Category Archives: Ethiopian News

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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Online E-Visas for tourists visiting Ethiopia

The new Visa Application web page

The new Visa Application web page

Exciting news for tourists visiting Ethiopia : E-Visas are now available online to nationals from major European countries, and other key countries including USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, Russia, India, China, Ethiopia-visa-2002Japan and Korea.

Go to this page: www.evisa.gov.et for details and to apply for your visa.

This should make the process much easier for tourists planning their trip and smoother on arrival at Bole Airport in Addis Ababa.

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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!

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas is coming .. in Ethiopia

Melkam Gena / Happy Christmas

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

Christmas is coming and sheep is for the pot.
Onions need cutting and enjara pan is hot.
If you can’t afford a sheep a chicken will do.
If you can’t afford a chicken then God bless you.

This adaptation tells a few home truths about festivals in Ethiopia such as Gena:
mountains of onions are peeled, chopped fine and put in the pot. Enjara bread (pancakes) is baked on the eve of Gena with a big pile ready for the feast. People using electricity in the cities are nervous of power cuts or low power meaning the pan does not

Chickens for sale on street corners

Chickens for sale on street corners

get hot enough. And after the long fast that precedes Gena, everyone wants to eat meat. Best is to buy a sheep, but prices of sheep ahead of festivals has soared in recent years. A small sheep would not cost over $100 USD, for many that is a months salary or more. But a Doro wot- spicy chicken stew – is a favourite for the holiday. Yet even a chicken would cost around $10-15USD. So there are many families who will not be able to afford a chicken this holiday.

In most of Europe and the West, Christmas is the big family day, with presents, special foods, traditions to be followed. For many they will go to church and remember that it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but for many more it has become a feast of consumerism and consumption.

In the Ethiopian Orthodox church, the traditional church in Ethiopia and the one that forms the framework of much of the culture of the country, there are several very important festivals throughout the year: Easter, Christmas, Timkat (the celebration of the baptism of Christ) and Meskal being the most important. Add to this new Year, which falls on 11th September in most years, and is very important to many although it is less of a religious day, and you can see that there are a good number of festivals through the year.

Bale Wold church in Addis, crowds gather to see the Tabot

Bale Wold church in Addis, crowds gather to see the Tabot on Gena/ Christmas day.

Feasting is part of all these holidays. It is also family time, with people returning to their mother’s home to enjoy real home cooking. Church is often attended during the night on the eve of the holiday, although with days like Timkat the church procession is a big part of the day’s events.

So where should you go to see Gena?  If you attend any Orthodox church the night before you will witness the service and the mass. In Addis the church of Bale Wold by Selassie celebrates

Gena ceremony in Lalibela

Gena ceremony in Lalibela, the most famous place to spend Christmas in Ethiopia.

Christmas on Christmas morning.  If you have Ethiopian friends they will undoubtably invite you round to partake in the feast. Do bring round gifts of food: coffee, biscuits, fruit, cake, bottle of wine and the like are all acceptable presents.

Gena is most famous in Lalibela. But if you have not booked it you are too late. Accommodation fills up, (so there will be no room at the inn) and flights become full.  Hotels and guides inflate their usual fees, so in addition it does become expensive.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.”

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Easter is over for this year; fasting is over for now ….

Fasika – Easter, is over for another year. Sunday saw the piles of sheep skins on street corners, to be picked up by small dealers in trucks. For the days leading up to Easter flocks of sheep and goats as well as herds of oxen were driven by herders into the city, chickens were driven in trucks and pick ups. They are sold at impromptu markets all over the city to be slaughtered in back yards. Prices of livestock easily double for Easter, with sheep were costing over $100 USD, chickens over $10 USD. Sheep come to Addis with drovers bringing them across country from several hundred miles away, across Shoa and even as far as Wollo.

So the fasting is done, in fact there is no fasting now, even on Wednesdays and Fridays until after Pentecost (this year that means until June). In the countryside the end of the fasting is celebrated in different ways. In Tigray priests are feted with parties held by different households from their parish. In Wollo I have seen the girls making swings from rope to hand off trees and play on them singing songs, while the boys have javelin contests. Its also a second wedding season as people like to get married before the rainy season and after the fasting.

As you know this year there were two Christian Easters with the Orthodox Easter (Fasika) falling one week after the western Easter. The dates for both the Orthodox and Western Easters move around March and April and can even appear in May, but quite often they also coincide. Next year however, in 2016, the two Easters will be far apart with western Easter falling on 27th March and the Orthodox celebration will be on 1st May. Yet in 2017 both will be on the same day.

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