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Saturday, Visited the Famous Churches of Lalibela

Lalibela, Ethiopia
Saturday, October 5, 2019
After breakfast at the hotel, I met my unofficial church guide, Tesfa the high school kid, at the ticket office. Tourists pay 50 USD to visit all of the churches in town and it's free for the locals. I was the only one at the ticket office at 08:00 when it opened. There were no other tourists for some reason.

We started at the Northwestern Churches next to the ticket office. Bet Medhane Alem (Church of Savior of the World) was the first and largest church with its spacious interior. I sat inside for awhile as Tesfa stayed outside to guard my shoes.

Next was the Bet Maryam (Church of Saint Mary). The locals were having a prayer service so tourists weren't allowed inside.

The Bet Meskel (Church of the Holy Cross) is carved into the rock right next to Saint Mary's. It was tiny and very small inside with nothing interesting to see.

Another church, Bet Danagel (Church of the Virgins), is carved into the rock on the other side of Saint Mary's. It was also pretty basic and I took a quick look inside.

After visiting all of the Northeastern churches, we walked over to Bet Giyorgis (Church of Saint George) which is the most famous, cross-shaped, rock-hewn church. It is the one most commonly seen in tourism photos of Lalibela.

After looking down from the top, we walked down to the entrance through a trench and some steps. The inside was anticlimactic. On side of the church exterior there is hole in the wall with a couple of mummies. Their feet can be seen almost sticking out of the hole.

After visiting the Northeastern churches and the Church of Saint George, we took a break and went to the huge Saturday market. People come from all over the countryside with their loaded donkeys and goat herds to buy and sell at the market. A good donkey costs about 300 USD. Tesfa showed me all of the interesting parts of the market such the spices, honey, fabrics, and baskets.

After making the rounds in the market, Tesaf invited me to his house for coffee. It was a long walk to the far end of Lalibela where he lived. Along the way, he bought the coffee and incense which is part of the coffee-making ceremony. His house was a small shed with a mattress on the dirt floor. It was in a little compound where his landlady lived. She offered to make the coffee for us so we went into her house.

The coffee making took forever because they had to roast the beans with a skillet on an open fire and then grind the beans with a mortar and pestle. The grinding took the longest. As we prepared the coffee miscellaneous people came in and sat for awhile and looked at me. An occasional chicken also walked through the open doors.

I had bought a big bottle of water and made sure that they used that for the coffee. They were amused that I didn't want to drink the local water. They discussed how much I had paid for the bottle of water as if they had never considered buying water.

After the coffee break, I arranged to meet with Tesfa at 15:30 to go to the Southeastern churches. He stayed home and I grabbed a tuk tuk back to the city center and had lunch at the FikirandRay Lodge where I was staying. I had a big plate of spaghetti and spicy meat sauce.

At about 15:00 I walked to the Southeastern churches and met Tesfa for part 2 of our tour. This time I told him to stay about 20 feet ahead of me so we wouldn't get hassled by the licensed guides. That plan worked pretty well.

First we went into the impressive Bet Gabriel-Rufael, which is dedicated to the angels Gabriel and Rafael. It had one chamber for each angel. The impressive part was the exterior which had ledges with huge drop-offs all around and a bridge to get to the church.

We covered the remaining churches pretty fast: Bet Merkorios, Bet Amanuel, and Bet Abba Libanos. There was a pitch black tunnel from Bet Merkorios and Bet Gabriel-Rufael. The tunnel comes up through a hole in the ground at the entrance to Bet Gabriel-Rufael. I had to use my phone flashlight to get through the dark tunnel to keep from tripping or smacking my head on the low ceiling.

I paid Tesfa for the all day tour and he was very excited. We also made arrangements to meet at 10:00 the next morning to walk to the Na’akuto La’ab monastery.


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