Star Date:  July 2015

Ethiopia V:  Axum, Gondar,  Bahir Dar, Addis Ababa


Hello Dear Family & Friends!


"Imalay? Loko."
(Hello, How are you?  I am fine.  Dorze tribe)






"Once you have travelled,
The voyage never ends."
(Pat Conroy)


Ethiopia is a land beyond time.  Fragments of a rich, vibrant history remains with their own times and calendar.  Finally making it to a functioning internet I knew that Easter, ending the lovely 2 month vegan fasting time, was the following Sunday.  Checking the date of Easter in the West I was amazed that it was in fact that very day.  One week difference, as with Orthodox Christmas.  I was able to call Hawaii and wish everyone a "Happy Easter!"  In 1582 the Christian world adopted the Gregorian calendar.  Everyone but Ethiopia that is.  In 2007 Ethiopia celebrated the new millennium on September 11th, making the rest of the world scratch their heads.  Their calendar consists of "13 Months of Sunshine", 12 months of 30 days and one of 5 days.  Months aren't as much of an issue as is Ethiopian time vs. International time.  Many, many misunderstandings happen with their clocks all set 6 hours ahead; the worst was when Joseph waited for someone at 6 am when in fact he planned to arrive at 12pm - noon.  Even after clarifying many times on which clock is being used, one can never really tell. 

We travel to learn and to observe different customs and traditions.  Another interesting custom is to have the first name of a person their given name, their second name is the given name of their Father.  (I would be Nancy Peter).  Wives keep their name through marriage.  Ethiopians have wonderful family values and will spend time with their children and other family members.  Much time is spent enjoying the coffee ceremony together talking and listening and watching the world around them, for hours at a time.  All of a sudden someone will announce, "shall we make a move?" and away they go.

This friendly country welcomes everyone who arrives at her borders.  Families are strong and the burden of rampant crime has not plagued these wonderful people.  You can breathe a sigh of relief as safety, aside from rare petty pick pockets, is the norm.  When greeted in Ethiopia you shake hands and bang left shoulders one to 3 times.  Woman to woman is a kiss 1-2-3-4 side to side on the cheek.  Smiles radiate in this land of 13 months of sunshine!   

Continuing through the very northerly part of Ethiopia, up near the Eritrean border, we went past one of the most holy places to Muslims, Negash.  A green and yellow tomb stands for Negas Ashihima, 630AD.  He died while visiting Ethiopia and a square unobtrusive tomb marks his final resting spot.  Continuing on through Adigrat towards Adwa we looked at the daunting mountain range ahead.  Our destination was only 50 miles ahead, but over the mountains.  We began a spectacular climb then descent, slowly snaking our way on hairpin curves and switchbacks, a stunning vista at every turn.

We were warmly welcomed to the ancient city of Axum by the University.  Joseph spoke once again about e-text and we were shown around the ancient sites by a knowledgeable young female archeology professor.  The whole city is sitting on top of archeological ruins; grand palaces, tombs and old cities.  The 23 to 33 meter (close to 100 feet or a 10 story building) high steles or obelisks, with tombs below are a fascinating look into the history of Abyssinia.  How these massive stele were moved 4 km is open to speculation; from elephants to the energy of the Ark of the Covenant, (which is supposedly housed in the Cathedral of Tsion Maryam next door).  The grand palace, Dungur, excavated by the Germans in the 1930's (possibly looking for the powerful Ark of the Covenant) is on the outskirts of town, with a large stele field marking the ancient graves of commoners.  Farmers with oxen slowly till the soil around the hundred or so upright stones in preparation for the rainy season.  You can imagine they curse these silly stones that clutter up their fields!  Hitler supposedly made a concerted effort to find the Ark with its supernatural power and it was hidden right under their noses all the time in a locked room of Tsion Maryam Church.  Before that it was supposedly hidden in a monastery on one of the many islands of Lake Tana. Everywhere you look around Axum there are partially excavated archeological sites.  We spent a fascinating day with Birha at the sites and visiting the Axum Museum with endless artifacts and colorful painted murals of the history of Ethiopian Christianity.  There is a story, myth or legend for every period of history from the virgin eating dragon to the Queen of Sheba to the rise and fall  of one king after another.  We even visited the Bazen Tomb, resting place of one of the 3 Wise Men, Magi or 3 Kings who reportedly were bearing gifts and following the north star to find baby Jesus!  Where legends stop myths or stories start, often crossing each other.  One legend claims that Mary & Joseph and baby Jesus even made it into Ethiopia.  Whatever the fact, the intricate, multihued stories weave a rich tapestry in the history of Ethiopia.

