Rock-Hewn Churches & Lost Luggage

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Flag of Ethiopia  , Amhara Regional State,
Sunday, November 4, 2007

The propellers whirred into action in the old creaky Ethiopian Air Fokker on flight ET126 Addis Ababa to Lalibela and after months of planning and preparation it finally feels like our 2007 adventure has begun.

We had experienced a grueling day before, leaving Perth at 3.55am and not reaching our final destination for the day of Addis Ababa until 24 hours later -  sans luggage! To date we still do not have our luggage but that's a whole story in itself.

Our Sunday flight is taking us to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia and we have been through massive security checks for an internal flight. Trouble is brewing with Ethiopia's near neighbour Eritrea and our destination is in this general direction.

Why Ethiopia? Why Lalibela?

Lalibela is the home to some amazing historic Christian churches dating from the 10th century. Ethiopia's King Lalibela wanted to create a new Jerusalem as Jerusalem had been taken by the Muslims and so he set out to create his new Jerusalem in a clever guise. He started with a solid rock and had a deep square moat carved out. This left a large central rock which was then carved by primitive hand chisels into a church complete with ornate decorative windows and doors. He didn't just build one but eleven! Legend says that angels came down and helped. The roof remains level with the ground making the churches hidden from invading forces.

But the truly amazing thing is these churches are still in use and have been continually since being built. We met Christian Orthodox priests and saw hand written books and precious crosses still in use that are over 800 years old. Because it is little known as a tourist destination, none of these items are in museums but able to be seen and photographed.

Ethiopia was full of surprises. It is a very picturesque country with cultivated terraces into impossible slopes and wonderful warm smiling people. They don't have much but they are a happy people and work very hard in the fields from dawn to dusk. Due to our lack of luggage we went as upmarket as you could go in Lalibela (Ghion Hotel) but this didn't guarantee even water (totally off between 12 noon and 6.00 pm use of a bucket supplied) or power (also off between 12 & 6). Decent food was also practically non existent.

As well as showing us the 11 churches in Lalibela our guide Moges took us on a 4 wheel drive trip into the country to see an amazing cave church which is still in use also. This church comes complete with about 5,000 corpses to which no one knows the origin or history, it is a total mystery.  

Lalibela has quite a lot of shoe shine boys and all of them wanted to clean Avan's shoes, only problem was that Avan had only purchased his shoes the day prior to leaving Perth so were brand new thus did not need cleaning. In the interests of supporting a local kid he decided to get them cleaned on the last day, however when we returned from our 4WD trip there was not a shoeshine boy in sight, so didn't happen. Would you believe we did not see another shoeshine boy (a girl actually) until Windhoek in Namibia, by which time Avan's shoes were in dire need.

Back to the story of our luggage and our 24 hours en route to Ethiopia.

When we checked our luggage in at Perth airport it was tagged all the way through to Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia. Somewhere on the 3 flights (Perth to Mauritius - Mauritius to Nairobi - Nairobi to Addis Ababa) it went missing. On our first leg Perth to Mauritius there was an urgent call for a  Doctor and it brought back memories of a flight 12 years ago when we had to detour via Auckland because someone died en route! Nothing seemed to eventuate this time however as no more calls were made. We had a very quick transit in Mauritius then on to Nairobi where we had to transit for 5 hours in a rather dirty run down airport. When it was time to board our Ethiopian Airways flight to Addis Ababa all the luggage for the flight was dumped on the tarmac and customers had to identify their luggage before it was loaded. Guess what? Ours wasn't there! So we knew from this time and a luggage handler said we would need to report it missing on arrival at Addis Ababa. 

Our biggest issue with not having our luggage was our anti malaria drugs and repellent and our Lonely Planet Africa. These were not replaceable in Ethiopia. Clothes can be washed every night and toiletries replaced but the above 2 items should always be in hand luggage!

Ethiopia was a wonderful, fascinating and far too short an inclusion to our Africa trip. Now it is on the the next adventure via Nairobi to look for our luggage. 

Footnote: The Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela are UNESCO World Heritage listed and feature in the book Unforgettable Places to See before you die.
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