Cris in Ethiopia

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Lalibela and Dire Dawa

Posted by Cris on September 3, 2007

We are in Dire Dawa, a ten hour bus ride east of Addis. It is pretty exotic and waaay different than Addis, and we are sucking it all up. Its funny to be in a place where you are almost as likely to see a camel roaming the streets as you are a donkey. Camels, by the way, are freaking huge. We are staying with our friends Rex and Romi, who work in hospitals in conjunction with the Clinton Foundation. They have a big really nice house, so we are loving being able to relax and watch a movie or some TV (we watched American Idol for the first time last night on Dubai-1 TV station) and take a good shower. Were also reveling in the fact that it is, finally, summer for us. We wear shorts and sandals and dont have to sleep with three blankets on, and whoever scheduled the rainy season here in Dire Dawa got it right, with rain only at night. So we will get at least a week of sun before plunging back into our seemingly perpetual fall or winter.


Last week we spent three days in Lalibela, a town North of Addis. The main attraction are giant and ancient rock-hewn churches, eleven or so of them, that were all carved out of one piece of rock about 1500 years ago. In my mind it went like this:


King Lalibela: So guys, were going to build a few churches.

People: Cool, sounds nice. Where?

KL: Well, over there on the rocks. You know, the big red ones.

P: Rad. So, we need some axes and stuff to get the wood, right? And some nails, mortar…

KL: Well… about that. See, I got a good deal on some chisels from those last Arab traders, and Ive been doing some thinking. Instead of building up, we’ll build down.

P: Huh?

KL: Yeah, so youll start at the top. Then chisel down, until we have a church.

P: Chisel… down…



So yeah, the churches are all made of one solid piece of rock, and when you approach them they are set in deep holes/pits in the rock they were hewn out of. These arent any chump churches though, but big 15 meter high jobs with altars, pillars, windows, carved decorations- pretty much everything every other church has. Except, and I want to stress this, THEYRE MADE OF ONE SOLID PIECE OF ROCK. It was incredible to see them and impossible to imagine the work that went into them. Supposedly each church took one year to make, though I dont buy that, with one being completed in one night by King Lalibelas wife, though she did get help from some angels.


I knew about the churches, but nobody told me that the town and surrounding area would be so charming as well. Its perched pretty high in some mountains, with gorgeous vistas all around. Though the town gets a fair amount of tourism it was pretty small still, with most people still living in mud tukuls, or traditional hut-like houses, though in Lalibela most are (unique to the area) two-storied. We took a hike on the third day we were there, with a couple of Aussies wed been hanging around with, up a ridge to another church. The hike was supposed to provide amazing panoramic views, but unfortunately it was drizzly and foggy that day, so most of the time we were lucky to view the mud at our feet, or the person hiking in front of us. The few times the fog cleared made it clear that the plateau was gorgeous, however.

So in short our travels so far are a vast improvement over life in Addis, and we are enjoying ourselves immensely. We’ll, sorta unfortunately, be back in Addis next week, so hopefully we can post some photos then.


Here I am in the internet cafe, waiting for a page to load (remember when you had to WAIT for a page to load? Those innocent times? Yeah, theyre alive and well here in Dire Dawa) so I thought Id write a bit more. Yesterday we went to a town about 60k away called Babille, to see what the guidebook billed as “The Valley of Marvels”. It is a 15k long valley sporting beautiful hills and rocky terrain featuring rocks piled and perched on one another. The girl we were with, Romi, likened it to Joshua Tree National Park , though I cant confirm as Ive never been there. It was pretty marvelous. We parked the car and went for a hike/scramble, waaaay up a hill until we found views and breezes, along the way accumulating catus pricks in various places on our bodies. For me, this included my tongue and inside my lip since I was the only one adventurous enough to taste a cactus fruit. It was sour, and as youd imagine not really worth it. My motivation, if I may be allowed to defend myself, was that Id eaten a cactus fruit in Lalibela and it had a delightful, slightly melon-y taste. These ones looked like pomegranate inside, so I thought, “what if…?”

  Afterwards Amy and I wandered over to a group of camels, to see if theyd be interested in eating some bread. Well, as I mentioned before camels are really big, and I was too frightened to get close enough to actually feed the bread to one. So my final verdict is that camels either dont like bread or my throws were too off target for their liking.

  Other than all that, we are still chilling out at our friends place. We are going to Harar, an old muslim walled city, tomorrow and staying there for a few days or so. We are hoping to feed some hyenas. Were not in such a hurry to head back to Addis any more, since our only “date” there, for the Millennium run, has been postponed three months until November. So far the Ethiopian Millennium is turning out about like most people expected it to: as a huge joke. The Millennium Celebration had three scheduled events, well three big ones that people actually cared about: the Millennium Run (expected to draw 25000 people for a 10k run around Addis), the Taste of Addis (A big festival slated to take over the biggest square in Addis featuring food, performances, etc) and a big concert on New Year’s Eve, supposedly featuring big-name Western artists. Well, here is the rundown: as of two days ago the run has been postponed (remember theyve been planning this for a year and it was supposed to take place next week) for “security reasons”, the Taste of Addis has been cancelled for the same reason (theyd been planning this one for 2 years and it was cancelled 2 weeks ago), and the venue for the big concert is yet to be finished, theyve yet to officially annouce who is performing (Beyonce? 50 Cent? Michael Jackson? They rumors abound, but noone knows for sure), and theyve yet to start selling tickets or even say how much theyll cost (500 birr? 1000? 2000? 5000? Again, more rumors).

Its pretty stellar to watch it all happen. Im expecting the Govt to just up and postpone the whole Millennium until next year, of maybe 2010, just so they can have another few years to goof off before panicking, and, realizing its just around the corner again, slapping something together.

Love you all,

Cris (and Amy in spirit)


2 Responses to “Lalibela and Dire Dawa”

  1. mom said

    hi, good to read about your travels again. hope you have pictures of those churchs out of ONE rock. can’t imagine it took only one year to build each one, here it takes more than a year to fix/patch a road. too bad you didn’t touch the camel, “you who eats cactus”–maybe next time. love to you both. xxxooo

  2. Rob said

    The churches and surrounding areas sound fascinatingly beautiful. Having grown up with prickly pear (dried, jam) I can tell you it that you have to acquire a taste for it. Your memory of the taste is correct so maybe this was a different variety of cactus.

    I agree with you on camels — they are freaking big! We got to see one and a baby fully dissected at Body World 3 in Portland and I was amazed at the size. At least you didn’t get spit on!

    Enjoy your relaxation and ‘comforts of home’…

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