Melkm Ganna! Merry Christmas Ethiopia!
There really is no country like Ethiopia. A rich and complex history that could easily make any Steven Spielberg adventure movie, seem positively unimaginative and unexciting. Add the people, religion, food, scenic beauty and the use of its own non-Gregorian calendar, which makes any visitor seven years younger and well, there is just no country like it!
As Ethiopia celebrates Jesus’ birth, I couldn’t help but recall my holiday to Africa’s oldest independent state. It’s a land of culture, legend, religion and mystery. From churches built below the ground to those close to the sky, to tales of the powerful Queen of Sheba and Axum - an ancient prosperous African empire.
Ethiopia is among the world’s most religious, best known for its Orthodox Christianity. But Islam and the Jewish culture also feature. Islam arrived in Ethiopia, in the 600’s AD, when Auxmite King Negash gave refuge to Muslims, fleeing persecution; among them were members of the family of the Prophet (PBUH). The Jewish faith and its Ethiopian followers called ‘Beta Israel’ are linked back to the time of King Solomon.
Ethiopia is an adventure just waiting to happen! One of the highlights of this trip and my many travels took place in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. We made our way by road, passing various farms, including a rather inviting tomato plantation. These productive areas stand in sharp contrast to the drought being experienced, in this region.
Tigray is home to between 150 and 200 churches. But here the churches aren’t carved out of rock below the ground, no here, they sit high above.
Within the Gheralta Mountain range is Abuna Yemata Guh – nerves of steel, polished cliff face, act of faith, soaring, church in the sky – some of the descriptors thrown up during a Google search. Locals say Abuna Yemata Guh was built in the 5th century, historians, say 15th century, either way this cave church located on a cliff, would prove to be my act of faith. I didn't think I had it in me to make this climb. My partner, free climbed. I was too scared to make the ascent without ropes. Basic kit can be hired for the climb – rope and a thingie to attach the rope around you. A group of Ethiopian ‘guides’ really do the rest! I won’t lie it’s not an easy climb, but soon enough I am at the top.
The art work inside the church is worth it all! High above where the birds soar, you can’t help but feel a deep connection to a higher presence (I can’t by any stretch of the imagination be called religious). I embraced the feeling. Sitting within this tiny church, you can appreciate the devotion of the artist who made this daily climb to finish what can only be described as a breath taking, well-kept centuries old fresco.
If you get a chance to go, make the crazy climb, walk the very tiny plank which takes you to a ledge so small you kinda walk sideways. To quote Nike, just do it! Check out this great video by photographer Philip Lee Harvey who climbed Abuna Yemata Guh, as part of a photographic assignment for Lonely Planet.
You can also add a visit to the nearby churches of Debre Maryam and Daniel Korkor, which also sit atop a mountain. Wear comfortable shoes, as it does require a hike. Despite an official tour guide, I had an 80 year local man, hold my hand the whole way up and down the mountain. He who was going up to pray and we didn’t speak the same language but I suppose he could see my discomfort. He gently squeezed my hand when we got to the steep bits and I did found his presence rather reassuring.
I had my reservations before going on this holiday, but it has been one of the most epic adventures I have had - beautiful scenery, out of this world experiences and friendly people! If you are looking for a holiday with a difference, I highly recommend you consider Ethiopia.
Getting to Ethiopia is super easy and affordable. The flight from Johannesburg is just over 5 hours. You can get a visa on arrival or in SA ahead of your trip. Internal flights are also inexpensive and a good way of getting around the region, especially if you have a limited number of days to spend.
For South Africans Ethiopia is a great destination - good value for money, considering our exchange rate.
All my travels are self funded.
My travel itinerary was customise designed by Boundless Ethiopia Tours, to cover the areas and activities of interest to me. I highly recommend them if you are considering a visit to this wonderful country, they are friendly, professional and knowledgeable.
For more information: http://boundlessethiopia.com/
I flew to Ethiopia on Ethiopian Airlines: https://www.ethiopianairlines.com/AA/EN