A serious 10 hour bus ride along and through the Simien Mountains, some of the highest in Africa, found us in Gondar.   This impressive road system took our breath away during several legs of switchbacks with drop offs 2000 feet below.  Railings, what are those?  Gondar was founded in 1635 by Emperor Fasilidas.  He was trying to establish stability after a century of turmoil following the onslaught of the Muslim leader Gragn, causing the collapse of Abyssian Empire.  Soon thereafter Portuguese Jesuits converted Emperor Susneyos to Catholicism, which began the slaughter of over 30,000 peasants refusing to convert.  His Son, Fasilidas expelled these meddling monks and the Orthodox religion was reinstated.

He established Gondar, on a hilltop with an elevation of 2,120m, and it was soon a thriving capitol.  It remained Ethiopia's capitol for over 250 years.  (Read "Stolen Legacy of the African people - by George James" for more information on the rich cultures in Africa through history .)  The walled Royal Enclosure or Fasil Ghebbi, is rich in history, containing 6 castles, earliest built by Emperor Fasilidas in 1640.  There is a misnomer in the world that African history is comprised mainly of primitive tribes, lacking advanced civilizations.  In 1699 Emperor Iyasu was visited by a French doctor, Poncet.  He described in detail the impressive castles, archives, a concert hall, underground tunnels and even saunas and lions in cages.  He described, "an assembly of 12,000 soldiers in battledress standing in formation as the Emperor  walked under a colorful canopy, led by trumpets, fifes, drums, harps and other melodic instruments."  In 1790 James Bruce published an outrageous account of a royal banquet in Gondar.  A cow was brought to the doors of a large banquet hall and carved alive.  The bellowing signaled it was time to sit at the massive table, each man seated between two women.  Slabs of raw beef were carried to each of the women who proceeded to cut them into small chunks.  These raw bits were rolled into a package of tef (injera) flat bread and the men would then have their mouths stuffed with these packages - the bigger and noisier he ate them, the more grand the man.  When he is satiated, he in turn rolls a couple small parcels for the women on each side who have graciously fed him.  He then starts drinking out of a horn and carries on singing and drinking throughout the night.  At some point "the fires of love or lust are ignited" and without coyness or shame, pair by pair leave their seats, raise their outer garments and proceed to have sex on benches lining the outside perimeter of the grand hall.  "Obviously making love and eating are activities during which great noise is to be made!"  Anyone for a Royal Banquet??

When traveling to Harar we stopped at a purely local cafe/bar.  Next to us a man and his buddies pulled out a package wrapped in paper.  Inside was a slab of raw meat.  They carefully cut it in chunks and stabbed a piece with the hunting type knife and down the hatch, washed down by a beer - raw meat is still enjoyed today.  Perfect tablemates for vegans!  One of the favorite ways raw meat is eaten now is ground up and mixed with herbs, a sort of tatar, called 'kitfo'.  However eaten it almost certainly gives the person parasites.

Fasilida's Pool and Church Debre Birhan Selassie are both set in rural, quiet settings surrounded by high stone walls and dotted with grand sycamore trees housing singing birds.  A relaxing break from the hustle of Gondar, we wandered then sat for an hour imagining what life must have been like in those glorious days.  Stepping over the threshold of the church, polished smooth by centuries of devotees, we were amazed at the intricate, vibrant paintings lining the walls and ceiling.  This church is built in a rectangle, unlike the majority of Ethiopian Orthodox round churches, and is one of the most exquisitely decorated churches in all the country.  This was to be the final resting place for the Ark of the Covenant; this dream was never realized.  Having spent a full hour in the peaceful surroundings we were rested and centered as we witnessed a growing crowd gathering at the front gate.  Mini vans poured out friends and relatives of a beaming bride and groom.  We were fortunate enough to be part of, by osmosis, an Orthodox wedding ceremony.  They surrounded the couple's car singing and dancing to the drum beat.  Then they formed a tunnel of well wishers through which the couple walked, all the time swaying and singing.  It was a sea of white, with the joy and excitement exuding from every well wisher.  With a send off like that how could the marriage fail?

Another long bus ride found us in the lakeside town of Bahir Dar.  Greeted warmly by the University we once again met an interesting new group of people, who made us feel so welcome.  We are now friends with a professor from India and were invited over to friends family home for a wonderful meal of fresh mango juice, homemade chips, vegetables, pasta and fruit. They had a coffee ceremony and told us how to prepare our coffee pot before using with green coffee beans and barley.  We talked of Ethiopia and spirituality and customs.  Then we showed them the website and all the photos of family.  Such a heartwarming evening of sharing.

