Category Archives: Blog

Melkam Timkat … Timkat explained.

The community at Mequat Mariam parade the Tabot out at TImkat with Ethiopian flags flying

The community at Mequat Mariam parade the Tabot out at TImkat

So tonight 18th January, is the eve of Timkat. Processions made there way across towns in urban areas and over the fields in the countryside, to a place where in the morning the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan river is commemorated. Water will be blessed and the multitudes will be splashed with the holy water and try to take some home with them in bottles. Following this ceremony the tabots (with the exception of Mikael tabots) will be processed back to their church with similar joy, noise, colour and reverence to that with which they were processed today.

Why is Timkat called “Epiphany”, and hey, what is Epiphany? Well it is a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearance, and it celebrates the events in Christ’s life that showed him to be the son of

Priests at Mequat Mariam head to the water blessing

Priests at Mequat Mariam head to the water blessing

God. In the early church (before Rome got into it) this was the major feast in the church after Easter. In Epiphany was encapsulated all the major events that manifested Christ’s Godhood to man: his birth (Nativity) , the visit of the Magi, the turning watering wine at the wedding in Cana, and his baptism in the Jordan river. With the appearance of Christmas in the developing church as a new festival, his nativity was taken out of Epiphany.

So where should you go to see it. In Addis Ababa, head for your nearest place where tabots have congregated, and try to get there quite early (8am). There will be big crowds near the major places such as Jan Meda, and beware of pickpockets! In the countryside similarly head for the tabots resting place early in the morning. Local people

Worshippers jump into the Fasilides baths

Worshippers jump into the Fasilides baths

will tell you when.

In Gondar you will need to seek out a place early in the morning at Fasilidas’ baths. It becomes extremely crowded. Your guide will advise you. The moment of the joyful splashing is the high point. In Gondar youngsters jump into the pool, in Addis the clergy spray the crowd from the water in the pool in the midst of the field. In parishes up and down the country water is splashed from the blessed pool, spring or river in a joyous celebration. Then you can follow the processions.

Melkam Timkat!

 

Leave a comment

Ethiopia prepares for Timkat

Flags put up on the streets of Addis in preparation for the Timkat processions on 18th - 20th Jan

Flags put up on the streets of Addis in preparation for the Timkat processions on 18th – 20th Jan

Preparations are underway for one festival that seems to encapsulate Ethiopia’s unique place in the world: it is Timkat – or ‘Baptism’. It is frequently referred to as Epiphany, which undersells what is a very special and Ethiopian day. In fact it is really spread over 2 or 3 days. And it start tomorrow- Wed 18th Jan (Ter 10).

The programme:   In Addis the Tabot will leave the churches at around 2pm with a big procession, singing of hymns and chants, drumming, horns being blown and dancing to the chants. Icons are processed and most especially the tabots wrapped in brocaded cloth carried on the heads of the high priests under umbrellas. The procession will makes its way over several hours to the special resting point for the tabots. In north eastern Addis Ababa this is Jan Meda (

A Tabot  being paraded

A Tabot being paraded for Timkat

the Royal horse racing fields). At Jan Meda about a dozen tabots spend the night with tents for shelter, and priests and devoted followers. The fields become the centre of the festival for the evening and next day, and for St Mikael Tabots  the next day too. Tens of thousands of people will gather at the fields in the evening, hundreds sell refreshments and nicknacks. The roads around are packed solid.

During the processions roads are closed across the city (and the country) and no cars can pass. Houses beside the route the tabots pass are blessed. Young lads lay down carpets on the road infant off the taboo. They rapidly rolls them up behind and run them round to the front again, extreme hard work and a devotion that illustrates how deep seated are the beliefs and culture of the Orthodox church even in the capital city.

Where to see it?  Head to your nearest Orthodox church, and plan to be there by 2pm. Then you can join in the procession to the fields. Don’t be worried by the crowds, everyone is joyful and will be happy to see you, but do show respect for the priests and the Tabots, dress appropriately (women should cover heads and neither men nor women should wear short clothing – if you have traditional white cotton clothes all the better).  At the convergence points of the tabots thee could be pick pockets at work so be careful of possessions and do not carry unnecessary valuables.

See tomorrow for details of the rest of Timkat!  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Ethiopia is safe to travel to, says British FCO, so pack your bags and come and see this ancient land.

