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Saturday 7 Mar 2009
Lalibela, Ethiopia

Lalibela Day 2! (part two)

A priest displays his...
A priest displays his...

Conversing with the priests was also great fun. I found out that each church has it's own group of priests (like caretakers) that take turns residing in the church all day, giving sermons, making sure tourists don't defile the paintings and to stand for photos. I met a few of the younger decons that were studying to become priests and as part of their training they reside alongside an elder priest and practice their English with the visitors. Many of them let me take photos without requiring a tip as I explained that I literally had only 10 or 15 birr left!

Me and Bet Giyorgis
Me and Bet Giyorgis

I got more time at Bet Giyorgis today also (yesterday we only had about 10 mins as we arrived when the place was closing). It's the most famous church in Lalibela and it was built in the shape of a cross. And it truly is exquisite in its design and detailed windows (plus you need to walk through a man-made cave to get down to the entrance.) Had the entire place to myself for a good while too!

Mummified saints
Mummified saints

I discovered something else rather startling about this church, along one of the cavities that line the wall of the pit containing the church (typically these flea-ridden cavities are used as sleeping quarters for visiting pilgrims) lay the ancient mummified remains of several people who were once considered to be saints. Just a heap of scattered bones and skulls with bits of skin/hair still attached (check the pic). What is more amazing is that the remains are on full display, not even guarded (the priest is inside the church) and you can walk right up to them. If you were so inclined (or retarded) you could feasibly snap off a toe and bring it home with you! This spectacle is so bizarre that tourists spent most of their time photographing this than actually looking at Bet Giyorgis!

Huge attendance at...
Huge attendance at...

Red chillies on Market...
Red chillies on Market...

At lunchtime, the complex was closed down and all the church doors were locked, so luckily there was a HUGE Saturday market taking place nearby. Farmers & villagers from as far as 20km away trekked over the road-less mountains to Lalibela to sell their wares or buy up stock. Donkeys, spices, chillies, vegetables, honey (with swarms of bees flying in the air), livestock, metalwork, even clothes were on sale for the right price. It was a photographers dream as it was REAL raw Ethiopia in the flesh and the variety of people with their own unique tribal dress was on display.

Market day
Market day

I became somewhat of a spectacle as I tip-toed through people sitting cross-legged whereever they could find a spot and laying out whatever particular crop they grew on a small cloth in front of them.

Despite spending a considerable amount of time exploring the Northwestern group of churches and Bet Giyorgis which is a little south of them, I was unaware there was a whole collection of other churches to see until an Italian guy I befriended pointed me in the direction of the Southeastern churches which were a little up a valley near the "River Jordan" (yet another Jerusalem reference laid down by Lalibela). I was very glad he did, as I quickly found an amazing layout of churches with vast mazes running through dark narrow caves between them. As never before I felt I was in an undoscovered Petra (although evidently discovered as it's still in use by locals! Laughing).

Bet Gabriel Rufael
Bet Gabriel Rufael

Local hermit doing his...
Local hermit doing his...

Here I found the beautiful Bet Amanuel church (which is huge) as well as the Bet Gabriel churches which may have once being used as a living quarters for Lalibela (secure as it is with it's own bridge over a small gorge). The vast cave system running between the churches is rather exciting to get lost in .. I'm sure I missed out on seeing a few of the smaller churches that are connected, but that's part of the fun and another reason to go back!

That night (as previously mentioned) I went to Unique Restaurant. When a bunch of Yanks came in the owner decided to kick-start a mini-party after we had all finished eating! Some local minstrels-for-hire were there at the time and they started singing some lively traditional music. Eventually we were all on our feet dancing with the locals (bear in mind this room was tiny at around 5m square!). Ethiopian dancing seems to involve a lot of "shoulder" thrusts... I was kinda crap at first but I was able to show-off my mad skillz the following night in Addis Wink ... they followed this with the coffee ceremony and the entire room was engulfed in insense (I couldn't see the door for the smoke!). Bear in mind this was all free for me, as the guy in the restaurant wanted to pay for me! Truly excellent last night in Lalibela!

I really liked Lalibela, and the people again were very genuine. Maybe it was something to do with the girls shouting "You have beauty!" all the time at me (clearly they need an opticians here too Laughing), or maybe because the young kids follow you around trying to practice their English (apart from the usual "Hello hello!" or "You! YOU!") and genuinely want to learn (not just get cash off you), or maybe it was the kindnesses shown to me by people who have very little but were willing to share when I was low on cash.

Anyway .. back to Addis in the morning .. the last 4 days had been fantastic and really made Ethiopia for me.

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I bless the rains down in Africa

Travel blog by peterforan

Day 3  ... Lookin forward to Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro

Day 3 ... Lookin forward to Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro


With Toto's defining tune ringing in my head, I don khaki pants and venture full-throttle into Africa! Elephants, lions, huge mountains, men with spears intent on stabbing me (probably) and the "Cradle of Humanity" (tm)... 4 weeks ain't gonna be enough!

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Photo Album

  • Bet Giyorgis

    Lalibela

    Ethiopia

    Bet Giyorgis
  • Sheep skin...

    Lalibela

    Ethiopia

    Sheep skin canvas
  • St Peter...

    Lalibela

    Ethiopia

    St Peter relief in Bet Golgotha
  • Carved window

    Lalibela

    Ethiopia

    Carved window