Out of Ethiopia – Last African Update

From the Misty Mountains of Simien, I continued North through the sleepy town of Shire, turning East to the heart of the fallen Aksumite Kingdom. The city of Aksum, littered with giant Obelisks, undiscovered tombs, and ancient Palaces; could easily be the backdrop of an Indiana Jones movie. The scale of the Aksumite projects rival any ancient civilization and it’s mysterious fall from power should deeply humble us.

From Aksum, the bus took a hellish dirt road that it remarkably survived, landing me amidst the rock-hewn, cliff dangeling, churches of Tigrai. Innumerable churches litter the region, usually hidden inside, on top of and part of mountains; they were placed in these innaccessible locations to hide from the invading bearded ones.

The priests, who hold the keys to the churches are notoriously difficult to find, but once they do show up, the inside of the churches are simply remarkable. The local priests kindly invited me to a funeral feast, held annually to commemorate the death of a family member. A delicious feast amidst hundreds of villagers and a bucket of locally brewed Tala beer remains a great, though hazy, memory. Though I could not visit it, there lies a dark and forboding land to the east of Tigrai; the Danikal depression, a highly volcanic area which may be the most inhospitable on earth.

After stumbling back to the main road from the mountain village, I started the long journey to Lalibella.

Lalibella, also refered to as Roha, is a city centered around massive monolithic churches (means: they were carved out of solid bedrock, in a sense, freed from the mountain) in a remote series of mountains at an elevation of over 3400 m. After a long bus ride, I hitched a ride in a cement truck, which, after trudging along for 8 hours, lost a wheel and left us stranded. After a cool night in the mountains, two buses to Lalibella showed up; one was a chartered bus with a few extra seats, while the other was a public bus with three times too many people on it. Of course, I chose the public bus.

With two friendly ethiopian laddies on my lap and a mouthful of kchat (mild drug) in my mouth, we plodded along the curvy mountain road. About 30 kilometers from Lalibella, we came across the chartered bus which had impressivly managed to go off the road, over a ditch, through a pile of wood, stopping half way through a local villager’s mud house. Luck was on my side.

My last fistful of ethiopian dollars were exchanged for a plane ticket to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. In Addis, at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant we ordered Kittfo, Ethiopian steak tarter (slightly cooked to ensure the tape worms are dead). A very memorable meal and a great finish to an amazing country.

P.S. If you noticed some similarities with the names from Middle Earth, Gonder, Misty mountains, shire, Danikal depression, and Roha; you were not alone.

Published on July 7, 2008