Traveling Nancy

Traveling around the world as far as I can go.


Mursi and Ari Tribes – January 13th

We had to leave early in the morning in order to visit the Mursi people because Ayu said that after 11:00 am, it is there rest time when they may be drinking alcohol and therefore not be as friendly to visitors.

We drove to the beginning of the Mago National Park where Ayu found a guide and a park ranger.  The ranger is, of course, carrying his gun.

We passed some Dik-dik on the way to the village. They move very fast. Ayu managed to take a couple of photos with my camera from his open window.

We were required to pay the chief of the village 200 birr for each person using a camera before taking any photos. Jane, Sue, and I decided that we would only use my camera.

I read that although the creation of Mago Park in 1979 forced the Mursi and other tribal people out of certain areas, it seems like the park mostly existed on paper and so it didn’t infringe much on the lives of the local people.

I learned most of the information about the Mursi people from our guide, the internet, and a pamphlet ( A Guide to the Ethnic Groups Omo Valley Southern Ethiopia by Minalu Adem) which I purchased at the Jinka resort.   Here is some of the information

  • Women are in charge of building the homes

  • Men hunt for buffalo but it is illegal.
  • The women urinate standing up and the men urinate sitting down. Of course we did not see this.
  • The women are famed for wearing large plates in their lips and ears. There is much controversy about the origin of this practice. It was perhaps to disfigure to discourage slave raiders or perhaps as an object of beauty. It is usually done when the woman reaches about 15 years of age the girls take out front teeth and cut their lips. The girl’s husband gets to decide whether to cut the lip and determines just how big the plate that she will put into her lip will become.

  • Each man has a minimum of three wives and perhaps a maximum of seven wives. Each wife has 4 to 6 children. Minimum is two children.
  • Cattle are the Mursi’s most prized possession. They measure wealth by the number of cattle they own and name themselves after the color of their favorite cattle.
  • Mursi are considered one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the area, as they own greater numbers of cattle.
  • Almost every significant social relationship, especially marriage, is marked and validated by the exchange of cattle. The dowry is usually a number of cattle (30-40) and, more commonly nowadays, a gun. The groom’s family gives the brides’ wealth to the bride’s father. If they come from different villages, after the marriage they live in the woman’s village. For this reason, female children are seen as a blessing because they will eventually contribute to their father’s wealth. This doesn’t mean that male children are any less important as they will be responsible for looking after the animals.
  • The Mursi also practice flood retreat cultivation and rain-fed bush-land cultivation. It has been suggested that if they were to be denied access to the Omo River, they could only survive by becoming dependent on food aid.
  • Their main crop is sorghum, but they also grow maize, beans, chickpeas and tobacco. They are also known to hive bees for honey.
  • Their main diet is a kind of dry porridge made from sorghum or maize. They add milk and blood (taken either directly from a wound made into the neck of their cattle, or stored in a calabash gourd. Although uncommon, the Mursi people do eat meat but usually only in times of drought or at ceremonial events.
  • Men usually wear only a blanket tied over one shoulder.

  • The pamphlet said that the women wear a goatskin but I didn’t see any women in goat skins.
  • Both sexes cut their hair very short and shave designs into it.
  • Although the Mursi have been in contact with Christian evangelist missionaries and have been influenced by nearby Muslim indigenous people, their main religion is classified as Animism.   In accordance with animistic traditions, people believe that all natural objects, like trees and even rocks, have spirits. They also practice a form of divination by reading cow entrails.
  • When a young person dies, their body is buried in the woods. But when an older person dies, people of the village fire off their rifles, inviting people from all around to come and celebrate. The person is buried behind the house. Then the wife or husband sits by the graveside facing towards their enemy (likely the Sudan) for 7 days.
  • The guide told us that girls are allowed to have sex before marriage with other boys. Sex with other than her husband is forbidden after marriage.
    This next part was a bit confusing but this is what I think I heard. If an unmarried girl should get pregnant before marriage, the family uses the intestines of the cow to determine who was the father. They may abort the child with natural medications.
    If they determine who the father is, there may be a very complicated process about punishment for father. Perhaps he is beaten. Perhaps killed by brother. Then the person who killed the father moves to another tribe. I don’t think I understood the rest.
  • They make porridge out of the maize.
  • Mursi design is often found on the left shoulder of the men and announces their passing into adulthood. The small dots that make up the scar are made with a razor blade. Dirt is then rubbed into the wound to make it stand out. I saw these scars on women.

  • The men used to carry a large stick (Dongo), which they used for fighting. This is, however, being replaced by the ubiquitous AS 47 assault rifle.
  • There are 4 types of marriage
    • Arranged marriage
    • Consensual marriage
    • Marriage through abduction – Ayu told us that this is now illegal but may still take place if both sets of parents agree,
    • Marriage by inheritance.
  • Stick fighting called Donga takes place between the Mursi men. A long wooden pole is used in combat. Holding the stick at one end, opponents strike blows at each other. It is a dangerous, fierce and artistic confrontation.
  • The women make porridge out of the maize.


Mostly I had so much fun taking photos of the people and being photographed with them.

This looks like same girl after she removed her headdress but her necklace is a bit different..

I love when Ayu is in my photos.

As I was  taking photos, the children all huddled around me to look at the photos on my camera. They would point and say the names of the people as we went through the photos.

Visiting the Mursi people was certainly a highlight of our trip. For me it made riding in the Land Cruiser on the rough roads well worth the bouncing. I have seen much better photos than I could ever take, but this time I was actually right there in their community.

On the way back to Jinka we crossed the stream where people were washing their clothes.

And others were washing their motorcycles.

Ayu told us that we  had some time before lunch to rest so Sue and Jane went back to the Jinka.  Sue calls it “Toes-Up Time” which is usually not in my vocabulary. So Ayu took me over to the restaurant where we had dinner last night and I looked over my photos and drank a cup of tea.

