St. George Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia
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Ethiopia Trip Journal from November 20 to December 12, 2007

Follow this link to return to the Ethiopia Photos Pg. 1 and Ethiopia Photos Pg. 2.

Country: Ethiopia
Duration: Nov. 20 to Dec. 12, 2007
Distance Traveled in the Country: Approx. 3500km on the motorcycles. (of which 1200km not paved)
Most Memorable Impressions:
Ethiopia is one of those countries which deserves a lot more time to explore then what we had available.  It was definitely the highlight of Africa up to this point, but then we are only a quarter into the continent.  The landscape is truly amazing.  The true Africa can still be found in remote places.  Most tourists fly into the touristy places without seeing and experiencing the incredible landscape and heritage. The historical route led us through the stunning Simien Mountains, to the World Heritage Site in Aksum near the Eritrean Border, allowed us to hike to the churches in the Tigray Range and take the most scenic and difficult ride into the Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela.  Every day was an adventure of mastering rough roads and experiencing the wonders of Ethiopia.  Unfortunately there were many places we had to give a miss like the Danikil Depression, Volcanoes, Omo Valley and Bale Mountains.  We spent three (3) weeks exploring and decided that we would have to come back for another three (3) weeks sometime in the future. Another highlight of Ethiopia meeting local tribes people in traditional dress, still untouched by mass tourism, close to the Kenyan Border.  Ethiopia a hidden Gem in Africa. 
Our Favourite:
- Simien Mountains
- Rock Hewn Churches in Tigray
- Meeting tribes people in southern Ethiopia
Fuel Cost: 7.60 Birr ($0.85CDN/litre) for Unleaded Fuel.
Accommodations: Camped under the stars once.  Basic Hotel from 20 to 125 Birr/night ($2.20 to $14.00CDN/night).
Exchange Rate: 1 Birr = $0.11CDN
Border Formality Costs: Visa = $30.00US/person;
Motorcycle Customs = Free with Carnet de Passage

Special Thanks: Robert (Canadian) for your awesome hospitality & food in Addis (thanks a million), Stefan (Swiss) for letting us know about Tigray and having Spaghetti with us. Rene (Canadian), Guy and Marleen (Belgium) for breakfast and all the great information for the southern parts of Africa.

Nov. 20, 2007.  To truly get a visual of the people, donkeys, carriages walking back and forth between the Sudan/Ethiopia border one has to be there (or see our Helmet Camera Video Footage).  We did not see anyone controlling this border post. A sign only 50m from the Sudan Custom Office indicates "Immigration Check" this way, which we thought was the final Sudanese Passport Exit Stamp check.  We parked the motorcycles and Mike follows another arrow for the "Immigration Check" around some make-shift wooden fence and a building with chickens into a straw and mud hut building. The official Ethiopian Immigration Office.  Who would have guessed?  As we had received our Ethiopian Visa in Cairo, Egypt, the entry stamp was quick and we entered Ethiopia at 4pm.  The Ethiopian Customs office is actually 40km from the border.  We decide to continue and hope to make it to Customs before sun set.  Leaving the border was definitely an experience.  Coming from Sudan with the smallest population of any country in Africa to Ethiopia, where suddenly as if opening a flood gate, hundreds of people line the road, is shocking.  The living conditions in the villages drastically reduced compared to Sudan.  There is everything on the road from donkeys, horses, cows, goats, dogs, people and children.  No more tarred road. It takes us almost an hour to reach the Customs Office, as the road is in poor condition and every donkey and cows loves to walk straight into your path.  Normally the office is closed already, but the man was still there and had our carnets signed and stamped in no time.  As dusk was setting in, the man offered us to set up camp in front of the customs office.  Entering Ethiopia, we are steadily gaining altitude and with that leave the Sudanese desert and sand behind.  It is not as easy to pull off the road as there is very high grass, bush and trees along the roadside.  Not to mention the wonderful animals that live and hide in there.  The concrete pad in front of the customs office worked just fine.  At a local "bar" I exchange some US Dollars to Ethiopian, just enough to buy a couple of Pepsi's.  At our camp we cook some Ichiban Noodles, chicken flavour, which we had originally bought in Aswan, Egypt.  We made it to Ethiopia.

Nov. 21, 2007.  We get up as the sun rises and it seems so does every other animal and person in the area.  It is 160km of gravel road to Gondar.  It takes us five (5) hours, mainly because of all the road construction, and people and animals walking on the road.  Okay maybe because I crashed on a water crossing too.  We also saw our first monkeys running across the road.  Gondar is a little happening town and we stayed at the Balagez Pension for 70 Birr/night ($7.70CDN/night) and shared bathroom.  The place is gated and has a nice courtyard to relax and the food is excellent.  The best pizza ever.  We find out that Werner from South Africa had stayed here a couple of days ago and sends his greetings.  We both look a sight, dusty and dirty and in great need of a shower.  Originally we planned to stay for four (4) nights, but the place was booked for the last two (2). Oh well, we hit the internet cafe, what a nightmare.  The first two (2) were a write-off as the e-mail webpage never loaded.  The Golden Internet, was slow (dial up), but at least we could check our e-mails.  We contacted Robert in Addis and Stefan from Switzerland to see if we could hook up while in Ethiopia.  Two (2) e-mails took us an hour to send. We are way too spoiled in the western world.

