1st June 2011
Again an early morning wake up and by 6am we are on the way to Lalibela with our cars having been refuelled the previous day.
We again had to climb mountains to 3200m and had a coffee stop on one of them – whilst watching the early morning mist floating over the hills.
Again we drove through lots of little villages and asked ourselves more and more how it was possible that in this area hundreds of thousands people lost their lives in 1984/5 due to food shortage. Everything looks so green and countless farms with animals like cows, sheep and goats could be seen.
We asked a guide later in the day and were told that during this famine there was a war where rebels where trying to get rid of the then communistic government. At the same time there was absolutely no rain for 2 years and this dry situation coupled with the cut off from the fertile south because of the war caused what is known as one of Africa’s biggest famine tragedy.
Ever since there was never a really dry stage again and with a more democratic government now the country is really self-sufficient when it comes to food supply and can even export to neighbouring countries.
The last 47 km to Lalibela was on a well maintained gravel route and very scenic. On arrival we booked into the Jerusalem guest house which offers simple rooms and a tour guide for the Lalibela churches which we were so keen to see.
We took off with Fikru our local guide and soon got sight of these amazing churches. They were actually not built like we know building operations but were chiselled out of a huge rock formation some 700 years ago. The residents around 1310 first had to chisel a huge block into the rock with space of some 5m to walk around the block. Thereafter they chiselled into the block and virtually hollowed the block out to create a church hall inside the block complete with windows, doors, arches and columns. It is estimated that one church took about 30 years to be completed and the whole formation has now been declared a world heritage site. We went to 5 of these churches in close proximity and they all are still in daily use. We had to wait at 2 churches for the service to be finished before we could get inside.
The religion is Christian orthodox similar to the Greek Orthodox Church but total independent with a patriarch as the head of what is called The Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
It amazing to see the really poor villagers coming out of these churches and we heard that some of them visit the church daily.
It is difficult to describe these monuments in short and for those who would like to get more information this link will get you to an informative web page about the Lalibela churches: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lalibela
Tourism to these churches has started about 8 years ago and it is still in its infant stages – but the town has grown from 5000 people 15 years ago to over 30000 inhabitants today.
For the first time on this trip Andre put his nice heavy hiking shoes on only to find out that nobody with shoes is allowed into the churches. He is now a master in putting shoes on , putting shoes off , putting them on again and off again , on off – on off……………