We spent one day exploring the Zege Peninsula.  A seriously remote area reached by boat or terrible potholed roads, we stopped in a tiny village to attend the market.  Only local farmers selling small crops were there and once I bought a handful of fresh ginger we were in like flint.  The hidden gem of the peninsula was Ura Kidane Monastery.  The quiet forest in which it was set was a pleasant goal in itself but once the large wooden doors were thrown wide open it was absolutely amazing to see the colorful paintings adorning the ancient circular church.  A monk with a twinkle in his eye proudly showed us the 16th century building, all but the inner sanctum sanctorum.  Beyond the church was the 13th century dining hall and a new little museum with fascinating artifacts such as crowns, tablets and leather incunabula (hand written and painted) bibles dating as far back as 1297.

Just hanging out along Lake Tana is a pleasure.  The source of the Blue Nile, we walked along the river in search of elusive hippos and relaxed at sunset along the lake at the oldest established Tana Hotel or at the newest Grand Hotel.

We have had so much fun in Ethiopia.  Everywhere foreigners are greeted by, "You!"  It could drive you crazy if you forgot to pack your sense of humor.  On our final bus ride we were the last two aboard so meant the back of the bus for us. Although bumpier there is often lively interaction there.  The seats around us were loaded with young men heading to the bazaar in Dejen.  In usual Ethiopian style they were like puppies cuddling, holding hands, clapping and singing to music.  It is nothing to see two guys walking down the street holding hands.  No homophobia here - just friends, as it should be.  While the bus tout sat down and joined us to clap and sing along to the lively music we noticed he was storing a tooth pick in his large afro hair.  Joseph started slowly sneaking in toothpicks to his afro until there were about a dozen.  We were all laughing so hard we almost peed ourselves!  He didn't suspect a thing.  I wonder when he discovered his new found toothpick collection?

In Addis we broke down and visited a Chinese Restaurant.  I went back to the kitchen to talk to the cook.  He was black but insisted he was Chinese.  We all had a good laugh.  Then I said, "No aji no moto, MSG, or China Salt. (3 names for the same nasty chemical)"  "Why?", he asked.  I said it is bad for your stomach and eyes.  He retorted wide eyed and dead serious, "Will it make my eyes slanted?" 

Here are a few more 'funnies' we saw in our travels: Barfi Cafe, Slimeless Restaurant, peepsi (Pepsi), chilly willy hot sauce, Fried crap with garlic and ginger (carp), 3 bears (have 3 beers),  Shit (Snit) Hotel and the Dum Camera Shop.  We Love Ethiopia!  I can see the beautiful smiles as I write this!  Keep smiling!

Choosing a point half way back to Addis Ababa, we decided on Dejen.  Little more than a widening in the road, its draw is its location overlooking the "Grand Canyon of Africa".  Far from it but all the little farms perched on the top of the impressive canyon, were a pleasure to hike through to see the view.  Arriving late we were surprised to find out almost the whole town was booked solid, all 3 hotels that is.  There was a "bazaar" set up for 4 days with household items, all of China's grade B products in one place!  The best part was the live Ethiopian music each night; entrance fee a whopping 25 cents.  One of our favorite things was to walk up to the back of the swaying crowd enjoying the lively musical show.  Word spread like wild fire that rare 'farinjis' or foreigners had arrived and soon at least half of the crowd was turned around watching us watching the performance!  Smiles are universal!  As goodwill ambassadors and natural, traveling stand up comedians we waved and smiled; so easy to please 'our public'!

Our last week in Addis was filled with warm, welcoming interactions with Addis Ababa University, with 54,000 students.  The impressive campus of the University was only matched with the professors we met.  Joseph gave a talk on the importance of E-Text.  The event was well organized and attended by 300 professors and students.  The former palace grounds of Haile Sellassie were bequeathed to the University.  Education is a current priority in this country which is moving forward in leaps and bounds.  We were told that the country has  moved from an armed to a peaceful struggle.  May the move forward be with wisdom and integrity.

We spent several lovely evenings with old and new friends.  Tesfaye, Alem and lovely family shared their home with us and provided one of the biggest, best most delicious vegan fasting food buffets we had ever eaten.  Such sweet people.  The night before we left we visited the home of Kris and David, who have lived a fascinating life around the world in the foreign service.  What a wonderful time with our friends and when the it was time to fly away to Jordan, (via Saudi, rather than our original tickets through the current war zone of Yemen), we knew we would miss Ethiopia.  The country, culture and people have a special place in our hearts and we will return some day.