Nov. 22, 2007. Gondar has a few historical sites, which can be seen easily in a day.  We start of with a visit to the Royal Enclosure, located a 5 minute walk from our hotel.  The castle (50Birr/person or $5.5CDN/person) was built by Emperor Fasilidas approx. 1640AD.  Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia from 1632 to 1886.  The price of the ticket includes a visit to the Bath of Fasilidas, located approx. 2km downhill from the castle by the stadium.  Signage for any historical site or tourist office are either none existent or hard to find. The Bath of Fasilidas is currently under renovations and it is hard to get a peek at the large swimming pool.  As both the Palace and Bath are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, most of the up keep and renovations are funded by UNESCO.  The renovations at the bath employ probably over a 100 locals.  There is no machinery and all work is completed by hand.  Each stone is hand carved.  Cement mixed on the ground and then carried by mostly young girls on wooden trays to the location.  The scaffolding is made out of tree branches.  Most of the labour work is performed by women, wearing, what seems like, their Sunday clothes.  It took us an hour to find the Debre Berhan Selassie Church north-east of town.  Entry is 25Birr/person or $2.60CDN/person).  The priest takes us inside the church.  Shoes have to be removed, as a sign of respect.  Unfortunately the floors in most of the churches either consist of dirt or have not been cleaned for a long time.  Our socks were consistently brown. The church has definitely the best murals and frescos we would see in Ethiopia. 

Nov. 23, 2007.  We are on the road to Bahar Dar early in the morning.  160km of awesome twisty new tarred road (a rare find in Ethiopia) and amazing scenery.  Our top speed is between 70 and 90km/hr, as the donkeys, goats, cows and people are all over the road.  There is not a km stretch without something on the road.  The normal folk do not own a vehicle.  If they can effort it they use mini-buses, mostly they walk.  Therefore we met maybe two (2) Toyota Land Cruiser driven by UN people on the 160km stretch, four (4) mini-buses and a couple of semi-trucks.  Due to the limited traffic the mini-buses take up both sides of the road and often are on our side in the corner.  We had some close calls.  Bahar Dar is located on the southern tip of Lake Tana.  Lake Tana is 3600 sq-km in size and very muddy looking in color.  The Ghion Hotel is located at the shores of the Lake.  The flowers in the courtyard are beautiful and it is a nice place to relax.  At 125 Birr/night ($14.00CDN/night) complete with bathroom, our most expensive hotel room in Ethiopia.  In the afternoon we take the gravel road to the Blue Nile Waterfalls, located about 35km east of Bahar Dar (with no signage it took us a while to find the actual road).  At the ticket booth, the tourist office gave us three (3) options to view the waterfalls.  Entry is only 25 Birr/person ($2.60CDN/person). We rode the motorcycles to another parking spot 2km from the ticket office and paid a guide to show us the way (110 Birr including boat ferry). The three (3) hour round trip started by walking over a 16th Century bridge built by the Portuguese. The gorge it bridges used to see a lot of water, but since the construction of the hydro power plant most of the Blue Nile water is diverted.  During an upset situation at the power plant the water rushes down this old path and sometimes even washes over the bridge.  From the bridge we venture onwards through a small village and as we reach the top of the hill our first view of the Blue Nile Waterfall.  Again due to the power plant water diversion the Waterfall has been reduced to a 1/4 of its original size.  It still is an impressive site.  Our guide leads us to the base of the waterfall, but first we have to cross a stream and taste some sugarcanes.  We were able to get quite close to the waterfall.  We trek to the top and take a small ferry boat across the Blue Nile River and return to the motorcycles.  It was great to be out in the nature again and hiking in the hills. Back at the hotel we try out traditional Ethiopian food.  The bread is called Injera, it is very porous and has a bit of a vinegar taste to it.  The meat, called tibs, is mostly chopped into small pieces, including fat and bones and on the tough side.  Our favourite is shiro with bread. A dish made out of chickpeas, spices and butter.  Ethiopians are also big on Spaghetti with tomato sauce.  Overlanders Alex and Katja arrived at the Ghion Campsite and we exchanged some more information.

Nov. 24, 2007.  We had a choice of visiting the monasteries scattered over 37 islands of Lake Tana or take a rest day.  Our rest day always consists of catching up on laundry, updating journal, downloading GPS tracks, pictures and fixing anything that breaks.  We did use the horrible slow internet at the hotel (again dial-up only).  Robert in Addis had e-mailed and confirmed that we could set up camp with him for a couple of days and we had received Stefan's (the Swiss Globetrotter we had met in Syria/Lebanon in 2006) itinerary for traveling Ethiopia.  Amazingly we were going to be in the same place on the same day in Debark (Simien Mountains).  In the morning we were talking to a cyclist (cycling from Cape Town up the east coast of Africa), who had run into Rene (another Canadian Motorcyclist from Canada, who we had met and stayed in contact with over the last couple of years).  Rene's location currently was Addis.  A quick e-mail to Rene and maybe we could meet.  Werner from South Africa e-mailed with some important information for the yellow card insurance and road conditions ahead. We went for dinner with Alex and Monika and said our good-byes.

