Detailed updates for Abi Aday, Mekele & Tigrai

Thanks to Forrest Copeland fir the following useful updates:


•The road between Mekele and Adwa (via Abi Aday and Tembien) is now paved.  There are still a few small stretches that are under construction, but the project should be finished by the end of 2014. It’s nicccccce.
•My 5th edition refers to Awri dancing.  The name should be: Awrs. As stated it’s known all over Tigray and represents serious Tembien pride!
•The town description could be revised:  Abi Aday literally means ‘Big Town’, and although not quite the metropolis this might suggest, it is a reasonably substantial and seemingly quite rapidly expanding settlement, set in a dusty valley below an impressive cliff.  The town is generally divided into three parts.  Kebele 01 is the oldest section of town and holds the old market, tej bets, and the newly paved road to Mylomin.  Kebele 02 is the center of town and contains the bus station, the large new market, banks, many restaurants, bars, and cheap pensions.  Kebele 03, also known as Adigdi, is a rapidly expanding suburb on the way to Adwa.  Starting at the crest of the hill, where you’ll find the hospital, Ras Alula Hotel, and the Mylomin Botanical Garden Lodge, Adigdi continues for 1 kilometer to the College of Teacher’s Education.  Besides offering a base from which to explore Mylomin, a lushly vegetated oasis nestled below sheer sandstone cliffs along the river Tonkwah.  Visitors can take outdoor showers and enjoy food and drink in the cool shade at the day lodge.
Getting there and away: This is still accurate except that the road is now paved with beautiful new asphalt.   Using public transportation, it will take you about 3 hours to get to either Adwa or Mekele from Abi Aday.  By private car, less than 2 hours. Mini-buses and large buses run to both destinations multiple times per day approximately every 2 hours.
Where to Stay:  These are still good recommendations.  Prices have of course increased.  I would add the Mylomin Botanical Garden Lodge in the Moderate category.   Description could be: Located near the Hospital and Ras Alula hotel, this secluded and overgrown compound offers about a half a dozen individual huts that can be rented for the night.  Each cozy and well furnished hut contains a private bathroom, but running water is hit or miss.  The English speaking staff can help arrange tours and car rentals to the surrounding churches.
Where to Eat: The best places for Ethiopian food are Elsa’s Restaurant located near the main traffic circle, or Azeb’s Restaurant located opposite to the bus station.  Both the Mylomin Day Lodge and the overnight lodge offer full menus that include some ferenji food. Abi Adi has a few juice shops and one of them, opposite to the Wegagen Bank, has an unexpectedly articulate and helpful English speaking owner.   Abi Adi is famous for its honey and tej; the best place to try it is in the shade of coffee trees along the river Tonkwah opposite to the Mylomin Day Lodge.
•The information for the Abba Yohanni and Gebriel Wukien Churches is still good.  I haven’t visited the other two.  I paid 150 birr each for these two churches.  There was no mention of TTC guides or permits, in fact the only reference I’ve heard of this system is in your book.  The going rate for a other rock hewn churces is 150 birr each.  This includes: Abunna Yemata (Hawzien), Abraha we Atsbha (near Wukro), and all the churches in the Teka Tesfai cluster.  Those are the ones I’ve visited in the last 6 months.  It’s too bad, as you noted, because it’s really too expensive for some of the less spectacular churches.

Mekele now has two main bus stations.  The original bus station is for south bound buses while the new bus station is for north bound buses (and Abi Aday/Tembien).  It’s a pain in the ass for travelers.  They are connected by contract bajaj service or by line taxi (3.50birr one way).  The new bus station is north of town, on the main road towards Wukro, past the Awash Resort and Hilltop Hotel.  It’s probably 5km from the city center.
Mekele has expanded hugely in it’s upper market food and lodging offerings since I arrived here 1.5 years ago.  I’m not sure how to get you more information about the new spots since mapping is so difficult here in Ethiopia and addresses don’t really exist.  A list of good new restaurants includes: Beef M&N, Sabisa, Karibu, XO Cafe, Omna.  All these places offer pizza and other ferenji food 60 to 130 birr dinner prices.  When you’re in Mekele you could ask around for some of these places.  Also the newest and fanciest hotel in town is called Planet Hotel, located near the Hiwalti war monument and the new (under construction) stadium.  It’s gym, spa, swimming pool, and restaurant puts the former best hotel (Axum Hotel), to shame.  But it’s really expensive.


Abi Aday & Aba Salama Church

This walk is more interesting for its scenery than for i’ts rather inaccessible church. It is situated in Tembien in the vicinity of Abi Aday. The best accommodation is Ras Alula Hotel in Abi Aday where you can find a young boy to accompany you to the amba or to guard your car during your absence, but there is no problem with the farmers. Adwa is far away.    
From Abi Aday, travel in the direction of Adwa, then turn right after about 15km towards the village of Workamba on a very bad road. Near a small hamlet (km21), you could stop to look at a monument commemorating the war between Italian and Ethiopian troops (Ras Kassa/ Ras Seyoum / General Soma). Shortly after this, turn right at the fork, then, in the village of Getszem Eleseley, turn left under a high-tension line near a superb fig tree, passing near a tank (from the civil war). At km29/30, you need to stop because the track is completely broken, and to go on foot between fences of aloes and thorny bush for about one hour with the peak of Kornale on the left. The track arrives at a little village, from where you need to walk East/North-East) for 15 minutes to the edge of an impressive red cliff called Dergouagoua. This is the canyon of the Adeha river, with beautiful mountains all around (Hirakouo to the East and Amba Ferei to the South). Near the rim, there are two sheepfolds built in stones. It is forbidden for women to go further, but there was nobody around when we visited (incredible in Ethiopia!). From here, it is more difficult, maybe impossible if you suffer from vertigo, as you have to go down on a ladder, cross a big rock, climb a second ladder and follow a narrow ledge above a terrifying drop. It is only 20 meters along the cliff, then you need to jump on a ladder to get between the amba and a peak. There is a high ladder (maybe 5 or 6 meters) but it was not sealed on the wall and it was impossible to climb above the middle. It is certainly the reason why we saw anybody. So we didn’t see the church, but the landscape is one of the most beautiful I saw in the marvellous mountains of Tigrai.

Yolande and Jacky BOTTINI