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Saturday 7 Mar 2009
Lalibela, Ethiopia

Lalibela Day 2!

I didn't get much of a chance to describe the rock-hewn churches in detail in the previous entry, but as today covered essentially the same things (albeit at a much slower pace now that my guide was gone!) I can detail those here later...

The previous evening I came to the horrific realisation that I literally had only about 30 birr ($3) left (after deducting the money due for laundry, hotel room and taxi back to airport)! In a way this was a good thing. Ethiopian (and Tanzanian for that matter) money is filthy! (I used to have to wrap paper money in toilet paper before putting it in my pocket, not to mention wash my hands in whatever water I could find after dealing out some dough!). Water I could handle, by refilling my bottle in the tap and using sterilising tablets, but I would literally have to watch every other thing I purchased very carefully.. no more souvenirs... also I would no longer be able to tip ANYONE (not even priests after taking photos!). There were definately no ATMs and I had no more US dollars to convert after buying the coin (I feared this was a curse for buying Ethiopian antiquities!Surprised). I was royally screwed and, for the first time, scared! (there were no embassies or western unions nearby where I might find refuge/money and the nearest ATM was two days bus trip away!)

This is when Ethiopian generosity really became apparent to me:

Stuffing myself on...
Stuffing myself on...

I went off for breakfast at a local "restaurant" (basically a shack) that myself and an American couple had sampled the night before (when there was an electricity outage - our injera meal had to be cooked over a gas stove for an hour instead!). I evidently arrived a little early as the place wasn't yet open and some of the staff were sleeping out on the front steps under some rags (this seems to be quite common in the countryside since the staff act as security in this sense!). I "gently" woke one of them up, and his reaction was, surprisingly, happy to see me! A rude awakening is soothed with tourist dolla Wink. Anyway, I only planned on getting an omellete with toast (usually the cheapest thing that still manages to satisfy a hunger) for about 10 birr. After finishing the omellette I was still pretty hungry, so I thought I'd see if they could rustle me up some injera bread for a few extra birr as it might hit the spot. The owner seemed surprised that I would want plain injera, but agreed nonetheless. Soon out comes not one, but 3 FULL injera breads, *AND* a plateful of spicy hot lentil curry. I was stuffed! And the price?: nothing!!! The guy was aware I was low on cash and despite having little himself, thought it best to help me out!

My generous Ethiopian...
My generous Ethiopian...

Another cool thing happened later that night, when I similarly went out to a restaurant to find food on the cheap (at this stage I had about 15 birr left!). I went to the very cool "Unique Restaurant" (read more later about it), and asked the rather eccentric owner if I could look at the menu to check out the prices. "I am menu!", she replied. So I explained that I didn't have much money left, so maybe she could rustle up an injera and possibly one topping?

A group of locals sitting down overheard my conversation (incidentally locals love this place, which is a good sign too) and one of them got up and said "Don't worry about it, I'll pay for it! Have whatever you like!". Despite my protests, the guy insisted and invited me to sit down and join his group (a bunch of local guides). You can see by the pictures above left and to the right that I was well fed! I was amazed... even the guides here aren't particularly rich, yet the people in Ethiopia don't hold foreigners in contempt, or view us just as walking dollar bills, they genuinely wanted to help me out and enjoy my company. That day really put the icing on the Ethiopian cake for me! Cool

Right so ... back to today ... exploring the churches!

It was a particularly excellent day for exploring the churches. Whereas the day before the entire 2km² complex of churches seemed to be crammed with American and German tourists, today there were nary more than 10 people wandering around. This provided some great opportunities to really take in the sheer awesomeness of the buildings and even interact with the priests a little more. Additionally, perhaps because it was Saturday, all of the churches were empty and no services were taking place. I was glad of having experienced the orthodox ceremony the day before.

Solemn moment
Solemn moment

What really strikes you about the churches when you first encounter them is not so much the exterior (which is amazing), but the interior and the fact that it was carved from one piece of rock (no additional concrete or stones were brought in to fill the gaps). Many of the churches have intricate layouts inside, some even with second floors (none of which are accessible to tourists) which are used to house sacred parchments and treasures. Many of the second floors have windows or even balconies looking out over the main hall below. I hate to think what punishment lay out if the architect miscalculated the required dimensions from the outset!

beautiful Bet Amanuel
beautiful Bet Amanuel

To say that this collection of churches is one of the Wonders of the World is an understatement! Yet there is something rather cool about them not being recognised as such, as it allows the visitor to feel rather smug that they have borne witness to something like this before such recognition encourages millions of visitors to arrive. Wink

Sort of like an "Indiana Jones hidden discovery" feeling Laughing

(more in the next entry...)

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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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  • Bet Giyorgis



    Bet Giyorgis
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    Sheep skin canvas
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    St Peter relief in Bet Golgotha
  • Carved window



    Carved window