Nov. 25, 2007.  We had heard that the road from Gondar to Aksum was in bad condition with large pointy rocks.  We played with the option of leaving the motorcycles in Gondar and flying to Aksum and Lalibela.  Our determining factor was the ride from Gondar to Debark, entry point to the Simien Mountains and 101km of gravel/dirt road.  Our main concern was the tires, gravel and large rocks give a beating to the tires and at 15,000km we hoped to get another 15,000km out of them.  We returned to Gondar from Bahar Dar on the same great tarred road.  Fueled up and ready to set off on the historical route of Ethiopia, it takes us five (5) hours to cover the 101km to Debark, mostly because we stopped a million times to take pictures of the truly amazing scenery.  The actual gravel/dirt road is not bad. The road climbs from Gondar (elevation 1800m) to Debark (elevation 2600m).  The Simien Park Hotel, our first choice to stay, was completely booked and we opted to stay across the way in a less respectable, but acceptable place to us.  The owner of the Simien Park Hotel was very helpful and let us park the motorcycles in his gated courtyard for free.  The Abysin Hotel was 60Birr/night or $6.60CDN/night with shared bathroom.  Our gear stored in the room we walk to the Park Office to purchase our park entry fees (50Birr/person or $5.50CDN/person and 10Birr/motorcycle or $1.10CDN/motorcycle).  As we had only allotted one (1) day for visiting the park, we arranged for a non-English speaking scout (armed person) to ride on the back of Mike's motorcycle and see the main view points.  The armed person is mandatory (30Birr/day or $3.30CDN/day). No visit to Ethiopia is complete without seeing the Simien Mountains.  They are truly spectacular.

Nov. 26, 2007.  Our scout showed up early at our hotel, equipped with his rifle hanging over his shoulder and a large parka covering his body.  Mike took him on the back of his motorcycle, while I followed.  It was a unique picture as the gun bounced up and down on the back of the scout, while he held on for dear life.  The non-pavement road from Debark winds its way into the park.  The views are breathtaking and we stop at several viewpoints.  Again it is hard to capture the beauty of the place in pictures.  Approx. 30km into the park we come upon the gelada baboons.  With the scout at close range we are able to approach the baboons.  Some are humanlike especially in their mannerism.  One baboon was cleaning his nails and sitting on a rock just like we would.  We could get as close as a couple of meters before they would shy away.  The large hairy male baboon shows us his huge teeth as he yawns.  The female baboons pick whatever out of the chests of the male baboons.  Little baby baboons play on the hill and tumble down them.  It is fascinating to watch them. Another 7km onwards we park the bikes and take a stroll.  The park elevation starts at 3200m.  It is funny how fast one gets out of breath doing little tasks at the elevation.  The scout takes us to the look-out to see the 300m free falling waterfall.  Our viewpoint is directly across the waterfall, shear cliffs on the side we stand and shear cliff where the waterfall plummets to its depth.  Here is a perfect stop for a snack break.  The area reminds us of copper canyon in Mexico.  This place requires another visit, not on this trip, but we will be back and take a 6 day hiking trip into the mountains.  We return to Debark and drop back to 1900m.  As the next fuel stop is 300km away, we buy gasoline for 10Birr/litre on the black market which took over two (2) hours to arrange.  Stefan, the Swiss Globetrekker Travel Agent, arrives mid afternoon, and we are excited to get together to catch up on travel stories.  Over spaghettis and Pepsi we talk away the night, exchange information on places to see and hope to hook up again with him and his wife Denise in Uganda around New Years.  Thanks to him we added the Tigray valley to our must see places.  

Nov. 27, 2007.  We depart Debark with sunrise, as we have a long riding day ahead.  The roads drops by switchbacks into the beautiful mountain range below the Simien Mountains.  We pass through small villages, some portions of the road are muddy from the spring run offs.  Overall the road was pretty good, there is only one section which is a steep descent and ascent, as you drop from the high plateau to the river below, cross the river and then up the other side via switchbacks.  This portion has very large rocks and steep switchbacks.  After 245km and 8 1/2 hrs in the saddle we make it to Aksum.  We head straight for the Africa Hotel, a nice place, with a large central courtyard.  Our room comes with a bathroom and all that for 90Birr/night ($10.00/night).  Our gear, our bodies and bikes are covered in dirt.  I am always surprised that no-one ever refuses us entry based on what we look like.  That evening more tour landcruisers arrive and they are amazed that we made it without breaking down.  They took 12 hrs, broken spring and flat tire. We have vegetable pizza (literally) at the restaurant.  This is a pizza covered with carrots, peas and other wonderful things.

