Traveling Nancy

Traveling around the world as far as I can go.

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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.


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.


Gherhalta Valley – Jan 3rd

We ate half of our watermelon this morning. Although it wasn’t the sweetest watermelon, I sure loved eating it.

The fog floating in the bottom of the valley today was so beautiful. Our drive today was through the Adwa Mountains.

I loved the views of the various rock formations along the way.

We saw a man was plowing his land.

We drove to the ancient ruins of Yeha Temple. It is a well-preserved stone temple that stands 12m high and has up to 52 layers of masonry which have been dated back to about seven or eight hundred years before the birth of Christ. The temple is believed to be the oldest standing structure in Ethiopia. Legend says it was from the 10th century BC and that information is apparently is supported by local inscriptions.  Other archeologists say it carbon dates back to the 7th century BC. The ruins of the temple consist of a single rectangular roofless chamber which stands around twelve meters in height.

It was considered to be the God of Moon and Sun temple.

Yeha temple was dedicated to be used as a church perhaps as early as the 6th century. There were 3 separate areas in the back of the temple. We were told that the one on the right was for purification.

The middle one was for sacrificing the Walla Ibex,

The one on the left was for innocence.

There were some men praying inside the temple.

Yeha Temple was built from limestone that was quarried from about 90 miles away.. There is no motor between the stones. It is believed that it was also used as a political and religious center.

The guide pointed out some blocks of limestone that were over 3 meters long.

Besides this remarkable temple is a church that was dedicated to Abba Aftse, one of the famous nine saints who came to Ethiopia in the 6th century from the east Roman Empire to teach the Gospel. I think I heard the guide say that some of the stone from the temple was used to build the church. We could see a cross which was cut into the stone in the wall of church.


Next we visited the Palace of D’amat Kingdom which was built in the 8th century BC. It was discovered in 1906. They are restoring the palace. You can see the original stone walls …

and the stones that are being used to restore it.

I read that Da’amat (980 – 400 BC) is believed to have been the first Kingdom in Ethiopia. It is believed that this area is the birthplace of the human civilization. The oldest human skulls, two adults and one child’s were discovered in Herto, Ethiopia in 1997. They were dated to be 160,000 years old.

This cliff-chat that was perched on a rod in the palace.

In the museum a priest shoes us an ancient book written in Ge’ez.

He actually read to us from this book.

Then he showed us a Book of Mary with illustrations.   The book was 300 years old; was made of goat skin; and the paintings were from naturally died colors. Some of those colors cannot be reproduced today.

He also showed us some artifacts. One of them was an incense burner..  A man from the Netherlands told me that this was an excellent example of the sun and half-moon.

This young girl ground the coffee beans that was used to make the coffee that Leigh had.

We continued to drive through the mountains on more hairpin turns.  We drove up, and then down, and then up again.  Here are some of the turns from above. At least these roads were paved.

I just couldn’t get enough of the rock formations along the way.

We had lunch in Adigrat. The spaghetti and meat was pretty good and the bread was the best we have had so far. What was unusual about the bread was the sauce served with it. Sue was the only one to taste the sauce and she said that it was very, very spicy;.

There was an unusually tall building in Adigrat.

This building was just one of many, many partially completed new buildings in Ethiopia. Apparently these partially completed buildings are  because the owners ran out of money and sold the building unfinished but the new owners also have no money to complete them.

We passed typical Tigray houses, which are made of stone and have a soil roof. That is because they do not have wood or grass available.  This is the roof of one house.

The soil in the area is not good for growing because it is so rocky. They have to use artificial fertilizers.

The houses in this area are spread much further apart.

We thought that this particular house was wonderful.

The circles on the side of this house are actually dung put there for drying it.

There is a dome on top of the house with a tarp over it. Ayu said it was likely chickpeas being stored.

The Gherhalta Lodge where we stopped for the night is quite beautiful.

There was a small garden with calla lilies.

It was very pleasant relaxing in the lobby.

The lodge also had an outside lounging area.

Sue, Jane, and I took a walk up into the hills. We saw several jackrabbits running around but they were too fast to photograph..

I love the rock formations..

We could see and example of the soil roof better from the top.

These prickly plants were beautiful.

We climbed up some stone steps to get to the top.

What beautiful trunk formations on the sycamore trees.

We looked down on the stone wall below us.

These were pretty cool cacti.

