Category Archives: holiday

The great Lenten fast draws to a close and Easter approaches

Fasika in Lalibela

Enkwanaderasachu

Best wishes to everyone celebrating Easter on either the 1st or the 8th of April. Easter in Ethiopia, known as Fasika is celebrated according to the Orthodox or Eastern church calendar this year on 8th April. Some years it falls on the same day as in the western church, some years it can be far apart, but this year it is one week after western Easter.

Fasika is a Ge’ez (the ancient liturgical language of Ethiopia) word and also the word in Amharinya and Tigrinya for Easter. Easter is also sometimes called Tensae a Ge’ez word meaning to rise). It is one

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

of the most important holidays in Ethiopia, marking the end of a long 55 day Lenten fast. On Easter Sunday chickens, sheep, 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. In the days leading up to Easter flocks of sheep and goats as well as herds of oxen are driven by herders into the city, chickens are 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 the capital with drovers bringing them across countryside from several hundred miles away, from Shoa and even as far as Wollo.

Local shepherd boys in Wollo

After Easter there is no fasting not even on Wednesdays and Fridays until after Pentecost on 27th May (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 hang from trees and sing songs while swinging, 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

Hosanna palm rings

participant at the celebrations. Its still not too late to book your trek in early April!

The lead up to Fasika starts now with Palm Sunday or Hosanna this Sunday (1 week before Easter, 1st April this year).  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.

Following Hosanna is the last week of the Great Lenten fast or Hudadi.  This final week of Hudadi is commonly known as Holy Week, or the “Week of Pains” or in Ethiopia Himamat and it 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.

As far as I am aware 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.

For vegetarians the end of Lent means no fasting food, even on Wednesdays and Fridays – so make the most of the last week of fasting.

 

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Looking for people with whom to trek?

Happy trekkers on Mnt Abuna Yoseph, Wollo

Want to go on a trek but need a companion?

We have been thinking about linking solo trekkers who wish to have another person/people to join them to share costs, and be a companion on the trek.

On this post we will note down solo trekkers who are looking for others to join them. We will not post the contact info of clients or potential clients – only their name.

Start date – approx 23 June / 4 night trek / Abuna Yoseph mountain (behind Lalibela).  A great trek into the Afro Alpine,

Trekking in Meket

climbing the highest mountain in Ethiopia outside of the Simien and Bale mountains.      Ref Matthew Lloyd Thomas

Start date: 27 Oct  / 5 night trek / Eastern Meket /  client coming from Gondar  but (access from Gondar, Bahir Dar or Lalibela). Gondar, Bahir Dar or Lalibela). This trek is on the Meket escarpment outside Lalibela – a walk with great views over the lowlands to the north and along the escarpment. See the rural life of the farmers along the plateau .      Ref Annika Keller

 

Start date: 4 Nov / 4 night trek / Wof Washa forest on Rift Valley escarpment 140km N.E. of Addis Ababa. This is a stunning trek into

The forest & valley in early morning – Lik Marefya, Wof Washa forest

indigenous forest ranging from Erica Arboreal at high altitude to Juniper, Olive and Podocarps as you head lower down. Can be accessed with a drive (>3hrs) from Addis –  via Debre Berhan.         Ref Annika Keller 

If you are interested to join on ay of these treks or would like more details please contact Mark@tesfatours.com,  copy to Hlina@tesfatours.com     Happy Trekking!

 

 

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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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Join a Tesfa Community trek 2nd part of May

photo of Ras Dashen while on a Tesfa Trek in Simiens, curtesy of Kevin Rushby

photo of Ras Dashen while on a Tesfa Trek in Simiens, curtesy of Kevin Rushby

We have one male American client flying into Ethiopia in mid May who would like to do a trek at the new Simien village guesthouses (but would also be happy to trek on other routes). He is looking for someone to team up with.

If you would also like to do some trekking in stunning scenery please contact us to arrange your trip.