Ayu chose a new restaurant for lunch and we again tried the pizza. It tasted good, but even though it was scored, it very hard to cut the individual pieces.

Ayu ate his lunch with friends who were driving other Vast Tour groups. I think he must enjoy time with his friends and a break from answering our endless questions. I am certain that we have the best driver of all the tourists.

A bit after lunch, it was time to visit the Ari ethnic group.

Here are some facts about the Ari that I learned from the pamphlet.

  • The Ari boast the largest population of any of the ethno-linguistic groups of the Omo Valley. Their influence extends from the northern border of Mago National Park into the highlands around Jinka and Key Afer and maybe even further north.
  • Ari are mostly agriculturalists living in permanent villages. They produce the majority of the agricultural products in the Omo valley.
  • They are also involved in the production of the two principal cash crops (coffee and cardamom) as well as fruits and vegetables. Animal husbandry is their second major effort followed by craft activities, bee keeping, and trade.
  • Their calendar is based on the cycle of the moon. Each month begins on the day of the new moon and the year is divided into four seasons.
  • The family is the basic unit of Ari society. A man may marry as many wives as he wishes as long as he can afford the bride-wealth and other expenses of married life.
  • They consume more varied diet than the rest of the ethnic people of the region because they are permanent agriculturalists.
  • When they are in urban centers, the Ari mostly wear western clothing. It is only in the far rural areas that the Ari woman may be draped in the traditional gori-koysh, which is a dress, made with leaves from the enset and koysha plants. Their necks, arms and waist may be decorated with colorful beads and bracelets.
  • The Ari are the most ‘modern’ of the region’s ethnic groups.
  • The Ari have three types of marriages
    • Arranged marriage
    • Consensual marriage
    • Marriage by inheritance
  • They use a spear to protect themselves from enemies but do not use modern firearms.
  • They do have some conflicts with the Mursi and during those conflicts the Mursi suffer because of the lack of access to the markets of Jinka and Barka towns. I am not sure if this is still true. Ari live in harmony with the rest of their neighbors.

We stopped at an Ari market where Ayu found our guide and first we wandered through the village. The guide taught me how to say, “How are you?” which is the greeting in their language. Of course with my problems learning a new language, I have forgotten how to say it.

He showed us a papaya tree.

The men in this community build the houses.

We watched three different of women cooking injera. One was using maize; one used teff; and I think the 3rd woman used sorghum.

The woman took a mixture of something from a barrel.  She had already made one pan of injera.

Each of them first oiled the pan.

Then they each poured the mixture into a pan using a circular motion until the pan was filled.  Here are some of the photos I took of them.

Each woman made several pans of injera.

This is another community where the children love to have their photo taken.


This woman is one of the mothers in the community.

Ayu took a photo of Jane, Sue, and I with her.

We passed a girl who was studying for school. Some of these children go to school but they do not have support for their classes. This girl is in about 7th grade and learning about mixed fractions.

They were growing avocados and they sure looked good.


This is a place where people gather and we went inside for a bit.

Our guide showed us a handful of their coffee beans.

They grind coffee beans in this mortar.

There was a pile of beans.

I am not sure why some of the houses seem to be made from different materials.

I can’t remember the name of this tool.

I love taking photos of the people.

We were invited into one of the houses. It is very dark inside. I actually lightened this photo so you can see the inside better.

This boy is repairing a sandal.

Then we had a demonstration of grinding the clay by hand. They were making a new pan for cooking injera.

Scraping it….

.. and beginning to mold it.

Ayu was also taking photos of the children and letting the children see them. He has Eucalyptus leaves in his nose. I love watching how much he also enjoyed what we were doing. Watching Ayu with the children puts a huge smile on my face.


A girl showed me this pan and I touched it. I had no idea that the soot would rub off on my hand and after touching my own knee I saw that it was black.

Ayu took a photo of some of the children with Jane and me.

This is a wooden trough for feeding the animals.

We wandered through the marketplace where I took many photos of people and products.



and where Ayu took a photo of Jane, Sue, and I with the women who were selling local beer.  We didn’t drink any.

And Jane took a photo of Ayu with some of the people..

After the market the guide led us to a celebration.

All of a sudden Jane, Sue, and I were taken up to the front. They announced to everybody that we were from the United States of America and people cheered. It turns out that this was a celebration to raise money to build a new church. They brought each of us a bottle of coke to drink.

We each gave a donation for the church and began to leave. But then the dancing started. It didn’t seem like a formal tribal dance and I just couldn’t help myself from joining the dance. It was such great fun. Jane also was dancing.

Ayu and our guide took such wonderful care of us. I had been told by people who had been there that when I visited the tribes, I would have to pay 5 Birr to each person before I took photos but we did not have to worry about doing that.  I saw the guide slip money into the hands of at least the mother when we took a photo with her.  Some of the people put their hand out for money, but it wasn’t necessary.

We went back to the new restaurant, Besha Gojo, for dinner and each had a pretty good meal.   At dinner we had very interesting conversations with Ayu about Ethiopia history. He is very knowledgeable and we sure enjoy learning from him.

Our meals were topped off with wonderful real ginger tea.

Looking at the photos from this day and writing this post just brings back the joy I was feeling. What an incredible experience learning about two very different tribal groups.


Nechisar National Park- Lake Chamo – Crocodiles – Jan 12

This morning Ayu took us to Nechisar National Park for a boat trip. We walked down to the boat ramp and I watched one of the men dry off the seats after a group of people got off of the boat.

I was wondering just how wet we were going to get on this trip.

When I was standing on the dock waiting I noticed a bird high up in a tree.