And so it goes.........................................Next off to the Middle East, to the ancient country of Jordan.  Until then let's remember the voyage of life really never ends - here or beyond!  Take care and Keep in Touch.  We love to hear from you!



Love, Light & Laughter, 

xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph



Travel notes:


1 US Dollar equals 20.37 Ethiopian Birr

Yared Zema Hotel, great modern hotel with full facilities

Fogera Hotel- good surroundings but give it a pass unless you don't mind no electricity, hot water or water for that matter! 300 bir

Exit side of Castle - straight across road - up hill - then left:  Master Chef then 4 Sisters Restaurants

We met a trustworthy, responsible guide, Simon, who does tours in Gondar and all northern Ethiopia
Simon is an honest, efficient guide, with great English, to help you arrange a good price on any travel in Northern Ethiopia, especially around Gondar. Visit his website at:  and you can also see him, Simon ethiopia tour on lonely planet.  email:,

Cell pone is 09117334799

Simon Travel and Tours is a travel and Tour Company which is found in Gondar established to serve different tourists based on their request. Simon Travel and Tours will have two other branches located specifically at, Barir Dar and Lalibela giving the customers the fastest, affordable and comfortable travel inside the country for domestic and international (foreign) tourists. Simon Travel and Tours highly legally authorized to operate by the Ethiopian government.

Services and products provided by Simon Travel and Tours will initially include pre-arranged tours, custom packages according to clients specifications, travel consultation, and as well as making reservations for lodging amongst other related services.

Just up the hill from Fogera Hotel:  Debre Birhon Selassie Church   Don't miss it.

Bahir Dar:
Addis Amba Hotel  Phone # 0912864906 Luxury 3 star!

Abi Minch Pension - behind the Oil Libya station - near the Blue Nile Bridge  300 bir - very basic with hot water

Ghion Hotel, from book, has closed down


Bahir Dar Ethiopia:

Our friend from Bahir Dar has just opened his new Travel and Tour Agency.   If interested in visiting this fascinating country, contact Yeshiwas for reliable, responsible service!

Yeshiwas Tour Operation and Travel agent at Bahir Dar Ethiopia...... your travel agent Across The Stunning Ethiopia!!!

Our service..

Sight Seeing 


Car hire 

Both Self and Chauffeur drive 




Bird Watching and More..... Contact me Mob. +251918768235/+251960801199/Email

Go check out the hippos in the Blue Nile- if they are there!
Yeshiwas is
low key, good English, reasonable.

A model community with close to 500 village members not just talking about but living its ideals - check out   60km north of Bahir Dar.


Addis Ababa:
Bole district, Addis Ababa,

Choice Pension, on the way from Gotera to Saris,  Phone # 0911304040 or  0114707273  A quiet little pension with several modern rooms, cooking facilities, set around a small pleasant courtyard.  Wifi most of the time.  Clean, extremely helpful staff and owners.  Also provide airport pick up.  Check them out on  (The best place in Addis -  or call to check for availability.  We never have a phone but will ask someone to make the call for us and offer to reimburse them.  Always works out.

Check out the fun, interesting show of Ethiopian music and dance at Yod Abyssinia Cultural Restaurant, while tasting traditional dishes and drinks.   

Piazza District

Lunch Buffet: We lucked out by having the Orthodox devotees fasting (vegan) for 2 months prior to Easter.   (EasterApril12th this year)  All you have to say is fasting food and they will adapt menus for fasting.  They have wonderful vegan buffets for the 2 months and afterwards on Wed and Fri.  The oldest 100 year old Hotel in Addis the Taitu has a wonderful Fasting Buffet for 65 birr - and you can go outside and enjoy the gardens while eating.  Take a mini bus directly from in front of Choice Pension-ask about Piazza district.  You may have to switch once.  Get off the mini bus taxi tell them Taitu Hotel and they will point down the hill. 

On a parallel street down (Mendi St) is the Wutma Hotel.  Excellent lunch buffet also for 75 birr.

Skybus Office and tour operators behind Taitu Hotel in Piazza - closed 12 to 1:30pm  You must get your ticket the afternoon ahead.  They only reserve one day ahead at all bus offices in Ethiopia.
Search Skybus for schedule and destination cities.   The webpage makes the buses look wonderful- when our Arba Minch bus arrived at Mescal Square it was 1/2 hour late and bus was in shambles. Best to get your ticket the day before or you will be in the back of the bus.

