Category Archives: Tours

Melkam Timkat

The community at Mequat Mariam parade the Tabot out at TImkat with Ethiopian flags flying

The community at Mequat Mariam in Wollo parade the Tabot out at Timkat

Today one of Ethiopia’s big holidays has started, it is the eve of Timkat and if you are in Addis the roads are closing as the Tabots are paraded out of the churches on their way to the field where the Baptism of Jesus will be commemorated tomorrow morning.  Timkat – meaning ‘Baptism’ is a festival that seems to encapsulate Ethiopia’s unique place in the world. It is frequently referred to as Epiphany, which while technically correct undersells what is a very special and Ethiopian day. Epiphany is a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearance, and it celebrates the events in Christ’s life that showed him to be the son of God. In the early church (before Rome got into it) this was the major feast in the church after Easter. In Epiphany was encapsulated all the major events that manifested Christ’s Godhood to man: his birth (Nativity) , the visit of the Magi, the turning watering wine at the wedding in Canaa, and his baptism in the Jordan river. With the appearance of Christmas in the developing church as a new festival, his nativity was taken out of Epiphany.

Holes are cut in the Ice in Russia

Bathers queue to dip in the freezing water in St..Petersburg

In the Eastern Orthodox churches Epiphany, in Greece often called Theophany (meaning shinning forth/appearance) is celebrated to commemorate the Baptism of Jesus as it is in Ethiopia. In Russia people cut a hole in the ice on a body of water and jump in. In Greece a cross is thrown into water and men dive for the honour of bringing it back. In Ethiopia, the holy Tabot is the heart of the church and what in fact makes a church holy, is processed to a place where water will be blessed. The tabot is in fact a replica of the Tablets of Stone that Moses carried down from Mount Sinai (although many state that they are a replica of the the Ark of Covenant).

In fact it is really spread over 2 or 3 days. This year – (leap years are different next one is 2020), it will start on the 18th Jan (Ter 10). In Addis the Tabots will leave the churches at around 2pm with a big procession, singing of hymns and chants, drumming, horns being blown and dancing to the chants. Icons are processed and most especially the tabots wrapped in brocaded cloth carried on the heads of the high priests under umbrellas. The procession will makes its way over several hours to the special resting point for the tabots. In north eastern Addis Ababa this place is Jan Meda (the Imperial horse racing fields). At Jan Meda about a dozen tabots spend the night with tents for shelter, and priests and devoted followers. The fields become the centre of the festival for the evening and next day, and for tabots from St Mikael churches the next day too.

Tens of thousands of people will gather at the fields in the evening, hundreds sell refreshments and nicknacks. The roads around are packed solid.  During the processions roads are closed across the city (and the country) and no cars can pass. Houses beside the route the tabots pass are blessed. Young lads lay down carpets on the road in front off the tabot. They rapidly roll them up behind and run them round to the front again, extreme hard work and a devotion that illustrates how deep seated are the beliefs and culture of the Orthodox church even in the capital city.

Where to see it? Head to your nearest Orthodox church, and plan to be there by 2pm. Then you can join in the procession to the fields. Don’t be worried by the crowds, everyone is joyful and will be happy to see you, but do show respect for the priests and the tabots, dress appropriately (women should cover heads and neither men nor women should wear short clothing – if you have traditional white cotton clothes all the better). At the convergence points of the tabots there could be pick pockets at work so be careful of possessions and do not carry unnecessary valuables.

The followers play the church drum “Kabero” and dance the tabot across town

These Timkat processions are through-out Ethiopia where ever there is an Orthodox church. Procession make there way across towns in urban areas and over the fields in the countryside, to a place where in the morning the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan river is commemorated. Water will be blessed and the multitudes will be splashed with the holy water and try to take some home with them in bottles. Following this ceremony the tabots (with the exception of Mikael tabots) will be processed back to their church with similar joy, noise, colour and reverence to that with which they were processed today. These processions bring to mind the biblical accounts of King David’s processing the Ark of Covenant to Jerusalem: “So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.” although Ethiopia’s instruments are drums and horns.

So where should you go to see it (in Ethiopia). In Addis Ababa, head for your nearest place where tabots have congregated, and try to get there quite early (8am). There will be big crowds near the major places such as Jan Meda, and beware of pickpockets! In the countryside similarly head for the tabots resting place early in the morning. Local people will tell you when.