Other people arrived on the dock and were put into a boat.  We were not sure what was happening but we waited some more.  Jane, Sue, and Leigh went back to where Ayu was.  I stayed on the dock with a few other people who were waiting … and waiting … and waiting … and waiting.  I started taking photos of dragonflies.  Silly but fun.

I watched another group of people get onto a boat and take off.  This was certainly an exercise in patience, but I was feeling relaxed and watching other birds land on the dock.

A couple of young men arrived and I started talking to them.  They said that we were waiting due to a fuel shortage.  So I just waited some more.  I really have no idea how long I waited but finally Ayu, Sue, Jane, and Leigh came down to the dock and we boarded the boat with about 6 other people.

It actually was a shortage of petro that caused the wait.  Ayu had gone right into action.  He called the Paradise Lodge.  The desk people where not giving him the help he needed so he reached the manager of the lodge.  They had petro delivered by motorbike so we could do the boat ride.  This was just another example of how lucky we are to have Ayu as our driver.

The boat ride on the lake was lovely.  I took a photo of a smaller version of our boat.

We watched some fishermen.

Then we saw more birds like the one I had photographed from the dock.  I learned that they were African Fishing Eagles.  What beautiful birds.

We passed an island.

I zoomed in with my camera and was pretty sure I saw evidence of people staying there.

Then we saw a few more hippos but just a couple of them.

Finally we came to the crocodiles.  They were lazily laying along the shore.

I sure wouldn’t want to get too close to them.

This bird sure pales in size next to a crocodile.

On our way back we passed the cave.  Now there were actually people there.  I found out that they were fishermen.

We saw more fisherman in the water (wonder how close those hippos get) …

… eagles, pelicans …

… and a stork or some kind of heron.

What a great trip on Lake Chamo – worth the wait.  When we were walking back to the Land Cruiser, I saw this bird.  I have no idea what it is.

And we were off for today’s drive.

These are bee hives in Acacia trees.

There were a smaller group of women waiting to get water.

All of these motorcycles needed petro.

We arrived at Kanta Lodge where we ate a quick lunch.   It is a lovely place.

Leigh had decided that she needed a rest and time by herself so she arranged to stay at Kanta Lodge and wait for us for the next 3 nights.

Because of the delay at the lake we were in a hurry and we drove off towards Jinka.  On the way Ayu stopped at the Jinka Market.  Jane and Sue waited in the car so I only had a few minutes to walk around the market.

I sure wish there had been more time for me  to spend wantering around at the Jinka Market.

As we drove we saw several children doing dances in the road.  They all wanted us to stop and give them money.  Some had painted faces.  Some were on stilts.  We never stopped but I did sneak one photo through front window of the  Land Cruiser.

The Jinka Lodge left a bit to be desired but there were beds and a shower so not complaining.


Dorzi People – January 11

I got up this morning at about 6:45. Leigh and I opened the door just in time to see the sun rising.

We were scheduled to leave at 8:00 this morning but we first stopped at the on-site clinic to purchase cough medicine for Jane and Sue. It was nice that the Serena Lodge actually had a clinic on the property.   Since we had to wait a bit for the doctor to arrive at the clinic, I took a few photos of the birds. Ayu said that they are two different kinds of Starlings. Their Starlings are much more beautiful than ours at home.



I sure enjoyed listening to the bird songs.

Jane and Sue bought some kind of cough medicine.

I again took a few photos through the car window as Ayu was driving.

We always try to switch seats about every couple of hours. Today when Ayu stopped for us to change seats, many people came over to the car and by the time I walked from the right front seat – around the car – to the left back seat on the other side. I was only able to take a photo of a few of them because nobody wanted to open the windows.

It was hard to believe how many people could appear out of the fields in such a short time.

We have seen more motorcycles on this road than any other.

We drove through Shashamane where there are Rastafarians living. Ayu told us that many of them came from Jamaica. The myth is that King Haile Selassie went to visit Jamaica during a very long drought and when he got off the plane, it suddenly started raining very hard. They thought he brought the rain.  I read that Rastafarians migrated from the Caribbean in the 1950s, after Ethiopia’s former emperor Haile Selassie who was seen as a messiah by Rastafarians bequeathed hundreds of hectares of land for descendants of African slaves seeking to return “home” to Ethiopia. There used to be many more but the community shrank after Haile Selassie’s overthrow and eventual murder in the 1970s. I also read that in July, 2017 Ethiopia’s government announced it will issue identity cards to members of the Rastafarian community. The foreign ministry said that the ID cards will grant Rastafarians residency and most legal rights in the country, but will still not make them citizens.

As we were driving out of the city we saw a group of women (perhaps about 30) who were waiting in line to get their 5 gallon orange buckets filled with water.  We were going too fast for me to take a photo. Ayu said that there is plenty of water in the mountains around here but there is no infrastructure to bring the water to the town. He attributes that to the corruption of the past government.

When we went through Wondo Genet, Ayu said we were going an area where on one side of the road the Oromo people live and on the other side of the road are the Sidama people.

We had lunch in Sodo (second most populous region in the Southern Nations) where the Wolaita people live.

We loved this tree in the courtyard,

This is our Land Cruiser where we spend a whole lot of time together.  We learned that they have to replace all of the tires every 3 months.  I forgot to ask how often they replace the suspension system.

There was a community center near the restaurant that was built in the style of the local homes.

After lunch we continued driving. These women were selling bananas and we decided to try some.

We drove up a fairly long bumpy gravel road to visit a village of Dorze people. These people live in the Guge Mountains. One of the men from the village showed us around.  First he showed us a place they use as a guest house.

I stepped into the house and decided I wouldn’t want to sleep there.

Then we walked into the village where he showed us some of the bamboo fields.

