|Fishing from a papyrus boat on Lake Tana|
|One of many paintings in a Lake Tana monastery|
|Local painting materials|
Our first visitors came to Ethiopia! It was a long-awaited event, and after spending a few days at our site in Ambo, we all headed north to see the more ‘touristy’ sights of Ethiopia.
|Blue Nile Falls|
|Beautiful drive to Gonder in a mini-bus|
|Famous ceiling of angels in Gonder|
The next morning, we drove on a long gravel road through the countryside, then hiked over a 17th-century Portuguese-built stone bridge and a new Swiss-built suspension bridge to see the spectacular Blue Nile Falls. Locally known as Tis Abay (Smoking Nile), it pours out huge volumes of water – when it isn’t diverted to the nearby hydroelectric plant. Lucky for us, the rainy season had just ended and the waterfall was in full flow, granting us a cooling mist after a hot hike.
After the hike, we drove a very scenic 3-hour drive towards the city of Gonder, which was founded as Ethiopia’s capital in 1636 by Emperor During this time, each new ruler built a palace, resulting in some amazing castles on a 70,000 square meter compound. When the Italians occupied Ethiopia during the 1930s, they made themselves a comfortable base in these castles. At the onset of WWII, when the Italians declared Britain to be an enemy, these castles were bombed by British air force.
|One of many castles in Gonder|
The next stop was Lalibela, arguably the most remarkable place in Ethiopia. This isolated city sits at 2,600 meters in the middle of an impressive mountain range. 11 rock-hewn churches were carved down into the reddish stone…by hand! They were made during the 12th century by King Lalibela, and legend has it that they were built over a span of 24 years….human laborers worked on it during the daytime and angels worked on it during the nighttime. Carbon dating, however, shows that it was built over a span of about 200 years. Either way, these churches are amazing! We started our visit early in the morning, when church-goers wrapped in white robes start walking toward the churches, answering the call of the priests chanting in the ancient language of Ge’ez. We walked from one amazing church to the next, many connected by tunnels. At one particular church, we walked into the church service, stood right next to the priests, and observed the traditional Orthodox Christian service. At another church, we precariously walked over a stone walkway, crammed with people, and into a communion service filled wall-to-wall with white-robed Ethiopians. Regardless of your religion, it’s hard not to feel the spirituality in this place.
|600-year old Bible on goatskin|
Just outside of Lalibela, up on the mountain overlooking the town is yet another Orthodox Christian church that can only be accessed by hiking. The scenery was breathtaking, with steep mountains all around and small farms with rock huts dotting the landscape. Inside the church were ancient artifacts, like silver crosses and a 600-year-old Bible painted on goatskin.
|One of 11 rock-hewn churches in Lalibela|
|Huge churches carved by hand!|
|Priest at a Lalibela Orthodox Christian church|
|Overlooking Lalibela, a perfect place for a church|
This ancient city is in the arid, rocky region of Ethiopia called Tigray, which was most affected by the famine in the 1980s. Our guide, born in 1981, remembers this time, and remarked that he was lucky to be born into a family of only two children, so there was enough food to survive. He also remembers the war with bordering Eritrea in the late 1990s, a 5-hour walk from Axum, as he could hear the fighting from the town.
|The Queen of Sheba's bath, complete with naked boys|