First, I need to clarify that there are at least two different ways to arrange the trekking trip. You can contact directly the people of TESFA CbT (Community Based Tourism) and they will arrange the tour starting in Lalibela. They only take care of the mountain trip, and can’t arrange flights, hotels, or guides outside of their tour. Their web site has not been updated for a while because they have told me they are experiencing some technical problems (or they lack resources) but the tours are fully in place and they have even opened new sites, including some in the Tigray region. If you contact them, they will send extra information via e-mail.
Another way is through a tourism agency, and here is where the controversy starts. Apparently, some people who used to work with TESFA CbT ( an NGO), left the community and established their own business in Addis.
This tourism agency is called Tesfa Tours and is not part of the NGO. If you book the tour through Tesfa Tours, they will keep 20% of what you pay for the trekking trip, giving the remaining 80% to the TESFA CbT. One thing that Tesfa Tours can do however, is book your hotels, flights, arrange for drivers/guides, recommend sites, where to eat, etc., all over Ethiopia, making things much easier for a person coming from abroad. I went through them because I wasn’t aware of the distinction between the two TESFAs. It was after booking that I realized the difference, so that’s why I want to put the information out so you can make an informed decision. I think that the owner of Tesfa Tours intentionally used the same name and similar logo to bring customers to his business just like happened with me. He has more resources (money) to keep an updated web site and people tend to be more trusting of a travel agency.
However, I found out that the people of TESFA CbT are actually the ones who are working the mountains, provide the guides, cooks, etc.. They live all year round near the sites and will directly take care of you. The trekking tour provides a way to get an income that doesn’t depend on the crops, which are sometimes unreliable since they are tied to weather patterns.
If you have enough time to plan and book your journey, I will truly recommend you go through the TESFA CbT people directly contacting them via e-mail or at their office in Lalibela. Miguel is doing the same trip I did directly through TESFA CbT without any problems.
I’m very sorry about all this, and I wouldn’t like to see a great initiative ruined because of a controversy. It doesn’t matter how you do it, don’t miss this trekking trip.
Regarding the trek, I listed in my previous post the basics supplies you may need but I will talk a bit about the trekking itself and how everything works, or at least worked for me.
When you contact with TESFA CbT from the US you should tell them when are you planning to go, how many days you want to trek, and which is your level of fitness
or preferences so the can customize your trekking trip. For a person that can handle several hours of walking, there are four sites that are usually done together connected by walking on flat terrain and don’t involve altitude gaining. Walking times go from 1 hour to 7 1/2 per day, not including stops. These sites are usually walked from west to east and they are: Mequat Maryam, Wajela, Aterow, and Yadukulay.
I did the first three but walked from east to west because I continued my trip to Gondar by car.
You don’t need to be young and fit to participate, TESFA CbT welcomes older people and children, and if you need them you can rent horses instead of walking , something very appropriate for small children.
During the rainy season, most of the sites are closed.
The tokuls where you sleep are well built with concrete, rocks and a grass roof; they are comfortable, there is no electricity but they will give you candles for the night.
The day of the trip, the people of TESFA CbT will pick you up at your hotel in Lalibela, assign you a English speaking guide and with a minibus drive you to the starting point of the trek (about 2 hours). You’ll wait for the local guides and their donkey to arrive. They will load your bag (soft luggage only) on the back of the animal and you’ll start the walk to reach the first site. If you start from the west, you’ll walk about 3 1/2 hours the first day to get to Mequat Maryam. You’ll stop to have lunch and the community people will cook something for you, generally injera with some toppings.
The walk is relatively easy although it takes a while to adapt to the high altitude (be aware of possible altitude sickness). The terrain is flat but rough, sometimes the path is full of small rocks and you need to keep your eyes on the ground to avoid tripping.
You will travel the Ethiopian northern country, cross paths with the locals and be welcomed at the site with a snack, tea and coffee at of course a great view of the mountains. Later they will serve you a homemade dinner, usually vegetable soup (delicious BTW!) and rice or spaghetti with veggies, tomato or chicken sauce. The English speaking guide assigned by TESFA will accompany you the whole trip, but the local guides (and donkeys) will change from day to day or sometimes at lunch time since they live in different places. The community people are very warm and welcoming, and remember that they are working for you so don’t forget to tip them just like you would at a hotel: local guides as well as the people at the sites (cook, cleaning lady, guard). The money you give to them will be well spent.
For people more adventurous there are other sites in which you gain some altitude, and if you are up to a challenge and are a serious climber, go to Abuna Yoseph that sits at an altitude of 4,300 meters (14,000 feet) above sea level, just be sure you are up to it!
My experience was amazing, and I took advantage of this trip to learn a lot about Ethiopian people. Don’t be shy and ask your guide as many questions as you want, they know a lot about local traditions, agriculture practices, and Ethiopian culture.
There is also a chance they’ll invite you to a house to see how they live, be polite, it’s a privilege to be invited to their homes to share their food.
Local children are wonderful, always smiling and saying hello, you’ll catch them playing genna, pumping water from a well or babysitting their younger siblings.
Enjoy your time in the mountains, is an unique experience.
Next, my first walk to Aterow…