunning mineral deposits and Erta Ale volcano with the active lava lake.

The first departure date is 4 September from Mekele / returning on 6th September in the afternoon.

potash and sulpher deposits

Spectacular mineral deposits at Dalol

The second trip will run starting on 28th September and return on 30 September.

Both start and end in Mekele and can include airport pickup and drop off.

We have excellent Toyota Hardtop landcruisers and experienced drivers who regular drive on Danakil trips, a first rate guide and a very good cook.

Tesfa Tours own 4WDs in Dalol

The maximum number of clients on a trip is eight! Which keeps it small, personal and flexible to your needs.

For more information please contact Danakil@tesfatours.com

For a complete holiday why not add a couple of days walking in the mountains of Eastern Tigray after your Danakil safari?

 

 

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Tesfa Calendar available now – runs from 01 Sep 2017

Tesfa Calendars

Whether you live in Ethiopia, or used to live here, or are planning a visit, this calendar is a must.

  • Each month shows the main saints’ days, the fasts, and other holidays set into the western calendar.
  • Ethiopian calendar dates and months are clearly shown too (allowing you to ‘translate’ dates from one calendar to the other).
  • Calendar showcases the Tesfa Community treks in Wollo and Tigray with stunning photographs (mostly from clients).
  • Proceeds are used to support the farming communities along the treks.
  • Full moon depicted on the calendar.

 

 

Desk top calendar

It comes in 3 formats:

  • traditional wall hanging version 52x29cm (when hanging)
  • diary format 20cmx14cm, designed to fit in your bag
  • desk top version to sit on your desk.

Tesfa asks for a donation of 200 birr for a calendar if picked up here in Addis.

We can also post internationally: the cost is £15 for 1 & £25 for 2.

Email:  calendars@tesfatours.com for more info or call 092-349-0495

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State of Emergency lifted – come an experience Ethiopia’s unrivalled hospitality

Coffee ceremony in village guesthouse

Last week the Government of Ethiopia lifted the State of Emergency that has been in place since last October. Since the State of Emergency was set in place, there have been no further disturbances and the country has been peaceful and safe to travel in.

The lifting of this SoE on top of the lifting of restrictions on the travel advice by many countries for visitors to Ethiopia, is all evidence that no one should have any concerns about security when planning a visit to Ethiopia. In fact Ethiopia is a remarkable country and we feel sure you will find the people welcoming and extremely hospitable. As one of our recent groups said

We did two weeks with Tesfa Tours covering Bahir Dar, Lalibela, the Simiens, Gondar, Axum, and Tigray (July 2017). We are 100% satisfied and can say that many of our ‘high’ expectations were exceeded!

We never once felt threatened/endangered and never worried about missing an activity or flight.

Shepherd boys along the trail in the highlands

We had heard that Ethiopia’s hospitality is unrivaled and now that we have experienced it for ourselves we completely agree. The people are genuine, caring, thankful, and full of joy. We all agree that Ethiopia is one of the most fantastic countries in the world and that there is no group better than Tesfa to show it to you!”

Nate, Dan, Matt, and Cal (USA)

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