Crisis over

Axsum Travel Blog

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October 5th, 2005

We awoke very early to the sound of somebody running along the balcony outside. Then, Bang Bang Bang on the door.
Phone call.
It was Cameron's mum and dad. They rang to tell us that they had wired us some cash that day and it should be available now.
We were so excited but didn't want to get our hopes up in case there were problems at this end.
We went to the bank on opening. I sat on a seat to wait, not really wanting to look, but couldn't help myself. There were promising signs - typing on a computer, forms being filled out. And then... Cameron was counting out a thick wad of 100 Birr notes.
Crisis over!

So off we went to see the archeological sites of Axsum. A young boy started walking alongside us, telling us about his uncle's horse and cart that could take us to the sites. We tried our best to ignore him but he seemed to think that he was our appointed guide for the day.
After we went to the tourist office, bought our tickets, organised a proper guide (we could afford one now), we set out.
The young boy was outside waiting for us and was most upset when he saw we had another guide. Our real guide told him to scat, and I thought he was going to throw a tantrum, cry, or both.

At first glance Axsum seems dry, dusty, and uninteresting. However it was once the centre of a great civilisation. They say that the Queen of Sheba came from here and we visited the remains of her palace.
The Ark of the Covenant is said to reside in one of the churches, though nobody is allowed to see it. Even the priest who is the 'Keeper of the Covenant' can't see it. It is placed at the top of 7 stairs, and everyday he climbs to the 6th step and lights incense.
It may really reside here as no other country claims to have it.

The fields around Axsum have giant monoliths called stelae with ancient inscriptions on them. During Mussolini's time in the 30's, one of them was stolen and taken back to Rome where it has been in a museum ever since. Ethiopia has recently asked for it back, which the Italians agreed to. This is a big celebration for Ethiopia and it will be re-erected in a huge ceremony later this month.

Recently 3 farmers discovered a large tablet in their field. It has 3 different ancient inscriptions on it, like an Ethiopian Rosetta stone. A hut was built around it and an old village man unlocks the door whenever anybody wants to see it.

Under some other farmland, underground tombs and treasure vaults were recently discovered. Again, it is all pretty unassuming. Its very quiet countryside and another old village man is there to give out candles to light the way down if needed.
Our guide banged the floor with his foot which made a hollow sound. He said that there were more chambers underneath but nobody had excavated them yet. To be an archeologist in Ethiopia.....

We hiked through the countryside, passed lots of countryfolk collecting water or firewood, or walking their flocks of animals. There were also lots of kids shouting 'hello' and trying to sell us rocks they had just picked up off the ground. Also we heard the ubiquitous 'one pen'.

It was quite hilly/mountainous countryside and we passed monasteries perched on top on mountains. We visited one and the resident priest, dressed in robes, brought out all of the churches treasures to show us. The people living inside these churches are extremely poor but contained within these unassuming churches are priceless treasures such as centuries old crowns and crosses made out of solid silver, as well as bibles up to 1000 years old (that they still use). Anywhere else these things would be in a museum.

There were some teenage boys sitting on the steps to the church chanting scriptures from an old (?ancient) bible. Our guide said that they were studying to be deacons.
It really was another world. It seemed time had stood still, and there appeared to be very little influence from the modern world. Plus, so far, tourism hasn't spoiled it.
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October 4th 2005

We caught another Fokker 50 to our next destination further north, Axsum. For those wondering how we can afford air travel, we arranged and paid for all our plane tickets back in Australia. Thank goodness!
Axsum is littered with the ruins of palaces, underground tombs, and stelae. It is world heritage listed and one of the most spectacular and ancient sites in sub-saharan africa.

Well, thats what I've read anyway. We arrived this morning but spent the day trying to get some money! Axsum has two banks (2 more than Lalibela) so we held high hopes that somehow things would have changed since our guide book was published in 2003 and credit card advances were now possible.

The teller, however, didn't seem to know what a credit card was. When we took it out and showed him, he shook his head and said that it was impossible. That was a huge let down. Well, at least they could do foreign exchange (at a much better rate than the black market).

Unfortunately for us though, we tried to change US$80 and one of the $20 bills was slightly torn. So that, again, was 'impossible'.
We were also counting on changing some Australian dollars and UAE money that we had left over, but that was impossible also. Only pounds, US dollars and euros were accepted.

However, one of the banks had a Western Union money transfer counter "The Fastest Way of Receiving Money Worldwide". This sounded just what we were after! We spent 200 of our remaining 800 Birr sending an SOS to Cameron's parents to get to a Western Union counter and wire us some money ASAP! Hopefully the outlay will be worthwhile and we will come back from the bank with a big wad of 100 Birr notes! fingers crossed.

We checked into another Flea Pit - this time only 50 Birr (US$8), and with our own bathroom! Though I don't know the last time it was cleaned. I wouldn't venture into that shower without thongs on.

To all those concerned about our welfare, don't worry - we do have food to eat (we just won't for much longer at this rate!)
photo by: rosemary_mcandrew