I spent some time talking to a woman who was bird watching.  We were watching for green pigeons in the fig tree but she said they were really hard to see.  Then this animal appeared on the branch.  It looked like a pica but I don’t think pica climb into trees.

I was going to watch the sunset from the top but decided to walk down before it got dark. So I took a few more photos of the lodge buildings ….

Then I headed down to take photos of the sunset.  I met Sue right outside of our room and we both took photos.

I sat in the lodge talking to people from England, Poland, Italy, and Australia.  It is fun to meet people from so many places.

Dinner was wonderful because this Italian owned lodge had wonderful salad which we were able to eat because they assured us that everything had been washed in pure water. Eating fresh tomatoes was such a fantastic treat.  I ate two plates of salad with my dinner.

We are thoroughly enjoying Ethiopia.


Drive to Aksum – Jan 1st

Sue and I woke up early to see the sunrise. Jupiter was still out and I had to take a photo of the moon.

I loved seeing the birds

and even caught one in my sunrise photo.

On our way out of the park at 8:30 this morning, Ayu drove the park ranger back to the town. We learned that not only did the park ranger have to accompany us into the park; he had to accompany us back out of the park.

Today’s drive to Aksum (also spelled Axum) was absolutely spectacular. The first part of it was 40 km of gravel road, but the amazing part was the hairpin turns all the way as we descended.

These photos barely catch the beauty of the fabulous views. It is very hard to take photographs from a moving vehicle.

I love this baby sheep.

We drove through villages and markets along the road.

This is the gravel road coming up to a curve.

The beautiful hillsides seemed to go on forever.

At least the gravel road was pretty smooth.

I like that rock formation in the background

I finally got a shot of one of the hairpin turns

We stopped at a viewpoint. In the distance you can see that even the paved road was had many turns.

The man shepherding cows in the valley below caught my eye.

When we stopped for a green doorstop on the side of the road, we saw a plant with this beautiful flower.

The views just continued and continued.

I loved the group of trees on the hillside.

I just never tired of the rocky terain.

Sometimes we passed small housing complexes.

And people doing their daily jobs.

And, of course, there were always the donkeys on the road.

Ayu is an excellent driver. We all know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and we very often took those curves on the left side of the road.

I continued to take photos of village people.

Ayu pointed out Ras Dashen Peak is the highest peak in Ethiopia and the 10th highest mountain in Africa. It reaches an elevation of 4,550 metres (14,930 ft.

There were many places where there had been rock slides and we just had to use the middle of the road.

In this area most of the houses are now made of stone because wood is not available.

The people grow sorghum in the rainy season. When there has been no rain for a couple of years, the government supports them.

The people we saw were busy doing the tasks involved in their daily lives.

There were many, many times when we had to wait for the cattle and other animals to get out of our way. These cattle are taken down to the river for water once every day. It is a wonder that we didn’t hit the goats that would run in front of the Land Cruiser. It is impossible to count the number we have seen. 

The fancy dresses that these women were wearing caught my eye.

We drove through an area that was inhabited by Eritrean refugees. We are about 200 km from the Eritrean border. Now that the treaty had been signed between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the situation has imporoved . The government in Ethiopia is democratic but Ayu said that the Eritrean government is a dictatorship.  I read that some Eritreans (especially those who left to escape national service) are afraid to return to Eritrea.

This is an Adam’s Apple or Sordum plant which produces fruit.  It is the same plant we saw at the top of the cliff that had the beautiful flower .

I found this structure being used as a carport very interesting.

Ayu told us that people cut the bark from the Banyan tree for frankincense incense.

These seems like a very small child to be tending a camel.  Camels are used in this area fro transporting goods.

I continued taking photos through the window of the Land Cruiser.

Each school day we have seen many children (mostly in uniform) walking along the road either going to school or home from school. School is mandatory in Ethiopia and the children go to school for ½ of the day. At the time we drove by this school, some children were walking home and some were walking to school. They seem to walk very long distances in hot weather and dusty conditions.

We stopped for lunch at the Shira hotel in Shira. I am now trying to learn the the word for “Thank you” in Tingray – ykinealay.

We arrived in Axum at while it was still light outside.

I have enjoyed seeing all the sites I have passed on this day.


Dec. 30 Gondar

Today we drove to Gondar where there are at least 40 churches. . The road was paved all of the way there so no “African Massage” today.

