Lovely Lalibela

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
Trip End Jul 05, 2008

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lalibela, Lalibela - one of the 8th wonders of the world.  Filled with churches carved out of rock.  These buildings are not erected from the bottom up, but carved from the top down.  Many are even carved our of a single piece of stone!  There are 3 main types, and we were able to see them all:  monolithic (1 piece), semi-monolithic (several pieces together), and cave (carved into caves).  

Standing on the ground staring into a pit with a giant structure inside is a sight to be seen!  Walking down unevenly carved shallow steps keeps you on your toes!  Entrance ways worn smooth as polished marble from the billions of footfalls and hands that have touched by entering was amazing to behold. 

Many people pilgrimage to this area.  But before there were hotels, buses, and taxis it was the people of the town that would accommodate the visitors, open their homes, and share all they had.  They would even follow in Jesus' footsteps and wash their guests feet before entering the churches.  Following in this tradition, there was a man who walked with us from church to church to take off our shoes before we entered, and help put them on when we came out.  I have to admit that I was very touched by this simple gesture.  

Inside these remarkable buildings the air was cool in comparison to the hot dry air outside.  They were also very dark and it would take some time for our eyes to adjust before we could see anything.  One of the things that amazed me most is that these are not just historical buildings - they are used everyday for church services!  We had to wait for one to finish before we could explore inside. There are great swaths of fabric draped around and carpets on the floor.  Carvings in the ceiling and walls have intricate meaning, and pictures of holy people are scattered about.  All around are various holy people and nuns reading or praying in dark corners.  I should mention that there are no chairs, benches, or pews in these churches.  Holy people carry prayer sticks that they lean on during a service (many of which can last for hours upon hours!). 

There is also the most fascinating labyrinth of tunnels connecting all the churches together.  Some are short and others are long.  Some are so tiny we cannot fit through!  One was called 'the way to hell'.  When walking you are to reflect on how it feels to be without light (symbolizing God).  This tunnel was quite long (over 2 minutes walking time), and completely pitch black.  At times is widens so you cannot even reach the sides to guide yourself.  In the end you climb up towards the light and emerge in 'New Bethlehem'.

We have had a wonderful time in this little town with cobbled streets.  In this area, we have not been bombarded by beggars and shop keepers.  A couple abandoned stores across from the hotel opened when we arrived, but quickly closed again when they saw that we were not interested in buying anything. 

This little town is 2600m above sea level.  The airport was 1600m so we had quite a ride up various switchbacks!  Our little mini-bus had quite the time.  Since no one has a vehicle, the few that are on the road take as many riders as they can fit.  We've seen more living huts than anywhere else thus far - some were even 2 stories!

This area, even more than Aksum is greatly awaiting the rains.  There is almost no water present.  Kindly, our hotel provided us with a bucket filled with water in our room as there are none to be had from the taps.  Water and electricity is provided only between 6-8am and 6-8pm, so you must be ready and plan accordingly.  This was a bit of a shock for me, as I didn't know that this was the case and selfishly used the bucket of water to flush the toilet first thing in the morning...Spending time in this country has certainly given me a new perspective on how we greatly waste water in our society.  Nothing should be taken for granted!
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