AksumJanuary 24, 2016 in Ethiopia
Now that Timkat is over, well there's a third day of celebrations but after 5 nights in Gonder, we needed to move on, we started making our way through the North.
We first made our way to Aksum (or Axum) which consisted of a bus to Shire (8 hours) and a minibus to Aksum (1.5 hours). They say Aksum is often skipped by travelers on a time restraint, and few stay in this town. We loved it! Apparently civilization started to establish themselves here as early as 400 BC.
One of the many great things - 1 tickets, 25 birr (if you're a student, which we still conveniently are according to our card), give you access to all of Aksum's historical sights. The Aksumite Stelae field and Tombs showed the Aksumite period to be of great importance in building structures. They say only 10% of Aksum has been excavated, leaving 90% to the imagination ! What were we stepping on... these tombs and stelae were from 4th century AD showing more advanced and persist building methods then the pyramids in Egypt. Granted, none of this sounds interesting, but we had a great time visiting. The Archaeological Museum was actually pretty legit! First museum we see with English markings and information.
We loved best of this town was probably more the feel of it. Hardly any tourist, very few, if any, haggling and annoyance from kids asking for things. We got a great room in Walia Hotel, central, cheap (150 or 200 birr) and brand new ! We've learned that the new hotels are the cheapest because they are still trying to make a name for themselves. And toilet seats are still intact ! There's actually 2 markings on the tourist book map saying "Fig tree", which we thought was hilarious so of course we went to both. Turns out its these huge open areas, all cobblestones around these huge fig trees. So majestic and gorgeous.
Before heading to the next town the next morning we checked out the market and the animal market. Quite overwhelming in scents and things to see, tons of people all selling the same things in sections. Like this is the isle for garlic, this one for red peppers, this one for onions... The animal market was slightly less interesting, long walk outside of town to find a large brick enclosure (bigger then a gymnasium) with tons of goats, sheep, cows, all for sale I would imagine...
30 minutes of minibus took to Adwa, where we were hoping to find a certain monastery and monument. We found neither. No one spoke English. We kept being offered a Bajaj (tuk tuk). So we left. Onto Yeha.
In Yeha was the Great temple, something built in the 7th century BC. It is considered the birthplace of Ethiopia's earliest known civilization nearly 3 millennia ago, according of Lonely Planet. Scaffolds everywhere made it difficult to appreciate, but the "museum" next to it was great! The priest from the church showed us a bunch of old relics, was passionate, and of course finished with "tip?" He showed us some Christian scripts he said was up to 1000 years old, we got to flip through one that was 300 years old... apparently...
This tiny town of Yeha was great to walk through the side streets. It was obvious that tourist mostly came only by tour bus, saw the great temple, and left. We were left to ourselves, except for the mandatory "Salam" to everyone. We got to peer into some courtyards, saw the straw and mud home with fire "ovens", mats on the ground... Simple, great experiences.
In front of the temple, we spoke with a tour bus driver who informed us their group was driving to Adigrat after. We had just learned that we needed to bus back to Adwa to make our way to Adigrat, so we were hoping this was our chance to save some time! The bus driver told us the group was French though, which apparently lowered our chances of getting on... still we were determined to try!
About 30 minutes, we hear the bus leaving. We make our way out of the side streets of Yeha onto the only street out to wave the bus down. Once it stopped, we asked the tour guide if he would let us on, with our best french accents and smiles! He turned to his group, turned back to us and said "sorry, no room" and they drove off. Hmm, funny because the bus driver had already assured us there were empty seats. So we bitched to ourselves, the damn french ! And low and behold, the bus re-appeared 5 minutes later! They turned back around for us! Turns out, the guy I sat next to spoke up for us, stating it was absurd not to help a fellow traveler! Yay for us!
So here we were, sitting on a private tour bus, air conditioning, guy on the microphone pointing things out... Stopping every 5 minutes for them to get out and get a picture from the same view as the last picture... It was surprising how negative these people were... complaining about the roads, complaining about the lack of information from the guide, too hot, too cold... boy oh boy.
We even got to drive by Debre Damo, a monastery both Jack and I really wanted to see because it was at the very top of a mountain, only accessible by climbing up a stone wall ! We chose against going because only men can access the monastery it was too far for public transportation. But we got to see it!
Finally in Adigrat, we find a hotel (its dark at this point, 6.30pm ish) not too far from where the bus dropped us off. The next day was spent lazing around, trying to catch up on blogging and internet, which clearly was unsuccessful. The wi-fi here is in a class of it's own... Saw some churches, since it was Sunday we got to observe (and participate) with some of the celebrations inside the church compounds.
Making our way to Mekele in the afternoon was stress free, we just needed to get there for our tour to the Danakil Depression leaving the next day. The best part of the day was the guy we sat next to on the bus to Mekele. He worked for a medical equipment company, was the first person to recognize what my wrist tattoo stood for, and spoke to us about his culture. One story blew my mind :
Every church in Ethiopia is painting with the colors of the flag, red yellow and green. We always assumed they were proud of their country, and displayed their colors.
Actually, something like 400BC, there's a belief that 3 birds came down from heaven, singing the songs of God. A historically famous musician wrote these songs down, and they are now an important part of any cultural music. These 3 birds were Green, Yellow and Red. So the colors were actually the church's first, and eventually became the flag colors because at the time, church and government were the same. Mind blown.Read more