British FCO map advising travellers going to Ethiopia

British FCO map advising travellers going to Ethiopia

The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) have lifted travel advise against non essential travel to all tourist destinations in Ethiopia. On 2nd December they returned their advise to the pre September levels with exception of several remote woredas (district) in North West of Gondar, by lifting advise against travel to western Amhara and parts of Oromiya.

Naturally we knew it was safe for tourists to visit for a long time now, and having just been back from the Simiens, Gondar and Bahir Dar myself, I could see  how peaceful it was. A priest on Lake Tana was confused as to why tourists were staying

Tana Cherkos Museum, L.Tana

Tana Cherkos Museum and monk, Lake Tana

away from his church. It was not easy to explain to him why foreign governments thought Ethiopia so dangerous. I look at some of the advise still on these websites and am baffled myself.

Lake Tana has seen the ebb and flow of history for several millennia. At one church I went to the priest in the museum told us that the church dated back to some 900 years BC! ….Err… how is this possible? Well the assumed original structure and location were part of a Jewish temple and was a refuge for the Arc of Covenant in pre-Christian tana-cherkos-img_1620times!  Such is the importance of the Old Testament era in Ethiopian Orthodox thinking that there is no clean break but a continuum into the Christian era.

Imagine the changes and upheaval that has passed by Lake Tana in the last 2900 years! Armies of Queen Yodit (a Jewish Queen) Mohammed Gragn (from Harar) resulted in burned churches and upheaval, as did wars between factious regional leaders and epochs of civil war that left their damage. The recent disturbances pale against those

Lake Tana fisherman on a Tankwa,-  papyrus canoe.

Lake Tana fisherman on a Tankwa,- papyrus canoe.

of history! Lake Tana is a tranquil place, with history going back into the mists of time. It is a lake which still has hippos and where you can greet fishermen passing by in the papyrus tankwa canoes (a craft also found on the Nile and Lake Titicaca!).  So pack your bags and  come and see for yourself.

 

Leave a comment

Simiens is normal for the Gelada and Ibex, but where are the tourists?

Gelada baboons, staring back at tourists

Gelada baboons, staring back at tourists

Life in the Simien Mountains this week:

Gelada baboons graze the Simien grasslands as they did last year: murmuring and mewing, with occasional shouts when bachelor males venture too close to family groups. They spend much of their time grooming each other in ritual social behaviour. The grazing consists of digging the grass with sharp strong fingers and pulling out the succulent roots to eat.

Gelada Family grooming in the Simiens

Gelada Family grooming in the Simiens

No sign that they are at all on edge or unduly worried by the bizarre travel advise given out by embassies that is limiting the numbers of tourists visiting their mountain home

Walia Ibex grazing steeper slopes, near the precipitous ledges. There numbers were down to a few hundred some decades back, but now there are over a thousand of these surefooted mountain antelope.

Wail Ibex above Chenek Camp

Walia Ibex above Chenek Camp, beside Giant Lobelia plant

They glance curiously at the camera touting tourists who were lucky enough to see this rare animal, and then go back to their grass, or take a break in the shade of a Giant Lobelia plant.  Maybe they wonder why there are fewer tourists this year.

Trekkers are passing through, enjoying the sunny days, the golden gwassa grass, azure blue skies with lammergeyers, eagles and vultures, soaring across the scene and the unique wildlife of the park on view.  But less than in recent years.

Walia Ibex looking down on passing tourists

Walia Ibex looking down on passing tourists

That makes the experience for the visitors better, but spare a thought for the local people who depend on tourists to pay for their goods and services. They cannot understand the reason why foreign governments are telling tourists to stay away. Tourists were never targeted in the unrest that spread to some of the towns several months ago. And that unrest ended. But still the foreign governments advise their nationals to stay away!

If you haven’t been already then come, if you have been then come back to Ethiopia!

Leave a comment

Lalibela & Meket now safe for travel – so says British FCO

Happy tourists on Mnt Abuna Yoseph

Happy tourists on Mnt Abuna Yoseph

The British FCO has now removed the travel advise against non essential travel to Eastern Amhara, (including Lalibela and the Meket & Lasta Community Treks). [See here] This means UK insurance companies policies will be valid for visits to these areas.

 

This change in advise has also been taken by many other western governments, all of whom have realised travel in Northern Ethiopia is safe for tourists (and has been for some time now!)

