Homer's Travels: 2022 Fall Travels, Part Four - Ethiopia - Addis Ababa And Lalibela

Monday, December 12, 2022

2022 Fall Travels, Part Four - Ethiopia - Addis Ababa And Lalibela

We left Egypt late in the evening and arrived in Addis Ababa at 3:40AM (more or less).  It took us an hour to get our luggage and get through passport control.  When we finally got through the gauntlet our guide wasn't there.  We talked to another guide who was there to pick up someone else.  We had our guide's phone number (a first … we usually fly in sort of blind) and he was nice enough to call.  Our guide, Sam, was in the parking lot and had almost given up on us thinking it shouldn't have taken us an hour to get through the airport.  It surprised me too.

The landscape of northern Ethiopia.
Our tour was supposed to start at 10:00AM but our guide changed the time to 11:00AM to give us an extra hour to sleep.  We were grateful to get six hours instead of five.  When you travel every hour of sleep counts.

Tomb of Haile Selassie and wife.
At eleven we met our tour mates.  We have more people, five, on this tour than the other three countries.  Sam showed up on time and we headed out.  Sam would be our guide the entire thirteen days we would be in Ethiopia.  This is not common since most tour companies didn't like to pay the airfare to fly guides around.  In this case Sam was the owner of the tour company so there were no issues with her being with us the entire time.  She turned out to be one of the best guides we've had in my opinion.

The first day would be a city tour of Addis Ababa.  Things had to change on the fly when it was discovered that the National Museum (where the remains of Lucy are kept) was closed.  The drizzly overcast skies also precluded us from going up Mount Entoto to see the view of the city.  Instead we went to the Holy Trinity Cathedral.  We saw a typical Ethiopian Orthodox church with interesting art and stained glass.  Also in this church are the tombs of former emperor Haile Selassie and his wife.

Next we visited the Ethnological Museum and saw weapons, armor, and art of Ethiopia.  Included in this collection are items owned by Emperor Haile Selassie.  I believe the favorite room here for the Wife was one full of depictions of Mary.

A church hewn from solid rock.
Last stop of the day was a late lunch at a rooftop restaurant.  Now, while Egypt was hellishly hot, Addis Ababa, being at altitude, was cold.  Add it the drizzle and rather breezy weather, I froze may patootie off at the restaurant.  I obviously under dressed for the weather here.  Fortunately most of our time in Ethiopia was in warmer areas.

The next day we flew to Lalibela.  Lalibela was why we chose to add Ethiopia to this trip.  My Brother-0in-Law had sent an article to the Wife about the churches here and this sent us on the path to Lalibela.  We drove from the airport, through scenic valleys lined with mountains.  We stopped for the scenery and talked with children returning home from their morning classes.

As we got closer to the churches we stopped at a restaurant for lunch.  The food in Ethiopia was okay but often too spicy hot for my tastes.  Traditionally the food is eaten with the hands using a thin, fermented flatbread, called injera, as a makeshift wrap.  I did not like the taste or texture of the injera so I usually stuck to more traditional lamb, beef, or chicken with rice.  I used the restroom here and had my hands washed by an ancient man with a squirt bottle of soapy water and a pitcher of warm water.

A rock church under a canopy (excluding roof drainage was an oversight by the builders).
There are eleven rock hewn churches at the Lalibela complex.  Sam planned to visit half on the first day and save the rest for our second day in the area.  We started with a small museum with religious items from the still active churches.  Next we began the tour of the incredible churches.

A pilgrim admiring a church.
The churches are carved from solid rock.  They first carved out the hole the church would be in leaving a large rock in the middle.  Then they would start carving the churches from an upper window until the rock was a hollow chamber where the churches were.  Just thinking how much work it would take to carve all that rock for eleven churches is mind boggling.

Our hotel in Lalibela was a bit crude but comfortable enough … unless you realized that all you had was a half roll of toilet paper.  The beds were also rock hard.  Having said this, we'd expected this as our hotel was described as "the best available." WIFI was not available so Sam carried a portable hotspot with her that worked half the time.

On our second day, after breakfast at the hotel, we drove up in the mountains, passing (and visiting) a local farmer working his land, to see the Yemrehanna Kristos cave church.  The church, built in a cave, was very interesting.  Every church we visited had its own priest who often showed us the churches prized possession, usually a solid gold cross or and intricately painted icon.  Some only displayed these things because they were friends with our guide Sam.

The Yemrehanna Kristos cave church.
Priest with gold cross.
After lunch at the same restaurant as the day before (the number of restaurants that were tourist friendly were few and you had to give the restaurants at least an hour's warning if you want the food on time) we returned to the church complex to see more of the carved churches.  We saw all of them except one.  Sam said it would be nicer to see it in the morning light so she was saving it for our last day in Lalibela.

That night, the day before the Wife's sixtieth birthday, Sam brought in a big cake to celebrate.  It was a fun way to end the day.  We gave the uneaten half of the cake to our driver who had kids.

Our last day in Lalibela we went to the famous Church of Saint George.  Sam was right, the morning light definitely made it more photogenic.  Saint George is the most important Saint in Ethiopia and we saw many churches dedicated to the saint.

Church of Saint George.
After finishing the churches at Lalibela we drove to the airport to fly back to Addis Ababa.  At the airport there was a kerfuffle when someone found the binoculars one couple in our tour group were carrying.  Apparently binoculars could only be carried if you registered them.  In the end the binoculars were taken from the couple and sent to Addis Ababa where they would be delivered to the couple on the plane when they were leaving the country.  How they had flown twice (into/out of Addis Ababa and to Lalibela) without anyone complaining we don't understand.  Sam really worked hard to get those binoculars back and called in a lot of favors before hitting the brick wall.  The politics, especially at the airports, is terrible.

We finally left Lalibela and returned to our hotel in Addis Ababa.  The hotel here was nice but not Israel - Turkey - Egypt nice.  After the hotel in Lalibela, though, the Addis Ababa hotel felt like a palace.

The next day we would be going to the Muslim part of Ethiopia.  Our adventure continued.

Pictures can be found in my Ethiopia 2022-10 Google Photos album.

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