On the way Ayu stopped in a small village along the way so that we could take some photos of the people and their houses. We wandered for about 15 minutes.


We  drove for a while and then passed this woman who was making local beer.

A fruit stand along the road.

This woman is drying red peppers.

The load on this donkey looks so bulky but …

…donkeys carrying loads like this is one thing but there are also many people like this person who carry incredible loads themselves.

We saw this tall rock formation in the distance and I used the zoomed to take a photo.

Then we stopped near a group of people to photograph it again.

I think these women came up to the jeep because they wanted money.

The close up of the tree makes the rock formation look small.

We arrived in Gondar in time for lunch and after checking into the Goha Hotel, we drove to The Four Sisters Restaurant where we had a wonderful traditional buffet lunch. All of the items were labeled so it was easy to make choices. I loved the string beans, lamb stew, and lentils – all of which I ate with the injera.

Then we drove to the walled Fasil Ghebbi Fortress. The fortress city functioned as the centre of the Ethiopian government until 1864. It has some twenty palaces, royal buildings, highly decorated churches, monasteries and unique public and private buildings, transformed by the Baroque style brought to Gondar by the Jesuit missionaries. Fasil Ghebbi was the residence of Ethiopian Emperor Alem-Seghed Fasilides (Fasil) and his successors in the 16th and 17th centuries.

We had a wonderful guide named Bekele. Fasilides is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built during the 17th and 18th centuries. Ethiopian people did all of the work to build the castles.

Emperor Fasilides built the first castle which combines Portuguese, Indian and local architectural styles. The Ethiopian royal family built all the castles within the walls before Gondar lost its power and the capital was moved to Addis Ababa in the late 19th century. The people who actually built all of these places were Ethiopians.

I hope this information is correct.  Some of the castles we saw were built by:

  • King Easilides built-in 1632. He reined the country for 35 years up to 1637.
  • King Fasilides’ fourth son and successor, King Yohannes 1667 – 1682.
  • King Iyasu built the third palace from 1682 to 1706.
  • King Dawit was the fourth generation or great-grandson of King Fasilides from 1716 to 1730.

Bekele also showed us the:

  • Library
  • Music auditorium
  • Reservoir
  • Stables
  • Turkish Bath (which was quote an amazing structure)
  • Lion Cages
  • Women’s Vocational School.

The walls surrounding all of the buildings have 12 round towers, which symbolize the 12 Apostles. All of these places were quite amazing.

These are the photos I took.

Lion Cages





I was finally able to get a photo of a Pied Crow.

Then Bekele went with us to Debre Berhan Selassie Church. It was built by Emperor Eyasu II (also known as Birhan Seged, “He to Whom the Light Bows”) The name Debre Birhan “Mountain of Light” is after the Emperor’s nickname as well as in honor of the church of the same name in Shewa.

I read that the Mahdist Dervishes of the Sudan sacked the city of Gondar in 1888. They burned down every church in the city except Debre Birhan Selassie. According to local legend, when the Mahdist soldiers approached the church, a swarm of bees descended on the compound of the church and kept the soldiers back, and the Archangel Michael himself stood before the large wooden gates with a flaming sword drawn. The walls depict biblical scenes and saints. Bekele explained many of them to us. The ceiling is covered with the faces of hundreds of angels.

Bekele explained the use of the sistrum, drum, and prayer stick.

Our final destination was the Fasilides Bath. This is where baptisms are performed. Also on January 18th and 19th the people would come to the pool for Timket. The entire pool is filled with water and many, many people get into the pool. The priest splashes others with water from the pool. Timket is an elaborate religious celebration and we hope to see it when we are in Yirgalem on Jan 18th and 19th.

I think that in the time of King Fasilides, he would stand on the platform and talk to the people.

The Banyan trees roots growing around the walls of the pool remind me of the ruins in Angkor Watt, Cambodia.

Bekele told us that many marriages take place at this time of year. When a man sees a woman they admire and throw a lemon towards her. If she likes him, she will catch the lemon and he knows to approach her. If she is not interested, she will not touch the lemon. I think he said that this actually takes place during Timket when they are in the pool.

Bekele was a fantastic guide who was not only very knowledgeable but also very curious. Whenever we said words that he had not heard before, he wrote them down. We exchanged contact information so that I can recommend him on Trip Advisor. And when I got confused about some of the names and dates, he took the time to send information to me through WhatsApp.


