Magical Ethiopia Timkat Festival 2015 - Hargeysa, Somalia
January 15, 2015.
What a splendid time it has been in this "country" of Somaliland. I could have easily stayed a few more days but with one week before I flew home, there was time left for one more grand adventure. I have itchy feet today, time to move. I'm at the airport in Hargeisa, trying to get standby ticket back to Addis Ababa. The airport staff were all very encouraging, told me that I had picked the right day. And just like that, I got a ticket, waved goodbye to this most amazing place, jetted to the West and in an hour was on the ground in vibrant Addis Ababa.
At the airport (ouch) they made me pay for another visa, as I had traveled "internationally". At the domestic airport, as I feared, I discovered flights to Lalibela (with the Timkat festival) were heavily booked, I got on a waiting list for a flight the next day. The airport staff were not very optimistic. I started thinking of excursions I could take from Addis if I wasn't able to get a flight. I would have fun no matter what and perhaps just enjoy the big city Addis as a base. I hopped a ride over to little Biruk guesthouse, very happy to see my friends there. Some journal time, a little internet, a good nap and a great shower were much appreciated. If you are ever in Addis Ababa, I highly recommend Biruk. It is impeccably clean, has creative and delightfully prepared food, an excellent location and is very very safe and friendly.
It was Thursday evening, there had to be some fun in the big city. I was determined to find it. I walked out at about 7PM, down toward Ghana Street. This is a vibrant area, people shopping, eating, milling about. There are clothing stores, cafes and pubs. I ducked into a little local place hole in the wall, dimly lit pub that served food. After my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I saw about 15 people staring right at me. I smiled, held my hands up and said "Hello, can I eat and drink with my new friends here?". They laughed, slapped me on the back and welcomed me in, almost everyone offering me seats at their tables.
A fun group of 30 something young men and women were at the bar, I chatted with them, we all sat down and had lamb tibs and many beers together. It turned out they were musicians and dancers for a well known traditional music group known country wide in Ethiopia. I made them laugh with the language I knew, they invited me to a show they were playing later that night at a posh local club called H2O.
It was great, they ushered me past the burly doorman, into a very swank VIP area, gave me a cozy seat and front row seats to their show. I guess this club (which feels very NYC) is owned by Ethiopian Americans who have lived in Washington DC for many years. My drinks were comped, the crowd was small but grew as the night went on. The dancing and music were exceptional, I left at midnight as I had to get up at 5AM, the place was really kicking into high gear as I walked home. The walk back, which had been vibrant and full of life at 7PM, was a little dodgy with women of ill repute calling out to me and a few dangerous looking guys lurking about. There were also nice people on the street and a few policemen.
As always, when I feel the least bit uncomfortable in another country, I get big and loud, kind of puffing up my chest, walking with confidence, intense eye contact with people who look threatening, loud in my voice, moving my head back and forth and even acting a little unstable. Even if there is no threat, I want them to think "I better pick another victim". I had a street burger on the way home, a late night coffee and made it back to my room safely at 12:30.
Up far too early just a few hours later at 4:30A, caught a quick ride over to the airport. I had heard that no matter when you had gotten on the waiting list, the list is basically reset in the morning based on what time you get there. I was at the airport doors when they opened, was the first one at the counter and presumably first on the list. I made myself a pest over the next couple hours, checking again and again. The airport people were not optimistic, I wondered on some level is important people weren't slipping ahead of me. I did tell the head of the airline in Addis that I was doing some writing about my trip. I also was truly a pain in his butt with my frequent checking and was also nice at the same time.
Then, boom, the head guy called across the terminal to me. I was the only stand by person to get on the flight. The plane had loaded, he said "you have to run now". I went through immigration, literally ran shoeless down the terminal, through the empty gate and across the tarmac to the plane. There was a guy on the tarmac who tried to stop me, I would not be denied and ran past him. The plane was just pulling their stairs up, clearly the counter to plane communication wasn't the best. They waved me in, telling me to hurry. I scampered up the stairs and collapsed on the only seat available on the plane, sweaty and out of breath. I had made it, amazing.
