Ethiopia
Lalibela

Here you’ll find travel reports about Lalibela. Discover travel destinations in Ethiopia of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.

3 travelers at this place:

  • Day28

    Danakil Depression in Mekele

    January 29, 2016 in Ethiopia

    Our lovely friend Mulish from Gonder has done it again, his friend Ababa was ready for our arrival in Mekele and had already organized our seats for the Danakil Depression tour. Their credit card machine wasn't working, no surprise there, but since we were leaving one of our backpacks behind, she said we could pay on our return. We paid 300$us for 3 nights 4 days, which was the least expensive I have heard yet from other travellers, including people on our tour and even in our Jeep who paid anywhere from 350$-380$-some even 500$. Yay for farengi pricing, anything they can get away with!

    I don't know what I was expecting here... We had skipped over this part in the travel book because we saw it was too expensive... We heard there was a volcano and sulfuric lakes but not much about them was described... And yet every traveler we met along the way assured us we absolutely needed to do this tour, so we did.

    Turns out, Holy Fuck! Excuse my French.

    This was honestly one of the coolest experiences of my life.

    You start by a drive down what they call "the worst road in Africa", if you want to call it a road at all, the last 12km takes an hour to drive it. The way it worked - the tour needs to be done in 4x4 jeeps, or else we wouldn't get there, we were 15 people so 4 jeeps following each other, and we need a military escort vehicle (ever since the attack years ago), and there's a guide in one of the jeeps with a cook. This cook would make her way to wherever we were stopping for lunch and prepare everything for our arrival. I was fed incredibly well! Huge meals, delicious, water provided by them. Our cook Mary was this super bubbly, quite modern young lady. I say modern because she had a tattoo and tighter clothing then your usual, tradition Ethiopian.

    The towns we stopped in for lunch pretty much just had the shack in which we ate, the rest was just rural Ethiopia. The Afar people, who live in this region, are said to be incredibly resilient, they live in the hottest "most inhabitablle" place on earth according to some research somewhere. They do so by being nomad, where every couple of months they pick up everything and move towards the water source, or crop land, or whatever they need at that time.

    Tiny bit of negative before the awesome, they say these wonderful things about Afar people to you, but the only people we saw and interacted with were those begging for things, or simply pointing and laughing. Give me money, give me pen, give me candy, chocolate, and when all else fails, they point to something on you and say give me, plain and simple. Aggressive, annoying little ones, and you got to wonder "who's the idiot still giving them these things?". Well we found out.

    There was this one particularly bad town, where you were literally swarmed with kids the second you stepped out of the jeep, also where the company decided we would have to spend half a day and the night. The second night of the tour, everyone basically agrees it's just to elongate the tour, but it's completely unnecessary. They bring you to a family compound, lay mattresses on the ground of 2 large rooms for the 15 of us, and you spend from around 2pm until the next morning at 10am here. As I mentioned, leaving the compound meant you were surrounded by kids grabbing your arm, pointing at you, and asking for things. They scream hello at you, and scream louder and louder until you answer them. Problem is you already said hello about 5 times, but dammit they want it a 6th time!

    After a while, we started ignoring them. That failed. We then started being more direct, telling them to leave, go away.

    It took me walking around this town of about 8 minutes, no more, to start getting rocks thrown at me. At first, smaller rocks, and to Jack also. We obviously turned, told them to stop and kept walking. I then started getting larger rocks. Jack, not so much. And larger. To the point where I got bruised in 2 places on my back from 2 rocks that nailed me. At this point, there are about 25 kids following us and laughing. Jack and I realized at that moment that I was apparently a little too different looking for them. It was very clearly aimed at me.

    Obviously at this point, I headed back to the compound, where I had to spend from 3pm until the next morning sitting in one little court yard, not exploring. Others also went for walks and returned within 5 minutes because of the overwhelming kids. Small rocks thrown around them, not on them. This was probably my most disappointing evening.