Their woven houses, which are shaped in the form of a beehive, are constructed with vertical hardwood poles and woven bamboo. They have to cut the bamboo at just the right time so that it is less likely to be attacked by termites at the bottom. Traditionally the bamboos that are used as frames for the huts are cut during moonlight.

The houses are built to last about 50 or 60 years but he said that the above house is about 90 years old.

Inside the house, they build a wood fire almost every day. The soot from the fire sticks to the roof and helps to prevent the termites from eating it. The termites do eat it from the bottom so over many years it shrinks.  Eventually door must be redone because it is too low.

These are a couple of photos taken of the inside of the house


They cook inside the house. There is a room in the house at the back where the animals live. They do not leave them outside at night. There is also another structure built for more animals because there is not enough room for all of them in the house.

There is actually have a small solar panel on the house for a light.

They were growing pumpkins.

They also raise honeybees.

This is what the old hive from long ago looked like.

These are the people who use the false banana trees to make Kocho. A woman demonstrated how she scrapes a grain off the interior of the plant to get a pulp.


They bury this product for at least 3 weeks until it ferments. The longer it ferments, the better it tastes. She took some of the fermented plant out of the ground.

Then she chopped it for a few minutes with a large knife blade to make sure any fibers remaining are chopped up.…

She formed it into a flat-bread and cooked it.

The Dorze people are known for their weaving. The women take raw cotton, untie it, and make small spindles of thread. Then the men take over and use the spindles of thread to make a single solid and long thread of cotton.

Sue and I each purchased a scarf.

We had the opportunity to taste the kocho  and were given the choice of eating it with with honey and/or something very spicy. Sue was the only one who made the spicy choice.  We all tasted the honey.

We also were served a drink that they make in this area (he called it local beer but Sue and Jane thought it tasted like vodka). There is a ceremony for drinking it so I put water in my glass in order to participate in the ceremony. Ayu took a video of us.

I read that the Dorze are very industrious and are well-educated, comparatively speaking. The literacy rate is estimated to be 45%. They are “cousins” of the Gamo tribe, but consider themselves superior to the Gamo. The Dorze Christians are largely Orthodox, while the Gamo Christians are largely Protestant. They speak the Dorze language, an Omotic tongue.

We had a great time in the Dorze village. I finally got a photo of a man standing on a cart as the donkey was pulling it down the road.  We had seen this several times.

It was about 5:30 when we arrived in Arba Minch. Arba Minch means forty springs. It is set high on the escapement and is supposed to have incomparable views over the twin Lakes Chamo and Abaya Lakes. The mountain between the two lakes is called God’s Bridge. It was very hazy and we were not sure what caused  that condition. Here are the views from the reception area and from our room.

The lake is brown due to a high level of suspended sediments.

Jane, Sue, and I went to the pool but we only sat on the side because the water was too cool for us. We were going to use to the steam room but apparently we needed a reservation. So we decided just to go for dinner.

We had barbecue fish and lamb for dinner. We looked at the dessert menu and asked the waitress to explain one of the chocolate dessert choices. She said it was a new menu so she didn’t know. I asked her if she could find out what it was but when she came back, she said there was a new cook so they didn’t have it. Jane and Sue ordered flan and I ordered chocolate ice-cream. My ice-cream was delicious but whatever they brought to the table for Jane and Sue certainly wasn’t flan.

At dinner we saw a fire in the distance over the lake. We were told they were burning charcoal which could have been the reason for the  unclear skies.  But Ayu later explained that it was a controlled burn.  We still have no idea what is causing the unclear skies.

This was another great day in Ethiopia.

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Addis to Langano and Tiya Stelae – January 10th

We started on the southern part of our Ethiopian adventure. The traffic was again very crowded. It is hard to believe how Ayu can make a left hand turn on to a 4-lane street without any stop signs in either direction. He just inched his way out until the traffic had to stop. The cars going across the road didn’t have any choice unless they wanted to crash right into us.

We needed to buy more water for this journey. Ayu tried to go to the water factory but they were not selling water bottles there. Then he saw a delivery truck that was carrying bottles of water and he called out to them. About 5 minutes later they pulled off to the side of the road with us and Ayu bought 24 large bottles of water for us to use on the rest of the trip.

As we were leaving town we saw several teenagers moving between cars trying to sell things. Ayu said that many of these teens and young adults have moved to Addis from the south. In many tribes in the south the men have 3-4 wives and those wives have about 6 children each. So the older children move to Addis. They sell “stuff” and usually sleep outside. These young men tend to have no education or skills. If they can’t sell things, they become hopeless and are susceptible to becoming thieves and gangsters. The government is trying to help by offering training programs.

It took us a long time to get through the traffic to get out of Addis.

Our trip took us unto the Rift Valley. This is where Lucy was found. Ayu explained about the Gurage People. They have their own language. But then I read that there is no general agreement on how many languages or dialects there are, in particular within the West Gurage grouping. They consist of mainly Muslims and also Ethiopian Christians, and Protestants. They are known for grinding raw meat into tiny parts and mixing it with butter and sauces called kitto.

We passed many plants that look like banana trees but Ayu said that they are false banana trees (also called Enset plant). We will learn more about Kocho, which is a typical food made from the false banana trees.

We stopped at the site of the Tiya Stelae.  There are 46 large, decorated Tiya megaliths, which have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the construction of such megaliths is an ancient tradition in Ethiopia, the Tiya stones are fairly ‘recent’, dating to sometime between the 10th and 15th centuries. Remarkably little is known about the Tiya stelae, beyond descriptions of their physical appearance. These large monuments likely had some cultural significance when erected, but their meaning remains unclear and very few efforts have been made towards understanding these magnificent monoliths. Our guide at the site told us about the sword symbols on the stelae. He said that it was a burial site for royalty. He distinguished between those that are stones for women and men. He also said that the bones of the people buried at this site indicate that they were buried sitting up.

