Tag Archives: tourism

A Partnership Project

5 Aug

So my friend Sally from Bonga down south, has started a fundraising campaign for a project that involves Gondar. It’s basically a training program for environmental tourism. I’m a co-signer on the grant and have helped her with contacts in Gondar and the Simiens. Please send it along if you want/and donate at the link.

Bonga, Kafa Zone, Ethiopia

Bonga, Kafa Zone, Ethiopia

Here is her/my project:
Hello friends! I send my best regards and hope that you are well. I am
writing to ask for your help and support. I need to raise funds for a
sustainable development project as part of my Peace Corps service.
Please find details below, and the link to my project here:
https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-663-028

“Whenever we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to
everything else in the universe.” -John Muir

We are one world. Try as we might to preserve one little corner of it
– a national park here, a bird sanctuary there – that effort is lost
without thousands of similar efforts far away from us; we are all
connected. Many of us who work in environment-related careers remember
a formative experience as an intern or volunteer, learning both love
of nature and the skills to communicate that love to others. This
project intends to provide such a formative experience to promising
young environmental leaders in Ethiopia, by sending interns from the
newly formed Makira Tour Guides Association in Bonga to  learn with a
more established tour guide operation in northern Ethiopia.

Bonga is a developing town of around thirty thousand in the southwest
administrative zone of Kafa. Nestled in breathtakingly beautiful cloud
forests, Kafa Zone was recently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
This designation recognizes Kafa’s complex ecosystems supporting
natural coffee and abundant wildlife; it also aims to provide means
for sustainable development and poverty alleviation for Kafa’s one
million inhabitants. As the population here grows, there is more
demand on forest resources; work is being done to promote sustainable
use of these resources, as well as to introduce alternative
livelihoods such as ecotourism. Well over a hundred thousand hectares
of forest here preserve millions of tons of carbon dioxide, besides
supporting unique biodiversity and a landscape known as the
“Birthplace of Coffee.”

Members of the Makira Tour Guides Association here were trained two
years ago through a project run by Naturschuzbund Deutschland and the
Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society. However, while these
and other organizations have been working hard to promote Kafa as a
tourist destination, the new guides have not had much practice. A
refresher training I ran this year as a Peace Corps Volunteer shows a
group of eager, but untried guides, with little knowledge of how to
structure a tour, provide for customer needs and comfort, or market
their product to the world. By contrast, Simien Mountains National
Park in Ethiopia’s north has been welcoming tourists for decades. The
leader of Simien Trek Tour Company (www.simientrek.com), Shiferaw
Asrat, has an easy command of the tools of his trade. He has agreed to
accept two representatives of Makira TGA to intern with him for four
weeks, observing and apprenticing with him, then drafting their own
two-year plan to bring back to their association in Bonga.

So many fundraising efforts by charity organizations in the developing
world involve acquiring stuff: food, construction materials, water
filters, medicines, supplies. This effort aims to spend money on
building capacity, by forging connections between Ethiopians
themselves. It is a relatively small investment – the total I need to
raise is under $2000. But this small amount could get this business
off the ground and help these rising leaders to benefit their local
community in a sustainable way.

Thank you for all that you do for the environment and the development
of our world.

More Day Trips from Gondar, and My 100th Post!

16 Jun

Recently some friends visited me and I finally crossed those elusive random touristy things off my Gondar list. Here are some awesome trips you can do within 1 day from my site.

1. Simien Mountain Trek.

Last time I did the Simiens was for the Big Kahuna – Ras Dashen. This time, it was a short jaunt to Sankober (the first camp) with lots of selfies with the baboons along the way. This trip was much cheaper, shorter, and had a lot more monkeys. And per usual, the Simien views were amazing.

well, it was a little foggy at first

well, it was a little foggy at first

but the views got better

but the views got better

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so many selfies

so many selfies

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2. Boat Trip on Lake Tana

Just 3 hours south of me is Bahir Dar, the regional capital and city on the south of Lake Tana. A boat ride is cheap and fun, and if you time it right you may be able to see some hippos! People usually do the boat tour to see churches and monasteries around the lake, but having lived here long enough to know they all look the same we crossed our fingers for the wildlife. There was also some great bird watching. The best time to go to see hippos is around 4pm or so, when they come up to eat and it’s not so hot.

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These kids lived on an island in the lake. Coming home from school, this traditional papyrus boat takes them across twice a day.

