Churches, Castles & Tuk Tuks

Disclaimer: This post may be too long for your typical blog. Have no fear, there’s lots of pictures!

Over the Easter break (note: according to the western calendar, not the eastern orthodox, as we discovered are different) my friend Lisa and I went to Ethiopia for just over a week. Wanting to take advantage of my visa run, and avoid extended African overland travel at all costs, I looked for cheap flights and decided why not Ethiopia!

Inside one of Lalibela's Orthodox churches on a Sunday

Inside one of Lalibela’s Orthodox churches on a Sunday

For years I have heard other travelers rave about the country – the food, the landscape, the people – and thought that I may as well check it out for myself. Since it is a pretty huge country and I only had ten days, we decided to do the northern “tourist” circuit.

We started our jaunt in Lalibela, known for its rock-hewn churches. Before I got there, I had no idea what a “monolith” building was. I definitely learned. This small town, perched on a steep hillside, houses eleven churches carved out of the hillside. As our guide put it, “The outside they carved from the top down, and the inside from the bottom up.” Built in the 1100s by King Lalibela, they literally made entire hills out of the rubble carved away making these beautiful, underground churches.

In addition to the impressive rock churches, Lalibela is also home to some of the most impressive views I have seen. I have never seen another landscape where plate tectonics are so clearly in action. The huge, stark mountain ridges and plateaus were thrown into stark relief by the browns and tans of the dry season. It was a harsh landscape, but breathtaking.

Church of Saint Giyorgis, carved out of a single massive rock

Church of Saint Giyorgis, carved out of a single massive rock

St. Giyorgis from above - aka groundlevel

St. Giyorgis from above – aka ground level

A priest guarding the church

A priest guarding the church

Walking down into the churches

Walking down into the churches

Market day in Lalibela

Market day in Lalibela

A traditional coffee ceremony

A traditional coffee ceremony

Views from Lalibela

Views from Lalibela

So much coffee!!

So much coffee!!

Next up, we headed to Gonder, the “Camelot of Africa.” Sitting at the foot of the Simien Mountains, Gonder’s royal enclosure is the main attraction, with a number of castles built in the 1600s by Emperor Fasilides and his offspring. In addition to making me feel like I was ancient royalty, the royal enclosure proved a wonderful spot to while away an afternoon, reading on the grass and pondering the massive stone buildings.

Gonder is also a lively college town, overflowing with street-side cafes – a holdover from the brief period of Italian colonialism – juice bars, and deliciously cheap injera restaurants. Of course we couldn’t spend a day there without a brief jaunt to the foothills of the Simien Mountains, which just about every boy on the street between the ages of 18 and 30 tried to get us to sign up for. Despite all the hassle, it was worth it.

Excited for castles!

Excited for castles!

No climping!

No climping!

The Simiens - and my feet

The Simiens – and my feet

YUM!

YUM!

The last stop was Bahir Dar, the city on the Lake. Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, provides Bahir Dar with a tropical flair – palm lined streets, blooming flowers, brightly colored birds – even in the heart of the dry season. While it didn’t have any famous churches or castles to recommend it, Bahir Dar was perhaps my favorite city. The bustling market provided an explosion of sights and smells; the lake breezes made sitting at a cafe or park on the shore a pleasure; wandering the streets we found our favorite plate of injera; and the sightseeing wasn’t too bad either – the Blue Nile Falls, lake monasteries, boat trips.

The Blue Nile Falls - used to comprable to Vic Falls until they installed a hydroelectric dam above.

The Blue Nile Falls – used to comprable to Vic Falls until they installed a hydroelectric dam above.

On a boat to the source of the Blue Nile!

On a boat to the source of the Blue Nile!

Shiro and birbir powders in the market

Shiro and birbir powders in the market

Though perhaps my favorite part of the whole trip was the tuk tuks that filled the streets. Just looking at them made me happy – for some reason they remind me of the Trooper. Perhaps not in size, but in spirit.

DSCN1499

I took a lot of tuk tuk photos

I took a lot of tuk tuk photos

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