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Africa » Ethiopia » Amhara Region » Lalibela
May 24th 2011
Published: May 24th 2011
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Ethiopia is a country apart as a travel destination, there’s simply no doubt about it. During the past fortnight, I’ve borne witness to more intense experiences in this fascinating country than anywhere in the world … period! The moment you step outside the hotel there’ll be sights guaranteed to blow your mind, and it’s best to leave long held assumptions about western living at the door. Ethiopia features human interaction that is raw, it can be almost primal; but in spite of the confronting poverty there’s an underlying generosity of spirit that pervades the culture.

The journal continues, dear reader, from where we left off in Addis Ababa. My growing fascination with Ethiopia continues apace, including the unique style of song and dance. The dancers specialise in energetic shoulder and neck movements, and it’s amazing to watch. It's not just the culture but the people who fascinate, and I love the way the waitresses at my Addis hotel hang out when they have a bit of downtime between customers. They lean against a bench with their arms folded, and a gaze that’s a million miles away. It’s the same when out and about in the bars, in fact wherever they
St George churchSt George churchSt George church

Looking as pretty as a picture
are Ethiopian girls have this uncanny ability to just stand around and look hot. Not doing anything special really, except looking hot that is. And believe me when I tell you in their case that’s more than sufficient!

A further intriguing phenomenon sees Ethiopian men and women go to the bathroom together. They don’t use the same facilities of course, but it‘s an everyday occurrence for couples to walk in and out at the same time, and something I’ve never witnessed before. Ethiopian time is also unique, where six am our time is considered twelve. It works when you think about it … so that seven am is one o’clock in the morning and so it goes. However, travellers can run into problems when checking on a bank’s trading hours for example. There’s always doubt as to whether the locals are answering in Ethiopian time or western time, and if you don’t confirm which it will do your head in.

Anyways, my paperwork has been sorted at relevant embassies for onward travel, so it’s time to get out into the countryside. Ethiopian Airlines is attracting a fine reputation in East Africa, and is heading towards being the top airline on the continent. They have very competitive fares to destinations within and outside Ethiopia, and I purchased a return ticket to Lalibela for only 120 dollars. Lalibela is a highlight of the northern circuit, and I was excited to fly up to see the magnificent churches carved from volcanic rock. Engaging in long distance road travel is problematic in this large country, where most traffic is not allowed to travel on the roads after dark. Of course every traveller works to their own individual budget, but if money is not tight I recommend flying within Ethiopia to get the most out of a visit, as you can lose days travelling by road before arriving at the famous destinations.

There is a proud tradition of Christianity in Ethiopia that stretches back to Roman times. A thousand year old legend maintains King Lalibela built all the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, with only the assistance of angels. This spectacular UNESCO world heritage listed site mesmerises visitors, who come to explore the labyrinth of paths, underground tunnels and churches built for the glory of god. Of course, I’m no exception and thoroughly enjoyed two days exploring the churches, and was fortunate to
Entrance to St George churchEntrance to St George churchEntrance to St George church

Surrounded by rock with a perimeter creates a magical effect.
be accompanied by a knowledgeable and well-spoken young guide with impeccable English. The churches are shaped painstakingly from volcanic rock, and feature as one of the top travel sights I’ve been privileged to visit. The most famous is St George church, featuring a huge cross carved into it’s impressive roof, and the church is set within a carved perimeter with sophisticated drainage to create a spectacular overall effect.

The annual pilgrimage to the churches of Lalibela is an ancient tradition in Ethiopia. It occurs annually in mid January, and lasts for four days. The pilgrims walk bare foot for up to a fortnight from different parts of the country, and sleep on the side of the road. A visit during January would be amazing when the churches are swarming with pilgrims and tourists, but I was happy to visit in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility during the low season. In fact the monks opened the churches for the first time on several occasions while we were visiting. Lalibela is set in the mountains at an altitude of 2,630 metres, so you really need to take your time when exploring, otherwise negotiating the steep terrain will have travellers huffing and puffing like you’re about to blow a house down!

Lalibela is surrounded by the spectacular Asheten Marem Mountains, that rise spectacularly above the town and it’s traditional village life. The men in rural Ethiopia carry sticks just as the Masai do in Kenya and Tanzania, and it’s fascinating to gain an insight into the local people’s way of life. There is a timeless quality to Ethiopia, and it’s good to see village life thriving in the region that bore the brunt of the devastating famine of the 70’s and 80’s, that so traumatised the country and the rest of the world. There’s been an unusual amount of rainfall in the region this month, and the farmers will be busy cultivating crops before the inevitable dry season sets in.

I’ve enjoyed the last fortnight visiting Ethiopia, and feel the country has enormous potential as a tourist destination. There are many famous attractions I’ve been unable to visit on this occasion, and it blows me away to think how much the country has to offer. It will take time, patience, investment, hard work and good governance to develop Ethiopia to it’s full potential but, basically all of you should
Asheten Marem mountainsAsheten Marem mountainsAsheten Marem mountains

Provide a stunning backdrop to Lalibela
be here now!

Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." Kenneth Boulding

As I continue my travels, until next time it’s signing off for now


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1st June 2011

Great stuff Tom!
Hey Tom, As always.....really enjoying your adventures. Marcel and I are very jealous. You are really living the life....Bravo!
17th May 2013

Nice to read your article. You style is really different. Would you please write something about Travel Insurance? Most of the people really don't know about that. Like, On a recent trip to Morocco my iPad got stolen from my backpack while I was exiting a train. I am glad my insurance paid me out a little for it. http://www.multitrip.com/

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