Mule ride up to the monasteries

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
1
11
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Trip End Aug 18, 2005


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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Day the Eighth - in which we strike out on our own and have a Real Ethiopian Experience.

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We got up when we woke up - which was luxurious!
9am bread, buna and chai. Talking at breakfast, we decided we'd do something ourselves now we are free of Antoneh. A guy staying at the Asheton recommended we take a mule ride up to Asheton Maryam monastery. So we spoke to one of the hotel staff and he went off to find two mules plus drivers.

They appeared at about 10.15am and though the mules were rather small we hopped on and set off - our first obstacle being the gaping hole in the path on the way to town. We had been negotiating this on foot the previous day with no problems, but now on a mule the slippery gravel had me nervous. Then left and up, up a small path littered with the broken limb bones of, you guessed it, mules. Argh!

The route up was steep and occasionally we needed to get off and walk. As we ascended we were rewarded with views over Lalibela and the surrounding countryside.






I was enjoying it, despite having appalling mule-control and riding skills. Then I banged my knee on a rock.
At the top we had the usual change problem when we bought coke for the drivers from some women. They stayed while we walked the last stretch to the monasteries (there are actually two up there). A small girl followed us the entire way - she wanted money for stuff for school, so we asked her the name of the school in Lalibela. She couldn't tell us.

The monasteries didn't differ much from the churches, except they are roughly hollowed out of the cliffs.




The view from the top was stunning, if a little hazy.




Stef enjoyed it while I went in search of somewhere to pee. No luck, so I found a hiding place. Nice...

We left the girl in tears (we didn't give her anything - we didn't have much to give, and I refuse to make a beggar out of her) and headed back down. We spent more time on foot on the way down - thank god.




We passed children coming back from school or carrying wood home - all wearing flimsy plastic sandals or going barefoot. And there we were, slipping and sliding. In my defence, I was wearing cheap-ass fake Tevas from Bangkok... Either way, Stef slipped nearly falling over the edge of a very high precipice, scaring the crap out of both me and two little girls walking the other way.

Another scary moment came when Stef's mule stopped in front of mine to take a shit. Mine decided it couldn't wait and side-stepped to the left - lurching right over the edge. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. It didn't help that there were some small metal pipes running parallel with the path and I was sure my mule would tread on them and slip. Never again.

We made it safely with only sore bums as trophies. We gave our drivers a small tip for their bother and shook hands. Only upon shaking hands with Stef's mule driver did I realise he had leprosy.

We got back and had a welcome shower. By unspoken and unanimous decision we headed out to find a little bakery, the Shalom Cafe. I sat down and immediately discovered that tomorrow's bus journey is going to be painful. But avocado smoothies make everything better. When I went inside the tiny dark shop to order, a lady approached and started talking to me. I invited her back out to sit with us and she soon got to the point - would we like to come to her place to experience a coffee ceremony? Well of course we would!!
So we finished off and followed her down a side street to her house. She had spent some time in Germany when she was younger so was fluent in German and pretty good at English too.
She asked what we had been up to in Lalibela and somehow the conversation got onto tej, or honey wine. Asnakech exclaimed that she knew the old woman who made the best tej in town and she would get us some. We tried to persuade her that her generous offer of buna was more than enough, but she was having none of it. The walls of her room made it clear - they were covered in postcards from around the world. She didn't offer this for payment, but simply because she enjoyed the company, liked to help westerners experience Ethiopia, and because she liked to get postcards. She was adorable.

She was also sick. I don't know if it was AIDS but she said she kept getting sick and had to rely on her friendly neighbour to look after her. She expressed her desire to return to Germany one day. I really hope she makes it...

The coffee ceremony began with Asnakech washing some green coffee beans in a shallow pan and then roasting them slowly. She lit some resin (I now know it was Frankincense and Myrrh) which was quite pungent, and then sent the roasted beans out to her neighbour who pounded them with a stick. She also sent someone off to buy some tej. I explained that I could not drink the coffee (it is rude to drink less that 3 cups and that would kill me dead), so she offered me tea. I did try Stef's coffee and it was lovely - rich and very very smooth.




We talked about all kinds of things, and then the tej arrived. It was quite strong, and Asnakech kept re-filling our glasses. She offered us some injera, which was very welcome, since it would help reduce the effect of the alcohol. When she went out to get it, Stef and I swapped glasses so I wouldn't have to drink as much!
The injera was with Shiro Wat (lentil stew) and very tasty.

At one point Asnakech excused herself and went to a small radio by her bed. She explained that she could tune into a German broadcast at this time in the afternoon, and would we mind if she listened?

We promised we would send a postcard, and as we had some passport photos on us, we gave her one of each and also a coloured pen that she asked for. Finally she gave me a small packet of Wush Wush tea.

We thanked her profusely, checked that she was sure about not wanting some money to pay for our coffee, tej and injera, and then wandered back to the hotel.

What an experience!

Our final activity of the day was to go to the "bus station" (an open patch of dirt in the middle of town) to sort out bus tickets for tomorrow. We bought 2 for Dese, and as we were leaving a young man bounced out at us to remind us to be there for 11.30 Ethiopian time (5.30am for us). Ethiopian time starts when people get up - so at 7am they say 1. For easy calculation just add or subtract 6. So 11.30 is really 5.30am. Yawn!
Off we go again...
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Where I stayed
Hotel Ashetan

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