Update 2: 23rd January 2018

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It’s well into January, and here I am at Gonder in north-west Ethiopia for the Timkat festivities. This was a convenient detour on my long journey back to the Eritrean border, and too good to miss. Timkat is what we call Epiphany, and Ethiopians go mad about it.

Procession 1      Procession 2

One thing they certainly have is stamina. The procession had begun the previous day at 2pm, in the heat of the afternoon, and toured the city for five hours accompanied by several thousand worshippers singing and dancing. The pace wasn’t fast. Priests and bishops walked on a red carpet, divided into half a dozen sections which a lively team rolled up behind them, then jogged forward and laid down ceremoniously at the front. (Click any photo to enlarge; click again to enlarge further.)

Gonder woman      Fasilada’s pool

After several miles of this we arrived at sunset at Fasilada’s pool in the valley, built in the 17th century with a castle on an island in the middle. Excitement rose to fever pitch as twelve ‘Arcs of the Covenant’ were carried across the bridge into the castle. There was one from each of Gonder’s main churches. Many people held an all-night candlelit vigil here, but I sidled off for some sleep.

Fasilada’s pool      Celebrations 1

At 7am next morning I found the area buzzing. Football enthusiasts can’t teach Ethiopians anything about frenzy. It grew and grew, till finally at 8.30 the Archbishop (quite young, I thought) dipped his cross into the pool and made the water holy. A couple of hundred boys whooped and jumped in.

Celebrations 2      Celebrations 3

We all wanted to be blessed by the holy water of course, so some priests generously sprayed the rest of us with a hosepipe. The celebrations went on all day and the next, but by mid-afternoon I was exhausted and headed for my guesthouse.

Musician      Young participant

Finding it wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined. The Arcs of the Covenant were on their way back to the churches, each accompanied by hundreds of people.

More participants      Return procession

But everyone was dressed in their finest – a photographer’s delight.

Hairstyle 1      Hairstyle 2

Hairstyle 3      Another participant

Priest      What's happening?

Another participant      Hello!

Next week I’ll carry on towards the Eritrean border to rejoin the route my Victorian predecessors took in 1868. But first, it’s off to the Simien Mountains to get back into the swing of trekking! I’ll write again soon.

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