    Disappointing because as a traveler, you want to trust the people around you, you want to know you can get help, or just having an interaction with someone can be pleasant. But it was that evening that I realized I had no trust in any of my interactions with Ethiopians. They see us as wallets, entirely unwelcomed to their country unless we just walk around with an automatic tip or donation dispenser. A big part of travelling for me is the relationship you form with locals, and the experiences gained through them, but I won't find that here.

    And then these two Americans, who apparently loved the kids, thought they were cute, decided to reward them all by giving them candy right outside our compound gates. They were surprised when the kids tore the bag away from them and ran away with it. Rewarding them. I couldn't believe it. I guess that's why they keep asking.

    Enough negative, I saw a f***ing lava lake! The first day, we drove out as close to the Irta'ale volcano as possible, we ate, then started our 3 hour hike to the crater. We start this hike only at 5pm because apparently the goal is to walk with a headlamp in the dark for half of it, just for fun and games. This was the longest 3 hours ever, mostly because we could see the glow of the lava once it got dark, shining into the clouds. We all just wanted to get there!

    Arriving at the top was just magical. You arrive at the top of the crater, looking down on this far, yet so reachable lava lake, just dancing around, spiting up every once in a while. Looked like the ocean side, crashing against the reef, only its firey lava! Once we got the go ahead from the military keeping guard, we actually descended into the crater and walked over this cooled off magma, crackling under our feet as if we were walking on giant charcoal. We got, without exaggerating, within 15 feet from the lava itself! Wind was strong and blowing the spiting bits away from us. The level of the lava must have been 2-3 meters from the rim. Seeing it bubble up, spit up, crashing against the side, absolutely mind blowing. Hot also. We were only permitted to stay about 40 minutes, and had to head back to the top of the crater to settle in for the night. Our accommodation for the evening - old, dirty foam mattresses, about 2-3 inches thick, depending how lucky you were, set into the dirt ground right smack outside around the crater top. The mattresses are laid out in groups of 3 within these 2 feet tall stone enclosures, almost like you would build around a fire pit, to help protect us from the wind. Thank God for our sleeping bags! Created this artificial cocoon I could pretend I was safe inside. The next day Jack told me there were mice in the rocks around us but chose not to tell me before because she knew I wouldn't have slept. Well played, well played.

    We were woken at 5am so we could go back down for a second lava lake visit, only 20 minutes this time. I didn't want to leave. But eventually did, and we hiked down the 3 hours to our breakfast! The rest of the day was spent driving to that not so lovely town I told you about, where these same mattresses were laid out for us.

    Day 3 we drove out to the salt lakes Lake Asale where these huge groups, caravans of camels and mules are still being used to carry the mined salt blocks back into town. Apparently, despite the fact that you can drive onto these lakes with large trucks, the locals are choosing to keep doing it the way they were taught traditionally, lifting all the salt blocks from the ground by hand, shaping them into squares to allow for easier transport and balance on the animals, and walking it all back. You couldn't see the end of this incredible white surface. We stayed here for the sunset (although too cloudy to see one) and had the music from one the trucks blasting, we danced and drank some local wine, had ourselves a great time. It was entertaining to see our military escorts have wine and dance with us...

    Again, our accommodation for the night, weaved beds, with our usual mattresses over top, again outside. No walls, no markings of rooms or anything, just the Jeep parked at one end to "protect us from the wind" apparently. Where our 300$US each went, no one knows. But again, interesting experience! Apparently the star gazing is beautiful here, but unfortunately it was cloudy our whole stay. It was also supposed to be the warmest place on earth, averaging 34 celsius daily, but the clouds kept us cool all day.

    And lastly, the sulfuric lakes in Dallol. The mixture of magnesium and sulfur and potash made these incredibly colourful formations... I was in awe of what nature could create. Yay for science.

    All in all, 4 days of being driven around to these incredible sites, being fed amazingFood, in good company, what more could I ask for! All of it made my having to use the great outdoors as my toilet for 4 full days very easy to take !