Most of the ones we saw were in a group.

The guide gave us explanations of the symbols on the stelae.  It was something about the swords signifying how many were killed by this person.

He said something about about a palm trees symbol.

The following stelae was for a man.

And this one was for a woman.

After stopping for lunch, we  passed a tree that was filled with storks.

We are staying at the Sabana Lodge on Lake Langano in the Oromia region. The lake is brown in color but that is due to the richness of minerals. Jane, Sue and I walked down to the lake but we only waded up to our ankles.

The lodge has a spa and I took full advantage by using the hot tub (which wasn’t very hot), and also the sauna & steam room (which were delightful) before getting a wonderful 60 minute massage.

The area around the Serana Lodge are beautiful. We had lentil soup and pasta for dinner. There was actually ice-cream available for dessert and I took full advantage of it by ordering a chocolate/rum/nut sundae.  Of course I took a photo of our sundaes.


Driving Back to Addis through Kombolcha – Jan 8th – Jan 9th

Again Ayu did a fantastic job driving over the difficult road out of Lalibela.   It took us 2 hours and 40 minutes to drive the 40 kilometers. All along the road we could see pilgrims who were walking back to their homes from Genna in Lalibela.

Ayu pointed out people drying both malt and hops.

These men were enjoying their beer.

We passed a man plowing his field.

This man is carrying part of a plow.

We passed some children who were carrying 5 gallon containers of water on their backs. The only looked about 10 to 12 years of age.   Although I couldn’t get a photo of them, I did take one of some woman with the the same kind of water containers on their backs.  Five gallons of water weighs almost 42 pounds.  That is a lot of weight for these women and it is hard to believe that even children carry that much.

This is the first time I have seen somebody washing a camel.

For lunch we stopped at the same place where Leigh had ordered the chicken pizza that was very good so we ordered 2 of them for lunch this time.  There must have been a new cook because they were not the same quality at all.  We also tried a cheese pizza that was just okay.  Today the donuts were not available.

Ayu stopped to buy some papaya for his family since we are headed back to Addis.

Children always seem to like having their photographs taken.

We stopped in Dessie where Ayu took us to a pharmacy so Sue could buy more cough medicine.  We were now in the Amhara Region.

When we arrived in Kombolcha, there were many blue and white vans on the road.  Ayu said that they call them blue devils because they are such crazy drivers.  He sure can weave our Land Cruiser through the traffic.

We stayed at the Yegofe View Hotel.  There was no elevator so we had to walk up to the 3rd floor (which is actually 4 floors above the ground level).  The restaurant where we had dinner is in another building across from the hotel. The service was extremely slow.  I think the cook can only make one dish at a time and there was a group of Chinese men who had ordered before us.  It was a clean and comfortable place.

In the morning the man at the desk came to tell me that my friend had fainted.  Actually nobody fainted.  When Leigh was walking down the stairs she slipped and fell.  Somebody had spilled water on the marble steps and they were very wet.  It was so lucky that she was holding the railing because she came down about 4 to 6 steps.  She seemed to be okay, but I am still concerned that she is going to be feeling that fall for days.

After breakfast we started our drive back to Addis Ababa.

We saw camels carrying huge loads of wood to market.  I was too slow for that photo so I just took this one of a camel with a smaller load.

Down the road we saw some children carrying bags of dung. They were taking the dung to the market to sell it.

Most of the people along this route are Muslims.  Ayu said that Muslims have increased their population in Ethiopia by over 40% in the last 20 years because of the number of children that they have.  He pointed out some houses that have 2 front doors because the Muslim men in these houses each have 2 wives.

Ayu told me that they do not like to have their photographs taken but I did get the photo of one house as we were driving

We went through a small, very dusty and crowded town.  We passed stores all along the road.  It seemed strange that the road was paved all the way up to the beginning of the town, unpaved all the way through the town, and then paved again right where we drove out of the town.    The people looked very poor.  I could not take any photos because we had to keep the windows rolled up the whole length of the town and it was very dusty.

These single tracks are for the train that goes to Awash.

Too bad it wasn’t a Monday because we missed the huge market that takes place in Sebeta.  Ayu said that four tribes all gather in Sebeta on Mondays.

We saw many of these carts around the area.

II was finally able to get a photo of children playing Foosball outside.  We have seen this happening several times.

We were in the area where Ayu’s mother and father were born but I believe he said that they were not from the same town.  I think one of them is Oromia and one is Amhara.

Ayu stopped along the road a couple of times so we could purchased fresh oregano and roasted barley to bring home with us.

There were men selling hats along the road and I purchased this fabulous wool hat.  I had no idea where I was going to wear it, but I just loved it.

As we drove up into the mountain area Ayu stopped at a hillside where they were selling a lot of woven hats and purses and other items.  Jane purchased a purse.  Sue and I bargained for her to get a hat for herself at the same price I had paid earlier.  Leigh bought some kind of an harp like instrument and also bought a hat for a friend.


Of course we needed photos with the view.

We were driving over Tarmaber Pass and the views were beautiful.  I think that Ayu said that Tarma means honey and ber means gate so it means the gate of honey.

At one point we drove through the tunnel which I think was constructed during the Italian invasion.

We stopped in Debre Birhan for lunch at the Getva Hotel.  The soup, french fries, and chai were delicious. Debre Birhan means light of the mountain.

I am not sure where it was but we passed a place where Ayu said they produced wool blankets.  We were interested in seeing them so he turned around and went back to the factory.  Most of the blankets were much larger than anybody wanted, but I found a green one for my daughter and purchased it.  I was happy that I packed a foldable duffel bag in my luggage so I can take the blanket home.  I think that Ayu said he used one like it when he was younger.

