Lalibela is a UNESCO world heritage site and consists of 11 monolithic churches. It is said to be more spectacular than Petra in Jordan. I have not been to Petra but the Lalibela churches are just stunning. Lalibela is definitely the sightseeing highlight of the entire trip.
Today is Good Friday and all churches are filled with parishers and priests. They will stay here and pray until Easter Sunday.
Before we even enter into the first church my 8 year old daughter has found herself an Ethiopian friend. They were walking arm in arm the entire morning. No common language needed just a universal smile.
After visiting the first 10 churches we break for lunch and say goodbye to my daughter’s Ethiopian friend. The meal in the seven olives restaurant is excellent, definitely the best injera in town.
After lunch we visit Bete Giyorgis, the last and most famous church…and to our surprise my daughter’s friend was there waiting for her.
My 13 year old daughter definitely got the best pictures of Lalibela. Possibly her small Panasonic camera was less intimidating than my big Nikon or perhaps it was because the autofocus of my Sigma 50-500 had broken down by then. It had just been back from repair the week we left for Ethiopia with the same autofocus problem. Because of its size and weight the Sigma is not the easiest lens to manually focus….it could of course also be the case that my daughter is the better photographer.
It is a full day drive from Mekele to Lalibela. About 35 km before Lalibela is a small village where our guide Liben was born. His father and part of his family are still living there.
We drive through the mountains from Aksum to Mekele. The UK travel authorities advise against all travel within 10 km of the border with Eritrea, with the exception of the main road through Axum and Adigrat, and tourist sites close to the road . Near Adigrat we are only about 40km from the border with Eritrea. In the light of the ongoing hostilities between both countries and the negative travel warning it is probably not safe to get off the main road or get closer to Eritrea. Liben, our guide is telling us that he once took a wrong turn at night and ended up at the other side of the border. Luckily he managed to return without being caught. We feel very safe during this trip.
On the road to Mekele we are going to visit two of the Tigray rock hewn churches. At the Wukru church we arrive when the priest is about to leave. He is very nice and he opens the church especially for us. We end up giving him a ride to the next town.
We stay overnight in Mekele and have the best Ethiopian meal of our trip.
Today we visit the Aksum stelae park. The memorial obelisks or stelae were erected around the fourth centuryA.D. Underneath the stelae there are tombs. Due to lack of funds only about 15% of the Aksum archeological site has been excavated. The Rome stelae or Aksum Obelisk is the second largest with 24, 6m of height and was shipped in 1937 by Mussolini’s troups to Rome where it was standing in Piazza di Porta Capena and was only returned to Aksum in 2005.
The biblical Ark of the covenant is allegedly kept in Aksum in the chapel of next to the old church of St. Mary of Zion . The Ark of the Covenant was a great shrine that contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments that were received from God by Moses on mount Sinai.
The Ark of the Covenant at Axum is guarded by the high priest of Aksum, a monk who is charged with its care for life and cannot leave the chapel.
The new church of St Mary of Zion is rather ugly and in the old 17th century Maryam Tsion Cathedral only men are allowed.
Up to now the roads were great, often even better than the roads in Belgium. The Chinese have constructed new roads nearly everywhere in Ethiopia but here they are just starting the works. We feel every bump and get tons of dust. The worst off is my husband sitting in the trunk of the jeep. This is definitely the toughest day driving so far. With all the dust I only took a few pictures today.
Today is Palm Sunday and we could not have missed as the praying started around 3am and with the microphone it felt as if it was ongoing next to my bed. Priests bless palm leaves and parishioners were them woven into headbands or rings.
In Debark we pay our entrance fee for the Simien mountains NP and pick up our armed scout and guide and then it is about one hour drive until we arrive at the Simien Lodge, the highest lodge in Africa. Near the lodge we see already the Gelada monkeys. We can approach them fairly close. The gelada are an Ethiopian endemic species that can only be found in the Simien mountains. Our hike lasts for about two hours and the views are spectacular!
When we return to the lodge there is no electricity and the generator is broken so our headlights come in handy again.
Ethiopia is by most people not immediately associated with historical castles. When we stroll through the remains of the castles built by Emperor Fasiladis and his successors in Gondar, a city in the northwest of Ethiopia we wonder if Camelot was in Ethiopia.
Gondar was founded by Emperor Fasilides around 1635AD when he moved the Ethiopian capital here.
He also has build a Bathing Palace. The pool is still filled once a year on 19th of January to celebrate Epiphany or Timkat. It is the orthodox ritual of baptism where people bathing are blessed.
The Debre Berhan Selassie church is very famous for its angels painted ceiling.
We stay overnight in the Lodge du Chateau in Gondar. It is the most friendly hotel of our entire Ethiopian trip.
From the roof terrace I manage to get some great handheld shots of the full moon.
We visit two monasteries on the Zege Peninsula on Lake Tana which is about a 40 minutes boat ride from Bahir Dar. As a woman I am only permitted to access certain monasteries so that significantly restricts our available options. One of the best examples of traditional Ethiopian monasteries, Ura Kidane Meret which has avery extensively painted maqdas (the central core of the circular structures) can be visited by women.
It is a walk of about fifteen minutes to get there. As Palm Sunday under the Ethiopian calendar is next Sunday, the church is filled with worshippers to prepare the Palm Sunday ceremony.
The second monastery we visit is Bet Maryam. It is less frequently visited and similar to Ura Kindana Meret. The priest here is very friendly and he provides for a great photo opportunity.
In the afternoon we visit the Blue Nile falls. My eldest daughter would have loved to do the 90 minutes walk to the falls but the two other ones protest so we take the alternative route by boat and a short 10 minute walk to the falls.
I did not have any expectations of seeing any water flow. As the nearby power station has constructed a dam and diverted all the water, many recent visitors only got to see the walls with no water at all. We were lucky as apparently the power station was not operating so the water was flowing but it cannot compete with the many beautiful water falls we have seen in Iceland. The Ethiopians claim that the Blue Nile Falls are nearly as beautiful as the Victoria falls but this is likely to be a slight exaggeration. We should be able to tell in a few months time as Zambia will be our destination for the next African trip. My 13 year old gets the full credit for getting the best photo of the falls.