We pulled away from the gate, I was pretty sure my luggage wasn't on the plane. There was a western woman next to me, she looked at me and laughed I think. I must have been a pitiful sight, shoeless and sweating. The plane had quite a few westerners on it going to Timket Festival, heading first for a stop in Gondor with the plane continuing to Lalibela. The woman next to me was named Ariadne, a well known photographer and (amazingly) the wife of Philip Briggs, the author of the definitive Ethiopia guide book and many other books about Africa travel. Philip and I had become Facebook friends, he had helped me with a few travel question before my trip. His book had been my companion for weeks and I was sitting next to his wife.
Ariadne was on the plane leading a small group of wealthy Americans on a photographic travel journey. We laughed, had a great talk. I was so loopy, the whole experience at the airport and now this had been surreal. At least I had shoes on now. The plane descended, I grabbed my day pack and headed off the plane. Ariadne looked at me and laughed again. She told me this wasn't my stop and the plane would take off soon. We were in Gondar and Lalibela was the next stop. I ducked sheepishly back into my seat, sometimes all you can do is laugh at yourself. We took off, flew over a pretty arid, mountainous region and about 30 minutes later dropped into the little airport at Lalibela. Indeed, my bag hadn't made it. I said goodbye to Ariadne, made plans with her to meet and have some of the famous local honey wine.
I walked outside in the dry morning heat, feeling light of load but very happy that I had made it. My shoes were dirty from the dust. I hopped in a minivan with an Irish couple, they are retired and he is chairman for an agricultural NGO with multiple projects in Ethiopia. I hopped off my little bus near a place I thought I could find a room. After talking to a few places, I found a great little spot for $20 available for two nights, the price would swell to $100/night during the Timket festival. There was no way I was paying that much for the room, I would find another place before then.
I keep talking about it, here is a description of marvelous Timkat from Wikipedia, one of the very biggest (if not the biggest) in Ethiopia each year "
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Timkat (Amharic: which means "baptism") (also spelled Timket, or Timqat) is the Ethiopian Orthodoc celebration of Epiphany. It is celebrated on January 19 (or 20 on Leap Year), corresponding to the 10th day of Terr following the Ethiopian Calendar. Timket celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. This festival is best known for its ritual reenactment of baptism (similar to such reenactments performed by numerous Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land when they visit the Jordan); early European visitors confused the activities with the actual sacramentof baptism, and erroneously used this as one example of alleged religious error, since traditional Christians believe in "one baptism for the remission of sins" During the ceremonies of Timkat, the Tabot, a model of the Ark of the Covenant, which is present on every Ethiopian altar (somewhat like the Western altar stone), is reverently wrapped in rich cloth and borne in procession on the head of the priest.The Tabot, which is otherwise rarely seen by the laity, represents the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah when he came to the Jordan for baptism. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated near a stream or pool early in the morning (around 2 a.m.). Then the nearby body of water is blessed towards dawn and sprinkled on the participants, some of whom enter the water and immerse themselves, symbolically renewing their baptismal vows.
By noon on Timkat Day a large crowd has assembled at the ritual site, those who went home for a little sleep having returned, and the holy ark is escorted back to its church in colorful procession. The clergy, bearing robes and umbrellas of many hues, perform rollicking dances and songs; the elders march solemnly with their weapons, attended by middle-aged men singing a long-drawn, low-pitched haaa hooo; and the children run about with sticks and games. Dressed up in their finest, the women chatter excitedly on their one real day of freedom in the year. The young braves leap up and down in spirited dances, tirelessly repeating rhythmic songs. When the holy ark has been safely restored to its dwelling-place, everyone goes home for feasting.
This is a good time to have a Wiki description of Lalibela, my own words cannot do it justice:
Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia famous for monolithic rock-cut churches. Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and a center of pilgrimage. Unlike Aksum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. Ethiopia is one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity in the first half of the fourth century, and its historical roots date to the time of the Apostles.
The layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted, especially by local clergy, to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem. This has led some experts to date the current church forms to the years nfollowing the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 by Muslim leader, Saladin. Lalibela is located in the Semien Wollo Zone of the Amhara ethnic division (or kilil), at roughly 2,500 meters above sea level. It is the main town in Lasta woreda, which was formerly part of Bugna woreda.During the reign of Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela (a member of the Zagwe Dynasty, who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century), the current town of Lalibela was known as Roha. The saintly king was named so, because a swarm of bees is said to have surrounded him at his birth, which his mother took as a sign of his future reign as Emperor of Ethiopia.
The names of several places in the modern town and the general layout of the rock-cut churches themselves are said to mimic names and patterns observed by Lalibela during the time he spent as a youth in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Lalibela, revered as a saint, is said to have seen Jerusalem, and then attempted to build a new Jerusalem as his capital in response to the capture of old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187. Each church was carved from a single piece of rock to symbolize spirituality and humility. Christian faith inspires features with Biblical names, even Lalibela's river is known as the River Jordan. Lalibela remained the capital of Ethiopia from the late 12th into the 13th century.
The first European to see these churches was the Portuguese explorer Pêro da Covilhã (1460–1526). Portuguese priest Francisco Álvares (1465–1540), accompanied the Portuguese Ambassador on his visit to Lebna Dengel in the 1520s. He describes the unique church structures as follows: "I weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more...I swear by God, in Whose power I am, that all I have written is the truth".Although Ramuso included plans of several of these churches in his 1550 printing of Álvares' book, who supplied the drawings remains a mystery.
The next reported European visitor to Lalibela was Miguel de Castanhoso, who served as a soldier under Christovão da Gama and left Ethiopia in 1544. After de Castanhoso, more than 300 years passed until the next European, Gerhard Rohlfs, visited Lalibela some time between 1865 and 1870.According to the Futuh al-Habasa of Sihab ad-Din Ahmad, Ahmad Gragn burned one of the churches of Lalibela during his invasion of Ethiopia.However, Richard Pankhurst has expressed his skepticism about this event, pointing out that although Sihab ad-Din Ahmad provides a detailed description of a rock-hewn church ("It was carved out of the mountain. Its pillars were likewise cut from the mountain.",only one church is mentioned; Pankhurst adds that "what is special about Lalibela, (as every tourist knows), is that it is the site of eleven or so rock churches, not just one –- and they are all within more or less a stone's throw of each other!"
Pankhurst also notes that the Royal Chronicles, which mention Ahmad Gragn's laying waste to the district between July and September 1531, are silent about the Imam ravaging the fabled churches of this city. He concludes by stating that had Ahmad Gragn burned a church at Lalibela, it was most likely Bete Medhane Alem; and if the Muslim Army was either mistaken or misled by the locals, then the church he set fireto was Gannata Maryam, "10 miles east of Lalibela which likewise has a colonnade of pillars cut from the mountain.
This rural town is known around the world for its churches carved from within the earth from living rock, which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture.Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries. Unesco identifies 11 churches, assembled in four groups:
The Northern Group:
Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, probably a copy of St Mary of Zion in Aksum.
Biete Maryam (House of Miriam/House of Mary), possibly the oldest of the churches, and a replica of the Tombs of Adam and Christ.
Biete Golgotha Mikael (House of Golgotha Mikael), known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela)
Biete Maskal (House of the Cross)
Biete Denagel (House of Virgins)
The Western Group:
Biete Giyorgis (Church of Saint George), thought to be the most finely executed and best preserved church
The Eastern Group:
Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), possibly the former royal chapel
Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St. Mercoreos/House of St. Mark), which may be a former prison
Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos)
Biete Gabriel-Rufael (House of the angels Gabriel, and Raphael)possibly a former royal palace, linked to a holy bakery.
Biete Lehem (Bethlehem Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶם, House of Holy Bread).
