Category Archives: tigray

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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Treks that change lives!

Tesfa Community Treks providing income to local villagers, and open the eyes of the guests.

Enaf Tesfa village guesthouse in Tigray

An increasing number of discerning tourists are looking to the Tesfa Community Treks where villagers host the tourists and benefits flow directly to the local hosts. For while the Simien Mountains and Bale Mountains have been drawing tourists for decades, keen to trek in these Afro Alpine mountains with their unique wildlife the Tesfa treks also have wildlife and stunning views but at the same time tourists are giving a big something back, and experiencing the real Ethiopia of the highland farmers.

Since 2003 Tesfa treks have been hosting tourists in the

Mequat Mariam Scones for breakfast

mountains of North Wollo around Lalibela. Initially in Meket Woreda and more recently Gidan and Lasta woredas local villages have built 11 guesthouses organised as cooperatives to host small groups of walkers along the basalt escarpments that surround Lalibela. Included in this network of guesthouse are several on Mount Abuna Yoseph, a protected area around the highest peak in Ethiopia outside of the Simien and Bale Mountains at 4,288m.  The higher reaches of Abuna Yoseph are home to a pack of Ethiopian wolves, as well as troops of Gelada, leopards and many raptors.

Mequat Mariam guesthouse, N.Wollo

Since 2012 tourists have also been walking on the Tesfa treks in the Agame mountains around Adigrat in E.Tigray. There is a network of 7 village guesthouses with stunning walks between and a number of magnificent rock hewn churches that are rarely visited by tourists (other than those staying in the guesthouses). Again there are Geladas and amazing birds to see but as with the treks in Wollo, it is the host communities and the age-old farming life of the highlands that have the biggest impact on the visitors. The hospitality is humbling and simplicity of life prompts something to all of us coming from our cluttered and hectic lives.

Breakfast @Taga Mariam, Simiens

Now Tesfa is opening up new areas for community treks, with 3 simple village guesthouses to the south of the Simien National Park (Funded by African Wildlife Foundation) and 4 village guesthouses in North Shoa, in and around Wof Washa forest, just beyond Ankober. As with the village guesthouses in Wollo and Tigray, each guesthouse is owned and run by a community from the local village organised into a cooperative.

In each case 55% of the payment (around $34USD) goes to pay the village community and lunch (mostly provided by the village or another nearby provider), 25% goes towards local

The forest at Wof Washa, N.Shoa

guides and coordinators, and only 20% (+VAT) is kept by Tesfa Tours who provide the marketing and booking service. Each community provides not just accommodation, but food, hot drinks, and a pack animal. The cost per night also includes a guide, so all that remains is transport in and out and bottled drinks (sold by the community ) – beers, water, soft drinks and maybe some wine or gin and tonic!  Facilities include beds, with sheets and blankets, a simple sit down toilet, a dining room, and great views!

For more information contact info@tesfatours.com or pop by our Addis office.  We will also add more information on our

The view from Janamora Woreda to Ras Dashen

website in the near future.

Get out into the fresh air of the mountains and experience the Real Ethiopia!

 

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Photos needed for the new Tesfa Calendar

Tesfa Calendar 2009 cover page

Tesfa Calendar 2009 cover page

Hi Folks – are there any Tesfa trekkers out there with photos from their trips that we could use in our new calendar (Wollo or Tigray)?

I am looking for some of your photos to include in the 2010 Eth Calendar (2017/8)… if you think you might have some please do get in touch with me – mark@tesfatours.com

Mark Chapman

For any photo included we will off course give a credit on the photo and a complimentary copy of the calendar will be sent to you!

Thanks

Mark

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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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