These kids lived on an island in the lake. Coming home from school, this traditional papyrus boat takes them across twice a day.

 

3. Blue Nile Falls.

This was a big tourist check. I had planned to go with my family back in December, but flight schedules and the promise of a dry riverbed dissuaded us. I was skeptical if the falls would be impressive so close to the end of dry season, but we saw something even cooler. With the heavy rains over the past few weeks, in the 30 minutes or so that we were at the falls we actually saw them grow! The river visibly swelled minute by minute. I will definitely have to return in September when the falls are at their full force.

We arrived the local way, which was much cheaper. Most hotels or tour companies will sell you a driver for multiple hundreds of birr per person. We simply went to the bus station and caught a big bus for 14 birr per person to Tis Abay (the village that is a 20 minute hike from the falls). This was great, until on the way back, an axel broke. We caught a ride the rest of the way on a tuk-tuk type truck. Super uncomfortable, but I sorta feel like the boys enjoyed their Type 2 fun (at least there was a great story.)

Keith, John, and I at Blue Nile Falls

Keith, John, and I at Blue Nile Falls

The suspension bridge that you have to cross

The suspension bridge that you have to cross

Willy Wonka Chocolate River much?

Willy Wonka Chocolate River much?

 

Hyenas and Harar

31 Aug
Showa Gate to the Old City of Harar

Showa Gate to the Old City of Harar

I just returned from a quick weekend trip to the old city of Harar on the East side of Ethiopia. Close to the Somalia border, Harar is the 4th Holiest City in Islam and the root of much of Islamic culture in Ethiopia. Having lived in a highly Orthodox area for the past year, it was a nice break and a trip down memory lane to my time in Jordan. The old city of Harar had a much more middle eastern feel and some more recognizable market spices.

Harar is the site where a part of the Umma (original muslim community in Arabia) immigrated for refuge from the Mecca – Medina conflict in the late 600s. The ruler of Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) opened his doors to the Muslims and started the tradition of religious tolerance in Ethiopia. Islam is the second largest religion here after the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church.

Harar is the 4th holiest city in Islam - the old city boast 88 mosques

Harar is the 4th holiest city in Islam – the old city boasts 88 mosques

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Representing Peace Corps as I walk through Showa Gate

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Women selling chat – a leaf chewed by many Ethiopians with the equivalent effect of the cocoa leaf. It is very common in Muslims communities.

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A huge pile of dried kariya peppers, the main spice in berbere

A huge pile of dried kariya peppers, the main spice in berbere

Picking up a guide for a tour of the old city we walked through ancient city walls and toured some of the local homes and more famous residents of the town. Haile Selassie used to have a “palace” here (Ras Tefari’s house), and the interior decor of the homes was famously “Harari.” Tasting street food along the way (I am in Peace Corps after all), we finished the afternoon  with some Hakim Stout – the local brew.

Ras Taferi's house (later, known as Haile Selassie)

Ras Taferi’s house (later, known as Haile Selassie)

Carmen, Kristin, and Me at Ras Tefari's house

Carmen, Kristin, and Me at Ras Tefari’s house

A typical Harari home

A typical Harari home – these pots get taken down to entertain

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Bajajes and Blue Donkeys are common all over Ethiopia

Bajajes and Blue Donkeys are common all over Ethiopia

The main attraction in Harar though are the famous “hyena men.” These local guys sit outside the city walls every night around sunset to feed wild hyenas fatty camel meat. These hyenas have basically been domesticated over years of guaranteed food, and consistent feeding has made them huge! I did not realize just how big these animals would be. I thought big dogs, the reality was more like small bears. But, I screwed up my courage and we all volunteered to feed them ourselves, with help from the hyena man.

A very clear "what the hell am I doing with my life" face

A very clear “what the hell am I doing with my life” face

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Carmen is BRAVE!

Carmen is BRAVE!

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This is one of my first trips outside my immediate region, and it was great to see a very different part of Ethiopia with different culture, food, and infrastructure. After Harar I headed down to the Southern Nations to do a training in a city called Butajira for the new group of education volunteers. So over a few days I was able to see the Harar region and a part of the south, expanding my understanding of Ethiopia as a whole.

