Well, what a difference a day makes. The previous day we were living it up in one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, and today.... We arrived at Lalibela
airport. So tiny and it appeared that the only way into town, some 25km away, was by the 3 landcruisers in the parking lot. Other than that the place was deserted. Nine of us squeezed into ours and off we were on a bumpy road passing shepherds with flocks of goats, cattle, and donkeys. They looked anxiously as we passed in case we ran over one of their animals and then waved furiously and shouted hello when they saw that they were safe. It was beautiful countryside. We were in the mountains and it was very green and picturesque.
Half and hour later we were at our hotel, the 'Jeruslalem Guest House'. Lalibela We were shown a clean but rather plain room with a balcony (furnished with a car seat) with beautiful views over the valley below. We could see people going about their business, cooking outside their huts and walking the hills in robes with their animals. It was US$40 per night - a tad overpriced maybe, but we accepted it for 2 nights. How we regretted that decision! We looked at our finances. We had withdrawn $400 from Brisbane which converted to US$280. We figured we'd get some more out later. We didn't use any of it up in Dubai or at the Sheraton as they accepted credit cards. Here though.... Perhaps we should have done more research. Lalibela doesn't even have a single bank to exchange dollars into Ethiopian Birr, which was the least of our problems.
The flea infested Private Roha hotel, Lalibela
We had no way of getting more dollars to convert in the first place. The $280 we had was clearly going to dwindle fast what with food, accommodation, and mainly, entry to the attractions and paying for a guide. We had heard that some of the souvenir shops acted as (illegal) black market money changers. Terrible rate of course, but clearly we were not in a bargaining position. We changed some of our remaining money quickly and with no hassle, but it wasn't going to last too long. We discussed how much we could spend on each meal, which wasn't a lot. Our lack of research on such an important topic had landed us in trouble. Most of the time when travelling, we have a bit of cash but then rely on credit card advances from a bank or ATM withdrawals. Usually there has been no problem and we have done this in India and Peru amongst other countries.
Cameron, Lalibela Oh how we wished that that one simple sentence in the Lonely Planet had sunk in "Outside the capital, credit cards are as good as useless" So even if there was a bank in Lalibela, it wouldn't have mattered as there would be no way of getting any cash anyway. Plus there are no ATMs in the entire country. How we could have kicked ourselves! We decided that at US$40 per night, we could not stay another night at this hotel. The next morning we checked out, much to the dismay of the owner, and set out to find another cheaper hotel. We checked in the 'Private Roha Hotel' - a very cheap hotel almost lost in amongst thatched huts and small stalls. Chickens were roaming free. Our room was 80 Birr which is a tad less than US$10. It looked it too.
Two single beds, no window and no bathroom. Looking for the cheap Private Roha hotel, Lalibela Stinky squatties down in one direction and 2 shared showers in the other. This wasn't the Sheraton, but it was fine. We're not that precious, and besides - think of all that Birr we were saving! The bed didn't look like you really wanted to lie in direct contact with it, so we pulled out our sleep sheets (Very wise investment they were). Sitting on the side of the bed discussing our predicament, I looked down and noticed a small black thing on my trousers. Oh joy ,a flea! And two more on the bed that I could see (let alone all the ones I couldn't). A flea pit it was, but all that Birr we were saving! We climbed into our sleep sheets and sleeping bags, retired to our single beds and tried to go to sleep to forget about what mess we were in!