Rick Layne & Mary Thomas’ Ethiopian Diaries
Thursday 11: Lalibela — A short flight from Axum takes us south to Lalibela, the home of Ethiopia’s famed 13th Century churches hewn into the rock. We will eventually visit ten of these churches. Each of the churches is unique in shape or size and elaborately decorated. They were carved whole out the rock into the ground, surrounded by trenches and courtyards, and connected by tunnels and passages. There is much ducking of heads and carefully climbing and descending paths and crude steps to get from one site to the next. We spend the first afternoon after arrival visiting six of these churches, and are appropriately impressed at the sheer (literally) amount of work and engineering required to carve three large storey buildings both inside and outside complete with detailed decoration is truly a wonder. We are duly impressed. The dinner cuisine at the hotel is a welcome change from the last two nights.
Friday 12: Lalibela: This morning we’re in the van off to a place called Nakto Laab to visit a church which has been built into a shallow cave, reminiscent of Native America cliff pueblos in the Southwest of the US. Typical of our guide, we disembark the vehicle a mile or so before arriving at the church so we can walk through the farmland and observe the local surroundings. Aside from the small church, a very photogenic priest shows us a number of the church’s treasures: crosses, painted scriptures, robes, etc. Lunch is in an architecturally-interesting restaurant in Lalibela which is run by a Scot lady in her mid-sixties and her Ethiopian business partner. One of the popular entrees is shepherd’s pie. After lunch we head for our second tranche of rock churches, culminating with the iconic Church of St. George which is featured on all tourist articles on Ethiopia, with its intact carved roof and complete surrounding walls. It does not disappoint, and we are lucky there is not much of a crowd, only a handful of other tourists, since this has to be the most popular tourist destination in the country. During our two days visiting the churches, our guide has engaged a woman to be our shoe caddie, and she follows us from church to church helping us on and off with our shoes and minding the footwear while we are inside. Our guide tells us she fought for 15 years with rebel forces against the military dictatorship during 1976-1991 and has the scars in her side (which she shows us) from her bullet wounds. And it is back to the hotel to enjoy the sunset with a beverage and pack since we are off tomorrow for.