Farther afield, lie the monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church, (possibly eleventh century, built in the Aksumite fashion, but within a cave).There is some controversy as to when some of the churches were constructed. David Buxton established the generally accepted chronology,noting that "two of them follow, with great fidelity of detail, the tradition represented by Debra Damo as modified at Yemrahana Kristos."Since the time spent to carve these structures from the living rock must have taken longer than the few decades of King Lalibela's reign.
Buxton assumes that the work extended into the 14th century.However, David Phillipson, professor of African archeology at Cambridge University, has proposed that the churches of Merkorios, Gabriel-Rufael, and Danagel were initially carved out of the rock half a millennium earlier, as fortifications or other palace structures in the waning days of the Axumite Kingdom, and that Lalibela's name simply came to be associated with them after his death.On the other hand, local historian Getachew Mekonnen credits Masqal Kibra, Lalibela's queen, with having one of the rock-hewn churches (Abba Libanos) built as a memorial for her husband after his death.
Contrary to theories advocated by writers like Graham Hancock, according to Buxton the great rock-hewn churches of Lalibela were not built with the help of the Knights Templar; asserting abundant evidence exists to show that they were produced solely by medieval Ethiopian civilization. For example, while Buxton notes the existence of a tradition that "Abyssinians invoked the aid of foreigners" to construct these monolithic churches, and admits that
"there are clearly signs of Coptic influence in some decorative details" (hardly surprising given the theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural links between the Ethiopian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox Churches), he is adamant about the native origins of these creations:
"The significant fact is remains that the rock-churches continue to follow the style of the local built-up prototypes, which themselves retain clear evidence of their basically Axumite origin." The churches are also a significant engineering feat, given that theyare all associated with water (which fills the wells next to many of the churches) exploiting an artesian geological system that brings the water up to the top of the mountain ridge on which the city rests.
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I settled in to my room, which was a short walk to the magnificent rock hewn churches. If there is one place in Ethiopia that is known around the world, it is here. I had to pinch myself, I had pulled off this daring dream, getting all the way from Somaliland to here in just over a day. Now I could relax, enjoy the rest of my trip here, Timkat festival as well. I didn't have a light back to Addis Ababa yet. It would work out, whether I flew or took the very long bus.
After getting my bearings, I strolled out in the town, walking up hill toward the center of town. If this town were anywhere else in the world, many millions would come here. That being said, it is the biggest tourist destination in Ethiopia, there are plenty of guide offers, shoeshine offers, offers to sponsor a child's education. Because there are a regular flow of tourists, the people all speak English well and their approaches are quite sophisticated. I'm pretty good at walking away when being bothered, they get the idea after awhile. Especially when i get to a new town, I like to walk unmolested until i get my bearings, really feel the place. Besides enjoying the solitude, I get to take the place in with my own eyes and senses, instead of a guide's.
I needed to get a pass that was good for 4 days to all of the churches. I decided to wait until the next day to get it. There would be so much to see. Apparently, there were officials at each church who checked passes. I walked around the corner to probably the most famous of all the churches "Bet Giyorgis" or St Georges. As this one sits magnificently by itself and it was quiet, I hoped I could get close without having a pass. I did indeed get close an caught a breathtaking look of this church carved 60 feet below ground out of a solid block of stone, in the shape of a cross. It is breathtaking to finally look at something like this, having read about it for years. I had worries that it might be too touristy here, but it was just me and the church for about ten minutes until a guard asked for my ticket and shooed me away.
There was a lot of day left. Had a good veggie with enjera meal, two coffees. I'm not sure what is going on with my bag, don't think it is getting here today. My clothes are smelly, my shoes dirty, oh well. I had heard there were some amazing churches that many travelers don't go to outside of town. I negotiated a good deal with a guy I met on the street, we jumped in his old clunker truck and headed out of town. We rode for awhile out in the country, then turned onto some pretty bumpy roads seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The scenes were pastoral, lots of hay bales, little huts, wildly waving kids.