Nov. 28, 2007.  Aksum, once the home to a great civilization, has numerous historical sites scattered over the town and surrounding area.  We allow a full day of exploration to Aksum.  The Lonely Planet Africa on a Shoestring is too basic to provide any map, but points us in the direction of sites to see.  We first wander off in search of the Tourist office and it takes us 45 minutes to find it as no sign shows the way.  A local person finally leads us to the hidden entrance of a small office, where a couple of guys sell tickets that allow you to visit all the sites for 100 Birr/person ($11.00/person).  In addition we buy a map of the town for 3 birr, a great tool as we would have never found our way to the places.  Our first stop is the Northern Stelae Field Tombs.  For once they are easy to spot from far away.  The third largest Obelisk (King Ezana's Stele – 24m) stands covered halfway with scaffolding.  To its left lies the largest stele (also called the Great Stele) ever erected by humans.  Broken into several pieces, in its hay day it stood 33m high.  Larger then any obelisk erected by the Egyptians (this would have been overshadowed by the obelisk at the query in Aswan, if it would not have been flawed).  The second largest Rome Stele, was exported to Italy during Mussolini's ruling.  We heard that it was returned a couple of years ago, but we didn't see any evidence of it. False doors and windows are carved into the length of each stele.  Below the tumbled great stele lies the Mausoleum and we can venture into the tomb.  The tomb of the Brick Arches was gated off, but we snuck through a small opening and descended the steps.  The tomb area is, unfortunately, completely flooded and we were unable to explore further. Opposite the Northern Stelae Field lies the St. Mary  of Zion Churches.  The new church overshadows the old small square church.  The significance of the small church that it is said to house the Ark of the Covenant.  Through no one, except the monk inside, has seen it.  Entrance to these churches is additional (64Birr/person or $7.00/person).  The fee includes an unique peek at the former King's crowns and a close up view of a 1000 year old bible, where the pages were made out of goat skin, worn on the edges from the continuous use.  This book will be placed inside the Ark of the Covenant in the old church next year.  Mike was able to visit the adjacent monastery to view the frescos (no women allowed).   1.8km up the hill lies the Tombs of Kings Kaleb  and Gebre Meskel. On the way there we stopped at the Queen Sheba bath, a large water reservoir, where the locals fill up their canisters with water.  A stairway leads into the Tomb of Gebre Meskel.  It conists of several rooms.  The centre room has three (3) sarcophagi.  From the tombs a sign points into the general direction of our next destination the Abba Pentalewon Monastery, 2km around the mountain.  Children out of school on their way home join us for portion of the walk.  The path is not well marked, but we can see the Monastery on the hill and walk through the farmer fields and between large cactus trees and stone walled fields to reach the summit.  Entrance is 20 Birr/women and 30 Birr/men. Here we met a Scottish couple, Paul and Marion.  A 14 year old boy tells us the ins and outs of the place.  We are shown the cross and fresco's in the church.  The frescos are painted on animal skin and hung on the wall, covered by sheets for protection.  While Mike and Paul visited the Monastery, Marion and I hang out and talked about working in Canada, as he is a Petroleum Engineer and she is a Doctor.  We return to the Africa Hotel for a quick drink and continue our now afternoon walk to the Ezana Park. A small building houses the 4-th Century AD Stone of King Ezana.  Its inscription is written in Sabaean, Ge'ez and Greek.  The King Bazen Tomb is to the north of the Ezana Park.  The gate was locked, but we climbed the stone fence and explored.  From here it is a good 2km walk to the west end of town to see the Dungar (The Palace of Queen Sheba) and Gudit Stelae Field.  It made for a nice walk in the mid afternoon sun and concluded our sightseeing at Askum.  Exhausted we return to our hotel.

Nov. 29, 2007.  The gas stations in Aksum are empty of gasoline and we continue to Adwa. This is definitely an issue finding gasoline, as one day the town has it and the next nothing.  Luckily Adwa had gasoline.  The road from Adwa to Debre Damo is mostly paved.  We took the turn to Debre Damo Monastery, but after a couple of kilometers the road started to get sandier and sandier to a point were 10km would have taken us a couple of hours.  In addition the Monastery does not allow females to enter.  We decided to give it a miss and continue.  The tarred road stopped not far past the Debre Damo turn-off and got a bit trickier as a portion is under major construction and a couple of huge mountain passes with rough steep sections. From Adigrat a nice tarred road takes us to Wukro.  Stefan had told us that not a lot of tourists visit the Rock Hewn Churches in the Tigray region and that the scenery is amazing.  We checked into the Kalu Hotel for 20 Birr/night ($2.20/night), our cheapest accommodation yet and head for the tourist office on the main street.  Two (2) very helpful tourist advisers outline numerous options, which all encompass a full day of activities. We even play with the option to go into the Danikil area (lowest point in Africa), but it is a minimum two (2) days  complete with full armed escorts.  We could spend forever in Ethiopia, as there is so much to see. In the evening we hang out with the locals at the Kalu Hotel Restaurant and experiment with ordering food.

Nov. 30, 2007. The ride to the first Rock Hewn Church is 38km west on a gravel road and after climbing a pass the road descends.  A valley opens up and the scenery changes to red rock formations, just like riding through Arizona.  At km 38 we turn onto a small path for a couple of km to the base of one of those huge red mountains.  We are instantly surrounded by children, who want to be our guides and look after the motorcycles for a small fee.  The tourist office had advised us that it would be a 55 minute hike to the Mariam Kotor Rock Hewn Church.  Entry is 50 Birr/person ($5.50/person) and 10 Birr as tip for the Priest to open the church door. We chose one kid to look after the motorcycle and declined a guide, as the path upward seemed quite well defined.  We soon realized that we would never found the way to the church, without the help of a guide.  We agreed to 10 Birr to get led up the mountain. It was an amazing hike, some scrambling and views over the valley out of a picture book.  We reached the church in 45 minutes and the Priest came to open the doors after settling payment.  From the outside not much to look at, but the inside was impressive, with columns carved out of the rock.  We thought that was it, but then we were led around the mountain.  Walking along a small ledge without a railing, were the drop off was straight down 300m to where our tiny motorcycles were sitting.  A small wooden door was opened by the Priest to lead us into another Rock Hewn Church.  The location was spectacular.  It was definitely worth to add an extra day to our Ethiopia schedule to visit this area.  Four (4) hours had passed since we had set out from Wukro, the next Rock Hewn Church was located 14km back tracking on top of another mountain. It was a bit more difficult to get to the base of this church, as no visible road actually existed.  Some children showed us the way and again after agreeing to the small fee we chose a guide to lead us up the mountain.  The Priest met us approx. 20 minutes into our hike and we paid him the 50Birr/person for entry and 10 Birr for the key to open the church.  He told us that 10 Birr was not good enough and that he wants a 50 Birr tip.  That was not what the tourist office had advised us to pay.  Therefore we took our money back and decided not to see this church.  As he noticed that we were serious he changed his mind, but we already did not trust him anymore.  Our guide was upset and after returning to the motorcycles, we explained to the guide that what the Priest tried to do was not right.  We still paid the guide his agreed fee, but the Priest was out his money.  We return to our hotel, still happy that we were able to see one wonderfully located church.

