Driving up from the airport to the holy city of Lalibela was – you guessed it – another mountain road. Stunning sandy mountainous landscape. The roads were very good most of the way. The presence of new investment from the chinese was heavily felt. We drove past a resettlement village where people who lived around the churches had moved to. Lalibela formerly known as Roha was renamed to Lalibela (meaning honey eater) after the king that ordered the construction of the churches following a divine visitation is a site of pilgrimage for Ethiopian christians. Ethiopia was one of the first countries to adopt christianity and has been christian since the time of the apostles.
Arrived at the town and hotel – Top Twelve – gorgeous affordable hotel. The manager was lovely, thanks to our hookup Zena from Bahir Dar. The room had views to die for and I had my first scorching hot shower in days – hallelujah! Food in Lali was also on point owing to the fact that it is a hot destination for tourists in Ethiopia, western comforts are quite well catered for. I think it would be an excellent location for a spa retreat with its views, seclusion and spiritual ambience. The conundrum obviously being that we do not want this magical ancient holy site to become drowned out by our fleeting modern fancies.
The story of Lalibela: one of the four priest kings of the Zagwe dynasty (King Lalibela) built he extraordinary rock hewn churches found in the town that now bears his name. The story goes that King Lalibela was instructed by an angel with the word of God to build a new Jerusalem. Hence the construction of the impressive monolith rock hewn churches. Local legend says that for each hour they people of Roha worked the angels came at night and doubled the work. The insides of the churches were carved out from the outside in.
A UNESCO world heritage site, huge steel struts hold up canopies protect some of the churches from nature’s wear. Navigating through the churches involves secret passages, tunnels, steps smoothed by the soles of millions of saints that have visited in years gone.
Lalibela was the last stop on my tour and it was a perfect pause. Time for reflection and prayer. My amazing week of travelling culminated with an 8 hour road trip through the mountains of northern Ethiopia with two old Russian men blaring American country music. No better way to end my surreal experience of this beautiful country. As I write this I am transported back Ethiopia’s mysery continues to enthrall me. I cannot wait to return as a honorary habesha.