I woke up around 730 and had breakfast – fried eggs, toast, and papaya juice – in time for my 0830 meeting with Kassa to begin our drive to the Monastery on the Mountain – Asheton Maryam Monastery. It was about an hour car ride crawling up a windy and steep mountain that began right around the Four Olives Hotel in the center of town. Along the way we saw a few interesting things.
- An Overturned Car that fell into a traditional hut, which stopped it from falling off the mountain and killing everyone inside.
- Groves of Eucalyptus trees that, according to Kassa, were taking over the entire mountain and was becoming a nuisance to farmers.
- A family that was cutting their barley by driving oxen pulling a threshing board onto it, after harvesting and drying. There was an old man, and his 3 children – 2 daughters and a son. The oldest daughter was doing the bulk of the work. Raising a wooden pitchfork to stir the barley and propel the oxen, she propelled herself endlessly into the tiring and under-appreciated manual labor that comes with being a farmer’s daughter in rural Ethiopia. The older boy mainly stood by and watched, occasionally stirring the grain. The younger daughter, too young to have enough strength to drive the oxen or stir the barley, stood by, fetching water as needed. The father occasionally got in the mix with his daughter (and occasionally son) to drive the oxen, but mostly gave instructions, as he was advanced in age and unable to sustain the manual labor over a long period of time. So, as usual, the work fell squarely on the shoulders of the one who was probably the least appreciated, most underfed, least wanted, and most abused – the oldest daughter.
- Big a** thorns. Watch out!
- Barley blessed with Holy Water (right bottom).
- A door in the mountain before we began our hike.
We went as far as we could go by van, and then set off by foot to climb the rest of the mountain. It was a 30 minute climb and was at such a high elevation, it was hard to catch my breath. Kids from the farms below passed me on the way up to set up their coffee stalls and knick-knack stands for tourists on the way down, navigating the treacherous mountain path like it was their business (it was).
At the top, we climbed through a stairway enclosed in a cave – it was very Lord of the Rings/Shelob’s Lair. As we emerged on the other side, we became engulfed with another semi-monolithic/rock-hewn church, the Asheton Maryam Monastery, 4,000 meters up.
This monastery has several relics that had been exquisitely preserved from the 12th/13th century. A priest showed us a variety of scripture, crosses, and artifacts and Kassa described them one by one. Here are some of the highlights:
After we saw the priest and the chanting room, we went around the corned to look at a 4 km tunnel dug underground connecting Asheton Maryma with another church that the priests often used. Amazing!
Then we relaxed outside and enjoyed the view, narrowly avoiding a huge wasp nest built up into the ground outside the church. Kassa said that there was another church a top the (even higher) mountain, but that it was very difficult to get to and not worth the climb.
By 1400 I was ready to go in to town and try to visit the Southern group of churches, check out the Art Gallery, and visit the bank. Unfortunately I lost my $50 ticket to get into the churches again, so I wasn’t able to see the remaining 5 churches towards the bottom of the hill in town (but Kassa said it was more of the same so I didn’t feel too badly about it).
Tedy was waiting to walk with me through town, and show me the short cuts through the local village paths. We visited the market along the way to the bottom of the hill, where the Art Gallery was located. It was underwhelming – mostly traditional crafts – but I did get some great pictures of a local weaver working a loom. He has such an interesting face.
On the way back up the mountain I stopped at the bank to get more cash to cover Kassa’s guide service. By the time I reached the hotel again with Tedy it was 1530 and we walked into his village for a coffee ceremony, which he invited me to. However, his Aunt, who was going to help prepare it, wasn’t yet back from church, so we agreed to meet again at 1700. In between I returned to the hotel and met with the owner, Amdemariam, to discuss some business. I proposed to take some high-res pics of the hotel for his website, and also help him with a redesign later – in return he agreed to donate $75 to the Lalibela Women’s Football (Soccer) Club, a local group of about 15 girls that gathered to play soccer and were in dire need of equipment and uniforms – Kassa had told me about them earlier in the day.
After I walked through the hotel with Amde and took pictures, I met Tedy again for coffee. He painstakingly prepared the coffee and I chatted with his friend.
We chatted for a while and he also showed me inside his house, which was small but clean and had all the items necessary for a student (backpack, sitting area, pencils, etc.). He worked small jobs to pay for his rent, 400 birr/month ($20). I gave him some small US bills, my digital watch, and a flashlight for his hospitality.
Feeling good about the day, I returned to the hotel and settled into the garden for another beer and begin my task of blog writing and photo editing until sundown, when I moved inside for a dinner – Beef Tibs and Injera. At 2030 I met Kassa and Amde for a night on the town – we hopped around to 5 different places located throughout the city – both at the top of the hill and the bottom – for beers, whiskey, and Tej (in no particular order). Most of the places were local places that I NEVER would have found otherwise, and, other than the two Tejbets (including Torpedo one more time), there were no other Ferengi (foreigners) in them, all Habesha (Ethiopian). There was a mix of Ethiopian music, traditional and modern, and, surprisingly, reggae, which apparently is quite popular. What I did NOT hear was American Pop/R&B, which was prevalent in other African countries I visited. Clearly Ethiopia has a strong sense of cultural and musical identity.
After barhopping until midnight, I was dropped off at the hotel to settle in to a deep sleep and my last days in Ethiopia.