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Published: December 5th 2018
Ethiopia is a bit of a weird place. Amongst the things (and there are a few) that make it odd is the calendar. They use a different month system (13 months), but this can normally be ignored if you keep to short timescales as the years are the same length. More surprising is the year. New Year’s Day is September 11th
and the calendar is either 7 or 8 years behind that used in the Western world so we are now early in 2011. We first realise this as one brand of beer we drink has a New Year competition (which we don’t win!). Another slightly odd thing is the widespread celebration of St George who even has a beer brand named after him. St George is worshipped in every church we visit here.
We decide to spend another day in Lalibela, primarily as we have a nice place to stay but also because we think there is a good walk up into the hills to the Mary monastery. We also need another day to figure out how to leave town without spending unnecessary money on a tourist shuttle.
The hike isn’t quite what we hoped for as it is
on a 4wd track and we struggle to shake off the attention of goat herding children keen for handouts of books, pens or money. The monastery also is a let-down – or we think so – as they want to charge us 350 Birr entrance, which is a bit steep. I debate the ethics of this with the guy who controls access who also claims to be a pastor, but he won’t accept my offer of a donation. The result is we don’t even glimpse the outside of the monastery.
On the walk back to Lalibela we managed to find a track that takes us to a pass in the mountains from where we have some good views over to the next valley. It’s not bad country but I’d be surprised if anyone came here for the hiking.
We notice that the Mary monastery has worked it's way onto the organised tour circuit so has realised the financial benefits of charging a hefty admission price. This seems to be a recurring theme we find here due to the type of visitors the country seems to attract – most are middle aged, relatively affluent and are booked onto tours.
We’ve seen the country described as a good destination for backpackers, which in theory it may be but in reality it is very hard work to travel independently and there are few who seem to do it. Accurate travel information is very hard to come by (the LP isn't much of a help) and locals involved in the tourist business aren’t willing to divulge practical information such as location/time of bus departures.
Since we have a bit of time and are prepared for a little bit of adventure, we decide to risk the bus tomorrow to Gondar. Locals insist this can’t be done but we think it should be possible with only 1 or 2 changes. I think I have found out where the bus leaves from (Google Maps is wrong!) and roughly when (far too early 4am!) and have persuaded a tuk-tuk driver to pick us up at 3:30 am so let’s see what happens!
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