What about Gondar, Bahir Dar and the Simiens?

Giyorgis festival in Meket, villagers ready to welcome tourists

Giyorgis festival in Meket, villagers ready to welcome tourists

Well the British still advise against non-essential travel to these areas.  We sincerely hope this will be lifted in the coming weeks too. Other western countries no longer give advise against travel even in the western parts of Amhara and Tourists are traveling though these places in quite large numbers with no problem. I myself will be traveling to the Simiens, Gondar and Bahir Dar next week and will report on my trip with photos.
If you are visiting to places where the FCO advises

Lalibela - a subterranean labyrinth of passageways

Lalibela – a subterranean labyrinth of passageways

against non-essential travel, then do check with your insurance company to see if your insurance will still be valid. Some companies will provide cover for medi-vac, and other services (but not political evacuation) for areas to which the FCO advises against. Examples are TAG and BUPA Global.

So how about you plan your trip for Christmas and New Year now before all the good slots get taken! We can arrange wonderful treks on the Meket plateau or climbing mount Abuna Yoseph (4,300 m peak and home to a pack of Wolves), and give you time to make a visit to Lalibela with its labyrinth of subterranean rock hewn churches.

 

Leave a comment

Holy days of Hedar, Mikael and Mariam

Icon of St. Mikael

Icon of St. Mikael

There are many big saints days in Hedar (Ethiopian month that runs from 10Nov – 9Dec) where certain churches will parade out their tabots with much dancing and celebration. One such is Hedar Mikael, St.Michael’s day on 21st November. On this coming Monday morning your nose will be the first to tell you of this holiday (unless you live very close to a Mikael church – in which case it will be your ears, reminded through the night), as the slightly acrid smell from thousands of bonfires wafts into your nose. The smell ives meaning to the slightly increased haze over the capital city this coming Monday morning.People light small fires burning up rubbish from their compound, believing the smoke clears away disease and sickness – a sort of purification.

Michael church in Lalibela

Michael church in Lalibela

In Lalibela one of the main churches is dedicated to the archangel St.Michael. The church behind, known as Golgotha is the burial place for the Saint King Lalibela who built the amazing complex of rock hew churches in the place formally known as Roha, but now of course called Lalibela.  Lalibela’s saints day is the same as Mikael and so al Mikael days are extra special in Lalibela.

Just over a week after Hedar Mikael is Tsion Mariam (St Mary of Zion): one of the big annual St. Mary days in the country and sees one of the most important Saint’s days celebrations in Axum. The church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (to give it it’s full name) is arguably Ethiopia’s most important church. It was one of the first churches built in Ethiopia back in the very early 4th century, and has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice with destruction inflicted by the armies of Queen Yodit and Mohammed Gragn.

axum-mariam-fasilidas-img_4555

Axum Mariam, built in the Gondarine style by Emperor Fasilidas

It was here that Emperors came to seek the coronation. If an Emperor was not coronated at Mariam Tsion or at least had a special ratification service they could not hold the title “Atse’.

Axum is booked out early each year for Tsion Mariam (30th November) with thousands of pilgrims descending on the town and spending the night at the ancient church. But the church

Ancient stones in the Church compound in Axum

Ancient stones in the Church compound in Axum

compound is worth spending some time visiting if you can arrange a stay there  at another time. There are stones on which is old Sabean script, that must have been sources from far older buildings. The church built by Emperor Fasilidas has lovely frescoes aside (though only men can enter here), and the trees are full of sun birds and other iridescent birds.

Leave a comment

News Flash: Restrictions on Diplomats traveling out of Addis dropped

Rugged Trekking means more ups and downs, and higher altitudes

Peaceful and quiet in the Mountains of North Wollo – but the Tesfa Communities are not getting enough guests through thanks to negative travel advice.  (Boya Mikael guesthouse)

As part of the State of Emergency the Government in Ethiopia announced that diplomats needed permission to travel more than 40km out of the capital. In practice diplomats have been getting this permission with no problem, and now the government have withdrawn these restrictions.

This should go some way to convincing foreign governments that travel in Ethiopia is safe.  Tourists have been travelling around the country, and although numbers are down due to some being put off by the negative advise, the tourists that are visiting have been commenting that all seems peaceful and normal.

Now we are all waiting to see if the foreign governments can react quickly and lift their negative advise that is restricting the flow of tourists, stopping new bookings and harming the economy of the nation and livelihoods of many that rely on tourism!

