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Published: April 6th 2012
On leaving Axum, we decided we wanted to try visit some of the rock-hewn churches, which Tigray is famous for. We decided to get to Adigrat first and use it as a base. Unfortunately, a lot of the churches aren't easily accessible (one requires you to climb up a rope to visit), especially when relying on public transport.
By the time we arrived in Adigrat, we were too late to make it out to visit anything, so just had a walk around town. There isn't much to see or do in Adigrat and they certainly do not get many tourists there. There is quite a few NGOs there though, as it bore the brunt of a lot of fighting in the most recent Ethio-Eritrean War.
After one night there we got a bus south on the way to Mekele. We got off this bus about half way down at a village called Dinglet. This was the access point of three churches known as the Teka Tefsai Cluster. Two of these churches are literally carved into the side of the cliff and are thought to date back a far as the 10th or 11th century - even though one of
the priests claims one dated to the 4th century.
As soon as we got off the bus, we had a troop of kids following us asking for pens and money. They were particularly persistent and they were soon joined by a young guy who decided he was going to be our guide, despite us telling him we didn't want one. One of the problems with visiting these churches is that you have to find the priest who has the key to open the church. Our wannabe guide took pleasure in telling us that we wouldn't be able to find him without his assistance.
We got lucky though, when a van passed us carrying two girls from Slovenia and Poland lecturing in Addis Ababa, who were on a trip with the Slovenian's mother. They had a trip organised and the priest was found to open the church for them, so we were able to go in afterwards.
The first church we visited was the Petros & Paulos Church, which lies halfway up a cliff. You have to climb up a rickety wooden staircase to see it. It isn't truly rock hewn, but has some fascinating paintings inside. The
next church was the Mikael Melehayzenghi. This one was carved into the rock and has two very low doorways. Once inside it is not as impressive, except for the fact how big it is compared to what it seems on the outside. The last one was the Medhane Alem Adi Kasho and is known as one of the finest rock-hewn churches in Tigray. After entering the first door, you come into a sort of foyer, then the priest gets a special key and opens the way into the church proper, which has some amazing patterns sculpted into the roof.
Once we were finished, we got back out on to the main road and caught a bus to Mekele. I was in a hurry to get there, as it was St. Patrick's Day. We checked into a hotel and went out to see what kind of Paddy's Day festivities there was in Mekele. Unfortunately, it didn't all go to plan with no one knowing it was Paddy's Day, or why I was wearing my Irish jersey around. Things got worse when I had a bad reaction to some food, which came up shortly after being eaten. I tried to stay
on it, but accepted defeat around midnight and went back to the hotel, where I was thankful that on this occasion, we had splashed out on a place that actually had a toilet bowl!
We spent one more day in Mekele, trying to sort out a tour to go to the Danakil Depression, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. There is pretty much nothing of interest in Mekele, so we decided to head on to Lalibela as soon as possible.
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