Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

rock hewn churches - lalibela

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM
The giant cross in the huge pit was exactly as I've seen in the images when I googled lalibela. it's very impressive to actually see it with your own eyes. The square pit was big and deep to house the 2 story church constructed in a shape of a cross. the iconic Bete Giyorgis was considered the most intricate and elaborate of the rock hewn churches in Lalibela as this was the last one built. We walked around the pit to admire the church architecture from 360. then we entered the pit through a dugged out trench. After visiting the inside of the church, we walked up a small hill to look down on the cross figure. It was indeed most impressive from this angle. Small rain drops had started to fall and the temperature had started to cool off. After a whole afternoon of rock hewn churches, flies, tourists and religious devotees chanting and praying, the dust and the heat and children begging, seeing this last magnificent cross shaped church in the ground and cooling resfreshing temperature, was a good way to end the day in Lalibela.

Woke up at 4:30 for our 7:30 domestic flight to lalibela, and to our surprise, the Jupiter hotel had a full breakfast buffet, with vast choices of food items, laid out for us. We were all very impressed. Although the dinner the night before wasnt good, the breakfast was most excellent.

The Bombardier twin propellers of ethiopian airlines deposited us in lalibela via gonder. The air has became much hotter although lalibela was only about 400m lower than addis. They didnt bother putting the passengers luggage on the conveyer. they drove the luggage carts up to the terminal gate and we simply picked up our own luggage from there. It was faster this way anyway. our young friendly driver Yishak was there to pick us up. all around were mountains. We went up a hill and stopped to take in the dry barren volcanic red rock landscape. It was hauntingly beautiful even in the haze. The mountainous silence was appreciated and heartfelt after the hustle and bustles of Addis. locals had spread out their goods to sell and thus began the never ending pestering of children trying to sell you something.

We drove through the center of the small town, not a single paved road. the dust was everywhere. the souvenir shops lining the dusty road were small tin red houses. each city had a different color, I was told. Inhabitants were poor, living in small rectangular stone shacks and mud huts with thatch or tin roofs. Our hotel, the Roha, was at the edge of the town. And it looked exactly as I've seen it online. The lounge and bar were filled with traditional ethiopian chairs and decor, and the restaurant was airy with big windows that overlooked the garden outside, and walls decorated with ethiopian motifs. My room was also exactly as I've seen it online. the window was stuck open but there's an insect screen. I've checked for cracks and openings and luckily there were none. Above the small desk that looked like a tree trunk, there's a small TV and above it a fan. unfortunately the fan was stuck in a position that pointed upwards and impossible to adjust since it's mounted so high. Nonetheless, that's better than nothing as it at least could circulate the stale air as the air inside the room was hot and stuffy. the sink was located in the bedroom on a triangular counter. the tub and toilet were in a very small bathroom. the fixtures were tired and used and rusty, and there's a stain in the tub but otherwise everything looked clean. the towels though smelled of armpits. I've anticipated this so I've brought a small towel with me. water was shut off sometime during the night until in the morning, and in the afternoon hours. The shower was handheld and there's almost no water pressure. I knew the Roha was a government owned hotel (all government owned hotels in ethiopia looked exactly the same, have exactly the same design and decor) but it has since been privatized and even though everything in the room was old fashioned and tired, the new owners had tried to make it comfortable by providing, for example, a fan. I've inspected the beds for bed bugs. the sheets smelled OK. there were 2 single beds and I've selected the one closest to the window as the mattress felt more comfy and the location got the best of the fan. I've pulled the bed away from the wall and sprayed the mattress and headboard with eucalyptus lemon juice. I was very determined not to get bitten by mosquitoes or bed bugs. or at least get as few bites as possible. the window looked out to a field and SmallLeo positioned itself on the windowsill and looked out in total happiness. Welcome to ethiopia Stuffie!

For lunch on this first day, I've shared a chiro and meat injara with S and C. I cant say that I liked or disliked injara. it didnt taste sour to me but it's not a staple I'd like every day. the meat was tough here. I had to chew and chew. I was told because the animals were free range so they walked/exercised quite a bit, and therefore their meat was not tender. Eh, right. I was really surprised that water or soft drink came with the meal, and bread was free. We've discovered the local st george beer which was very light and went down smooth. although it had the normal beer alcohol content, it didnt taste it. We quite liked this beer.

After lunch we've started with the first group of the 11 monolithic rock hewn churches built by king lalibela. Carved out of red volcanic rock, built from top down, the famous churches were built in different styles. Some of them were cut into the rock. others, like the famous st george, are completely free-standing structures, attached to their mother rock only at their bases. And some are semi-detached. the rock and location determined the style in which the church was constructed. Complex and extensive tunnels connected the underground structures.

We've started off with the group north of the river Jordan. The first one we saw was Beite Medhane Alem, the House of the Saviour of the world. it's massive and quite imposing. tiny decorated windows dotted the 4 faces of the church. multitude of pilgrims and faithfuls were around it, while tourists were all over the place. so were the incessant flies and children pestering to sell you things or asking for money. the inside of the church was as chaotic as the outside. devotees praying and priests chanting religious scriptures, while tourists pouring all over, taking photos and showing no respect. Those who were praying and chanting simply ignored the tourists. This was simply not right for a house of god! Bet Maryan (house of Mary) and Bet Meskel (House of the Cross) were adjacent to the first one, and the church of the Virgin just behind it, and we went in and out all of them, taking off and putting on our shoes, as one wasnt allowed to wear shoes inside the church.

The most interesting one was one that only males were allowed in. the Bet Gogotha could be reached by climbing a set of very steep staircase cut into the rock. Inside it, the Bet Mika-el, a separate church inside a church, contained carvings of the 12 apostles and said to contain the tomb of king lalibela. since I wasnt allowed to go in, our guide took photos for me. What I could see by peeping through the door was rows of colorful carvings on the walls.


when we came out of the churches compound, there's an openair museum of well preserved tukuls, the circular stone dwellings that ethiopians used to live in.

with little time remaining, we walked over to visit the most beautiful of these churches, st george, built in the ground, in the shape of a cross. If you fly above lalibela, you can spot this cross on the ground. quite impressive.

For dinner, I've chosen the veal. Again the meat was tough and it was covered in gravy. but the minestrone soup was very good. Just like the one Mom makes. The hotel had a very big and nice terrace and I was looking forward to sit there to watch the sunset. but tonight was cloudy. the room on that first night was hot even with the fan on and window stuck open. I took out my cheap japanese electric handheld fan, and fanned myself throughout most of the night. it had proved useful already on the first day.

Lalibela photos:

lalibela

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