Dec 29 Lake Tana and Blue Nile Falls

At 8:00 Ayu drove us to Lake Tana (a short distance from the Arba Minch Lodge) and we took a 90-minute boat ride across Lake Tana, which is the source of the Blue Nile.

Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia with an area of 3600 square kilometers. The lake hosts 27 islands and 37 monasteries that were founded between the 11th and 16th century. We passed two islands that were close to each other. One was for the nuns and the other was for the monks.  This photo shows the one for the monks.

We docked on the Zege Peninsula and walked about 20 minutes up the hill to the Ura Kidane Mihret Monastery. There are 10,000 people living and working on this island including the monks, nuns, priests, and people growing coffee beans. I think the name of the village is Azua.

 Although Jane, Sue, and Leigh each had a hiking pole with them, I had left mine in the room so I had to hike without a pole.

Our guide showed us that coffee beans are ready when they turn red. Each seed has two coffee beans inside of it.

We arrived at the Ura Kidane Mihret Monastery, which was established in the 14th century. First we looked at the hanging stone on the outside of the monastery, which is used to call the monks.

The Monastery is conical-shaped.

On the top of the Monastery is a sculpture showing seven Ostrich eggs that represents the 7 miracles of Christ.

People pray in front of the monetary.

We took off our shoes, covered our heads, and entered the Monastery through the floor to ceiling doors that were made out of 1 piece of a Sycamore tree.

Inside the murals (which are also floor to ceiling) were painted using natural colors in the 16th century and were restored in the 1990s. Our guide told us that the paintings were created to help the people who cannot read understand the stories of the bible.

Some of the murals were small squares depicting everyday life of the people.

As we walked around the circle inside the monastery, our guide explained the 4 sections. The north section depicts the martyrs; the west section is about Mary; the south section is about the exile of Mary; and the east section is about the miracles.

Only the priests can enter through the main doors. Just like churches we saw yesterday and the day before, there are 3 sections (one for woman, one for men, and the center for priests and Monks.

Ura Kidane Mihret Monastery was built in the 16th century. Kidane Mehret is a Ge’ez phrase meaning Covenant of Mercy and refers to Ethiopic tradition that Jesus promised Mary that he would forgive the sins of those who ask her to intercede.

We walked on a path through the coffee bushes towards a second, smaller Monastery. The path was beautiful.

The people who harvest the coffee beans live near the field.

I was doing a great job walking without any hiking poles until I attempted to take my hat off of my fanny pack and tripped on a root. I am so lucky that I did not get a FOOSH Falling On Outstretched Hand Wrist Break) because I fell forward right onto my hands. But I picked myself up, dusted off my hands, and was just fine.

At the end of the path was the second monastery, which smaller than Ura Kidane Mihret.  The murals in this monastery have the same themes but are not as colorful.

.As we walked back to the boat there were many people selling things. Leigh bought a small drum and a bell.  Jane bought a small cross.

A young man named Sale was painting small pictures.   I took a photo of him doing a painting and of the natural dyes he uses. He wanted me to mail the photo to him and the natural dyes he uses to paint..

On the way back across the lake the boatman took us to see Hippos.

We also saw pelicans.

A guy in a small papyrus was feeding the pelicans.  Of course he was there for the tourists and wanted money.

We went to a lovely restaurant where we sat by the lake.

It took them a very long time to bring us our lunch but I loved watching the red dragon-fly land over and over again on the same branch while we waited for our lunch.  The grilled lake fish were delicious so I guess it was worth the wait.

After lunch we drove about 30 km. Ayu told us we were going for an “African Massage” just as he began driving over another gravely, potted road. It took me a few minutes to get what he meant. We passed the fields of sugar cane which is grown in this region.

This was market day in the small villages we passed. We had to keep the windows closed because of the dust. We saw a man covered in a white cloth being carried on a platform- like board by several other men. Ayu said they were taking him to the doctor’s office. I think they had to walk about 5 km to get there. If the doctor doesn’t know how to help the man, he will call an ambulance.

We arrived at Tisabay (the town by the Blue Nile River which means “smoking water”) where Ayu bought our tickets to walk to Blue Nile Waterfall that is on the Blue Nile River. The river is known as Tis Abay in Amharic, which means “Great Snake.”

We walked up the very rocky path along with many other people who were going home from the market and several of them they had donkeys with them.