    And Jack can't stop talking about the volcano. Says she's going to stay to hang out with it, see how it's doing...
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  • Day30

    Lalibela churches. Or not.

    January 31, 2016 in Ethiopia

    Now it's Sunday morning, we wake up at 530 am to make it to the churches for 6am, as the locals do. We walked around a little. Got to hear the chanting playing over loud speakers. People crouched down a little everywhere praying. Everyone with their usual white scarfs around their heads. Slight lighting made the ambiance perfect. These churches are so impressive, standing what seems to be 30 feet tall, red tint, all carved from a rock. Then a man asks for our tickets. We present them. No problem. Once we get to the next church, a man asks for our tickets. Again we show them, no problem. By the third church, the man asks for our tickets, and then asks for our passport (passport number were written on the ticket). We say we don't have them on us. He argues. We argue. He then demands we follow him to the ticket office. Great.

    Once at the ticket office, they inform us they think it's someone else's ticket. We obviously argue. The man asks us to write our names, countries and age on this little piece of paper. First two I had down, the age in the other hand, I invented. Why not. Jack did the same, or should I say Debra. I was pretty sure Debra was spelt this way on her ticket, but Jack wrote Deborah. Either way, these guys were not believing us, and yet had no reason not to. We argued. Said they were taking 100$US away from us, they had no right.... Argue argue argue, until both Jack and I looked at each other and decided it wasn't worth it. The experience was ruin. Now we were both frustrated and angry. So we left and decided we may have to spent 4 days in this town we would both leave now, but we're not doing the churches!

    Still being early, I suggested we walk to whatever high point we could find to watch the sun rise. Perfect idea. With just enough light, we made our way to what seemed like our own little secluded spot at the edge of a mountain side, and watched the sun rise. Mood set back to zero. The scenery is honestly some of the best I've ever seen, and that goes for most of Ethiopia. It is absolutely beautiful.

    We eventually (around 8am) walk down and make our way to this other part of town for breakfast. A part completely separate from the usual tourists centre. Here, no one spoke to us, no one yelled at us, the women were saying a simple Salem as we walked by, to which we returned the hello. We eventually got the a row of mini huts mostly just selling coffee and breads in from of the bus station. At this point, I knew we only had 65birr on us, but assumed our 1 egg, 1 bread and 2 coffee breakfast would be no where near that. Everyone was pleasant. Of course there was a group of women in the stall next door having a full conversation on how I look, all starring and pointing, but this felt more like curiosity because I'm different and not judgement. I was OK with this.

    Then we try to leave. 80birr is quoted to us. To put that in perspective, we usually have breakfast in the bigger towns that's called Special Full. It consists of an egg, veggies, a bean and tomato mix and yogourt that you mix all together and eat by scooping bread. That breakfast, with 2 teas, usually costs us 30birr. That's in a proper restaurant, not in a shack in front of the bus station. So we argue. Remember, I only have 65birr. They claim coffees are 10 and the egg and bread was 50 (adding to 80 with the water bottle we wanted which is always 10). Again, we argue. We say we've been here for 3 weeks, and named all the towns we've been in and had this type of meal and the usual price. They finally brought the price down to 50birr. From 80 to 50. F***ing walking wallet again. Even 50 is entirely over priced, but we weren't getting any further. So we paid and left angry, after such a promising morning. I managed to very quickly put it behind me, deciding that my morning (not including the ticket annoyance) was too good to let them ruin it. Jack had more trouble. I think both because she really wants to be able to trust people, and because we both know we have another day here.

    The rest of the day was spent reading and writing from our hotels balcony and from coffer shops. It was actually quite funny - our hotel is set about 25 feet from the side walk down the cement courtyard, and we were sitting in the second floor. So quite far from the street. Yet kids still stopped to yell hello from the street in their usual mocking matter, and all Jack kept answering back is "untouchable!"
    She was absolutely excited at the idea that we were untouchable. They can't bug us here. It turned out to be a relaxing, almost vacation like day. Rebooted ourselves.