We got out to go to the amazing early 11th century church Genata Maryam, first visiting the very old and blind senior priest, having coffee and enjera with him. He was very serene and welcoming, I don't think many people come up here. The setting here was arid in the hills but a little oasis around the church, very beautiful, somewhat lush, fed by a natural spring. The older priest had a younger one tour us inside of the very authentic church, the amazing thing about all these churches is that every one is still actively used today. One of the most incredible things I heard, and saw for the first time, priest bring out ancient things for you to see. This guy brought out a real cross from the 13th century, touched almost every part of my body with it, blessed me then gave me a big hug. These people are charming, that is for sure. My first day, I was inside an ancient church in the middle of the countryside, all alone with the priest and incredible relics, vivid paintings inside and relics outside. Dreamy.
It was a bumpy ride home. What a great way to get started, felt like I knew the countryside a bit better and was coming back to the big city of 5000 :). I wandered up into town, had some meat and enjera, a couple cold beers. Home to bed, looking down on Bet Gyorgis again in the dim light. I can't believe it, I can't believe it. I am here. Showered my grossly dirty body and slipped off to sound sleep.
Jan 17, 2015. Up this morning, feeling pretty good. I hopped a ride with another guy I met, went way out into the countryside again. We parked, walked up through an oasis and to Yemrehanna Kristos cave church. This place had quite a presence to it, very old Axumite style construction, cool interior in the cave. Again, I met the senior priest, only two or three travelers there. There was an area with many human bones, I guess years ago they had come here to die in this holy place. Seemed weird the bones were out in open, nothing quite makes sense in Ethiopia.
After the cave church, we went back to a vibrant weekend market town of Bilbilla, all kinds of produce, livestock and goods being sold. There were some pretty aggressive kids there, I lost my driver buddy and had to fend for myself, leading my young pursuers on a endless maze through the market until they thought I was crazy and finally left me alone. I finally hopped up on top of the truck I was in, took in the scenery of the chaotic market from safety and snapped some photos. Thankfully,. my guy came back, strapped two bleating goats to the truck for Timkat feast, they would make their "I'm going to die" noises all the way back to town. I'll tell you what: it is one thing to buy nicely packaged meat, another to hear it yell, see it killed in front of you and cooked. You can only be thankful and eat with the creature in mind.
We sped back to Lalibela, somehow I got my multi day rock church pass and slipped around the lurking tour guides. I had a blissful walk around the churches in the Northwest Group, finding many hidden passageways and great catwalks with views. Sometimes, I would listen in on other guides for awhile, mostly just loved being alone. There seemed to me many Spanish and Italian groups here for "holy tours", makes sense since this was some of the earliest Christianity on earth and certainly customs that are the least changed of any in the Christian world. I went by Bet Giyorgis a thrid time, walked very close, all around and down to the bottom, completely alone this time. Out of words, this place makes me.
I wandered back to my room, took one more shower, saw a famous crazy South African adventure dude. I went searching for a new room for tomorrow. Everyone told me there would be no rooms under $70. I went down a couple small lanes, found a huge comfortable room with two beds for $28 that I would stay in the rest of the time. I had some yummy veggie combo meal, met up with Ariadne the photographer and some local guy, had more than my share of local honey wine, called tej. She told me funny stories about her American clients. These Ethiopians like to drink and have shoulder shaking dances all their own, I've never seen anything remotely like it, captivating.
Lalibela, you make my head spin. 13 churches just in town alone, others dotting the hills. Vibrant, living history, tomorrow is the grandaddy of them all, the beginning of Timkat. I went home, a big bright moon over head. I packed up, would get out early in the morning. Up the next day, yummy, yummy breakfast buffet at the Lal Hotel, a favorite for Spanish tourists. There seemed to be a few Brits about too, very few Americans. I changed rooms, got settled, took a shower and got ready for all day Timkat Festival. I had an inside tip from a local. He said most travelers wait for the parade of churchgoers to come to the lower part of the town. he told me that is I headed up very early to one of the churches, I might see something very special. I packed my day bag, lots of water and about 11AM headed up the huge smooth rocks that are the approach to some of the more hidden churches.