The traffic coming back through Addis was extremely busy.  We were very glad that Ayu knew many short-cuts through the city.

We repacked our luggage so that we could leave the things we weren’t going to need (including the blanket and other purchases) on the rest of the trip.  The Jupiter Hotel stored everything we left in my duffel bag and Leigh’s extra suitcase.

The northern part of our wonderful adventure is over and we will head for the south tomorrow.


Genna in Lalibela – Jan 7

Ayu and Zerdu picked me up at 6:00 am. I was the only one who wanted to go to the early morning celebration. Zerdu explained that the Mass had started very early and was just about to end. Some of the pilgrims had gone into the church late last night so they were in the church for the Mass. For all the other pilgrims (thousands of them) who were outside, it was broadcasted.

We started together trying to get to a spot where we could see the celebrations but it was so jammed pack that we couldn’t move forward. It was still dark outside and I noticed these 2 women standing on the side doing private prayers.

Zerdu took my hand and let me around another way.  We lost track of Ayu. I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to get close enough to see anything. The sun was rising and it was getting lighter.  I noticed these 2 men also praying privately.

We were still too far away to see the actual celebration when I noticed that some people had climbed up onto a tree stump for a view.

It was hard to get to a place with a good view because it was so difficult to move through the massive crowd.

Finally we inched close enough to see. I was standing right in the middle of the crowd next to these two beautiful girls. I asked permission to take a photo of them but at first they were very shy. After we were together for a while, they agreed to the photo.


The procession on the ledge below us had begun.

Everybody in the procession was walking all along the ledge until they came to a spot that looked like the end but there is actually a staircase on the other side of the edge.

One of the Deacons was carrying a large cross.

They kept proceeding from the church along the ledge in front of us.

As they were walking along the ledge, they were chanting and dancing.

Beza Kullu (literally meaning The Redeemer of All) was the special hymn for the day. Dancers, playing metallic sistrum (Egyptian percussion instrument) in their hands, were singing the hymns of the holiday, swaying all together from north to south to the rhythm of the big drums. The dance is said to symbolize the praise made by the angels and shepherds on the night of Christmas.

Periodically, all of the people would break into a cheer and make a sound with their tongues. The girls that I was standing near asked me to try to make the sound. I made many of the people around me laugh because I cannot do it correctly. The pilgrims around me were so welcoming. Most of them were sitting and I was standing next to them. The girls put their bag down and encouraged me to sit. Zerdu took a photo of me.

I sat with them for a while but my knees just wouldn’t work in that tight position so I had to stand.  I am wearing the t-shirt that Zerdu purchased for me.

The priests and deacons were not only wearing beautiful robes and carrying umbrellas and crosses, but they also were displaying large paintings.

I took more photos of girls who were helping me.

Zerdo explained to me that the people who were walking across the ledge wearing crowns on their heads were couples who had been married in the church early this morning. A requirement of being married in the church is to be pure (virgins).

After a while these women each wanted me to take a photo of them.  I loved showing the photos to them and they love seeing themselves in the photo.


We stayed for a long time. I took several videos of the celebration. Then Zerdu told me that it was time for us to leave and he led me out through the crowd.

It is very hard for me to put into words the feelings I was experiencing at this celebration. I am not a religious person. The faith of these people is very different from mine. Yet, I was overwhelmed.  There were possibly up to 100,000 people who had traveled across the country to be in Lalibela for Christmas. I was so warmly welcomed by the people near me at the celebration. I saw how they were take care of each other and so appreciated how they share food in community.   Being a part of this event filled me up with spiritual feelings. I am so enormously privileged to have had the opportunity to participate in Genna in Lalibela.

Soon the people will get together for their Christmas feast. The first Christmas meal is often an early breakfast, eaten by bleary-eyed congregants. Some of them do this after returning home but many are eating in groups right here in Lalibela. The light meal likely starts with juice made from flaxseed (to oil up the intestines after 40 days of fasting).  Then they move on to the famously spicy chicken stew, doro wot, and it will most certainly includes appropriately strong Ethiopian coffee to help welcome the new day. Later on, friends and relatives will gather to enjoy a full Genna feast, usually involving a freshly killed lamb to make mutton tibs and traditional beverages such as tej (honey wine). I am not sure how many of these pilgrims will have their feast in Ethiopia and how many will have to wait until they reached their homes – some of the very far away.

This would be one of the few times in the year that the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians would be eating any meat. There are 265 days each year when these people observe some kind of fasting by eating only one meal per day. During the fasting days they may not eat anything that is an animal product so. basically. it is a vegan diet. Ayu has been observing that diet the whole time he as been driving us from place to place. He could not even have a piece of the chocolate candy that Leigh shared with us because it has milk in it.

Ayu and Zerdu took me back to the hotel for a very quick breakfast before we all headed out for a donkey ride up the mountainside.  We were on our way to Ashton Mariam.  Ayu chose to have us do this in the morning before the weather became too hot.

These 2 boys walked along besides me telling me their story. They said that they are from a distant village where school is not as good as in Lalibela.   They are friends – not siblings. They live together in Lalibela so they can attend the school there. The 17 year-old works carrying luggage and the 12-year-old shines shoes so that they can pay their rent.

I am not sure how true this story was but Ayu told me that it is not uncommon for boys that age to go to a place out of their village for school. Perhaps they were telling me a true story or perhaps they were wanting me to give them money.  But they never actually asked me for any money.

This is the man who was leading my donkey.

I asked Zerdu to take a photo of all of us..


We all rode the donkeys for a while and then the terrain got too steep so we had to walk up the hill next to our donkeys. Leigh stayed behind with her donkey and the man who was leading her donkey. Zerdu told her that we would be back in 2 to 3 hours and to be sure to wait with her donkey and the man.  He did not want to lose her again.