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Melcam Meskal

A Meskal Demera (bonfire) built by locals in Addis

A Meskal Demera (bonfire) built by locals in Addis

Today is the eve of Meskal, and Addis Ababa has bonfires growing on street corners and roundabouts all over the city, with long bundles of sticks, huge bunches of bright yellow Meskal daisies and of bright green grass for sale. The Meskal daisy is the image most associated with the holiday, as it grows wild across meadows and grasslands throughout the highlands of Ethiopia.

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

decorations around Addis

decorations around Addis

and descended at the point where she found the Cross.

Across Ethiopia tonight (and for some tomorrow) bonfires will be lit commemorating this event. There are various traditions which include the prediction as to the harvest by the direction in which the cross in the fire falls. Also people mark their foreheads in the sign of the cross with the ash from the fire.

The festival is also connected with the relic of the cross that was reputedly found at Gishen Amba, a cross shaped mountain in Wollo, where the church of Gishen

A small Meskal bonfire at Kebena, dropped in the Ethiopian flag, with a cross on the top.

A small Meskal bonfire at Kebena, dropped in the Ethiopian flag, with a cross on the top.

Mariam celebrated a major pilgrimage and festival just after Meskal each year.

A good place to join in the Meskal celebrations is with the villages on the Tesfa Treks in Wollo and Tigray. In Adigrat (Tigray) and in the villages around there is a very big Meskal celebration.

Best wishes to all for a peaceful and fun Meskal demera tonight and a joyful holiday tomorrow.

 

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Have your tried the Prickly Pear?

Hailay (Tesfa Tours driver) peeling a prickly Pear - Beles fruit!

Hailay (Tesfa Tours driver) peeling a prickly Pear – Beles fruit!

As Baloo sings in the Jungle Book –

 

Now when you pick a pawpaw

Or a prickly pear

And you prick a raw paw

Next time beware

Don’t pick the prickly pear by the paw

When you pick a pear Try to use the claw

But you don’t need to use the claw

When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw.

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The peeled Beles fruit – no more prickles!

The season for these tasty fruit starts in May, but you are best advised to let someone who knows how to peel it (as you do not have Baloo’s claws!). So why not come up after Fasika (Ethiopian Easter) and walk through the beautiful Agame mountains around Adigrat, famed for their tasty ‘Beles’ fruits.

It is also the season of priest parties (for two weeks after Fasika)- when householders entertain their local priests to congratulate them on getting through the rigours of another fasting season. Local beer and spicy ‘Teh’lo’

Tehlo ceremony in Tigray

Tehlo ceremony in Tigray

(meat in red sauce with balls of barley) is served and everyone celebrates the season.  You will undoubtably be invited in as a guest of honour.

So come and be a guest of the local villagers in the Agame mountains this May.

 

 

 

The Cactus in flower in the Agame mountains

The Cactus in flower in the Agame mountains,

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Spend a few days walking with the Tesfa villagers in Wollo or Tigray.

Tigray offers great walking with wonderful views

Tigray offers great walking with wonderful views

What are your plans for the school break at the end of May? How about a few days walking as a guest of the communities in Wollo or Tigray.

The rains are far less as you travel north and in Tigray the soil is sandy so there is no mud. Most rain happens in the evening if at all. But the little that has fallen has greened up the landscape a bit. In Tigray it is also the start of the Prickly Pear season.

 

Tehlo ceremony in Tigray

Tehlo ceremony in Tigray, a common celebration meal at the priest parties

So why not come along and let the villagers show you how life is in the countryside and blow the Addis cobwebs out of the system. You will return with batteries fully recharged!

A 3 night walking holiday for a family of 4 people (2 adults, 1 teenager  and 1 child under 12) will cost $635.00 USD including meal, guide and local drinks.

Transport in Tigray in a good condition 4WD from airport (Axum or Mekele) to trek and back to airport will cost $225 USD. On the way in and out why not take in a rock church- one of the

Kids enjoy riding (& feeding) horses on the trek

Kids enjoy riding (& feeding) horses on the trek

many in Tigray.

