A different sort of carnival happens in January for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Epiphany celebrations, in this 17th century town.
Thousands of white clad Ethiopians descend on the town for the surreal and astonishing Timket – a fusion of African and Judeo Christian expression of faith as the replica Ark of the Covenant from each church is paraded through town accompanied by priests chanting clapping and drumming. Brightly coloured velvet umbrellas shade the arks and red carpets are repeatedly laid, swept, rolled up and passed overhead to the front for the ark to be paraded over as it makes its way forward.
For heathens like us it was fascinating – for Christians and Jews it has a whole different meaning. Lucky tourists get a grandstand view of the blessing of King Fasilidas’s pool prior to mass immersion by the faithful (nearly all young men!) Don’t go if you are uneasy in a crowd!
The accompanying carnival has just been created to take advantage of the punters, with music, fireworks and stalls selling traditional Ethiopian handicrafts, coffee, food and drink. Ethiopian traditional dancing (belly dancing for the shoulders) spontaneously erupts around town. But the main attraction is Timket which is a carnival in itself.
Cut out the middle man and book direct with experienceethiopia.com who tailor made a trip for us inc internal flights (we did the international bit) Amanuel (Yeamanuel@yahoo.com) will do the Gonder bit if that is all you want, including trekking in the Simien mountains.
Google map: bit.ly/f27tur
On the main Hwassa/Dilla road, a few kilometres before reaching Dilla, stands a rusty iron notice with the unlikely proclamation of 'swimming pool' and an arrow pointing in the direction of a dirt track dipping sharply down to the right. The track is steep, rough and winding but can be negotiated by local taxi and a careful driver in about ten minutes. The 'swimming pool' is still a figment of someone's imagination or ideals but the hot springs are real and wonderful. Don't expect any luxuries (take your own towel) but for 10 birr (40 pence) you are given a ticket and a small bar of strawberry or lemon scented soap which entitles you to have piping hot shower and/or bath with enough steam in the small wooden cubicles for your own private sauna; stay there until your heart is content or the heat drives you out. Recover with chai or boona (tea or coffee) purchased from the small kiosk/ticket office and then walk the short distance along the river to the waterfall and natural pool where you can indeed swim.Magical at any time but particularly so if you are unlucky as we were, to be staying for three days in a hotel in Dilla without a functioning water supply!
Dilla is a moderately sized town in the south of Ethiopia,about two and a half hours drive from Hwassa.There is a sign stating 'swimming pool' on the right hand side of the road approximately 2 kilometres from Dilla as you approach Dilla from the main Hwassa/Dilla road
Google map: bit.ly/h0HzqK
Athlete Haile Gebre Selassie's sister shows people around Addis and takes them to some interesting places. We toured with her around Addis and had hit some corners of Ethiopia no other tourists would have the chance to do.
+251 911 627898. Azaltich Gebre Selassie
We stayed here and found it a great choice. The rooms are basic but clean and the staff were very helpful. Also, if you have the Lonely Planet for Ethopia and Eritrea 2006, the phone number is wrong!
Queen Elizabeth Road
Tel: +251 11 122 8080
Try the injera. It has a curious texture that some people don’t like and has a lemony tang as the batter is left to ferment like sourdough.
If you can’t stomach the injera, there is plenty of pasta available because the Italians occupied Ethiopia for a time. Vegetarians won’t have any problem as the Ethiopians fast frequently, which for them is doing without meat.
In Lalibela we stayed at Blue Lal Hotel and at Yemhera Hotel.
The Yemhera has bungalows in the grounds and you can wander in the grounds without harassment. We visited the Blue Lal most days for toast and honey.
Lalibela is also the place to sample Tej, a honey wine, while enjoying the local music and dancing, an experience in itself.
Blue Lal Hotel, tel: 033 3360380
Yemhere Hotel, tel: 033 3360163
I will treasure the memory of joining the St George's Day celebration in Lalibela. It is impossible to describe the feeling of mingling with the crowds of people, mainly wrapped in white, walking along the deep rock hewn corridors, kicking off the sandals and forcing your way into the church.
An earlier fantastic memory was walking along the day before and suddenly seeing St Giyorgis sunk into the rock.
A less pleasant memory was fleas in the carpets of the churches! Do take something for the fleas as they can migrate to the bedding.
In Addis Ababa we stayed at the Ghion Hotel, useful for its central location. We didn’t use the large grounds and swimming pool but I think that we would have appreciated them if we had stayed longer.
Tel: 011 5513222
Do visit The Sheraton for afternoon tea. It’s affordable and the décor, piano and vast array of cakes takes you to another world.
Just down the hill from The Sheraton, is the St George Gallery, which has a wonderful display of quality goods, both antique and modern. Further down the hill were shops that sold jewellery by weight of silver. It was good quality and reasonably priced.
We did most of our gift shopping at a group of shops just off Churchill Avenue on the right up Nigeria Street.
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