The hike was rocky and steep and we reached about 10,000 feet of elevation where the view was wonderful.

With my zoom lens, I took a photograph of the church below. You can see the long line of people still waiting (even though the Genna celebration was over) to get into the tunnel and go inside the church.

This is Zerdu pointing out things in the distance to us.

Zerdu took a photo of us holding our poles behind our backs the way the Ethiopian people do when they are walking along the road.

The hike up there was fairly difficult and we were tired. Jane, Sue and I decided that we did not have to go all the way to the 13th Century. rock-hewn monastery of Ashton Mariam. The rest of the walk would have been even steeper.

So we stood around for a bit, purchased drinks (Cokes)  for the men who were leading our donkeys from the local people, and got back onto our donkeys. Sue’s donkey decided that he didn’t want her and tried to buck her off. She is a good rider and stayed on the donkey.  All of the men surrounded her but I think she had it all under control.. I couldn’t get my camera adjusted quickly enough to catch the event until she was safely and solidly in the saddle.

Zerdu asked the men to lead us on our donkeys back down a flatter terrain so we didn’t have to walk down the steep hillside. If we had continued walking we would have had to hike up to the flat part of the mountain in the photo below.  I was glad that we decided not to do the rest of the hike up the hillside. Zerdu called the man who was with Leigh and asked him to bring her down to meet us at a spot just before we would reach Lalibela.

As we rode the donkeys on the road, we passed homes along the way.


I realized that while we were riding along the flat road, Zerdu was taking shortcuts by running down the hillsides.

Although the terrain where we were riding was very flat, it was a long, long ride back to Lalibela. I hadn’t ridden a donkey in about 14 years (Grand Canyon  ride to Phantom Ranch in 2004) and I had forgotten how uncomfortable it could be. My legs muscles were tired. My bottom was getting sore. My neck was feeling the strain. I was wishing that I had just followed Zerdu trekking  down the shortcuts. Eventually we all decided to get off of the mules and walk the rest of the way down to where Ayu was going to meet us.

After the mule ride we stopped for lunch. Then Ayu chose to take us to the Nakuto Le’abe Monastery today rather than in them morning because the drive in the morning will be long.  On the way we passed people getting water from a well.

I learned that King Nakuto Le’abe, abdicated his throne in 1270 AD and went to a cave to lead a hermit’s life. This cave has become a monastery with a dramatic settings. Nakuto Le’abe Monastery houses one of the most interesting collections of ancient crosses, illustrated manuscripts, and other icons – some of which are attributed to its founder Nakuto Le’abe.

There was a celebration with drumming and chanting taking place and we really enjoyed participating.

Some of the people were praying.

We were shown several crosses and artifacts.

These are the drums they were playing during the celebration.

Holy water was dripping down into the cave from the walls and ceiling. Many people were being blessed by it and also collecting it in containers to take home. Ayu collected some of it in a bottle to bring home to his family. He splashed all of us with it.

Our day was not over yet. Ayu took us to the home of Mazda where she lives with her mother, sister, and aunt.  This is her mom and aunt.

It was a very, very small home where 4 people live.


When we arrived, the served home-brewed beer which Jane, Sue, and Leigh tasted.

They also served injera with freshly slaughtered goat meat to us.


It was delicious.

Then Mazda went through all the steps of the coffee ceremony. She roasted the coffee beans both on a burner outside.

and also in side the house.

Her sister took the roasted beans outside and ground them with a mortar and pestle

She put the ground beans into the pot, added water to the pot, and cooked it over the fire.

She poured  water into each of the cups (perhaps rinsing them?).


Then the served coffee to all of us. I don’t usually drink coffee, but this cup of coffee was delicious.

Ayu told us that the coffee ceremony is done every day. The people who don’t work prepare the meals. They cook outside. Perhaps it is a community kitchen. When the people who work get home, everybody sits down to a meal and tell each other about their day. Members of several families in the small community often get together to share stories.

This is Mazda ‘s Mom at the entrance to their home.

We all had a wonderful time.

Ayu took us back to the hotel for a short time to rest and then picked us up to go out to eat at Ben Abeba which is a Scottish/Ethiopian Restaurant. There are many levels in the restaurant.

I walked around the restaurant looking for a friend who was staying at the same hotel in Lalibela and even got a bit lost finding my way back to our table.  The food was delicious.

It is hard to believe that we did so much on this day. We could not have had a better guide than Zerdu.  Everyday I think about how lucky we are to have Ayu as our driver.


Lalibela – Jan 6th

Over 100,000 pilgrims come to Lalibela to celebrate both the Orthodox Ethiopian Christmas and King Lalibela.  Wow – we we are here..

Ayu drove us up to the area of the rock churches where we met our guide, Zerdu.   We started walking towards the churches. This is the day before the Ethiopian Christmas. There were pilgrims everywhere.  Leigh asked if there was a place where she could just rest in the shade and wait for us.  Zerdu found 2 men to stay with her and told her to wait under a tree in the shade.

The pilgrims were sitting all over the ground.

These two women were sitting under a tree in the shade.

They were mostly dressed in white. I love taking photos of their faces.


We had to wait for Zerdu to buy our tickets so that we could enter the churches.

Many pilgrims were standing on the walls.

We knew we would have to get into lines and pass through narrow passages with the pilgrims who were waiting to get into one of the churches.

Everybody was so jammed together and we had to follow them.. I knew that this was going to be quite a day.

It was hard for Jane, Sue, and I to stay together with Zerdu. There were many stairs to go down and there were shoes left all over the stairs. You can’t enter a church wearing shoes.

I asked Zerdu how all of these people ever found their own shoes again and he told me that when they leave the church, they just take any pair that fits their feet.  We had to take off our shoes as we entered each church.  Zerdu took a man with us who watched our shoes and our poles when we entered a church or didn’t want to carry the poles with us.

