Greetings from Lalibela

February 2nd 2011
Published: February 2nd 2011
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Greetings from Lalibela, further north in Ethiopia and a whole different experience to Addis.

Gone are the trappings of a modern African city, here it is all stone huts and dusty tracks - the 4x4s are essential once you leave the town.. But, being Africa, tourists and locals alike still pack in to ancient Japanese minibuses which grind up the steep hills on which the town is built. The internet access is in a shed at the road side, slow but it works!

Lalibela is famous for its rock churches. There are eleven of them, built by cutting into the rock, starting with the roof then cutting down to make the sides. Because of this, all the churches are in big holes!

They were all built by King Lalibela - well, we assume he got some friends in – in the 12th century over a 23 year period. The king had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and decided that Africa needed a “New Jerusalem”. This would make the trip more accessible to ordinary Africans. The churches have been in use every day for over 900 years.

Unlike Addis which was multi-cultural with Muslims, Jews and Catholics as well as orthodox Christians, Lalibela is strictly secular – everyone is a practicing orthodox Christian. We are told, that on saints' days, things pretty much stop working while everyone is praying at the appropriate saint's church.

Bird life is abundant here, even though it seems so dry and barren. From our little hotel balcony we have spotted vultures and kites circling. There are also lots of smaller, colourful birds – orange thrushes, turquoise starlings, multi-coloured sunbirds and long tailed mousebirds. Oh, and there are a lot that we can't identify!

Living is cheap for us. Our en suite double is £16 a night, dinner was about £6 last night, including drinks and breakfast is typically about £3. However, we have to pass over lots of paper money to pay, as the bank notes range from 4p to £4. There is an £8 note but everyone avoids it as it is hard to change!

We start our five day trek tomorrow – just us, a donkey and a village guide. More about that in our next postcard when we return.

Love, Gill and Alistair

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