To Lalibela

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
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Trip End Aug 18, 2005


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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Monday, June 13, 2005

This entry is mainly an account of the journey to Lalibela. Click the links to read about our trip to the Lalibela churches, or our trip up to the Asheton Maryam monastery.

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Day the Sixth - in which a trip to the toilet leaves me traumatised, we hitch with a drug addict, and we find we know all the words to Teddy Afro.

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Early start again - 5am walk to the bus station. My bag strap hurts my burnt shoulder. That'll teach me, eh?


The 3 of us found the direct bus to Lalibela. It was completely empty, so we found the bus going to Woldiya. We planned to get off part-way there, at a town called Gashena, at the junction with the road going north to Lalibela. We sat on the bus, choking on the diesel fumes. They were particularly bad, causing our eyes to stream. We fell out of the door, coughing, and sat on a low wall. That's not going to make my sore throat any better.

Eventually it seemed to be time to go, the driver honking the horn and revving the engine. We got on and watched what we have come to call The Bus Ceremony - a lot of arguing and gesturing, followed by the conductor booting off some passengers, presumably those without tickets. Great fun. Now let's go!






As we hadn't bought tickets in advance, we got the back seat. Since it is a continuous bench, they try and squish 3 more people on than humanly possible. This does tend to hold you in, or at least you all move as one being, when the bus goes over a bump. Never sit on the back row.
The gorge scenery was fantastic though.










Every now and again we'd pass an old rusting tank, and once an artillery gun - maybe a relic of the Eritrean conflict?

We were able to take a short movie with Stef's camera of the scenic view, as well as one of the interior of the bus, with jiggling heads and Teddy Afro playing in the background.
To see what the average Ethiopian bus journey is like click HERE.


We stopped, time enough to get a drink and use the toilet. Honestly, it was the worst experience of my life. Someone had completely missed and left a pile in front of the hole. Then, the left wall had something slimy, red and utterly horrid smeared up it. I came out wanting a shower to feel clean again.
Needless to say, we were not feeling hungry after that. We had some snackage which was enough - it was too warm to have a large meal. Antoneh, who seemed better today, got some sort of kitfo. The beef was in slivers instead of being finely minced, I'm not sure what the name for that version of kitfo is. It was completely raw and, when Antoneh offered, Stef and I were brave enough to try a piece with a dusting of hot berbere spice. It was very nice - the texture didn't bother me, contrary to Antoneh's broad statement about Westerners. Nor did it give us dodgy stomachs.

Back on the bus - very hot. We got to Gashena, and couldn't find any further transport to Lalibela. We sat in a hut for 2 hours, then Antoneh asked if we'd rather stay the night, or continue now. We opted to push on again. We blagged passage on a truck piled high with sacks of chilli peppers. The 3 of us crammed into the cab with the driver and his buddy. I was on Stef's lap but that didn't give me much head room. After a bit, Antoneh got out and climbed on the back of the truck, on top of the chillies. If we'd known that was an option we would have gone there to start with!

With more space, we got talking to the driver as best we could. He was a nice guy, and his buddy appeared to be there solely to feed him the tender leaves from the huge bundle of tchat. Tchat is a plant - the leaves are chewed into a paste and have an amphetamine-like effect. Our driver does runs across Ethiopia with his cargo and drives non-stop, surviving on tchat and very little else. He also had a cassette collection, which he proudly showed us. He would put a tape in, then yank it out and fast-forward it by touching the ribbon to his tongue, inserting a small stick through the hole and spinning it around rapidly, grinning all the time. He was never satisfied with the music playing, and so spent most of the time with his eyes off the road, changing tapes and spinning them on his little stick.

At one point a cow got separated from the rest of the herd crossing the road and started running down the road ahead of our truck. For some reason, I found it really funny at the time, us driving at snails pace behind this stupid cow that refused to run to the road-side.
The driver also had a disconcerting habit of speeding up for pedestrians. There weren't many people around and no other traffic, but occasionally there'd be a shepherd herding his cows/sheep/donkeys/goats down the road. One small boy got off the road and then deliberately drove some of his donkeys in front of the truck. The driver slammed the brakes on, jumped out and tore off after the child, intending to thrash him. He came back wreathed in smiles, we think he just loves terrorising people...

The sun set behind the mountains, fading them into pastel blues and purples. We tried to take pictures through the flecked and cracked windscreen, held together with car stickers.




On top, Antoneh and another passenger we hadn't noticed were suffering with the cold wind and chillies, which were playing havoc with their sinuses.

We got into Lalibela at 7pm. We had climbed many winding roads and when we got out it was suitably cold for the altitude. We found a nice hotel, Hotel Ashetan, and ate at a little local place, where Stef scared both me and the locals by getting a nose bleed and suddenly sneezing on me. Nice.
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Where I stayed
Hotel Ashetan

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