A Simien Day Trek

22 Aug

Only 30 minutes north of my house are the beginnings of one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world – the Simien Mountains. At least according to Planet Earth, their “Mountains” episode features the Simiens. Truthfully, I had never heard of this range before I came to Ethiopia, but that could because I had Colorado snob syndrome and will only ski on powder and hike the Rockies in the summer. I even caught myself saying “Ras Dashen isn’t even a 14er…” to someone… Rocky. Mountain. Snob.

But there is nothing like this topography in the Rockies. They call this area the “Grand Canyon of Ethiopia,” and for good reason. The sheer cliffs, crevices, and peaks are anything but typical.

A Panoramic View

A Panoramic View

So since the Cameroonians were in town, we jumped on their half day hike with our good friend and tour guide Robel. (Family, we will do this hike… bring yo boots!) We were able to see three endemic species (Lammergeyers aka vultures, Chilada baboons, and Colobos monkeys).

A Lammergeyer (vulture endemic to the Simiens) in the mist

A Lammergeyer (vulture endemic to the Simiens) in the mist

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So. Many. Baboons.

So. Many. Baboons.

Chilada Baboon in the mist (also endemic)

Chilada Baboon in the mist 

We hung out with some of the local farming kids (this whole Amharic speaking thing can be awesome). And circled around a herd? group? gaggle? of baboons. And clearly we had to do some photoshoots.

These kids were like mountain goats, I was so sure they were going to fall off the trail running after us!

These kids were like mountain goats, I was so sure they were going to fall off the trail running after us!

The whip sounded like gunshots

The whip sounded like gunshots

Me and my Morgans

Me and my Morgans

Ciara (Peace Corps Cameroon and fellow Boulderite and BUer) came to visit

Ciara (Peace Corps Cameroon and fellow Boulderite and BUer) came to visit

Cleary we had to do a jumping photo

Cleary we had to do a jumping photo

So I still love my Rocky Moutains, but I won’t complain about mountain withdrawal during service. In October we tackle the “big one” – Ras Dashen – the highest peak in Ethiopia. And turns out I was wrong… it is a 14er at 14,928 Ft (4,553 meters) though google seems to be conflicted (I saw one estimate at over 15,000 ft). Even the most solid things are contested here. I mean, I am still in Ethiopia.

 

Timket – The Epiphany Celebration

28 Jan

About a week ago we celebrated one of the biggest holidays in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition – Epiphany or Timket. It was a three day celebration with parades, holy water blessings, eating, discovering new parts of Gondar, and learning more about the Orthodox tradition.

As a bit of background, the Orthodox Epiphany is different from what most protestant Christians think of it. I grew up understanding Epiphany as the time when the wise men came to Jesus (ya, it wasn’t Christmas Eve, sorry Nativity sets). But Orthodox Epiphany is the celebration of when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River some 30 years later. Epiphany being less of the wise men’s eureka moment and more of the commencement of Jesus’ mission and teachings on Earth.

Going even farther into background, the Arc of the Covenant is also believed to be housed in Ethiopia (Axum- Tigray Region). It was taken here from Jerusalem for safekeeping by Menelik I, the lovechild of the Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian) and King Solomon (wise old dude ruling Jerusalem). But Menelik didn’t exactly ask permission to take the Arc, thus creating a legend of Indiana Jones proportions (seriously, Indiana Jones goes to Ethiopia in the Last Crusade). Each Orthodox Church has a replica of the Arc of the Covenant and during Timket these arcs get paraded around each city or small town. But no one is supposed to look upon it (since it houses the Holy of Holies and all) so what you end up seeing are a bunch of umbrellas running around town.

What makes the Timket celebration in Gondar unique, and the biggest in the nation, is the ceremony at the Fasilides Baths. Most towns have parades and some holy water blessings, but Gondar goes through an elaborate ceremony and a priest converts and entire castle moat into Holy Water. Ya, it’s epic.

So I’ll walk you through some of the celebrations, history and ceremony from the vantage point behind my camera. My house was directly on the parade route and only 10 mins walk from the baths so I can safely say I was in the thick of the celebration all weekend.

Friday afternoon the celebration started with a parade of all the churches coming together with their priests, arcs, some floats and thousands of people walking from each church to the baths. There are 44 arcs (44 Orthodox Churches) in total in Gondar.

