Monday 24 November 2008

16th November 08

Date: 16th November 08
Location: Woldia, Ethiopia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine…again! Awesome day for driving. 30°c
Status: Loving being off on our own again….the world is a good place today!

Awoke from a deep sleep in the luxury surrounds of the Lal Hotel, Woldiya’s car park! Was another cold night as we’re at altitude so we packed the tent away quickly, got the engine running and the heaters on to warm our cockpit. As we left the fuel station in the town we were stopped by a guy selling the local Ethiopian scarves, of which I bought two, one for me and one for a friend who’ll really appreciate it when I get home!

The road ahead for the day I knew to be a testing one, called the China Road as it was originally built by them in the 70’s and its condition ranges from decent graded gravel to messy muddy surface in the rainy season so we were unsure how we’d find it!

This was one of the best and most scenic drives of the entire trip, similar in the quality of scenery that we’d seen in Rwanda but the whole scale of things has been racked up ten notches. The farming is more colourful, the altitude makes the air clearer, the drops from the side of the road are more frightening and the enormity of the mountain ranges are difficult to take in…not for the first time we have overused the word ‘wow’ all day long.

We stopped for breakfast half way up one of the passes, probably one of the only places we’d be able to get half an hour free of people as this is such a populated country and time by yourself is literally unheard of! Once we’d had the usual I tried to start the Colonel and nothing….no starter motor at all, it had happened once before in Malawi and that time we’d luckily been facing downhill, this time we were facing up a mountain pass with a 300m drop behind us!

Bre and I tried to push the Colonel up the hill and got a few metres before the gradient hit us, we jammed a rock under the wheel and waited for the next vehicle to pass, five minutes later it arrived and three guys jumped out to help us. We all pushed and I bump started it and we were on our way again. Fingers crossed it was another rare occurrence…..

We continued to climb up in altitude until we were at the highest point the Colonel has ever been to a chilly 3547m, he puffed a little more than usual but made it along the freshly graded road surface with no problems, we even had a few stretches of fresh tarmac to up the average speed. We eventually hit the village of Dilba and turned right down a bumpy track, after 10 mins we decided we taken the wrong turn and headed back to the junction to take the longer but correct road to the town of Lalibela.

We dropped off the high escarpment and down into the valley below passing groups of children and the occasional farmer tending his fields, an hour later we’d arrived at the tarmac road which led into the town of Lalibela, famous for its rock-hewn churches built in the 12th century.

We made our way through the narrow streets to the Lal Hotel…again, this time a collection of local style tafel double storey roundhouses rather than a standard hotel. Camping was damn expensive so it worked out cheaper to take a room which was different!

Our priority was to have a tour of the churches as soon as possible and spoke to the reception who organised a guide to come an hour later to meet us. There are 11 churches in total and the tour is usually split over 2 four hour tours of each location, but in traditional Afritrex style efficientness we managed to cramp it all into one afternoon!

A short taxi ride took us to the first and largest of the churches which was an amazing sight. Originally built by King Lalibela in response to divine intervention when he saw a shining light in the sky when staying there in the 1100’s…apparently it was Haley’s Comet. It is then believed that all of the 11 churches were excavated from the surrounding hillside in 25 years by one of two ways (1) with the assistance of angels or by (2) a team of some 40,000 people. Being a sceptic I believe the second!

There are two collections of churches all of which are all linked to each other by a series of underground channels and tunnels and are truly incredible works of architectural magnificence. The largest of the churches is 37m x 50m long and contains 12 rooms, they al have intricate carvings on the walls and ceilings and have now been protected from the elements with a permanent modern looking roof to divert the rains and damaging sunlight.

We visited all of them taking loads of photos as we went and then as the afternoon drew to a close walked back down the hill with our guide through the streets of the town passing villagers and the locals who were as interested in us as we were in them!

Dinner at the hotel then bed.

End of day location: Lalibela, Ethiopia
Distance covered: 180kms

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