Again I was walking without a pole and I was so happy that I can still have good balance as I walk.  The guide was helping Sue down the rocks because they are hard for her to see. I really did a great job managing the very rocky path without my poles.

The guide warned me to be careful about the donkeys pushing me over. When we were crossing the stone bridge that was constructed in 1620, one donkey bumped tight into my butt.

We made it to the overlook of the waterfall.

Of course we needed a photo of ourselves.

We came to the new suspension bridge that was constructed in 2011. Much to our surprise, there were 5 or six cows being led across the bridge toward us. One woman said that it was very fitting because the bridge had been constructed by the Swiss.

We took a very short boat ride back to the where we met Ayu and the Land Cruiser. Then we bounced along the gravel road again and back to Arba Minch Lodge for a delicious fish and vegetable dinner. They brought the fish wrapped in aluminum foil with a fire on top of it.

They just threw the fiery foil onto the floor.

Being driven by Ayu in our own Land Cruiser with only the four of us and having private guides at each place we visit is so fantastic. We are so privileged.


December 28th Addis to Bahir Dar

We left at 6:30 in the morning for a 558 km drive. It was supposed to take about 10 ½ hours.  Although I knew that roads in Ethiopia would be rough, I wasn’t fully prepared for the road conditions.  The traffic leaving Addis Ababa was very dense.  We slowly made our way out of the the city and eventually onto the dirt road.  There were people lined up all along the opposite side of the road waiting for busses to take them into Addis for work.  There were also hoards of Bajaj (tuk-tuks) picking up people.

After several hours we arrived at Debre Libanos Monastery.  There was a sign on the door where Ayu was purchasing our tickets that stated some rules about entering the church.

  • Rule # 1 said that women during menstruation period are not allowed to enter the church.
  • Rule # 2 said that men and women who had sexual intercourse are not allowed to enter the church or the cave within 48 hours.

After we removed our shoes and covered our heads, a monk gave us a tour of the church. The monk told us about Saint Tekle Haymanot who founded Debre Libanos in the 13th century.  According to myth, he meditated in a cave for 29 years.  After the first 27 years, one of his legs fell off from about the knee down but he continued to stand for another 2 years.  The monk told us that the original monastery had been completely destroyed.  None of the original buildings survived.  I think it was Emperor Haile Selassie who rebuilt the monastery in about 1961.

The church has many glass stained windows depicting both the Old and New Testament.  The inside of the church is divided into 3 parts. During church services when you are facing the front of the church, the right side is for woman, the center is for priests and monks, and the left side is for men.  I mostly took photos of the people who came to pray.


The white-stringy thing in this man’s hands is used to keep the insects off of him.

We also toured the museum part of the monastery. The grounds of the monastery are very large and include the hilly areas around it.  We were told that 5000 people are served by Debre Libanos Monastery.  The grounds have housing for the monks and also a cemetery

There is a cave located about a 15 – 20 minute walk from the monastery.  This was where Saint Tekle Haymanot lived in the nearby cliffs and it contains a spring with water that  is considered holy.  Sadly we did not have enough time to walk there because we had many more km to drive..

The roads were very, very rough.  Even the parts that were paved had many potholes and were covered with ruts. We were bounced around on both the potted gravely road and on some of the paved roads also had rutts almost the entire time.  Sometimes it was very dusty and we had to keep our windows closed.


When we went through towns and I took photos.  Although I was sometimes able to open a window, the photos are mostly taken through the closed windows.

We drove down to the bottom of Blue Nile gorge descending over 2200 meters and then crossed the new bridge built by Ethiopians.  It was much warmer at the bottom (about 37 Celsius.) but the temperature cooled down again as we drove back up the other side on a road that was still pretty rough.

We stopped for the view at the top.

It was pretty hazy in the distance so we used the opportunity to ask Ayu to take  a photo of the 3 of us..

You can see the road (a well paved part) as it descends.

We saw several baboons along the road but I didn’t get any good photos..

We saw some people who were working in the fields threshing the hay

The thistles along the road had the largest blooms I have ever seen..

Each time we came to a town, there were people along the road.  They were carrying things on their heads, leading donkeys that were carrying large loads, selling things, and many of them were going to church. Today was a holy day and they were celebrating Saint Gabriel.

