Day 8: Non-Pious Priests

I got a taxi to the airport for 40 Birr, as seems usual around here another person jumped into the taxi and got a free ride with me, a little bit annoying. Everything at the airport was unbelievably slow, even more slower than usual which is still pretty outstanding but eventually the plane arrived into Lalibela. The flight was pretty uneventful apart from the landing which was terrible, it’s almost as if the pilot wants to get down as fast as possible so they hit the runway as hard as possible. Lalibela is quite high up and very mountainous and the airport runway relatively short and difficult to land on which might explain it, but still, it’s scary. On the first attempt we put the wheels down and clearly the pilot was not happy, so we almost immediately took off back up in the air again. This has never happened to me before and to be honest it was quite scary, on the next attempt we hit the tarmac heavily and then bumped up and down quite violently three times before finally landing. There was a real sense of relief when the plane came to a standstill.

There was an American guy on the plane who actually lives in Cairo. He asked if he could hang with me for some reason, but I’m guessing it’s to do with safety in numbers. It’s a lot less hassle when there 2 or more of you as you can share the hassle. So we got a minibus to the Asheten hotel and quickly got a guy to take us around the sites. We managed to get this “official, because I have a badly printed piece of paper” guide for 60 Birr each down from 75 which wasn’t too bad.

In the morning we went around the northern churches starting with the famous St George’s Chapel. These have to be seen to be at appreciated as the churches are chiselled out of hard rock. Saint Georges Chapel is carved from the top of the rock downwards and it’s amazing to see. Although, maybe I’ve been a little bit spoilt as although these are unique in this part of the world, and to a certain extent Christianity, you see temples carved this way all over Asia and I’ve seem some astonishing places in India. But I think what makes it different here is the remoteness.

The tour was okay although it was sometimes hard to understand exactly what he was trying to say but the most confusing thing here for me was that we were expected to tip the priests, this didn’t seem right at all. We have paid our Lalibela fee, and the temple fees, but then we have to pay these priests if they are in the chapels. In the end I got so fed up that I said I would only pay them tips if I could take pictures of them. So all the pictures I have of priests are the ones who demanded money from me, I thought it would be nice record just in case St Peter at the gates needs pictorial evidence. Those who didn’t ask for money will be left anonymous as I’m sure they would’ve wished and as St Peter would I’m sure appreciate. Interestingly, maybe due to embarrassment, they did all demand that they wore sunglasses!

After lunch we headed out to the eastern group of churches. But then after a few visits, it started to rain quite heavily so we decided to call today head back to the hotel. Here we met up with an overland tour group who had arrived at the hotel at lunchtime. They were all very kind and invited us into the group, I think they did this as you don’t currently really get many backpackers in Ethiopia as it’s a little bit off the main backpacker route, and very hard. But we went along and got some food at a big buffet event they had organised. It was really nice to get some western-ish food particularly as we were currently in the middle of lent and Ethiopia being quite orthodox means no meat and I was famished. I appear to need meat or at least better protein! Afterwards we watched a bit of James Bond in the hotel lounge for reasons I’ve forgotten! and then went to bed.