Worshippers jump into the Fasilides baths

In Gondar you will need to seek out a place early in the morning at Fasilidas’ baths. It becomes extremely crowded. Your guide will advise you. The moment of the joyful splashing is the high point. In Gondar youngsters jump into the pool, in Addis the clergy spray the crowd from the water in the pool in the midst of the field. In parishes up and down the country water is splashed from the blessed pool, spring or river in a joyous celebration. Then you can follow the joyful processions back up to the churches.

The 20th January, Ter 12, is one of the big St Mikael days in the year, and also commemorates the Wedding Feast at Canaa when Jesus turned water into wine. The St.Mikael tabots remain in the field on the 19th and on the morning if the 290th a special mass is celebrated and the procession then begins back to the Mikael church. This is the biggest procession of them all as followers of other nearby churches will join in. In many places there is Gooks: racing of decorated horses around the procession. With a lot of dancing through the morning the Tabot is processed back to its church bestowing blessings on all whose house is passed. Most processions will be finished by around 2pm.

Melkam Timkat!

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Melkam Gena – Happy Christmas

Priest holding traditional taper

The churches are all celebrating mass this morning across Ethiopia and the Orthodox world. It is Christmas morning and the fast that started 42 days before in late November is now over. Today is a feast day and all kinds of meat will be prepared for the celebrations.

Lalibela is the place to celebrate Gena, with thousands of pilgrims walking into the holy town from great distances to participate in the Christmas morning celebrations above Bete Mariam church. Many hundreds of tourists will be there to witness this spectacle.

Tesfa Tours wishes all who are celebrating today and very happy Christmas.

Gena ceremony in Lalibela

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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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Ethiopian Wolf in the Simiens

NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY / ALAMY, Ethiopian Wolf, from Selamta Magazine

Flying on Ethiopian this week I was really happy to see a photograph of the Ethiopian Wolf on the cover page. The Ethiopian Wolf is a beautiful and now extremely rare and endangered animal, but we all must ensure its survival.

Tesfa Tours would be happy to arrange a tour dedicated to spotting these rare canids. Contact us to let us arrange the trip.

Have a look at the article on line here.

 

 

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Places avail -Danakil trip following Meskal

Ertale Volcano

The caldera on Ertale – feel the heat of a live volcano

Would you like to get to see the Danakil before the peak season starts?

We have places available on our trip leaving Mekele on Thu 28 Sep, returning to Mekele Sat 30 Sep.

The price is $650 USD per person. Maximum group size will be 6-12 people with 2-3 landruisers for our guests and a back up 4WD for the cook and the various guards & scouts we are obliged to pickup.

We have the best guides, we use excellent hardtop

potash and sulpher deposits

Spectacular mineral deposits at Dalol

landcruisers (working A/C) with experienced drivers and have a good cook to keep tummies very happy.

If you are interested or would like more details please email Yeshi@tesfatours.com or telephone us on 011 124 5178 /or mobile 092 349 0495.

Spend a night on top of the majestic Erta Ale volcano and witness the lava bubbling in the caldera. And spend a morning (before it gets too hot) exploring the Dalol depression, with the

Tesfa Tours own well-maintained 4WDs

Martian like mineral deposits and the canyons of salt.

As the Danakil is no longer on the list of ‘not to visit places’ with the British government and others, we anticipate a big increase in tourists going there this season, with a corresponding increase in litter and mess. Hence the suggestion to go ‘out of season’ .

Don’t miss this chance!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ethiopian New Year & the month Meskeram

Meskal flowers in Meket, North Wollo

September is a wonderful time in Ethiopia and particularly the Ethiopian month of Meskerem that runs from 11th September -10th October marking the beginning of the Ethiopian year. The countryside is lit up with the masses of bright yellow ‘Meskal’ daisies and more sunshine flickering through the rain clouds, and it brings with it all the promise of the new year.

