Monday, July 29, 2013

Day Four: Best Day Yet (Again!)

We slept last night with the sound of thunder echoing through the valley, and rain against on our tin roof. We awoke at dawn to the chanting of monks in prayer announcing that today is the Holy Day celebrating Mary. Our first look out the window showed the clouds rolling between the hills, through the village in the valley below, so we quickly got ready and headed out to observe the ceremony at the ancient churches we had visited the day before.

The toque Craig thought he wouldn't need 'til Nepal and the down jacket Erin debated bringing for a week before the trip came in handy to block the biting dampness in the air.

Upon reaching the site, the crowds of people covered in white shawls standing all around the biggest of the rock-hewn churches was such a sight to see. We tried our best to be respectful, and thus, didn't take any photographs during the service.

After mass, we headed back out to see the second group of churches. As lovely as yesterday was, we felt interrupted by our guide's constant stream of information. So we decided to venture out on our own today, despite warnings in the guide books that it is easy to become lost in the maze of tunnels. We were rewarded with a reverent experience. Walking softly through the tunnels and in and out of the churches alone, save for one other couple and their guide, proved to be a much more magical experience.

We saw the most intricately carved church of the group, Biete Ammanuel, and one that is accessed from above by a sort of drawbridge across a deep trench. Best of all was the one we saved for last, Biete Ghiorgis. This church stands alone from the others and is carved in the shape of a cross. We arrived early (read before we were allowed) and sat on the hill above looking down and marvelling at its beauty during the guards lunch break, leaving us alone with the site as thunder clouds once again roared above us.

Undeterred by the impeding storm we hiked further up the mountain for dinner at what can only be described as one of the most beautiful views either of us have enjoyed without having to spend the better part of a day hiking. We had our predinner drinks soaking up the beauty around us and then were forced inside by a torrential downpour, that sadly obscured the view and the sunset. Craig was also dismayed when he learned he forgot to put the memory card back in the camera and was thus left with only the internal memory, which can hold 8 pictures. Thus there was a lot of fretting over which pictures were the best.
Ben Ababa Restaurant
To finish the day off we went out to Torpido Tej House to sample various honey wines with an American couple we met. Part way through the night and our glasses of Tej, more accurately described as a potion jar, they started playing traditional music. We soon learned that the songs were comedic in nature and that the visitors were generally the subject of the songs. The song sung to Erin contained lyrics concerning how beautiful she is and then she was pulled up to dance again. Craig's song got a lot more laughs, we are not sure what it was about.
Observe Craig's inability to use the flash.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Day Three: The Petra of Africa

When Craig suggested we add Ethiopia to our itinerary, Erin wasn't so sure. But he soon caught her attention with the promise to visit the "Petra of Africa" in the beautiful town of Lalibela. (Petra was used as the home of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
We had planned it for the end of our Ethiopia journey, but had to rearrange things due to a conflict with bus schedules. So today we got up at 4 am to fly North. The great thing about coming today - Saturday - was that it is Market Day. As we drove from the airport to town, folk from the surrounding country lined the winding dirt road up the mountain carrying everything from sorghum grains to goats on their backs. We checked in, dropped our stuff, and headed down the windy cobblestone street with the townspeople.

We passed by the traditional steel-covered huts just big enough for one person to stand in, where people sold their goods, and thought it wasn't much more than what we've already seen here. But then we crested a hill and looked down on a huge merkato full of colours and sounds, and lots and lots of people!

Being some of the only white people around, we quickly attracted attention. Many small children came up and boldly or shyly said hello, reaching their hands up to shake hands. School-age children befriended us, showing off their knowledge of Canada by asking "Ottawa?" "Toronto?" But when Erin said "Calgary," one boy asked if that was in Europe. Another boy followed us showing off his knowledge of European capitals and made the mistake of asking Craig for a hard one. After being asked Andorra's capital he disappeared into the crowd.

(Above: Exterior of Biete Medhane Alem)
After lunch we found a guide and started our tour of the rock-hewn churches dug into the red sandstone of the mountain. According to our guide, every guide will give you a different reason or legend, King Lalibela built the churches to make a new Jerusalem in the hopes that Ethiopians would make the pilgrimage to Lalibela instead of the much longer journey to Israel. The 11 different churches are each dedicated to religious figures and are ornately carved. The pillars and reliefs inside were incredible! Unfortunately, we were slightly distracted by rumours that fleas live in the tapestries draped on the floors, so we hope hot water and soap kills them off!

Interior of Biete Mariam
Our pictures can't describe the chorus of endemic birds, children playing, roosters crowing, and general merriment echoing off the gorgeous hillsides as we sit and drink Ethiopian wine (something that exists!) from our hotel restaurant. Although tiring, this has been our favourite day of the trip so far!

