A Tesfa trek among the rock churches of Tigray
In 2010 Tesfa, in partnership with ADCS, started the construction of new sites in Eastern Tigray, in sandstone mountains north of Gheralta. There are currently four communities hosting guests. You can either visit all four sites, or do a shorter two or three night trek.Treks are mostly shorter than the ones near Lalibela (4 or 5 hours) but do include ups and downs as churches and sites are often up a 200 meter escarpment.
Accommodation at all sites is in the traditional Hedemo, a rectangular compound that is the design for most farmhouses in the area. These are built of the local stone and blend into the surroundings. Roofs are flat and thus can be used as a terrace. There are three bedrooms at each Hedemo, and each bedroom has a single and a double bed in them. There is also a shower and eco toilet in each, and a hand wash in the middle of the compound.
The closest site to Hawzen and the south is Shimbrety. It is built on the sandstone escarpment on the western edge of the area, at about 2,800meters with great views towards Adwa and the lower land to the west. The peak at the end of the ridge – Dega Amba – dominated the view to the south, with the cliff faces around it. There are also views back to the south east, and along the ridge heading northwards. There is also a good possibility to see Gelada baboon on the cliffs around Shimbrety.
Down below if taking the direct route down you pass the village and pretty valley for the and around the from Shimbrety it is an easy walk to Gohgot, and not that long to Erar, although this has some up and down sections. Shimbrety is the closest to Gheralta Lodge, although as it is some 20 km away it may be good to get a transfer to either the trail head at Muzety or to the village at Dega Amba below Shimbrety itself. Muzety to Dega Amba is about a 90 minute walk, and the walk up to Shimbrety from there takes about another hour.
GohgotThe most southerly site to the east is Gohgot. Gohgoy is set at the foot of a cliff at around 2,600m, but still on higher ground with views into the valleys. It is close to a number of rock-hewn churches including Gohgot Eyesus and Mariam Bahara, and not too far from a very old built up wooden church two thirds of the way up a cliff called Debri Giyorgis. Debri Giyorgis can be visited on the way to Enaf a walk with one steep uphill sections and other uphill stretches. The lovely church of Mariam Bahara is the way to Erar or Shimbrety.
Enaf, the most north easterly of the four sites, is also the highest of the four at almost 3,000m. It has wonderful views over the whole range of sandstone ridges and valleys that stick out like fingers from the peak (3,330m) just west of Adigrat. From Enaf it is possible to climb the peak and reach Erar in one day – but this is a tough walk. It is a great walk to Enaf from Gohgot – with some climbs and spectacular paths. There are also facinating churches on the way.
It is also possible to walk down to the outskirts of Adigrat from Enaf. It is about 15 km, quite a hard walk up but not too bad if going down (depending on your knees). It takes about 4 hours to the main road. There is a new lodge here that will be ready in Sept 2011 (Agoro Lodge). Agoro Lodge is situated on the dirt road that comes down from Enaf and is on the edge of the mountain a few kilometers from Adigrat town.
Erar, like Shimbrety is on the sandstone escarpment on the western edge of the area, also at 2,800meters. It is a bit closer to the mountains on the Adwa side with some interesting pinnacles of rock in view to the northwest. About a 90 minute walk from Erar is the village of Kiat underneath the cliff face, with its lovely rock church Kiat Mariam. The walk down may take about 30 minutes, but going back could take up to 1 hour. Near the top of the path is the trail head where vehicles can pick you to take you on to Axum or Adigrat.
In organising your trip to the community sites of Tigray we can arrange for transfers from the airports in the area (Axum and Mekele) and will be happy to link your trip to a stay in the wonderful Gheralta Lodge in Hawzen just south of our sites. There is also a lodge near Enaf site on the outskirts of Adigrat. Tesfa Tours can include stays in these lodges as part of your tour.
Churches along the way
Please note that visits to the churches in this area, as all over the country, are dependent upon the priests being available and willing, and the programme of the churches themselves. However where the church is linked to a community where you stay there is a good chance that a visit can be arranged especially if they are given some notice. There is an entry fee for visiting these churches, currently is 50-100 birr per person.
New Tesfa sites are opening in Tigray for the start of 2012 which take clients up to an archeological site by a mountain called Amba Fekada. Here there are ancient temple ruins in a church yards and a small but significant piece of rock art. See the news posting for more details.