12. October – The rock hewn churches of Lalibela

After a good night, despite the hard mattress, we leave at half past eight – another 7 kilometers to Arbit, a town on the main road. There we say goodbye to the donkey drivers and their animals and are driven by minibus to Lalibela. The first few miles to the junction in Gashena are harmless – then it’s about 20 km down a dirt road into the plain. The road is probably just fixed and will soon be paved. But now we are still well shaken.

Lalibela is a long way up the mountain. And even this road is not paved, although Lalibela is the tourist hotspot in Ethiopia. We are going to see a lot of tourists!
Soon we are at the „Lalibela Hotel“, where we booked one night. Unfortunately, the room is not ready and we go first eat something, before we finally shower after two days. Of course, the shower is quite country typical.

Then comes Henok, a friend of our guide in the mountains, Estefanos. With him we want to visit the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.
We drive with a Bajaj to the ticket office. We pay our 50 USD per person – quite a high price!
Then we were first handed over to the museum guide, who shows us devotional pieces from 11 centuries. Really impressive the manuscripts. You are not allowed to take pictures, but tip the guide.


Finally, we see the first church, which King Lalibela (the name means „Honey Eater“ and connects him with one of the countless legends around the Ethiopian kings) hewed out of the rocks . Depending on the religious orientation one can believe that 11 angels helped him – or 40,000 workers with shovel-shaped hoes had worked the church out of the full, volcanic tuff rock.
Meanwhile, some of the churches are provided with monstrous protective roofs. UNESCO built it 10 years ago to protect the World Heritage from the rain. But the Ethiopians are anything but enthusiastic about this destruction of their main attraction. They demand – recently even with demonstration and strike of the tourist guides – that the roofs of the rock churches are sealed with building mix and that the ugly roofs disappear. Understandable.

Hässliche Abdeckung – Ugly shelter

In the first church, Bete Medhane Alem, we are just getting the end of a devotion.

Of course you have to take off your shoes before entering the churches. Once again we have not put on stockings and now we have to walk with our bare feet over the carpets in the church, where the „International Association of Athlete’s Foot“ makes a meeting. In the evening, therefore, athlete’s foot cream has to be used. So far it has gone well …

Particularly impressive is the „Dark Tunnel“, which connects two churches. Supposedly, the ruling family has used it to get from their residence unrecognized by their subjects to worship.

Finally we come to the landmark of the Lalibela churches, Bete Giyorgis.

Of course, Annette already knew the church from numerous pictures – and is frustrated by the modest size of the building. That should be the church?

We descend, learn about the building from Henok, our guide – it must have been the last church that King Lalibela carved into the rock – and also about the background of the cruciform nave.

Shortly before the end of our three-hour tour, the interest of the tourists also accumulates here. A German hiking group freaks photographically with four women from Addis, shortly afterwards everyone takes pictures of everyone.

Now we have also seen the main tourist attraction of Ethiopia. Tomorrow we will go back to Addis Ababa – and on Sunday we will continue to Cairo, before we will be back in a week ..