Day Two: Don't Let Us Be Misunderstood

(pictures to be added later as the internet is being stolen from the hotel a block away thanks to someone at our hotel knowing their security key)

The Amharic Alphabet
(Artist's Interpretation)
So far we have had a lot of trouble communicating in Addis Ababa, as very few people have conversational english. This is not new to either of us on our travels, the difference here is that we can't seem to even come close enough to be understood when saying place names, menu items, or thank you (now on day 5 we might have it down... most of the time). Pointing works for menus, smiling and bowing or an english thank you can generally express our gratitude, but communicating with taxi drivers and hotel staff about where we would like to go has been very difficult.

To make matters worse our hotel shares its name with a nearby city. When we first arrived and told the driver where we needed to get to, he responded that the bus wouldn't leave until tomorrow morning. After a few minutes of discussion while we walked past brand new taxis, we were able to communicate that this was the name of a hotel. Once this had been accomplished he immediately assured us he knew where it was, and then had a long conversation with other drivers in which everyone seemed confused. Just as we were about to get in the most beat up taxi in the lot, Erin spotted someone holding a placard with our names on it, the hotel had sent someone after all.

Back to day 3, after trying to communicate that we wanted to buy a bus ticket to Bahir Dar (we have since learned it is pronounced more like bardar), and then go to the Debre Zeyit Lakes (we still have no idea how to pronounce this), we were able to get a driver to take us through the horrendous Addis traffic to our destinations. The driving in Addis is some of the scariest either of us have encountered as there are no lights so the flow of traffic dictates right of way, if you need to cross the flow, for example make a left hand turn, you end up weaving through 3 or more lanes of oncoming traffic.

Once we had made it out of the city, our vehicle suffered a flat tire, but this proved to be only a momentary inconvenience. Once we reached the lakes we found a restaurant on a cliff above Boshoftu Lake, a serene lake surrounded by steep hills and cliffs with green mountains in the background and many different species of birds flying above and below. Unfortunately our camera died shortly after arriving.

After lunch we made our way to Hora Lake and wandered around the shore for awhile, Erin decided to be nice and asked two men taking pictures of each other with their cell phone if they "wanted a picture together", they took this as Erin offering to appear in a picture with them, so they went and got someone else to take the picture.

In the end we were not able to get a bus to Bahir Dar so we changed our route and flew to Lalibela for Day 4.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day One: Dive Right In

When people asked us where our first stop was and we told them Ethiopia, we got a lot of raised eyebrows. "You're diving right in!" they'd say. Although we had planned to take it easy the first couple of days, by 10:30pm we admitted that we'd had a pretty full first day.

It started heavy with a visit to the Red Terror our driver took us to, even though we'd asked for the National Museum. The Red Terror was dedicated to the people who had been opressed, imprisoned, tortured, executed by the military dictatorship which ended in 1991. Our guide was a volunteer who had been imprisoned himself. He led us around the simple, yet powerful, displays explaining what Ethiopians went through to gain their democratic freedom.
This wall had pictures of some of the 500,000 people executed,
their families had to refund the government for any bullets used

Looking good for
3.2 million years old
We next visited the Addis Ababa Museum where we learned about the capital city's history, and finally the National Museum to see a cast of "Lucy," our oldest ancestor.

After lunch and a nap, we ventured back out to find the Crown Hotel where they had a separate "cultural" restaurant. We ate traditional food, "tibs" which is sauteed lamb, onions, and butter served on a giant rubbery pancake, and drank "tej," traditional honey wine. We chose this restaurant because they entertain you with music, singing, and dancing from the 13 different Ethiopian ethnic groups inside a "tukul" which is a cone-shaped hut with a thatched roof. Erin even got pulled up to dance!

Our Adventure Begins!

Everything is packed, or at the
very least, in one place.
Boarding a 16 hour plan flight, 8.5 hours late, with a fever, and surrounded by uncountable screaming children... Best flight of our lives? Surprisingly yes! All thanks to Erin remembering to ask for exit row, and those screaming kids you ask? Well, when you have one of your own you don't mind them as much.

We found ourselves looking after a 5 month old boy as a result of a nifty crib contraption that can be attached to the wall infront of exit rows. The baby's mother retreated four rows for the duration of the flight in order to save her husband from their screaming toddler. Luckily the boy was somehow able to sleep for 13 hours in the plane and only a few times did we worry that we would be forced into heroic action to catch him as he managed to escape the shockingly low wall of the crib.

We have arrived safely now in Ethiopia. Although it was hard to say goodbye to so many great friends and loved ones and we will miss you all, we hope that through this blog we can stay in contact and the distance will seem less.
View from our hotel room.