Category Archives: Lalibela

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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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.

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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.

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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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Be in Lalibela for the Special Saints Day on 19th June

Be one of a few foreigners to witness this special saints day and follow it with walk in the mountains of Meket.

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

St Mikael’s day in Lalibela and a Tesfa Trek in Meket

Come and visit Lalibela for Senay Mikael, the St Michael’s day celebrated on Sunday 19th June is one of the biggest saint’s days in Lalibela, with it also marking the anniversary of Saint-King Lalibela’s death. The Church of Mikael in Lalibela is connected to the church known as Golgotha where Lalibela himself is buried.

Only Gena (Ethiopian Christmas) is a bigger celebration in the town.

Fly in on Saturday and see the market – a day when the town is really buzzing, and visit the other churches. After the

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

processions and celebrations on Sunday morning head off  to Meket to send a couple of days trekking in the mountains before coming back for a flight to Addis on Tuesday.

See details here – prices and tour itinerary

A Meket farmer enjoys the view

A Meket farmer enjoys the view

 

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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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Kulubi Gabriel

Today – 29th December (Tahsas 19 in the Ethiopian calendar) is one of the two big annual Gabriel festivals (the other one comes on 28 July), and is the culmination of one of the biggest pilgrimages in Ethiopia.

Kulubi is a small place some 60km from Dire Dawa, but today tens of thousands of pilgrims will have converged on the St Gabriel’s church there, many walking for days to get there.

The joint churches of Gabriel & Rufael in Lalibela

The joint churches of Gabriel & Rufael in Lalibela

But all across Ethiopia, today is a huge celebration at every Gabriel church. Whether in Addis Ababa, in Lalibela, or on a Tesfa community trek in a village where a church has a Gabriel Tabot, there will be special celebrations.

Enjoy today!

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Michaelmas today in Ethiopia – Senay Michael

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Today is Senay Mikael in Ethiopia (Senay being the month), and is one of the three big St.Michael’s days. The saints’s days come round every month (Mikael on the 12th of each month), but each church celebrates one or two and occasionally three big ‘annual days’.  St.Michael’s big annual days are in Senay (now), Hedar (November) and Ter (January – this is the day after Timkat).
In the west Michaelmas was celebrated on 29th September and gave rise to the name of that autumn term in universities, and was one of the 4 days when quarterly rent payments were due.Things generally started a new at Michaelmas.

In Ethiopia the Senay 12 also  marks the anniversary of the death of King and Saint Lalibela, and so in Lalibela itself today is very special as both Mikael and Lalibela’s tabots will be paraded out.

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Come and see the special Saintsday in Lalibela

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

On 19th June Lalibela celebrates a big double festival, as it is both an annual day for St Mikael (Senay Mikael) and the anniversary of the death of the Saint-King Lalibela. This is the biggest celebration in Lalibela after Gena (Christmas) and attracts many Ethiopian pilgrims from the surrounding area to see the festival … but few tourists.

On the eve of the day itself, there will be singing and chanting around Bete Mikael & Golgotta (where the Saint-King is buried), and in the morning the two Tabots (Mikael and Lalibela) will be paraded out to a nearby tent with great pomp and celebration, and an hour or so after will return to the church.

Later on you should see the market – although it is a Friday there will be an especially big market that day in town, full of livestock and other local produce.

This is a day you should not miss!

Tesfa Tours are offering an all inclusive 4 day package for $700 USD per person (minimum group 2 people) including local flights (based on having local resident cards or national ID), transport, accommodation at the best hotel in town, entry fees & guides, AND two nights trekking in Meket with the local  communities as your hosts.  (Only excludes meals and drink in Lalibela, bottled drinks on the trek and personal expenses and gratuities etc). Please email mark@tesfatours.com for more details.

 

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A wedding that recalls the times of Emperors and Ras’s

Sora dancing at Lalibela wedding

Sora dancing at Lalibela wedding

I’m just back from a wonderful wedding in which the couple was blessed by the first real rain in Lalibela in many months. But a bit of rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm. A fantastic display of the aggressive shoulder dancing was seen at the various stops, much of it in the local “Sora” style.

The wedding party processed through the town on mules with high priests each leading a column in the procession. The bride & groom on the centre looking thoroughly regal.

The Bride and groom on mules at wedding

The Bride & Groom on Mules at their wedding

The procession stopped for frequent boughts of ritual ‘Ya Ho’ stick dancing, while the on lookers were amazed to see us all on mules (especially when the heavens opened). It was something the like of which Lalibela has never seen before and definitely recalled the times of Emperors and Ras’s (princes), a time before the advent of the motor car!

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Traditional wedding in Lalibela today

I’m really excited. One of my oldest and best friends in Ethiopia is tying the knot today. His bride and he both are from Lalibela and there is a real buzz today in town. Some 5,000 guests will be fed. The grooms party will head off to the bride’s house on mules to negotiate with her family to take her back to the groom’s house.

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