    Finished the day with a relaxing dinner at Mountain View hotel. Slightly expensive, but with the right to be. Great food, and amazing views of the wonderful sunset.

    One more day in this town, and off to Harar we go!
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  • Day29

    Ah Lalibela.

    January 30, 2016 in Ethiopia

    We doubted you. We considered not coming. And we would have been right.

    Every tourist who comes to Ethiopia eventually goes to Lalibela. It is here you can see the huge rock hewn churches. We didn't want to go just because we "were supposed to", we tried to evaluate whether or not we actually wanted to come. Our doubts came from 2 main arguments - it's 50$US each for a ticket to the churches, a price unheard of in Ethiopia, and it's where all the tourists are. But ultimately, we didn't think the country would be completed otherwise. Also helped that we were encouraged by other travellers to get the church tickets off other tourists because they were valid for 5 days...

    We saved on an 8 hour bus to Waldia and 4 hour minibus over to Lalibela thanks to a lovely Dutch couple we met on the Danakil tour, who had already booked their private transportation straight to Lalibela and invited us along. Free ride. Well, I paid for the guy's lunch, 80 birr, and the ride only took 9 hours total. That includes a pit stop at the garage for a quick break fluid and pressure top up. Upon arriving in the town's centre, which isn't to say much - it's one street maybe 1 km long - we were met with, this time, adults, mostly men, asking where do we want to go? Where are staying? Do you need a guide for the churches? We literally just stepped off the minibus, no room to breath.

    Jack usually enjoys the slower style of travelling where you can just walk around town with your backpack on, eventually stumble upon a hostel or hotel that you want to check out, see the room... Nothing rushed. But here, having your backpack on announced to everyone you're fresh bait so it encourages all the guides and people looking for commission to come talk to you. I may sound harsh about this, it may not seem problematic to some of you, but when you can't finish a single sentence amongst yourselves, you can't even discuss a plan for accommodation, without someone interrupting, trust me, it's incredibly rude, disrespectful, and simply put, annoying. So we made it our mission to find a hotel to drop our bags off.

    First couple places we check out charged anywhere from 350-800 birr. We finally stumble upon what looked like a new hotel. Score! No English signage yet. We see the room - everything is new, small but sparkling clean, with a shared bathroom that's just as sparkling. 200birr. The next day, we asked to stay 2 more nights if she let us pay 150 (that's about 7.50$US), which she accepted. We rock at this hotel thing.

    Bags dropped, off we go. Walking around town, we still get hellos from everyone, this time with occasional "do you need a husband"s and" hey sexy where you go?"s and the classic "male or female?"s.

    We walked to what seemed like the very end of the world (I was hungry) to this restaurant Ben Abeba, to get out of the centre. Absolutely beautiful place, the architecture was beautiful, all open air and mountain's edge tables set in these floating pod like platforms. We had ourselves a beautiful sunset diner. All that was missing was the incredibly tempting hand holding, and even steeling a kiss from your partner while watching the sun set. At the end of our meal, we approached a table that had 2 girls, talking about the churches they visited. We not so subtly asked for their tickets which they gave to us! Two girls from Toronto actually, and believe it or, the name I now had to go by (since it's written on the ticket) was Genevieve. It's perfect, I already respond to that name. Jack being Debra was a little more challenging. For our ride back to town, seeing it was dark now, we tried taking a bajaj. Locals here pay 2-5 to cross the town in bajaj. We were quoted 50birr. Right. So we started walking.

    About half way a bajaj stopped and said he would bring us to the center. Our first instinct, as we have now been shown is a must, is to ask how much. He looked confused and answered "it's OK, I'm going that way". Now we're confused. A helpful Ethiopian? So we said, "no really, how much?". Confused still, he answered "5-10birr". So we hop in, still incredibly skeptical of this person... And turns out, he dropped us in the centre, and looked confused when I gave him 10. Who would have thought. It's here that I needed to remind myself of the few positive interactions we've had with locals. They are just so few and far in between the negative interactions that I tend to forget about them. Like the lovely medical equipment guy on the bus. The next day we had a kid start talking to us during our walk again, but this time he seemed to just practice his English, was doing great at keeping conversation, and when we were ready to turn directions, he said nice to meet you and walked away. So pleasant.