However 2009 ends with that Ethiopian peculiarity, the 13th month or Pagumay. It is generally 5 days long, but on leap years it is 6 days. It works as a fill in with all other months being 30 days and 12 x 30 being 360, so it adds up the year to 365 days. There is one very special day in Pagume– St Rufael’s day which is on 3rd day of the month (8th Sept). If it rains on this day the rain is holy and blesses those it falls on.  A great day for dancing in the rain! St Rufael for those that did not know (and I had to look it up!) is an archangel coming 3rd in rank after St Michael and St Gabriel.

The Demara – the flames of the Meskal fire.

So what are the celebrations for New Year? It is of course not only a national holiday but a feast day and families will celebrate the New year together on the 11th – Enkutetash as the day is called. They will visit and be visited by close friends and relatives.

It is closely followed by Meskal which his celebrated across the country but most especially in parts of the south such as Gurage, Wolaita, and in the north in the town of Adigrat. Across the country bonfires – demara -are erected around a central pole that holds a cross and are decorated with the Meskal flowers. In Addis they are lit on the night before Meskal 26 Sep or Meskeram 16.  The big demara will be in Meskal Square but they are in every neighbourhood, roundabout and street corner. The fire is lit and goes up with much dancing and wielding of sticks and the direction which the cross falls is said to predict the success of that years harvest. Meskal day itself – the 27th is another public holiday, and families will again celebrate with a feast at home.

Stick Dancing in Meket

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 and descended at the point where she found the Cross. Many think that Meskal marks the end of the rainy season, well not quite, but its true the rains get less frequent, the flowers are in full bloom and the promise of a new harvest is seen around the country. But don’t put away your rain clothes, for the end of the rainy season – as per the old time calendar – is Meskeram 25th, or 5th October.

If you want to know in advance of the holidays coming up and the workings of the Ethiopian calendar then why not pick up a Tesfa Calendar from Tesfa Tours. It starts on 1st Sep 2017 and runs til 31stAug 2018. it has Saints days, fasts, Ethiopian dates and a wealth of other information set into the western calendar, with wonderful photographs from the Tesfa Village treks across the country – which will make you want to get out of Addis and explore this beautiful country.  Please contact calendars@tesfatours.com or tel 011 124 5178 to get your copy.

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Tesfa Calendar available now – runs from 01 Sep 2017

Tesfa Calendars

Whether you live in Ethiopia, or used to live here, or are planning a visit, this calendar is a must.

  • Each month shows the main saints’ days, the fasts, and other holidays set into the western calendar.
  • Ethiopian calendar dates and months are clearly shown too (allowing you to ‘translate’ dates from one calendar to the other).
  • Calendar showcases the Tesfa Community treks in Wollo and Tigray with stunning photographs (mostly from clients).
  • Proceeds are used to support the farming communities along the treks.
  • Full moon depicted on the calendar.

 

 

Desk top calendar

It comes in 3 formats:

  • traditional wall hanging version 52x29cm (when hanging)
  • diary format 20cmx14cm, designed to fit in your bag
  • desk top version to sit on your desk.

Tesfa asks for a donation of 200 birr for a calendar if picked up here in Addis.

We can also post internationally: the cost is £15 for 1 & £25 for 2.

Email:  calendars@tesfatours.com for more info or call 092-349-0495

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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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Gabriel day in Addis

St Gabriel's day in Addis Ababa

St Gabriel’s day in Addis Ababa

Yesterday’s St. Gabriel’s day is one of the biggest saint’s days in the Ethiopian Calendar. The holy Tabot is paraded around the church as thousands of worshipers attend services at the Gabriel church in the city centre (behind the palace above Cassanchis).The roads leading to the church are closed to traffic.

Most women will wear traditional white cotton dresses and shawls and men will where a Gabi – a white cotton blanket – over their clothes. Back at home grass will be laid out over the floor for a coffee ceremony, incense will be burned and special home baked traditional bread will be shared out.

Addis Ababa might be modernising at a fast and furious rate, but the old traditions remain in place.

PS – note the leaning building in the photo. If you look closely you will see that they could not decide whether the windows should conform to the lean or be horizontal! Its a strange one for sure…

 

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Tesfa Tours can take payment by credit card

visa and mastercardTo facilitate easier payment we now take major credit cards in payment for our holidays. If you bring the credit card to our office we have a terminal and you will be asked to enter your PIN number. If we take your details remotely we need an email or text authorising this along with a photocopy of your passport and front and back of the credit card.

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