Dec. 01, 2007. Leaving early in the morning we head south on a good tarred road and turn approx. 70km before Weldiya east to Lalibela.  Setting out that day we were not aware that it would be one of our most difficult riding days to this point.  Both our maps did not indicate the distance of the road to Lalibela from the turn-off.  Approx. 30km into the ride we realized that the GPS coordinates for Lalibela were wrong.  Immediately after turning off from the main tarred road (1470m elevation) the Pista started to climb.  The switchbacks became steeper and rockier.  At 3200m elevation I dropped the motorcycle standing up in a very loose rocky steep switchback.  There was no harm to me, but the motorcycle did not fair as well.  The bolt that attaches the crash bar to the frame had sheared off and the crash bar folded into the right side engine valve cover.  Upon picking up the motorcycle we saw oil and our hearts stopped.  The cylinder cover had cracked at the bottom bolt.  The oil leaking was minimal and we decided that the motorcycle was ride able.   We had been 3 hrs on this hellish road and help was far away as we had not seen any traffic for a while.  We continue to climb to 3554m, the scenery is amazing, but we are getting worried as the road is turning into a track, water washing away what is left.  We stop to look for tire marks in the track, but there are only animal tracks and the imprints of people's feet.  Two (2) children looking after a herd of sheep are near by and we ask them if this is the road to Lalibela, but they do not speak English and we can not communicate.  The next section of road looks almost impassible; we are 4 hrs and 40km into the road.  Mike decides to ride ahead a few km to see if he can find a sign, people or something.  After 10 minutes he returns with the news.  I guess it is good news.  He had found another person who he was able to communicate with.  The good news was that we were on the right road (which no one ever took as there was another road coming into Lalibela from the south) and the bad news that Lalibela was another 70km.  Mike had received that information by the person taking a stick and writing 70 into the dirt.  We realize that with only another hour of sunlight left we would be camping at a very high elevation somewhere along this beautiful mountain range.  We reach a small village perched at the top of the mountain, the road splits and we ask for direction again.  We push on and reach Muja, and as we stop to see if there is any accommodations we are surrounded by 100's of screaming children "you, you, you, want money, want money, want money, give, give, give".  They are very aggressive and as we decide to continue they start throwing rocks at us.  On a side note, we had been lucky to this point in regards to throwing rocks and begging.  Ethiopia's is no longer the scene of wide spread famine.  The aid that had been poured into the country during the famine years badly miss managed.  We talked to locals in regard to this problem with begging, which are mostly by children from 5 to 14 years of age.  These children have appropriate clothing and foot wear and do not look like they are starving.  The answer we received from the locals is that when the famine hit, aid was slow to reach the areas like Lalibela and when it finally came it was not managed, but food and money was thrown at everyone.  This continued for a few years.  The new generation growing up with that aid, believes that all western or white people are rich and they must give money to them.  It is the only third world country we have visited to this point that children were not interested in you as a person, but you as a money source only.  It is sad and very unpleasant.  Ethiopia has so much to offer, but unfortunately is over shadowed by this huge problem.  The first comment most people have, who have visited Ethiopia, is beautiful landscape and difficult children.  The only way this can be fixed is through education in school.  We are pressed for time, as dusk is setting in and we set up camp 3km from the village behind some huge hay bails.  The wind started to pick up, we get the tent set up.  Cooking a meal was difficult, but we are starving.  The aggressive children from the village caught up to us and stand close by, asking for money while we cook our meal. They will not leave us alone and we retreat into the tent.  We can hear them until late into the night.

Dec. 02, 2007. The night had not been as cold as we expected.  We are up before sunrise.  It is Sunday morning and I call my mom from the inside of the tent on the satellite phone.  We have a very good connection.  We are ready to battle the remainder of the 50km to Lalibela.  It was difficult, tiring, water crossing after water crossing, gravel, large rocks, switchbacks.  Never a moment to relax and then 10km before Lalibela, a paved road.  We can not believe it.  As we find out later the tarmac only exists to the airport.  As most people will not take the hellish drive into Lalibela from any town, but fly into the nearby airport.  It had taken us another 5 hours to reach Lalibela from our camp site high in the mountains.  The first people we meet are the two (2) young British lads, we had met in Gondar.  It seemed like meeting family, we asked where they were staying.  The Ashawt Hotel is close to all the action (Rock Hewn Churches) and 100Birr/night ($11.00CDN/night), gated, hot shower and nice rooms.  We have breakfast, shower and Mike starts to take apart my motorcycle.  Equipped with only a rock he hammers the crash bar kind of into its former place.  The sheared off bolt stuck in frame.  He tells me that I can not crash on that side until we fix the crash bar.  "Great advise, not as easy to follow".  Taking out the bottom bolt of the right cylinder cover, he surveys the damage.  The crack is about an inch long starting at the bolt hole.  He mixes some JB weld and pastes it over the crack, we hope it will hold until we reach Addis.  We let it cure over night and it seems to work.  In the evening we arrange for a guide to show us the Rock Hewn Churches for 200Birr ($22.00). 