The parade coming down from Piazza, view from the mountain by my house

The parade coming down from Piazza, view from the mountain by my house

Some of the bigger churches had floats and entire entourages, all the arcs had to travel on a carpet which boys rolled and unrolled in front of the procession all the way down the hill

Some of the bigger churches had floats and entire entourages, all the arcs had to travel on a carpet which boys rolled and unrolled in front of the procession all the way down the hill

The arcs arrive, AKA a flock of umbrellas

The arcs arrive, AKA a flock of umbrellas

Arc Parade Float

Arc Parade Float

Each church had their own personality, uniform and group. In addition to the church processions many people joined and watched the parade in their finest traditional clothing [future blog post]. For women, habesha libs, as their known, are the white shawls (nutellas) with white linen dresses with beautiful embroideries on the hemlines. This year, there were a lot of Gojam (West Amhara region) farmer clothes as well. The green or blue outfits with the buttons made for the cutest little children.

This horse is decked out

This horse is decked out

Gojam boys and outfits

Gojam boys and outfits

nuns and crowd

nuns and crowd

watching the parade, and protecting herself from the sun

watching the parade, and protecting herself from the sun

As the parade passed we jumped on to the end and walked toward the baths. On the way, impromptu dance parties were happening everywhere. Morgan and I made sure to document. I was lucky enough to host Dan and Nicole, third year extension volunteers who spent their first two years in Gondar and were able to introduce me to more organizations, hole in the wall restaurants, and their favorite places around the city.

Ryan getting his shoulder shake on with a Gojam farmer

Ryan getting his shoulder shake on with a Gojam farmer

Morgan getting a good shot

Morgan getting a good shot

Dan and Nicole- best tour guides

Dan and Nicole- best tour guides

At the baths on Friday evening, the arcs arrive and the priests begin to set up. The more committed pilgrims stood vigil all night saying prayers and giving thanks. We returned the next morning in the dark at 4:30am to bleachers already full. BBC was doing a documentary on Timket this year (yay for Ethiopian tourism!) so there were a lot of media around as well. But being some of the only ferenjis able to say more than four words in Amharic we got pulled to the front and given prime spots. The enthusiasm by Ethiopians to share their traditions is really great to witness and experience. The weekend was full of anecdotes extolling Ethiopian hospitality, including the next day when five priests walked into my compound and invited us to have tea with them.

Fasilides Baths

Fasilides Baths

This priest came out and posed for our cameras, pretty awesome

This priest came out and posed for our cameras, pretty awesome

Prayer by candlelight at dawn

Prayer by candlelight at dawn

Priests lined up and chanting

Priests lined up and chanting

There were no seats left so people started climbing trees, very Zachius...

There were no seats left so people started climbing trees, very Zachius…

The ceremony lasted through the dawn and priests and worshipers sang, chanted and prayed as the sun came up. A quick sermon was given in Amharic and one of the priests blessed the water in the moat around Fasilides Castle. Not even three seconds later, hundreds of young men stripped down and jumped 20 feet off the walls into the water. Events got pretty chaotic as mobs pressed in around the sides of the pool. It’s a moment of ecstasy as (mostly men) jump into the water for blessing and then turn around and “bless” everyone else by throwing large splashes into the crowd. It was a lot of fun, if not a little claustrophobic.  Young boys climbed over scaffolding, jumped from trees, and old women filled water bottles with holy water to bring back to their homes.

As an aside, in Ethiopia, there is a superstition that holy water can cure AIDS and so part of the public health communications approach  (which is part of my work here) has been working with religious institutions not to necessarily discredit this belief, but to advocate a dual holy water/ART drug strategy.

Priest blessing the water

Priest blessing the water

The baths are open all weekend for revelers to come take a dip. Sunday afternoon we returned and the baths resembled more of a community pool with kids diving in and out and racing each other around the sides. It doesn’t sound like there is an expiration date for the Holy Water, so I filled up a bottle myself. It’s sitting full of silt on my kitchen counter- I’ll have to remember not to boil my pasta in it.

Diving in

Diving in

Lots of blessing going on

Lots of blessing going on

Jumping in, clothes and all

Jumping in, clothes and all

Baths become a community pool

Baths become a community pool

A more leisurely time to bathe

A more leisurely time to bathe

So there’s a long winded but very brief description of Timket in Gondar. It’s clearly the place to be for this holiday if the explosion of tourists (both foreign and Ethiopian) are any indication. It was a great introduction to some more of the cultural aspects of the city and Orthodox faith which pretty much dominates this region. I’m taking reservations for my floor for next year, but you’ll have to bring me chocolate.

For more Timket photos here is a link to my facebook album 

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