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Peace and Stability return to Ethiopia – no reason not to visit

Empty roads in Ethiopia (Photo Andy Bottomer)

Empty roads in Ethiopia (Photo Andy Bottomer)

Since the State of Emergency was imposed at the start of last month, there has been no violence, protest, strikes nor anything that should put off any tourists. Now the tourism industry is waiting with growing impatience for the embassies to revise their unwarrented negative travel advise which hinders some visitors getting proper travel insurance for their travels.

But it is not just the peace across the county, there are other positive signs for the future of the country and for tourism.

All eyes have been on the government since the declaration of the State of Emergency to see if their promised reforms start to take shape. And indeed this week the government have taken the first steps thereby increasing the chances of long term peace and stability for Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Primeminister Hailemariam

Ethiopian Primeminister Hailemariam

This week Ethiopia’s Prime Minister: Hailemariam Desalegn, announced a major reshuffle of his cabinet ministers as a first measure to bring about changes needed to address the issues flagged up by the disturbances and protests across the country over the last few months.

Parliament unanimously approved the new 30 cabinet ministers proposed by the Prime Minister of whom 15 are new ministers. The Ethnic balance has been addressed too, with more Oromo and Amhara ministers coming in and the number of Tigrayan ministers being cut back. More importantly however is that many appointees have technical knowledge or genuine experience in the fields to which they are appointed. The PM said that appointments were made on the basis of competence rather than party loyalty. In addition five of the new ministers are not party members, which is a clear break from past practice.

In another move that shows that tensions are reducing, the defence minister Siraj Fegessa announced that about 2,000 people detained for taking part in recent anti-government protests had been released.

The PM announced that travel restrictions that have required the diplomatic community to get permission for diplomats to move more than 40 km from the capital will be lifted soon, which will have an positive effect on tourism and movement within the country and we hope will lead to foreign Embassies getting rid of the unnecessary negative travel advise that is leading to both tourists cancelling their trips and a down turn in new tourist bookings.

Leave a comment

What’s happening in Ethiopia now?

Community celebrate at Festival in Meket

Community celebrate at Festival in Meket

Of course people planning to visit Ethiopia are asking us what is happening now in Ethiopia. There were a spate of news articles as a result of the declaration of the State of Emergency a few weeks back, but as so often with news around the world, interest dries up as fast as it comes and now there is ‘no story’ to report.

This is because there is no more violence, no roads blocked, no strikes, in fact no reason not to come and visit Ethiopia.

Tesfa Tours Landcruiser by salt canyons in Danakil Depression

Tesfa Tours Landcruiser by salt canyons in Danakil Depression

Tesfa Tours has two minibuses with clients coming back from a trip to the north. They drove up to Dessie and Lalibela via a Tesfa trek in Meket.  They then continued from Lalibela to Mekele, visited the Danakil and some places in Tigray before returning.

On 1st November we have 3 landcruisers picking up clients in Gondar and taking them to the Simiens, and on to Tigray. After visits in Axum and Gheralta they will drive back south the Lalibela, spend a few days on a Tesfa trek in Meket, and visit Bahir Dar, before flying to Addis.

The Mountain Nyala only found in Bale Mountains

Mountain Nyala, Bale, Ethiopia

Another group of tourists have just returned from a trek in the Bale Mountains – this was the texted feedback:-

“Got there and back safely. Nyala,  warthog, wolf , golden eagle, fox they were all there. Rain, sunshine, hail, cold, and much more rain and cold. Absolutely no problems. Great trip. Got the blisters to prove it. Thanx for all your help and advice mate. Next stop Siemens with Tesfa.”

Other clients from UK just finished a trek in Meket and a visit to Lalibela and said on Facebook: “Holiday of a lifetime, highly recommended. Don’t be put off by The Foreign & Commonwealth Office.” (see this quote and their photos on Tesfa Tours’ Facebook page).

Villages below the Meket Escarpment

Villages below the Meket Escarpment

We agree – don’t be put off Ethiopia by the media coverage and travel advisories. Tourism earns much needed money for Ethiopia, money that is driven directly to small businesses and local employees, and in the case of the Tesfa community treks, a big chunk goes straight into the heart of the rural countryside, with villagers earning money by hosting their guests. That could be you.