Dec. 03, 2007.  The guide meets us at 7:30am.  Our first stop is the bank, as we are right out of cash.  No ATM until Addis.  We change 140 Euro.  The bank is a small building, right out of a Wild West movie.  A couple of desks (okay there were two computers) and a counter.  One person behind the desk wrote out a receipt for the exchange, a passport is always required, then I take it to the wooden counter and give him the money and receipt.  The Euro is run through a machine to check for counterfeit bills and then I am handed the Birr.  There is huge amount of money piled up behind the counter without any save or security to be seen.  The first five (5) churches are in the same general area (compound).  The entry fee to see all eleven (11) churches is 200Birr/person ($22.00/person).  All eleven (11) churches were constructed in a 23 year period in the 12th Century.  The only draw back (depends how you see it) is that currently five (5) churches are covered in scaffolding.  UNESCO has provided funds to preserve the churches, by building a permanent transparent roof over the churches.  It will preserve the churches, but takes away from uniqueness of the place.  We visited each church in the following order:

1) Church of Savor. A monolithic (freestanding) church, with 34 free standing columns outside and 38 inside.  Some of the columns had been restored in 1954.  It is the largest church of the eleven (11) churches.  The priest showed us the replica of Saint/King Lalibela cross.  The original is kept in a safe place inside the church.  It was stolen in 1997 by Belgian tourists, but returned in 1999 and ever since then kept in a secure place. The outer rock walls surrounding the church are covered with niches, which used to be burial places for monks and nuns.  The tiny niches are now used as resting places for Pilgrims for 1 – 2 weeks stay as they pray.

2) St. Mary Church.  Another monolithic church and the first church to be excavated, following by the Church of Savor. This church has three (3) porches (north, south & west).  The interior of the church was excellent.  The ceilings and columns were covered with carvings and frescos. The church had unique windows shaped in form of crosses. One window in the form in a X for the Greek Cross, another in the shape of the Swastika Cross and the third in the traditional Christian Cross.

3) Church of the Cross. In the same vicinity carved into the rock is the Church of the Cross. Named after the large cross carved on the ceiling of the church. The priest of the church displayed two (2) original crosses from the 12th Century.

4) Church of the Virgin.  This church is located between the tunnel walkway of St. Mary Church and the Twin Church (name to be added). The church is carved into the rock and the priest showed us a couple of 12th Century crosses.

5) & 6) Twin Churches (actual name of church to be added).  A semi-monolithic church, as one corner is still connected to the rock.  This church consists of actually two (2) churches, separated by a wall with a door.  The second church females are not allowed.  The 12 Apostles are carved life size into the walls.  The priest again showed us the churches Saint/King Lalibela cross and staff.

Leaving the first group of churches we walked through the symbolic tomb of Adam.  Each church is connected by a tunnel or carved out walkway.  Without the guide we would have missed several tunnels and not to mention gotten lost.

7) St. George Church.  Seen on all the pictures and the most impressive from the outside.  It was the last church built by Saint/King Lalibela.  Monolithic in structure and built in the shape of a cross representing the Noa's arc.  The first floor windows are false and the second floor has 12 real windows, one for each apostle.  The inside had no free standing columns, but the columns were part of the outer walls.  The priest was blessing the locals with two (2) 12th Century crosses.  One priest was waving incense.  We were able to witness the end of the mass and celebration of St. George.  The ceremony consisted of chanting, drum playing and scripture reading. It was very moving and emotional for me. A holy water well is located to the west of the entrance were pilgrims come to heal themselves.

In the afternoon we visited the remainder of the Churches:

8) & 9)Church of St. Gabriel & Rafael.  The St. Gabriel and Rafael Church are joined.  The churches are only accessible by a bridge due to a large excavated gorge.  The area below the church is hollow, but not accessible to tourists.

The House of Bethlehem is on the way from the Church of St. Gabriel & Rafael to the Church of St. Peter Manual.  The House of Bethlehem's original use is still in question, one of its theories is that it was the horse stable for King Lalibela's horses and the other that it was a kitchen.

10) Church of Peter Manual (Confirm name). After passing through a very dark 50m tunnel (impassible without a torch) we reach the Church of Peter Manual.  The Churches design is based on the Aksum architecture.  It took 10 years to carve this church out of the rock.  The carvings represent alternating layers of stone and then wood.

11) Church of ????. This church was dedicated by Saint/King Lalibela to his wife.  The legend has it that it was carved in 24 hours  with the help of angels. This is one of the reasons why the roof is not complete.  The free standing church supports 3m of rock as a roof.  It is definitely a unique setting.  The priest showed us Saint/King Lalibela's wife cross.

