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
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.
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.
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.
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
(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,
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, 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
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
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
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.
Panoramic View from Gohgot Village guesthouse in Tigray at sunrise
How about waking up to see the Agame mountains in Tigray lit up with the early morning sun?
Why not use the long Meskal weekend (26-28Sep) as a get away? Contact Tesfa Tours to arrange a special trip for you.
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
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
Book a trip now while places are available for the May day weekend (1-5 May)
View from Enaf Community Guest house
Experience the beauty and serenity of the Mountains of Eastern Tigray. Explore the Agame massif, a much less visited mountain block just north of Gheralta. Walk along the sandstone ridges enjoying spectacular views and through the intensely farmed valleys. Among the wildlife you can see are Gelada baboons, birds of prey (Lammergeyers, Batteleur Eagles, Marshal Eagles and more) soaring on the thermals, many many smaller birds (Bee eaters, sunbirds, chats, cordon bleu and many more) and Rock hyraxes. You will be hosted by the local people, a people who still use age-old farming practices and live life with a fierce pride in their own special history and culture.
Farmhouse (Hedemo) in Agame Mountains
On the walks you will come across several lovely rock hewn churches (there is also a built up church in the style of Debre Damo on a ledge in the cliff), and rock tunnel excavated through the mountain to connect farmers to the west with the church to the east. End your trip with a night at one of the beautiful lodges in the area and see a couple of the more visited rock churches of Tigray before returning to the hussle and bussle of Addis Ababa!
Price for 2 people (sharing a room) $700 USD per person (payable in birr, Euro, Sterling or USD).
Includes Local flight (based on clients providing a valid Ethiopian Resident or ID card); three nights at Tesfa Community Guest houses with the fully catered trek & one night at Gheralta or Agoro Lodge; transport in 4WD from Mekele A/P to trek, from trek to Lodge & to explore churches & on last day back to Mekele A/P; a guide on each day, full board on the Tesfa trek and breakfast at the Lodge.
Excludes church entry fees and any arrangements in Addis Ababa. Meals (other than breakfast at the Lodge) when not on the trek, bottled drinks on & off trek.
Email Mayday@tesfatours.com for more details and to check availability
Ceiling frescoe at Abuna Yemata Goh (Gheralta Massif)
Just found a great little blog by VSO staff – an account of their trek last May in Tigray:-
As everyone living in Addis knows, now is the wedding season. From the end Timkat (marking the end of the harvest time) until the Lentan fast begins is the peak time to get married In Addis Ababa on weekends cavalcade after cavalcade goes past with ribbons decorating the cars and horns beeping in celebration. In the countryside the wedding looks quite different – take away the decorated cars and replace with decorated horses, colourful pompoms handing from the bridal and saddle. The hooting is replaced with horns, and instead of banqueting in a hotel hall, shelters from the sun are fashioned with branches and leaves.
Any guests walking the rough the area will be invited to join in,something that adds to the occasion of the wedding. In many areas wedding will be held on the non fasting days of the week, especially Tuesdays and Thursdays (Wednesdays and Fridays being fasting days) as Saturdays and Sundays are days for the church (The Judaic Sabeth and Sunday). So if you want to experience something very special, how about visiting the community guest houses on a Tesfa trek before the 24th February (the start of the Lentan Fast)?
How about a Danakil Adventure?
Its an incredible trip with visits to the mineral lakes and deposits in the Danakil Depression and a night ascent of the live Volcanic crater – Ertale.
You will see caravans of salt and the salt being extracted from the desert floor.
A typical trip departs Mekele on day 1 in the morning (around 9 or 10am) , and returns to Mekele in the afternoon of day 4 – 4 days and 3 nights. Costs depend very much on numbers, we will provide you with top quality 4WDs with experienced drivers and a top class guide.
Please contact us on – email@example.com – if you are interested to join on this trip.