We hit the 11 famous rock hewn churches of Lalibela at mid-morning, eager to see the miracle of construction. These towering edifices were hewn out of the solid, red volcanic stone on which they stand. They appear like a superhuman creation - in size and in concept.
Some lie almost completely hidden in deep trenches, while others stand in open quarried caves. A complex labyrinth of tunnels and narrow passageways connect them all. This shaded and damp subterranean world is lined with secret crypts and caverns still used by the more than 1,000 local priests and deacons everyday.
As legend goes, King Lalibela once visited Jerusalem, where God appeared before him and ordered the construction of churches carved from stone. It is said that the churches were built with amazing speed, and still to this day it’s commonly believed that angels came at night and helped complete them. These churches have been called the eight wonder of the world and were recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1978. It’s hard to escape the awe they evoke. We’re mesmerized.
After the churches we visited the colourful and crowded market. It is often intimidating to be a tourist in a market, and we were very aware of our role as non-contributors who were present just to watch the locals as if they were tourist attractions themselves.
Our senses and our minds overwhelmed us and we left the local residents to their business of shopping and socializing with friends. In the evening we joined another group of tourists from Poland for a barbeque. Energetic musicians and dancers entertained and eventually engaged us all in an invigorating shoulder dance. It's still tough to compete with the agility of the Ethiopians but we did our best and were encouraged by everyone around us.
Yesterday we woke up early again, determined to reach the top of a nearby cliff where views of the mountains and another rock hewn church awaited. Some of us hired mules, guided by their handlers who doubled as helpers when we were forced to dismount and climb some very steep paths with loose gravel. The view at the summit was incredible, 360 degrees of stunning peeks and another beautiful church.
Covered in dust but pleased with our achievement, we made it back to the hotel. In the afternoon a local guide, Kaza, invited us to his home for a beautiful coffee ceremony. We met his extremely well-mannered children and ate some of the best enjira and sauce we’ve had in a week. Being invited into someone’s home is a surprise opportunity that always seems to arise when we’re least expecting it. So far the Ethiopian hospitality we continuously encounter has been a huge factor in making this trip so memorable. Kaza is a generous person who talked about his life in Lalibela and spoke about pride for his country.