You must understand that each church has it's congregation. I walked way back toward and found a lovely out of the way rock church called Bet Gabriel, St Gabriel. I said "Enkwan Aderisachew", a greeting met with many smiles. I walked down little passageways into the little church, almost hidden down inside of rocks. It was very dark when I walked inside, I was dressed with traditional shawl over me and long pants to be respectful on this holy day. I heard haunting chants coming from the back of the church, when my eyes adjusted I saw a group of about 12 monks, ranging in age from 14 to about 75. They were chanting ancient chants, shaking a little metal shaker.
Amazingly, they pulled me next to them, right in the middle of the, gave me a smooth old wooden staff to support myself and a shaker instrument and told me to use it. They smiled, tapped me on the shoulder and went about what they were doing. There were absolutely no other tourists around, though I knew that I would see many later today. I actually got into the flow after awhile, very hypnotic. I swayed and smiled, I was part of something ancient. They finally, after what seemed like forever, gestured that it was time for us to move out. I was invited to walk as part of the monks and deacons of this church, a true honor. They brought out the ark replica, brightly covered in colorful cloth. I guess this comes out only once a year, each church has one, it is highly sacred and respected.
I was in front of the ark, as were a few other monks. They were okay with me taking some photos, I got some great ones. They continued to chant, wave vessels filled with incense, giving off surreal smoke as we walked along. The air was fragrant, the atmosphere simultaneously extremely holy and celebratory. We walked as a group down a rocky path, we could see other churches coming with their arks through the woods. There were groups of women and children (I was with all men) whooping and dancing in the woods, waiting for the processions to come down, then all would join together and proceed to the festival grounds.
We came together in a huge mass of drumming, incense, chanting and dancing, all churches converging and walking slowly together. I almost lost my group a number of times, each time one of the monks would grab my arm and haul me to the right place with a big smile. "You are with us", he would motion, they had seriously adopted me for the day. It was an immense honor and I felt very much a part of the ceremony. We arrived at the festival site about an hour later, listened to some lengthy speeches by some senior priests.
It was getting very hot, each of the churches had a tented area, I went with my group, sat in the shade, had a huge amount of food that was passed to me, delicious enjera, shiro (beans) and gomen (veggies). They all washed it down with copious amounts of a wheat beer. Although they would have given me many more, I stopped after three. I went back to my room and would rest before the crazy night was to come. I showered up, finally got my missing bag from the airline and changed into some deliciously clean clothes and flip flops.
Jan 19, 2015. Last night was rough, intense, fantastic, surreal. I'm grabbing breakfast right now, will head back to the Timkat grounds in a little bit for the splashing of water baptism ceremonies. After hanging in my room for a little while last night and gathering my energy. I walked over to the Timkat grounds about 7PM. The priests were getting animated, dressed in celebratory robes, saying many prayers. The crowds got larger and larger, people were coming to spend the night. I brought my warm traditional Ethiopian blanket that had been given to me by the people in the place I'm staying. They were amused when I asked for it.
There were a number of tourists at the celebrations, they left about 10PM and then it was pretty much just me with about 5000 Ethiopians. I take that back, I did see a western photographer in the early morning hours. Chanting, drumming, frenetic dancing, praying, laster all night. I slept very little, adding to the crazy quality of the experience. We are at altitude in the mountains here, It had dropped significantly in temperature, my traditional wrap wasn't enough. I was very cold on the verge of leaving but didn't too amazing.
I lay down in the middle of all these people, they were all sleeping, or resting on the ground. There were people jammed all around me, the shared body warmth helped. It was cold, uncomfortable, rocky, loud, and I loved it. I somehow made it through the night, almost no sleep. About 5AM, I found some guys with a campfire, they lat me sit with them, warm myself and have some coffee. I walked out of the grounds to the Lal Hotel, had an early breakfast with the well rested tourists. I slept in my room a little. and then went back to the grounds.
