Priest With His Cross, Lalibela, Ethiopia

Here Come the Stones

| Ethiopia

Riding on a perfectly laid out gravel road and driving through traditional villages was truly the essence behind why I travel by motorcycle.  Now, if I had been on a bus, I would be limited to taking the main highway and only stopping at the usual stops, being harassed by vendors selling overpriced bottles of coke to unsuspecting tourists. Instead they were all so surprised to see me, their first reaction was to pick up a stone and throw it. Apparently they don’t mean any harm by it. It’s just a gentle way to get my attention. They were getting my attention alright, by the fourth stone, the one that hit me square in between the eyes, right on the bridge of my sunglasses, I snapped once again.

How can Ethiopian’s destroy everything I begin to love? How can they just get everything so messed up? Who is messing this country up?  Fuming, I am riding along the road through the most amazing landscapes and villages when I connected the dots. The villages where the people are more aggressive, more demanding and have no sense of pride happens to be the ones littered with foreign aid signs. I guess this is the flip side to doing your ‘feeling good’ about yourselves and donating aid, is the fact the locals start to depend on the aid and come to think all white man is good for in this world is his/her money and handing it out to everyone in Ethiopia.

Still fuming, but really enjoying the driving, I came across a bus and a grader blocking the road. The people had piled out of the bus and were crying in small groups some distance from the bus. Parking my bike a respectable distance from everyone, I was just about to dismount when a young man approached me. He explained there had been an accident – as the two vehicles passed each other the man driving the grader was electrocuted. I looked up taking note of a power line crossing close to the road and knew instantly, the people in the bus would have been ok, but the grader moved off the road too far to allow the bus to pass by. It was a terrible accident, but one that could have been avoided.

My new guide showed me a path down the side of the stuck vehicles, through the piles of dirt the grader was trying to repair the road with. After I complete the little path he just mapped out for me, I waited for the usual request for money, but when I didn’t receive one and saw he was about to walk off, I called him over and extended my hand. ‘Thank you brother’ he half extended his hand but took it back and placed it on his heart, ‘No, thank you sister’. I was taken back, ‘Are you Muslim?’ I asked. ‘How did you guess?’ ‘Well, I’ve spent a bit of time in Muslim countries and I know Muslims cannot touch a woman that not in the family’. He smiles and wishes me good luck for my journey. Waving goodbye, I realised I should have guessed earlier. He was sporting a beard where all other Ethiopian’s didn’t have and this one act of kindness and non demanding attitude made me wish I was back in Muslim countries.

I was glad to finally reach Lalibella, I was tired not only from the riding but ducking the flying stones. But it wasn’t over.  When I reached Lalibella, I was been chased by touts all wanting me to come to their hostel. Fed up, I stopped the bike and told them to just leave me alone! I also didn’t want to find a room and pay commission, so added, “don’t follow me!”  He was still about to hassle me some more, but another person called out something and he quickly dropped it. When I got to the guest house I had been recommended, I was surprised to find the price had increased more than double! I was so taken back, I said what? He dropped it so fast back to more a reasonable rate that I knew this was some sort of game. I still had some energy in me, so I told him, ‘you have got to be kidding, this room is only worth 100birr ($6)’. He still refuses to drop the price down from 200 birr so I pulled out my printed copy of my guide book and started looking up another place.  With another place noted down on my map, I mount my bike and was just about to kick it when he agreed to 150birr ($8). I couldn’t believe how long it took him to drop the price!

A view from the stone church out to the traditional village that only recently has been evacuated.

All the women trying to hear what the priest has to say in the morning service.

This is the most famous stone church in Lalibella – The Church of Saint George

Juliana, Me and Dieter sitting outside the last stone church we visited.

The churches are never completely organised, a picture on Marry sits on a broken chair amongst the rubbish.

Everything is carved from stone – a stone mansions dream. Here I am standing in front of a wooden door made to fit the opening.

Walking around looking for a place to eat was hard. Ethiopia was starting to become hard work, like India, and I’m really not enjoying myself with these people. I found a small quiet restaurant where only women worked, and that became the only restaurant I ate at for the next couple of days.

Lalibella is famous for its stone churches. They are the most impressive structures carved out of one entire stone each and there are several clusters of churches scattered throughout Lalibella. After buying my ticket and refusing copious amounts of guide touts I entered the compound and guess who I saw standing there in front of me, but Dieter and his wife Juliana, a couple I had first met in Egypt when they gave me avocado for lunch and I met them again in Aswan while waiting for the ferry to Sudan. It was such a nice surprise for both of us we decided to spend the day together with a guide they had just hired.

A man reading his bible listening to the service.

Walking around these magical churches with so much feeling of history with two really great people, showed me why I’m still persevering with the locals and discovering Ethiopia’s treasures.