We enjoyed viewing each church and having a knowledgeable and well English speaking guide. I couldn't resist to tell the following story:

The two (2) young British lads, we originally met in Gondar and then in Lalibela, had a great experience while traveling on public transport from Gondar to Lalibela.  It sounded even more incredible with there British accent. The mini bus they were on was supposed to take 8 to 12 hours to reach its destination.  Fully packed, loaded with all sorts of people and stuff, they stopped to pick up a local who was carrying two big drums of goat fat.  The smell was unbearable.  In addition, each persons lap is another seat and it is expected that you have someone sit on you while traveling.  The British Lad drew a line as the local with the goat fat wanted to sit on his lap.  Half way into the journey a pregnant woman went into labour and she gave birth in the mini-bus.  The amazing part was that after giving her some water and biscuits they continued their journey.  Due to all the rough roads and construction underway they did not make there destination and had to stay in a small village.  The next day they hitched a ride with a lorry to Lalibela.  A great story either one of them won't forget.

Dec. 04, 2007.  We take the alternative and more traveled route out of Lalibela, though it is still a brutal road.  The 66km south from Lalibela is quite nice as it winds it way through the mountains.  The remaining 120km east to Weldiya is on a 3200m and higher plateau and under construction, with deep gravel sections.  The stretch south to Dessie used to be tarred, but is totally under construction.  New bridges are built every few hundred meters and some sections are quite bad. It took us all day of riding from Lalibela to Dessie.  We stayed in a nice place just outside of Dessie.  As we pulled up we looked a sight, covered in dust and diesel fumes our faces were black.  The room was 100Birr/night ($11.00/night) with private bathroom.  The restaurant served some great spaghetti.

Dec. 05 to 10, 2007. We fuelled up in Dessie and finally hit some tarmac road, funded by the European Union.  Great smooth asphalt and engineered corners.  Unfortunately these road conditions did not last, but we enjoyed them nevertheless until we climbed to the summit of a mountain.  Passing through a non lit and non paved tunnel, the road deteriorated to potholes after potholes.  We stayed on the high plateau until we reached Addis Ababa.  We had been in e-mail communications with Robert, a project adviser working for the Canadian Food for the Hungry (FFH) in Addis.  He is also the son of Ruby's former boss Dave.  We arranged to meet at the well known landmark in Addis, the Sheraton Hotel.  We recognized Robert instantly as he pulled in, as his facial expression especially with his goatee, reminded us of his Dad.  He also has the same smile as his Dad.  It was great to spend a few days at Robert's place and we can not thank him enough for his great hospitality.  It gave us the chance to catch up on important maintenance issues with the motorcycles.  Mike adjusted the valves on both motorcycles and had them thoroughly cleaned at the local gas station.  Robert rents a secured place overlooking a greenly treed valley.  While Mike took care of all the motorcycle issues, I washed all the gear and yes used up all the water.  Poor Robert had to borrow water from the landlord to wash and make us tea.  The city of Addis shut off water supply to areas during the day.  While we were staying with Robert a 1000 litre holding tank was installed to avoid running out of water in the future. In addition, Robert moved out of his master bedroom into a single bedroom, to allow us to sleep in a double bed.  He even had bought slippers for us in the right size to use around the house.  It felt too much like home.  Maybe that is why we stayed for five (5) nights.  Even though there was only dial up internet available, I was able to upload 220 pictures to the website.  At the local grocery store, we were able to restock on noodles and sauces. On Dec. 07 we hooked up with Rene, another fellow Canadian from Edmonton, traveling on the motorcycle and Guy and Marleen, Belgians traveling the world for the last 14 years, 7 of them on one motorcycle and the other 7 years in a Toyota Truck.  We met at there Campsite in Addis, and they had prepared some homemade breakfast.  Eggs, cheese, toasted buns, tomato salad, peanut butter (yeah), all the goodies that we had not had in a long time.  Breakfast lasted from 9am to 2pm, as we were busy exchanging information and stories.  Thank you for great company Rene, Guy and Marleen.  From there we headed downtown Addis to the headquarters of the Ethiopian Insurance Company to purchase the Comesa (Yellow Card) Insurance.  This took about a couple of hours as we had to walk from one building into another to pay the cashier etc. the usual.  The cost was $22.00CDN/motorcycle for third party liability, and we were covered for 6 months for Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda (which was an issue later on in our travels), Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia and Congo.  Once we head into South Africa, additional insurance will be required for Mozambique and Namibia. Each evening Robert took us to some great local restaurants.  First night was Italian for some good cheap Pizza. The second night (our favourite) we tasted a variety of local foods at the Fasika Restaurant accompanied by traditional singing and dancing.  Our experience with the traditional Ethiopian food had not been that pleasant.  But Robert, being in Ethiopia almost three (3) years, and well spoken in the local language, ordered us some very tasty food which was delivered on a round tray.  The tray was covered with Injuira, then each dish was placed in the tray with spoons and we tasted each dish with our right hand and pieces of Injuira (local bread).  It was really delicious and we ate way too much.  The dancing and singing was also very entertaining.  On the third night, we went to the Top View Restaurant, which with a name like that is situated on a hill overlooking Addis.  We celebrated our making it this far by ordering some Italian Red Wine.  By the time we left Addis we were quite familiar with the major landmarks and it almost felt like home.  Unfortunately all good things have to come to an end, as I became sick and spent two (2) days in bed, with stomach upset and Diarrhea.  To this day we can not pin point how I caught it as we all ate the same things for the previous three (3) days.  Robert spent his Saturday off with Mike shopping for bolts, Silicone and getting a hair cut.  As I was not feeling well, the last two (2) nights were take-out of Pizza and Chinese food.  On Dec. 08, I called my Mom and wished her a Happy Birthday and used all of Roberts calling card minutes.  I am sorry for using all your water and phone minutes. 