At one point Ayu stopped and asked women to bring over some teff, which is the grain, they use to make injera (flat, crepe like sour bread made from the grain). After we each had a chance to see the teff, he gave the handful of grain back to her.

At one point we saw more vultures than I have ever seen in one place.  They were devouring the carcass of what we thought was a cow.

It sure seemed like a very long time before we stopped for lunch in Debra Marcos where we ate injera and vegetables.

This is a religious period during which many people are fasting and can only eat vegetables.  I even tried a small spoon of the coffee this time – not bad tasting but not my choice of beverage.

One time when we stopped to look at the view, Ayu asked a couple of women to be in a photo with me.  It was sure fun to show the photo to them.

It was a very long drive but we stopped to look at the sunset.

We continued to go through small towns.  A couple of times when we were driving very slowly, children surrounded our vehicle begging for money.  Ayu kept driving very slowly as they moved away.  At one point at dusk a very large group of children and teenagers surrounded us. They were pounding on the vehicle and one of them hit it with his stick.  Ayu jumped out and was yelling at them perhaps about damaging our Land Cruiser when some of them yanked open one of the back passenger doors.  It took both Sue and Leigh to pull the door shut again and we locked the doors.  I took one photo of Ayu when he was outside of the car.  We heard him say the word, “tourists” and we think he was lecturing them about how bad their behavior was for tourism. He finally got back into the vehicle and we were able to drive off slowly. Ayu told us that because of the holy day, the teens might have been drinking too much.

Sue, Jane, and Leigh were concerned that they might injure Ayu.  Finally he got back into the jeep and we slowly were able to drive off.

We didn’t arrive at Abay Minch Lodge until after 7:00 where we had a buffet dinner and went to our rooms.


Addis Ababa 12/27

Well we made it to Addis Ababa.  The strangest thing about getting here was that after Jane, Sue, and I followed the instructions and struggled to sure our carry-on luggage did not exceed 7 kg (15.4 lbs), they never even weighed any of our luggage.  I was absolutely flabbergasted.

Our flights were great and I managed to get at least 6 or maybe even 7 hours of sleep on the 14 hour leg from Chicago (yay – no bad weather there) to Addis Ababa.  Our driver, Ayu, picked us up and we met Leigh at the Juniper hotel.

We stopped at the office of Vast Ethiopian Tours and I finally got to meet Habtu (the manager of the company).  I lost count of the many emails he and I  exchanged planning this adventure.

Ayu told us that Addis has a population of 10 million people. I can’t seem to fact check that but i did find that there were well over 6 million in early 2017.  There is construction going on everywhere – and I mean everywhere.  People from all over the country are moving here.

We did a city tour today and visited The National Museum where we saw a replica of Lucy and many artifacts.

Then we visited Holy Trinity Church. This massive and ornate cathedral is the second-most important place of worship in Ethiopia (ranking behind the Old Church of St. Mary of Zion in Aksum which we will see later in our trip).

Holy Trinity Church is also the celebrated final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife, Empress Menen Asfaw.

There were many people praying in the church.


Some of the bibles that the people were using to pray were very, very old.

We had a buffet lunch at an Ethiopian Restaurant in the oldest hotel in Addis Abba

After lunch we had coffee and tea at the hotel.  They make the coffee over a fire pit

Ayu drove us through Merkato which is one of Africa’s largest outdoor marketplace.  They seem to sell everything you can imagine there.  I took several photos from our vehicle as we drove through incredibly busy traffic in the city.

This man was just one of many who were walking in the streets and trying to sell things to people who were in cars or vans.

None of us wanted to get out to walk through this market.

We drove up to Mount Entoto which is part of the Entoto Mountain Chain and reaches 3,200 meters above sea level. We passed  many women carrying enormous piles of wood on their heads. I have no idea how they can do this.

It is really incomprehensible to believe that there is a woman under that pile of branches.

This chapel was built by Emperor Menelik in 1877

We saw Haile Selassie Church.

Mount Entoto is also where Menelik II resided and built his palace.

The wooden doors were fabulous.

This is the oldest Eucalyptus tree in Ethiopia.  It was brought here from Australia.

Back at the Juniper Hotel tonight we had lamb dinner in the hotel.  The time in Ethiopia is only 10:00 pm which is 11 hours later than it is in Portland. But our internal clocks are still functioning on Portland time and I am pretty exhausted.  We have to be ready to leave at 6:30 tomorrow morning.