Ethiopia – Day 5 – Lalibela

It is a stunning drive from the airport up to the town of Lalibela.  The area is very arid & mountainous with round thatched huts dotted across the landscape.  Fields near the river had been cultivated and it was fascinating to see the traditional oxen ploughing techniques which hadn’t changed for centuries.  It was incredible how so many people can survive in such a dry, seemingly harsh environment and not hugely surprising when Dawit told us that this area was very badly affected by the droughts of 1984.
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We checked into Mountain View Lodge which has a cool angular design and stunning views from each of the relatively simple rooms.  It is the best place to stay in Lalibela & the food is delicious.
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View of Lalibela from Mountain View Hotel.
Lalibela is famous for its 12 rock churches which are divided into two groups in the centre of the town.  The daily church service had just finished so it was quite a sight seeing everyone emerge from the churches all in their white finery.
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We set about visiting the main group of churches first despite a slight distraction & delay caused by the fact that George W Bush & his entourage were about to turn up & we were desperate not to miss him!  Our guide Dawit very sensibly said for us to see the churches first & then come back up & catch a glimpse of him…he was well experienced in knowing that ‘dignatories’ are never on time….which he wasn’t!
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The gathering crowd waiting for GW  Bush.
The churches were incredible.  It took King Lalibela 25 years to create the 12 churches.   Folklore says that they used to work on the churches during the day and at night angels flew down to help them and carry on their work.  King Lalibela is said to have seen Jerusalem and then attempted to base Lalibela on a new Jerusalem concept in response to the capture of old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187. As such, many features have Biblical names  – even the town’s river is known as the River Jordan. It remained the capital of Ethiopia from the late 12th century and into the 13th century.  Each church is guarded by a priest.  It is a photographer’s paradise with the combination of the photogenic priests, churches and light breaking through the tunnels and doors.
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A couple of times we had to dart back to the gathering (small!) crowd at the entrance like a group of crazed fans but George W was taking his time to turn up. Eventually we heard that he was at the church of St George (appropriately!)  We weren’t allowed into the church until he had finished but a few tourists who had been in the church when he arrived had said how humble he was and how happy he was to be snapped.   Ironically if we hadn’t kept on rushing back to the entrance to see him we would have been in the church when he turned up…..that would’ve made a pretty cool selfie!  When his entourage eventually decided to leave, we had a brief snapshot of him before he was swept away to the waiting crowds.
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Above: the paps waiting for GW!
The church of St George was incredible.  It was lovely that it wasn’t covered by a protective roof like the other ones so you could get a good look at it.  The evening light made for some perfect photo opportunities.
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On our way back to the hotel, Dawit took us to an Ethiopian house to experience a traditional coffee ceremony and to also sample some local honey wine & Ethiopian vodka.  The latter nearly blew my head off but the honey wine was delicious!

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