To avoid the 5am departure we chose to go at 1:30 pm to Awasa then the following morning had to get up at 5am anyways to get to Arba Minch.  If we had known we could have gone from Awasa to Sodo (3 hours) then another 3 hours to Arba Minch.(3 hours).  Remember to always check if buses leave later for a city half way through the trip.  This allows you to leave at 9 am rather than 5.  Get to the bus 1 hour ahead to put a bag on your seat while it fills up.

Selam Bus lines go to different destinations.

For a longer bus ride - always starting at 5-6am - get your ticket the day before - go to the public Autobus Terra long distance bus station- Central African Republic St.- north of Merkato . 

Semien Hotel Piazza  - Old stand by - room 503 - spacious, quiet - well maintained.  Excellent luncheon buffet  Phone #11-155-0067  Used for businessmen, $40 night  wifi not reliable























Ethiopian beauties of all ages.  Notice the tattoos on her neck.


These Orthodox priests showed us around the museum on the
Zege Peninsula, in Lake Tana.  Very friendly, but they simply would
not smile for their photo!


 The hidden gem of the Zege Peninsula was the 16th century
 Ura Kidane Monastery. This Orthodox priest had a great
sense of humor and loved to have his picture taken.


Women on their way to church.


The 23 to 33 meter (close to 100 feet or a 10 story building)
high steles in Axum.  We look like ants.


There is a labyrint
h of tombs underneath.


  Farmers with oxen slowly till the soil around the hundred or so
upright burial stele in preparation for the rainy season.  You can
 imagine they curse these silly stones that clutter up their fields!


An Orthodox priest off to mass.


Stone by small stone is laid to make these decorative,
durable cobblestone lanes.


Artistic designs.


Looking for vegetables we wandered the back streets of Gondar
and found this group of girls coming home from school. We
had fun as they shyly posed for their photos, then they walked
 us to a little hidden market.


Notice the tattoos of this village woman.


Not a good sign at the beginning of a bus trip!


Joseph made friends with this sweet little guy in a remote
village.  As our bus pulled away Joseph gave him a large bun.


He smiled and quickly ran over to his hungry little brother to
 share his prize!  Sharing is caring.


Magnificent scenery all across the north of Ethiopia.


A coffee ceremony shop in Gondar.


A helper at our lake view guesthouse.  She was off to
serve coffee to guests.



Church Debre Birhan Selassie is set in a rural, quiet area surrounded
 by high stone walls and dotted with grand sycamore trees
 housing singing birds.


This is one of the most exquisitely decorated churches in all the country.
 This was to be the final resting place for the Ark of the Covenant.


Priests resting outside the church.


Ethiopian wedding. They formed a tunnel of well wishers through which
the couple walked, all the time swaying and singing.  It was a sea of
 white, with joy and excitement exuding from every well wisher.


Gondar was Ethiopia's capitol for 250 years.


 The walled Royal Enclosure or Fasil Ghebbi, is rich in history, containing 6 castles, earliest built by Emperor Fasilidas in 1640.


Nihau!  Many Chinese engineers helping to build an
impressive road network through Ethiopia.


Wandering the back streets we came upon this family living
in a mud hut.  We had just 'lightened' our suitcases and
were able to pass on clothes and food to grateful recipients.


Enormous haystacks near Lake Tana.  Biggest we've ever seen!
 (Note the horse in the front!)


Beautiful little birds all around the lake.


Grandma and Jossie offering coffee to us during the coffee ceremony in
their home. 
We were invited over to their family home for a wonderful
 meal of fresh mango juice, homemade chips, vegetables, pasta and fruit.


 We talked of Ethiopia and spirituality and customs.  Then we
showed them the website and all the photos of family. 
Such a heartwarming evening of sharing.


Leather incunabula (hand written and painted) bibles dating
as far back as 1297.


Plants and minerals used to make paint for the hand
painted books used in Ethiopia over the centuries.


A local market on the Zege Peninsula.


It is nothing to see two guys walking down the street holding hands.  No homophobia here - just friends, as it should be.


Farms overlooking the impressive canyon at Dejen.


Interesting Orthodox church in Dejen.


The female stick carriers up above Addis, in the
Entoto Hills, carry massive bundles of wood.


May is the month of weddings in Ethiopia!


Dressed liked royalty this couple heads to a large cathedral in Addis.


The bride and groom are surrounded by singing, swaying
well wishers.


Beautiful, royal looking couple.


New friends Tesfaye, Alem and lovely family, Mussie, Menna & Noah,
shared their home with us and provided one of the biggest, best most
 delicious vegan fasting food buffets we had ever eaten. 
sweet people.


The night before we left we visited the home of Kris and
David, who have lived a fascinating life around the
world, in the foreign service.




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