3 days - July 2019
After the anarchy of the capital Addis Ababa, we go to the calm village of Lalibela: the Jerusalem of Africa.
Minute culture! Ethiopia is one of the first African countries (and the world) to become Christian in the fourth century under the kingdom of Aksum.
The regime gave way to the Zagwe dynasty, which one of the kings-Lalibela- decided to move the capital to the south, in the XI-XII century and named it Lalibela (barely megalo!).
Legend has it that in his youth he went to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or he had a vision of the holy city in a dream. In the context of conquests from the Muslim empire, Christians in Ethiopia were finding it increasingly difficult to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Lalibela fulfilled his vision and built a new Jerusalem, Lalibela.
In 24 years (or overnight according to a new legend), 11 churches were dug out of the rock. We salute the performance of digging the rock without our modern tools! The enemy can not see them, they are all underground and this will prevent many attacks and potential destruction.
These monolithic churches are connected by tunnels carved in red stone and have sober interiors but filled with carpets, draperies, relics and colorful biblical paintings.
Pilgrims wander there, bible in arm, cane on the shoulder, kneel, pray.
Sunday morning, 5am, we got woken up by songs, drums, trumpets, religious calls. We follow the thousands of pilgrims dressed in a white sheet and we go to Bete Maryam. The drums punctuate the preaching of the priest, the pilgrims are seated or standing but a cane helps them to stand up, everyone is immersed in his Bible, repeat verses, pray. The cane is also used to carry provisions, to walk around. Multi-function.
We will attend for hours and hours the service held in the 11 churches.
As the service progresses, the rigor slackens and phones come out, young people start talking and playing on their phones and we will even see a priest giving the blessing a cross in the hand, a phone in the other!
It must be said that the service lasted more than 6 hours ...
And then out of nowhere, a rockstar! Sunglasses on the nose, turban in place, a man of a certain age begins to turn around the temples. He misses only the leather perfecto and he is ready to go on stage!
We loved the peaceful, mystical atmosphere, though we don’t really get all these scenes of reverence and total devotion to God.
Then after the various services we wander for two days in the complex of 11 churches all interesting and impressive although with a very simple design. The best known, the church of St. George, a huge cross over 15 meters, an architectural work.
Then we will attend the market, second gathering of the village after religious services. Everything get to be sold there! From donkey to horse to cereals, fruits, vegetables, clothing and lemons. We will learn that lemons have a special role in the lives of many future couples because to show their destiny that one is interested in a lemon is offered (or even throws!)! A few days I will be offered one in public transport;)
These few days in the village of Lalibela were magical! But it's time to hit the road to go to hell this time: the Danakil depression.
Anecdote: we wanted to book a ride for the next leg and a tout ("official") asked us for 500 USD. Receipt made quickly on Word, no office. We were not at all sensitive and convinced by the "we are in a holy city, everyone is honest and fair here" and of course we did not pay. The charm of the village operated but we did not leave totally gullible and blinded;)
# It is important to enter Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airlines to benefit from 50-75% discounts on domestic flights. It is very easy to book domestic flights from the offices of Ethiopian Airlines. First time buying a ticket not on internet, we told you that we have gone back in time;)
# Flight Addis Abeba-Lalibela: 60 euros with the reduction.
# from the airport, shuttles to 100 birr per person to reach the village 30 kms away.
# otherwise two days drive from Addis Ababa.
# Entry ticket to 11 churches: 50 USD.
# We stayed at Honeyland Hotel. OK despite the lack of generator (the city is subject to many power cuts).
# We tested two restaurants for tourists. Ben Abeba and Seven Olives. Preference for Ben Abeba, its fasting menu and its view.
# Lalibela to Mekele: jeep for 200 USD or public transport in 3 parts. Lalibela, Weldiya, Alamata, Mekele. About 12 hours.