In the words of one of the guests of the Meket community this month: “Truly the most exhilarating and humbling experience. Inspirational people, fabulous hospitality,stunning views. Magical memories! Thank you for this amazing opportunity.”

Leave a comment

Ethiopian Update – should we visit Ethiopia at this time

8b

Me with the community at Mequat Mariam guesthouse

Many of our clients are asking if they should visit Ethiopia at this time, and what is happening in the country?

Some facts:

The Government of Ethiopia declared a State of Emergency on 8th October as a response to a surge in violence across certain parts of the Oromo region. The violence itself was a response to the deaths of a large number  of people at a large traditional Oromo festival in Bishoftu (Debre Zeit), an Oromo town some 40km south east of Addis Ababa, in which people were killed in a stampede following attempts by security forces to stop political demonstrations.

What does the State of Emergency mean?  It is not Martial Law, there are not tanks on the streets, and life looks much as it did before. The government has taken increased powers to control the unrest and restore law and order. They have now powers to stop and search, check houses and so on. This has not affected tourists, and can only increase security.

The internet is working, but social media is not!

Some Social Media is currently blocked in Ethiopia. Facebook, You Tube and Whats Ap for example are not working. [Please note we are not using the Tesfa Tours Facebook site – contact us by email].

The 3G internet service on mobile devises is also closed thereby stopping access to the internet by phones where there is no wifi. However places with internet wires (broad band) coming in still get a reasonable service, and many hotels have some wifi working. Just don’t rely on it, in fact your trip to Ethiopia could be an internet ‘Detox’ trip.

Events in the north of Ethiopia in August and September:

In late August trouble flared up in Gondar, Bahir Dar and towns around that area (such as Debre Markos and Debark) there were protests, road blocks and attacks on properties.  Within a week this was ended and roads re-opened.   Since early September the only protests have been ‘stay at home’ strikes whereby businesses closed and transport stopped. This only happened in Bahir Dar and Gondar, and seems to have fizzled out now.

Where is safe to visit?

Giyorgis Church in Lalibela,

Giyorgis Church in Lalibela,

Most of the north of Ethiopia is now safe. However the eastern side of Amhara Region – including Lalibela stayed peaceful and quiet throughout this time. Tourists are now visiting Bahir Dar and Gondar, and trekking in the Simiens without any problems. There has been no reason for tourists to stay away from Lalibela at all, Tigray is also calm and peaceful, with no violence. So Axum and the Gheralta area can be visited. The Tesfa community areas of North Wollo (around Lalibela) and E.Tigray (around Adigrat ) are also perfectly safe.

In the south the events in Oromiya were worrying and there is a need to be careful on any road trips across the region, in case there is any flare up of the violence. The Bale Mountain National Park, is itself safe to visit however it would be advisable to wait for some weeks to see if things will remain peaceful before embarking on road trips south from Addis.

The Omo Valley has been untouched along with Arba Minch, so trips there are also fine. There were disturbances in Konso (just south of Arba Minch) but it is peaceful again there.

Harar and Dire Dawa have been peaceful, although there were some disturbances on the road between, but that is now calm.

Danakil depression has been untouched by recent event, and tourists continue to visit daily. It is an area to which the British and other governments advise against travel, but it is as safe today as it was a year ago.

Will my insurance be valid if I visit?

Check your insurance policy to be sure. Most British insurance companies defer to the British FCO travel advise, and currently the whole of Amhara region and chunks of Oromiya carry the advise not to travel there unless essential.  However we are optimistic that the blanket advise for Amhara will be revised and become more specific in the coming weeks.

Is it right to visit Ethiopia at this time?

Anne and her friends with a community in Tigray

Anne and her friends with a community in Tigray

Many people benefit from your visit to Ethiopia. And these people need their income. In places like Lalibela thousands of local people earn their salary or get an income linked to tourism. And these people need their jobs. In the mountains where the Tesfa communities provide stunning walking opportunities the farmers need the additional income that your visit brings. Lodges across the country employ local staff and buy where they can local produce. If these places do not get enough tourists visiting this year it is ordinary people’s lives that will suffer. When you visit you will be greeted by happy welcoming faces. All of our guides, drives and the communities that host you really want you to come!

Let Tesfa Tours help design a holiday that will positively impact on local people and put money into their hands, while giving you a holiday you will treasure.

 

Leave a comment