In Wollo transport from and back to Lalibela airport or town will cost up to $150USD depending on the trekking route (using a minibus).

While up in Lalibela or Tigray why not add a day to see the sites. We can make arrangements for hotels, lodges and guides.

 

Mequat Mariam Scones for breakfast

Mequat Mariam Scones for breakfast

 

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Come & join the Timkat celebration in a Village in Ethiopia

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

If you are still unsure what to do next week over Timkat why not come and celebrate with one of the villages on a Tesfa trek.

Timkat is probably the most colourful festival in Ethiopia. Its a magical celebration linked to one of the oldest festival in the Christian – Epiphany. But in the Eastern (Orthodox) churches – Epiphany celebrated the baptism of Christ not the visit of the Magi (as in the western Church). In fact the word Timkat means ‘baptism’.  Epiphany itself refers to the manifestation of Christ’s divinity, and in the original church it celebrated the various points in Christ’s life where his divinity was shown: his nativity (this was before Christmas was celebrated), the visit of the Magi, Christ’s miracles (especially at the wedding in Cana), and his baptism in the Jordan river.

The village at Wajela celebrate Timkat with dancing and singing

The village at Wajela celebrate Timkat with dancing and singing

Timkat in Ethiopia is effectively a 3 day event although only the second day is the holiday and is Timkat. The celebrations start on the eve which this year is 19th January (Ter 10 in the Ethiopian calendar). The Tabots are paraded with colour, dance and singing out of their church compounds and off on a route to what is normally an attractive place if possible by a water source. On arrival the tabot is set up with a tent and the church community will stay with the tabot, some for the night. On the day of Timkat there is a mass before the water source is blessed and with wonderful joy the water is splashed on the onlookers and as much as possible some is collected to be taken home as a holy water.

After this celebration the tabots are taken back to their church with renewed joy and celebration, passing by a different route to bless those whose farms or houses it passes. All tabots except for Mikael tabots, who spend another day camping out as Ter 12 is St Michaels day (Mikael) and interestingly commemorates the wedding in Cana – (Cana Ze Galila). The Mikael day is also very big and the processions are bigger as many of those who attended the previous two days celebrations now come together for Mikael. In some places horses, decorated in colourful pompoms have horse races while the procession goes on.

There is no better day to feel the religious fervour and the deeply held beliefs in the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Whether you witness this in the streets of Addis or in the remote mountains on a Tesfa Trek you will be struck by the passion it arouses in the followers of the church and by the feeling that this is biblical, out of the old testament harking back to King David’s processing of the Ark of Covenant in Jerusalem.

 

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Escape the rain: take a break in Tigray – with local flights $645 p/person

Rainbow comes out over the mountains in Tigray

Rainbow comes out over the mountains in Tigray

The Kremt rains (as the season is called) officially begins on Senay 26 ( 3rd July) according to the old church calendar and runs till Meskerem 25 (this year that will be 6th October). For those new to Addis it does not rain all day every day, but by mid August it will begin to feel like it has! For those hankering for a bit of sun, it does not rain all over the country, and certainly other parts of Ethiopia are not as wet as Addis. The Rift valley gets more frequent showers and some sweeping rain, but when the sun comes out its a good deal warmer, but up north in Tigray it stays bright.  Most mornings dawn with a blue sky and cloud does not roll in till later on in the afternoon. With the sandy soil keeping the paths more dry, we keep the community treks open all through the Kremt.

Prickly Pear - the Beles fruit, from the Cactus

Prickly Pear – the Beles fruit, from the Cactus

So why not make a long weekend trip and come on up to Tigray? The Prickly Pears (Cactus fruit called ‘Beles’) ripen and can be eaten along the way, the mountains green up and it is very beautiful. If you would like to end with a night at Gheralta Lodge, there are special low season prices to make it more attractive.

A 3 night trip, with 2 nights at the community guest houses and one night at Gheralta Lodge will cost $645 per person including local flights (with Ethiopian ID or resident card), and 4 WD transport. Excludes church entry. For full details see  Journey in the mountains of Tigray

 

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