De Addis Abeba a Ciudad del Cabo (From Addis Ababa to Cape Town)

The Northern Circuit
December 19, 2011, 4:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The next destination on our tour of the north after the Simien Mountains was the town of Bahir Dar which sits on the shore of Lake Tana. Quite a small place but more well-known for the monasteries that are dotted around the numerous islands in the lake.

Through couchsurfing we got in touch with Yordanos, a local fruit wine entrepreneur who kindly hosted us in her house on our first night. She also introduced us to a great lunch venue along the lake where we sat under the trees and watched the pelicans fishing for food. Having done the boat trip around the lake where we visited a few of the monasteries, we organised our minibus transport (at a much lower rate than we were originally charged thanks to the efforts of Yordanos) to Lalibela which left at 3am the next day.

Bleary eyed and not quite conscious, we got talking to the lovely Eva from Spain and Ababa from Ethiopia while we all waited for the minibus outside our hotel last Monday morning. Like us, both Eva and Ababa have lived in London for a number of years. They’re both AIDS nurses and recently worked at Chelsea & Westminster hospital.

We had to wait in Gashena, four hours from Bahir Dar, to catch a lift on to Lalibela so whiled away the time drinking sweet tea (I’m going to miss the tea in Ethiopia) and Alberto entertained some of the local kids with his juggling balls (no pun intended!).

Mastering the art of juggling

Mastering the art of juggling

Kids of Gashena

Kids of Gashena

Just foolin' around

Just foolin' around

A minibus eventually arrived and off we rattled to Lalibela along a 60km dusty track. We’d booked into the Seven Olives Hotel as heard it was one of the nicest places to stay in town and we thought we’d treat ourselves. At $42 (a lofty price to pay on a backpacker budget), we soon found out that the Seven Olives is overpriced and overrated (blocked basin drain, toilet that didn’t flush and a nasty shower where one wall was covered with mouldy shower curtain material). So after washing our clothes, chilling on the terrace and negotiating a lower price for the room, we moved out the next day to the Blulal, which
was cleaner and a third of the price. Eva and Ababa were staying nearby so it was also convenient to meet up.

Lalibela is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the various rock-hewn churches that are found close to town (UNESCO are also responsible for the hideous scaffolding that has been erected over some of the churches for preservation purposes) and considered by some to be the eighth Wonder of the World. The churches are located in groups, the largest being the northwestern ones and then the southeastern ones, which although there are a smaller number of them, we thought were more impressive. Standing all on its own is Bet Giorgis (St George), another pretty imposing structure. The churches are all carved out of stone and although I don’t think they are as inspiring as the temples in Siem Reap in Cambodia, they are still a fascinating work of art and definitely worth visiting.

Most people hire guides for the day to explore the churches but Alberto and I ended up doing our own self-guided tour and had a really good day away from the hassling and bothersome touts (they can really wear you down in Lalibela) feeling our way through dark tunnels connecting churches and chatting to priests hidden away in their cavern-like lodgings in hidden holes within the stone walls.

Bet Giorgis

Bet Giorgis (Saint George)

Appreciating Lalibela

Paying respects at Lalibela

An angel (or a hairy Spaniard) at the door

An angel (or a hairy Spaniard) at the door

The light of Lalibela

The light of Lalibela

Going exploring

Going exploring

Lalibela is also where we encountered the most tourists and bumped into some of the people we’d met whilst in the Simiens, including Kim from South Korea who’s been travelling for ten months and is now also on his way to South Africa. We also met Rick the photographer (and former war journalist) from New Zealand who has been travelling for over 35 years and has too many interesting stories to tell!

Another thing Lalibela is famous for is its tej, aka honey wine, which we sampled at the aptly named Torpedo tej club complete with Ethiopian fiddler and traditional shoulder dancing (we’ve been told that in the north, the Ethiopians dance using mainly their upper bodies and in the south, they use their lower bodies more so when you put them both together, you get a whole Ethiopian). We both agreed that tej is definitely an acquired thing as it has a particularly interesting aftertaste of salami infused with a bit of honey!

More news to follow soon . . .

1 Comment so far
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Absolutely loving ya blog (a great reminder of travelling) and the photos! These little Ethiopian boys look so cute! Suerte xxx

Comment by Berni

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