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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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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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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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The last week of Lent in Ethiopia is the most rigorous fasting of all

Priest holding traditional taper

Priest holding traditional taper

Yesterday (9th April) was Palm Sunday or Hosanna – the Sunday before Easter.  It is a very special day in the Orthodox church commemorating Jesus’s march into Jerusalem on a donkey with Palm fonds laid before him. It is marked with palms (worn by many worshippers on hands or head), processions and special services in the church.

Ethiopia is now in the last week of Great Lenten fast or Hudadi, this last week of Hudadi is commonly known as Holy Week, or the “Week of Pains” or the Himamat and is the strictest part of Lent. During Himamat no absolution is given, and during this week the fast becomes yet more rigorous. For some strict worshippers, having broken the fast after mass on Thursday they will not eat any food nor drink even a drop of water until Easter morning. So they totally abstain for all of Good Friday (or Sekelet) and Saturday, breaking this fast after the church service that goes through the night on Saturday, finishing at around 3am on Sunday morning. These three days are known as “Qanona”. The priests neither eat nor drink but remain in the churches singing and praying incessantly.

No other major religion has such penitential fasting. For the strict observers of the fast, the 55 days of Lent are very tough on the body. Fasting in Ethiopia not only means a vegan diet but also means many hours of no food or drink. Each fasting day the observer will not eat of drink anything from the time they wake up until after the mass in the middle of the day is finished in church for many that means 3-4pm. Two simple meals may then follow, a late ‘lunch’ or more properly ‘break-fast’, and a light supper in the evening. What is staggering is that there is no drinking – not water, not coffee, nothing – during those fasting hours.

On Easter Sunday chicken, cheep, goats and cattle are dispatched for the pot as the fasting comes to an end in no uncertain terms. Sunday sees 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 more than double for Easter. Sheep come to Addis with drovers bringing them across countryside from several hundred miles away, across Shoa and even as far as Wollo.

After Easter there is no fasting not even on Wednesdays and Fridays until after Pentecost on 4 June (Parakilitos). 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. These are enjoyable times in the countryside, and if you have the chance to spend a week or so up in the countryside on a Tesfa Trek in Wollo, Tigray or the Simiens you will be a very welcome guest and participant at the celebrations.

 

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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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Tesfa Phone Lines are working again – hurray!

I am sorry if anyone had problems getting through to us in the last week or 10 days. The state provider ‘tele’ blocked them by mistake and then one by one unblocked them! Our office mobile was working the whole time 092 349 0495 and much of the time our wireless phone (011 810 0920) although this seems to have technical problems! These days we have fibre-optic internet so in theory our internet connection should be very good. So do email us on info@tesfatours.com/.

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Tesfa Tours can take payment by credit card

visa and mastercardTo facilitate easier payment we now take major credit cards in payment for our holidays. If you bring the credit card to our office we have a terminal and you will be asked to enter your PIN number. If we take your details remotely we need an email or text authorising this along with a photocopy of your passport and front and back of the credit card.

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Wonderful article in Selamta (Ethiopian Airlines inflight magazine)

Photo from ​Genesis​ by Sebastião Salgado

Photo from ​Genesis​ by Sebastião Salgado

When you are next on board an Ethiopian A/L flight have a look for the main feature (Nov/Dec issue) in the inflight magazine – Selamta. But you can also read it on line at www.selamtamagazine.com  – the following is taken from the article – wonderfully written by Noreen Fagan, with photos by Sebastião Salgado

 

In sync with Highland living, each day from there unfolded seamlessly into another. We woke with the rising sun and walked until midday, when we rested for lunches of injera(local flatbread made from fermented teff grain) and lentils washed down with strong black coffee. Each climb brought us closer to the clouds, giving us the perfect vantage points from which to witness a lifestyle that had not changed over thousands of years: Small boys balanced sticks twice their size, steering goats toward grazing land; farmers in every direction walked horses and bulls in a circle, threshing hay; and women ambled their ways home, carrying jugs of water, locally made beer or goods traded at the nearby market. At more than 3,500 meters above sea level, we became briefly a part of the agricultural and cultural life of Ethiopian pastoralists.

Each evening, as the sun set beyond the farthest mountain range, we sat on the edge of the escarpment and sipped beer cooled by the high-altitude air. The beauty of the environment spoke to us, but we were otherwise surrounded by silence — broken only by the wind whistling across the plateau.  ….

We spent our final night atop a jagged mountaintop, overlooking valleys and layers of mountains cascading toward the hidden horizon. Lammergeyers swooped down below us before spiraling upward with the wind — their flight accentuating the stillness of our surrounds. As the light faded, our warm memories of the past three days blanketed us against the cold Ethiopian night — reminding us that time need not be dictated by the hourglass but by the momentum of daily life.

 

 

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Melkam Meskal

 

All over Addis decorated bonfires are set up the day before the holiday

All over Addis decorated bonfires are set up the day before the holiday

Tonight is the eve of Meskal day, a night which more than any other is the bonfire night. Bonfires ‘demera‘ are being prepared, beautifully decorated with the yellow Meskal daisy on every street corner in Addis, and throughout the Orthodox parts of the country. The smell of smoke and sound of the celebrations will be everywhere in the capital in the coming hours

Best wishes to all on this holiday tomorrow – and a happy bonfire night tonight.

But what are the origins of this festival that is often translated as: ‘The finding of the true Cross.’  It is told that in the 4th Century, Queen Eleni (or St. Helena) was instructed in a dream to light a bonfire and that the smoke would lead her to find the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Meskal bonfireShe followed the instructions, added frankincense to the huge fire and  the smoke that went skywards came back down showing the spot where she found the cross. It was at Amba Gishen , a cross shaped amba – or plateau – in the mountains of South Wollo. This is now the location of a church called Gishen Mariam with its huge day on a Mariam day that falls right at the start of October, and is one of the biggest pilgrimage sites in Ethiopia.

However in many parts of Ethiopia (particularly in the south, but also in Adigrat in Tigray) Meskal is a huge festival that starts many days before the day itself, suggesting that there maybe some other older festivity with which Meskal has since been linked.

The Meskal daisy, Ethiopian flower for for Meskal and New Year

The Meskal daisy, Ethiopian flower for for Meskal and New Year

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Rufael and Pagume

Today is the big annual Rufael (Raphael) day -one of the archangels and the protector of pregnant women in the Ethiopian Church! The rain that fell heavily this morning is taken as a blessed and holy rain – and it is a well received blessing.

The pages for each month - showing all the holidays and both dates

September with Pagume shown

Rufael falls on the 3rd day of Pagume which is the 13th month or more properly the period of added days that adds the extra days (5 or 6 in a leap year) needed if the 12 months are all 30 days (as are the Ethiopian months). This year is a leap year with the extra 6th day in Pagume as you can see on the Tesfa Tours calendar shown below. And off course the next day is Enkutatash. One of the biggest holidays – New Years Day.

Let pray for plenty more rain from now into the first part of the New Year in Ethiopia.

Rain clouds in Addis

Rain clouds in Addis

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