Category Archives: tigray

Visit the new Tesfa guesthouses – now open

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, by permission of Kevin Rushby (posted on Instagram)

If you have been on a Tesfa trek before then why not try something new?

We have opened new guesthouses in the Simien Mountains. They are situated to the south of the National Park, in a woreda called Janamora. To access this area, until the new service roads are built you drive through the National park past Sankober and Geech, and over the back of Bwahit mountain, then down to Mekhane Berhan. There are 3 guesthouses, Taga Mariam, Khalid Abo, and Timbala, and we suggest a minimum of 4 nights, including a visit to the market at Wossen on Thursdays and Saturdays.  On the final day we would suggest trekking back up towards the park and getting picked up just south of Bwahit to

Khalid Abo guesthouse

Khalid Abo guesthouses

either camp at Chenek or stay in one of the lodges in the park – Simien Mountain Lodge or Limalimo Lodge.

View of Seheta Guesthouse

View of Seheta Guesthouse

We have also opened a new guesthouse in Tigray in the midst of the trekking we offer in the Agame Massif. The new guesthouse at Seheta, is set just above several farms on the edge of the village and is a great base to use to explore the valleys and local churches. Again we would recommend spending several days at Seheta. At this time of year there are feasts held daily in the villages and you would be most welcome to join in. You can also link staying here with a stay in one of the other longer established guesthouses in the area.

 

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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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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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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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The rainy season in Addis

Rain in Tigray“A veritable monsoon!” Is how I often describe it, and it is. Its cause is the same weather patterns that cause the monsoon to sweep up through India – monsoon is the Indian word for their rainy season and kremt is the Amharic word.

And rather like the monsoon in India it does not rain all day, but rather heavy downpours roll through, skies darken, the wind picks up and torrential rain, often with hail follows. Later on or next morning the skies are clear and the sun shines brightly for some hours.  Its not a bad time to be in Addis or in Ethiopia. Pack an umbrella, put on the some boots, and head off to explore. If your visiting, just be ready to dive into a coffee shop and sit out the rain.

This year in Addis the Kremt is giving us a lot of sun and glorious weather, with much of the rain in the night. This is worrying, as the rain that comes to Addis is far more than the rain that goes to many other regions of Ethiopia, all of which depend on the Kremt to start off their crops, allow the meadows to grow hay, refill the water table so springs are replenished, refill reservoirs to generate electricity. If the rains intensify now that would be good, and they need to be strong through into late September. The official date for the end of the Kremt is Meskerem 25th which this year falls on 6th October, but already by the Meskal holiday (Meskerem 17 or 28th September) the rains will usually become far less frequent and the signs will be there that the dry season is coming.

A reminder for anyone looking to do some trekking. Tigray is fantastic for walking at this time of year. It does not rain much there, mostly at night, and the sun will be out in the morning. Let us know if you would like to make a trek and we can organise it.

 

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Stunning photos and wonderful blog – Trek in Tigray

Tash McCarroll photo - Cloud gathering around the mountains near Erar

Tash McCarroll photo – Cloud gathering around the mountains near Erar

A few friends and I spent a four day weekend at the end of May trekking in Tigray organised by Tesfa Tours. It was a few days that felt like weeks away from the bustle of Addis and work and we were treated to hiking in some of the most stunning landscape I have ever seen.” Tash McCarroll. Read this account of a trek in Tigray, illustrated with some of the most fabulous photos. (You will see some in the up coming Tesfa Calendar)

Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, portrait of a girl in Shimbrety.

Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, portrait of a girl in Shimbrety.

Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, Low cloud around Erar, on a Tesfa Trek

Curtesy of Tash McCarroll, Low cloud around Erar, on a Tesfa Trek

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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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Journey in the Mountains of Tigray on the May Day weekend

Book a trip now while places are available for the May day weekend (1-5 May)

View from Enaf Community Guest house

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.

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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

RockChurch AbYemGoh web

Ceiling frescoe at Abuna Yemata Goh (Gheralta Massif)

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