Dec. 10, 2007. It was time to head on toward Kenya. We left Roberts place in a mess and tried to hit the road at 6:15am with Robert going to work.  But as we roll out of the secure parking we notice flat tires on both Mike and my motorcycle.  Out comes the air compressor and instead of Robert waving us off Good-bye, we waved him off going to work.  Again thank you Robert for all the help and great company.  We hope we can return the favor some day.  The pollution of the city this early in the morning is unbelievable.  Not sure if it is due to the high altitude and cold air keeping the pollution close to the ground, but we were engulfed in burning garbage and diesel fumes as we made our way on the Ring Road to the southern part of Addis. Traffic consists of mostly buses and trucks and the roads are quite busy for the first 60km heading out of Addis until the turn-off at Mojo going south toward Kenya. Still plagued with not feeling well and having Diarrhea, we decided to stop early just south of Shashemene.  A dirt road goes to a Resort located a couple of hundred meters from natural Hot Springs.  We had also picked up the friendly flees visiting the churches of northern Ethiopia and needed some real hot water to rinse them away. We set up camp at the Resort, as rooms where beyond our budget. Camping was 140 Birr/night ($16.00CDN/night) including breakfast and hot spring passes.  The washrooms were in the dirtiest conditions we had seen on this trip so far, even-though the location of the place is very nice.  Swimwear in hand we head for the hot springs. There were three (3) pools.  One cold, one hot and a swimming pool with bath warm water.  We arrived just in time for the cleaning of the hot and cold pool.  Our luck.  We spent some time in the swimming pool and then treated us to very hot showers from water directly coming from the natural hot springs.  It seemed that the pesky flees disappeared after that rinse.  Walking back to the camp we ran into Rene, what a coincidence.  Waiting for his Iranian Visa he is stuck in Ethiopia until January 03, 2008 and is exploring Ethiopia at leisure.  What is the change of three (3) Canadians (Albertans) on Motorcycles staying at the same Campsite in Ethiopia.  We get together for a beer in the evening.  Who knows where we will meet again, maybe Asia.  During the night my conditions worsened and I started going on four (4) Imodium and (4) Cipro a day.

Dec. 11, 2007. Back on the main tarred highway, we pass through Awasa. After 300km, I was in too much pain to continue riding and we looked for a place to stay.  The first village we stop has a sign Hotella, which we assumed meant hotel.  Mike takes his helmet off and checks out the joint.  After some communications with the locals, Mike returns laughingly and tells me that this hotel is a brothel house.  Meantime we had half the village gathering around us.  Chuckling to us as we continue onwards and find a motel in Yabelo.  The village consisted of a few shacks selling the usual water, biscuits and Coca Cola.  Note that in Ethiopia you should call the soft drink Coca.  Cola is actually the word for male genitals in their language. The gas station was out of gasoline.  The motel was located at the junction to the Omo Valley and due to that all rooms were fully booked, but we were able to pitch a tent in the yard for 60Birr/night ($6.60CDN/night).  In the evening we met two (2) very nice overlanders traveling from England to Cape Town in there brand new Toyota Land Cruiser.  Jean and Jeannette (original Namibian and South African) are one of those people you instantly like and will stay friends forever.  We exchanged some GPS information and Jeanette and I exchanged some herbal tea and bush tea.

Dec. 12, 2007. Jean and Jeannette headed west toward the Omo Valley and would cross the Border into Kenya by Lake Turkana.  We hoped to hook up again in Nairobi at Jungle Junction in approx. five (5) days.  There is no official Border Crossing at Lake Turkana.  The Carnet de Passage and Passport has to be stamped out in Addis.  Once in Kenya, travelers coming in that route have to go to Nairobi, to get the Carnet de Passage and Passport officially stamped in.  The road through the Omo Valley is impassable on the motorcycle if it rains.  Camping at Yabelo, we had heard of resent reports of rain and were glad we had chosen the other route. From Yabelo to Moyale it is only 200km.  On route we stopped to take a picture with the motorcycles in front of these weird dirt towers, made by ants.  As we pull off inland to take the picture, out of nowhere local tribe people wander over.  Curious to see what we are doing.  They are mostly young girls, dressed in traditional clothing, very colorful. As I approach them with a stretched out hand to greet them, they run away like a scared animals.  After several minutes we had earned there trust and they were in awe of the picture displayed on the LCD screen we had taken of us in front of the dirt hill.  They agreed to have there picture taken and then were gone as fast as they appeared into the bush.  It was a special moment to have the privilege to meet another culture untouched by the modern world. We arrive at the Kenyan Border at 11:30am and are advised to first get the exit stamp from the Ethiopian Immigration, prior to dealing with Customs.  Computers must have just been introduced to this border crossing, as the immigration office took 35 minutes to enter our passport information.  Returning to the Customs office, we are faced with a closed door.  Customs is on lunch from 12am to 2pm.  In our case they returned at 2:30pm.  After 2 1/2 hrs of waiting we wait in the Customs office and watch the official draw lines with a ruler in his book.  At that point I had to leave the office, otherwise I would have said something.  It is hard to believe that the only Kenyan/Ethiopia border crossing shuts down for 2 1/2 hrs every day. Overall our experience in Ethiopia was very positive and we can not wait to return to explore more of the country.


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