    Saturday went a little off track with what we had planned... We had a cooking class booked for the morning where we learner to make the traditional Ethiopian fasting dish. It combines 7 vegetarian dishes onto their classic injera. I've loved the food here, so it was perfect to learn! Shiro being my favourite, I got to learn how to make it! Their kitchen consisted of rocks on which to rest 3 pots, wood fire burning underneath. All the tools used were so simplistic and yet more then what we needed. You quickly realize the extent at which we can be materialistic. Our food was delicious if I do say so myself!

    We then went to try and book our flight out of Lalibela for the 1st. The man informed us there was just 1 seat available but that the power was down. So there's nothing he can do for us. He also informed us flying from Addis Ababa to Kigali, Rwanda, was 729$CAD. What the hell. So off to the Internet Cafe we go. Turns out, flying to Kigali was at best 650$CAD, yet flying to Entebbe, Uganda, was 450$CAD. Change of plans!

    When we eventually went back to the flight office around 2pm, we got him to book us the flight on the 2nd (at this point everything earlier was booked) to Dire Dawa, where we want to visit Harar. And then we went back to a Wi-Fi spot to book our flight from Dire Dawa to Entebbe on the 4th. We figure from Entebbe, we'll work our way down overland into Rwanda, and then loop back around.

    That frustration over with (took around 2 hours to book these 2 flights), we decided to do the churches only the next day, seeing that Sunday is usually the perfect time to do so anyway. Instead we visited the market.

    I needed a belt (sorry Pierre, the metal pin kept falling and I finally lost it). This market was not huge, but tons of people. An enclosure for the animal market. An area for spices, for clothing, for a bunch of plastic colourful things I will never understand, etc. Upon arriving, I asked a girl at a stall how much her belt was so I could use it as a price point for negotiations. She said 50birr. Now I know that's just 3$ once converted, but still for us that meant dinner. So we kept walking and explored the market. Once in the clothing area, all the stalls have basically the same items. So you ask the first person how much, then by the time your at the next one they already have to same belt out ready for you to inspect. Problem is - they started at 150birr for the same belt as earlier. Here comes the wallet again. I laughed and walked away. Next person says "OK OK hebasha price", which means local price, and quotes 100birr. And the next, and the next, all 100birr. Let's all keep in mind that if these belts were actually worth 100birr, no one in Ethiopia would be clothed. There's even a stall that when I approached looking at their belts, I asked how much, and the man asked the guy behind the stall how much it was. We then heard the man respond "forenji or habesha?". For once, just once, it would be nice to not be seen as rich. So I went back to my original lady, and asked if she could do better then 50birr. The girl next door says 100birr. I laughed and said that's more then my original quote, so she responded 60birr last price, while the girl I was speaking with stayed silent. So at this point, I paid the damn 50birr and bought myself a belt.

    The rest of the day was spent staying away from people. Jack read for an hour at the coffee shop while I updated this new blog of mine at the Internet Cafe. After resting some more in the room, reading about Uganda, we decided we needed to go out! We dropped by to see if our cooking teacher wanted to join us for a drink. She had wedding preparations to attend to so off we went on our own. We went to Torpedo, a "traditional" tej house. Tej is a local honey wine here, very popular amongst the locals. It's 8pm, dark out, street had just a few people, enough to make us feel safe yet not enough to bother us at all. It was perfect. We got prime seating along the wall, was welcomed by the guy next to us with the usual pleasant bar small talk. We chatted around a bit. And got to enjoy the musicians and dancers entertain the crowd with traditional shoulder dancing. Fun, fantastic evening it a town where that seemed impossible.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Lalībela, Lalibela, ላሊበላ, Klippekirkerne i Lalibela, LLI, Лалибела, 拉利貝拉

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