I got a seat in the grandstand for $15, cheaper than I thought. It would be a front row view of the water craziness. The head priests of each of the church were in incredibly colored ceremonial robes flanking a big water feature in the shape of a cross. They gave many speeches, said many prayers, the crowd had now swelled to what looked like 10,000. And then, pandemonium. Hoses came out, water was sprayed all over everyone in a mass baptism. People were ecstatic, hugging each other and dancing. This was amazing, the moment all these people had been waiting and sleeping outside all night for. Wow!
I took a deep breath, decided I had enough, went back to a little stand for a cold beer, two actually. There were a lot of nuanced approaches about "I want to be your friend, will you sponsor me as a student? I am the first from my farming village to ever go to school". It got tiring. I went back and slept for a few more hours, truly feeling dizzy and dazed by the whole experience. Don't get me wrong, I loved it! I was just sleep deprived and loopy.
I woke up, went back up to tour the NW Cluster of churches alone, most people still at festival grounds. Excellent time at Bet Mikeal, Bet Golgata, dungeon like atmosphere. They say King Lalibela is buried here beneath a slab. I walked up to town, had a yummy meal and some beers with a French guy traveling very much on the cheap. Stopped by the little airline office, got a ticket arranged to fly back to Addis Ababa on the 21st. Now, I could just relax and enjoy one more full day in this town.
Jan 21st, 2015. Go time at the Lalibela Airport. If I thought I was going to have a leisurely last day, i was sorely mistaken. It was so busy i haven't been able to write about it until now, very unusual for me as I always have my journal with me. So yesterday, I went to the Roha hotel and got a referral for a driver. A guy came up in a tuk tuk named Habtamu, I liked his energy instantly. He said "I'm going to give you an incredible last day in this country". We drove up bumpy roads, I think the tuk tuk made as much progress as a car could have. We drove to the base of Asheton Mountain. I asked if we could go to the top. He said "It will be a hard hike but we can do it". We left the vehicle with a guy, paid him a little to watch it.
I was in flip flops, he was too, that didn't stop us. We headed out across serene little farming villages, started gaining altitude, pushed hard and made it to the plateau about 1.5 hours later. It had looked so high from town, there were multi day trek that went here, somehow we made it with a combo of altitude gain in the car and a strong hike. The air was amazing, the views stunning up on top. I had heard that there were troops of gelada monkeys on top here, we explored for awhile and finally found some, chasing them all over the mountaintop for the next two hours. It was fantastic, loads of fun.
We descended, made our way to the Asheton Monastary, the oldest in the area and built by King Lalibela, very precious. At Asheton, met a whole lot of people who lived there in community, they washed my feet, gave me large amounts of barley beer and enjera with meat and fresh chunky tomato sauce. We then went to an awesome place called Nuub Monastary, it is connected by secret tunnel to Asheton. At Nuub, we saw ancient treasures right out in the open, never ceases to amaze me. Nuub is a cave monastery, "holy" healing water dripping everywhere. I soaked myself.
Epic day, back to town, great grilled meat and beers for dinner sitting alone up in the main town. I went with a couple local guys I met to Turpedo Cultural Dance house. The tej honey wine was flowing, the dancing crazy and frenetic, Ethiopians competing with each other and drawing some westerners into the mix. It was excellent, I couldn't take it anymore, walked slowly down the hill to my room knowing that I had squeezed a tremendous amount of memories out of this town and this country. Crashed and slept hard
I'm at my gate at the airport after a nice ride in the tuk tuk over farming country. There is something magical about a tuk tuk to me, from the first time I rode one in 1996 in Asia. It is loud, windy, connected to what is around you. I had a surprisingly delicious airport breakfast of eggs, meat, enjera, berbere, strong coffee. It was time to get on the plane, has it really been a month on this trip? Quite an exceptional part of the world. I flew out, soon was in Addis Ababa, connected to Dubai. After a night there in the company of a wonderful Sudanese guy and Somalian woman I met, I flew back home to Seattle.
Epic landscapes, incredible architecture, fascinating culture, great fellow travelers. You are part of me forever now, thank you Ethiopia and Somaliland.