There are actually 11 rock-hewed churches in Lalibela. They date back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct a ‘New Jerusalem’ after God apparently appeared to him in a dream sometime after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land. Many of the churches are named after ones that are in Jerusalem. The city is, of course, named after King Lalibela.

The churches that we visited in the past few days were carved into a mountain (semi-monolithic). The churches in Lalibela were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. These blocks were further chiseled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs etc. This gigantic work was further completed with an extensive system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs. Amazingly, they only had hand tools like hammers and chisels.

It would have been much easier to take photos of both the inside and outside of these incredible churches at another time of the year when all of the pilgrims were not there. But it is the pilgrims that made the experience so rewarding.

This of the top of the Church of Bete Giyorgis (Church of St. George). It is in the shape of a cross.

You can see one of the original drainpipes that was installed on the top of St. George. These drainpipes are on three sides. Because they church is higher on the 4th side there was no need for one. It is amazing how brilliant the people were at the time these churches were carved out of the rock.

This is a side-view of Bete Giyorgis

I think this is Bete Medhame Alem


UNESCO covered the church with a metal covering. The people of Lalibela are not happy with this because it really distracts from the beauty of the church. I agree with them.

This is a photo of Bete Medhame Alem that I took from the web.

As we came out of one of the churches, a man wanted to take a photo with me.

This round structures are in the style of King Lalibela’s house. The pilgrims who arrive many days in advance get to stay in these houses. All of the others sleep on the ground all around the churches.

I think this “Fertility Pool” is still used. It is believed that it helps women who are having trouble conceiving a child. I read that the Fertility Pool is especially notable as once a year, hundreds of naked women struggling to conceive are lowered by rope into a pool, while hundreds of men look on from the cliffs above.

In one of the churches, this priest was blessing people. He is holding a special cross.

The ceiling, pillars, and inside of the arches were amazing.

To enter each church, we had to patiently wait in very long, packed lines.

Zerdu actually was able to get us into a place under the tent cover for an incredible experience. The priests and deacons of the church were gathering for a celebration. We arrived early to get a place to sit and watch the priests greeting each other. They brought out special drums and sistrum. There were very few other tourists there with us. The ceremony was being broadcast throughout the area and on TV.

This is the High Priest of Lalibela.

Here he is blessing one of the many other priests.

This is one of the special drums that they used today.

Some of the priests sit in these chairs.

One of the priests let me photograph his sistrum.

Many priests sat around and visited with each other.

A bell was rung to let everybody know it was time to begin the ceremony.

The priests had come from many areas of Ethiopia. Here are a couple others with the High Priest of Lalibela.

The singing began.

The drumming began

We watched for a long time.  A few of the people who were standing next to me left with their guide but Zerdu encouraged us to stay longer.

We were very glad we stayed because after a bit, the dancing began. The high priests moved back and forth across the floor ad they raised their prayer sticks and played their sistrum.

One of the priests who was watching with us gave me his prayer stick and systrum (or sistrum). What fun.

And the bowing, drumming, chanting, and dancing continued.

Zerdu finally said it was time for us to leave.

To get out we had to walk across this grating.

We continued walking through the area where the pilgrims were camping. Zerdu told us that the people of Lalibela prepare food (all vegan) for the other pilgrims to eat at a very low cost to them.



This woman was showing me what she had cooked.

We continued walking through the area. These people are selling prayer sticks.

For a bit of fun, Susan pointed out these pilgrims with Santa hats.

My favorite photos are still the ones of their beautiful faces.

When we got back to the tree where we left Leigh, we could not find her.  Zerdu looked all over and asked several people if they had seen her and the two men he left with her.  Zerdu was concerned and frustrated but after looking for a while, we continued walking with the crowds to another church

We had to walk through a tunnel.

We had to come climb out of one of the tunnels.  Here is a man doing that.

Before we entered the next church, we had so much fun watching the women dancing and chanting outside the church

It was too dark and crowded to take any photos on the inside of the church

We took photos with other people while we were waiting to go into one of the churches.


Zerdu then explained that there was another church to see but we would have to go through another tunnel to get to it. Normally it would take less than 15 minutes, but today it would take over 1½ hours. We, of course, decided not to get in that long line.

On our way back to the jeep, I took a close-up of one of those typical houses.

We went back to find Leigh but we could not find her.  Sue, Jane, Zerdu, and I were very concerned.  Zerdu made several phone calls and then we found Ayu.  Ayu had received a call from another Vast Ethiopian driver and we discovered that that driver was taking Leigh back to the hotel.

When Leigh returned to the hotel, she told me that she had been waiting on a wall near where we left her. She had also been worried. We had looked all over when we were at the tree and I don’t know how we could have missed her.

After dinner Sue Jane and I went back for the evening celebration.

We again walked through the crowds of pilgrims.

Many of them were sleeping so that they could be ready to go to the early morning Mass.

This man was selling torches to take to the celebration.

It was very, very difficult to walk over the uneven ground, up uneven stone steps, over that grating we had crossed in the morning, and maneuver through the massive crowds. But Zerdu got us to a place where we could actually watch the celebration. We were standing way up high but could still see.

I moved a bit closer and found a space to sit down while I was watching.  The Ethiopian man sitting next to me knew very little english but we were able to communicate how much we were enjoying the celebration.

I think I could have stayed for at least another hour or more, but Jane and Sue were standing and really wanted to go back to the hotel.

On the way out I took a photo of these other pilgrims who were watching.

What an amazing experience. Zerdu was a fantastic guide.  I know we could have had much more time to experience and photograph the churches in Lalibela if we had come when it wasn’t so crowded, but I loved the experience of being here with these devoted people.