43 – Lalibela’s treasures

Fri 8th Jan, Alef Paradise Hotel, Lalibela
At 5am in the morning, we made our way to the bus station. The bus didn’t set off till about 7 though (60 birr, 6 hours). It was good road east till Gashema where we stopped for lunch. Then it was a further 2 hours or so northwards on OK road. The trip itself was not too exciting: Spectacular mountainside scenery, bus packed to double its capacity, we picking up a driver with broken ribs from a minivan that had just flipped over, and locals who’s features were decidedly different from up north.
We reached Lalibela around 1.30pm. It is a small town at 2600m set on the countours of a mountain. As such, getting from the bus station to the hotel on the other side of town involved an uphill climb. But we stayed at the Alef Paradise, which so far has to be the nicest place I’ve stayed in so far (singles 120, twins 170 birr). Since it was post holiday and everyone had left, we brought the price down to 150 birr. We asked, yesterday the price was 600 birr and room reservations were done up to 3 months in advance. Now this was a hotel! With hot water, a bathtub even and a patio to sun dry my clothes.
Went out to explore the famed churches. The ticket office was hard to find if you did not follow the main road in. Tickets were a hefty 300 birr, and good for 4 days. Access to the museum would be a further 50 birr, and an official guide quoted me 25 USD and an unofficial one quoted 10 USD! I decided to cover myself the two groups of churches. Today I would do the southeastern cluster (4 churches). Tomorrow i have a full day to do the northwestern cluster (6 churches) and the single standalone Church of St George.
The churches are a real architectural marvel to look at. Remnants of the old Zagwe kingdom, they are cut straight out of the rock. They are standalone too, which makes its special and different from Jordan’s Petra, who’s structures are carved into the rock, as everyone tells me. Each one is remarkably well preserved and located just metres away from each other. Getting from one church to another by myself is quite an adventure, as it involved going through caves opening, tunnels and climbing over rocks. From Bet Gabrile-Rufel to Bet Emmanuel, there was a narrow tunnel that was maybe 30 to 50 metres long in pitch darkness that led to under the church. You opened a trapdoor and voila, you appear on the grounds of the second church.
Tomorrow I will do the other cluster. Kang in the meantime decides to leave tonight for Addis, a two day journey.. For me, i will leave the day after, but headed towards Bahir Dar, further west. Since Kang had arrived earlier, he had a week’s headstart to cover Bahir Dar and the other destinations i will do for the next few days. We will probably cross paths again, possibly in Addis.

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