My family were not as such tourists in Ethiopia. The main reason for their venturing here at all was to see me and experience the world that I have become a part of. That being largely taken care of by four days in Woldia and the fact that our appetite for eating pastry covered potatoes was dwindling by the day, we headed off on the “holiday” portion of the trip, insofar as it is ever possible to go on a holiday in a third world country. We hired a minibus to take us out of Woldia and bring us to the number one tourist site in Ethiopia; Lalibela, three complexes of churches hewn out of the ground.
The churches date from 13th century, a time when Ethiopian Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem was common. This pilgrimage, like them all perhaps, was very arduous and also dangerous for Ethiopians to complete successfully, having to fend off attackers en route and also face possible starvation. Lalibela, both King and Saint, decided to recreate Jerusalem in the relative safety of Ethiopia thereby negating the need of his people to travel abroad and face near certain death. Ethiopia itself being such a large, topographically varied country, the challenge of a pilgrimage to Lalibela even from within Ethiopia would surely satisfy the requirements of any pilgrimage, that mixture of sacrifice, resolve, pain, suffering, simplicity, self-discovery and ultimate reward. (…uh-oh…Friends of Camino 2010, I think I feel another pilgrimage coming on…)
To this day, thousands of pilgrims make the journey to Lalibela each year, often barefoot, walking for days or weeks to reach it. Of course, some modern day pilgrims now travel by car or bus as they do in other parts of the world too.
As the legend goes…Lalibela himself carved the churches out of the rock by day, while a band of heavenly angels took over the work at night. (I’m reading a book at the moment which blasphemously suggests that skilled craftsmen from Egypt and India may have had more of a hand in the completion of the churches than the angels.) Whoever did the job, it is estimated that it took approximately 24 years to complete and the result is truly spectacular. The existence of these churches particularly in the setting of the Ethiopia of today, is nothing short of astounding; a testament to the devotion of the people their faith, the mastery of the people over their natural environment and above all irrefutable and poignant evidence of a highly evolved, affluent, sophisticated society. In the same way that the skill, ingenuity, vision and dedication of those behind New Grange and the Pyramids is unfathomable to me, Lalibela is a mystery.
I’ve never been to Petra. Growing up however, we did own the “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time” computer game for the Commodore 500 which I feel must be quite a similar experience and wandering up and over, in and out of the rock hewn churches, weaving through dusty tunnels, and hanging over sandy precipices in Lalibela, I felt like I was inside the game. Enjoy the slideshow and marvel at the wonder of Ethiopia 🙂
As the crow flies, Lalibela is just 140 km from Woldia. The first hour and a half or so of tarmacced road affords beautiful views of the Ethiopian countryside, while the next four hours or so of unpaved road is where intrepid travelers really test their mettle. At the end of the three days in Lalibela, we had stopped rattling. Or rather I should say my family spent three days in Lalibela; I spent two. In preparation for the family trip to Ethiopia, I had to attain the Ethiopian essential but rather incongruous balance of having everything planned with military precision and also the ability to change it all at the last moment. The trip to Lalibela was one of these such situations. The plane leaving for Addis later in the week was full but I had secured spaces for my family. I myself had no other option but to fly to another city farther North the day before them and then fly on to Addis the following day to meet them there for the next part of our trip.
Every cloud has a silver lining however and if I hadn’t been stranded alone in Axum then I never would have met these two lovely, lovely people, gotten a free tour of Axum and become embroiled in a heated altercation involving multiple tour guides. A story for another day! Lots of love to Robin and David! XXX