Sunset at the Lalibela airport
Today I was scheduled to travel to Lalibela where I hoped to see the famous rock-hewn churches. I had read that Ethiopian Air did not always adhere to their schedules and this day was no exception. After hanging around the airport for an extra three hours we finally boarded our flight headed for Bahir Dar. This hour or so flight was uneventful and upon landing the plane filled with passengers headed ultimately back to Addis (via Lalibela). However, no sooner was everyone settled in when the announcement came on that due to the lateness of the flight, the plane would not be returning to Addis. Sure glad I didn't have a connection to catch!
Once all the new folks disembarked unhappily we continued on to Lalibela where we landed as the sun was beginning to set.
Entrance area to the Seven Olives Hotel
The airport was small but there were hotel desks and it was simple to arrange accommodation. However, because of the flight change all the people headed for Addis had to spend another night in Lalibela. This included a group of Grade 7 students and their lucky teacher chaperones. Unfortunately, I was in the van with these kids. "My god....this is just like being stuck with one of my former classes!" Actually, the students were very good but the trip from the airport to the town was a good half-hour so by the time the kids had continued on their 9th verse of "99 bottles of beer on the wall" I was hoping their hotel was coming soon.
I was dropped off at my hotel the last along with a PhD candidate from the UK who was a vet.
Headed downhill to the churches
We chatted and ultimately joined each other for a lovely dinner at the Seven Olives Hotel restaurant.....the food was excellent! By the time we finished, it was pretty black out so I returned to my room to prepare for the following day of church viewing. Of course this didn't last long because the power went out. "Good thing I have my headlamp......zzzzz"
The next morning I met Andy for breakfast and we were soon chatting with Nick, another Brit who was on the tail end of his African travels. We all decided to share the cost of a guide and so headed down to the ticket/entry office down the hill. It was a lovely day...clear and sunny! And then we started to visit the churches which was just amazing. I tended to hang back from the others taking photos so I missed quite a bit of the explanations.
A welcome to Lalibela
But I did not care....it was truly amazing to just view these awesome structures and wander in their presence. And of course, seeing the priests was neat and it was great that they were so nice and accommodating considering all the visitors they must see.
Of course the hilight was clearly St Georges (Bet Giyorgis) church ....the cross-shaped roof is so distinctive and since this one stands on its own, it really seems even more impressive. But I also was awed by Bet Gabriel-Rufael with its deep moat around it.....wow! The thought that these churches were all chipped out of the solid rock still amazes me and I cannot help but think that the story that angels did the work at night must be true!
Another special treat was that on Staurday there is a big market and people headed for this event could be seen travelling to and gathering while I was touring the churches.
View of Bet Medhane Alem and the scaffolding
I also eventually wandered down to the market to take a look and it too was so very interesting. Despite the heat from the sun, this market occurs in a huge open area with the different sellers seemingly knowing where the invisible boundaries for each type of commodity (vegetables, grain, honey, donkeys etc.) is located. And in places, it is even difficult to navigate ones way through all the sellers and buyers. Quite a visual experience under the piercing rays of the hot sun...."Can I crouch under your umbrella for a few minutes?" Of course most foreigners attract attention and it seems common to be adopted by young boys eager to assist you. For me, the heat was a bit much so my market "window" shopping was brief and I heaed back for the long hike back up the hill....phew...is that a steep climb!