There is a rapture on the lonely shore;
There is society, where none intrudes.
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more...

-Lord Byron

Definition of Walkabout :

a short period of wandering as an occasional interruption of regular work
Showing posts with label Ethiopia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ethiopia. Show all posts

22 September 2012


As we return to Addis Ababa from Lalibela for one last day before returning home to the United States, Master P and I try and make up our minds on what to do....
We call our taxi driver friend and ask him if he'll take us to another of Ethiopia's UNESCO World Heritage sites, Tiya.

"Of course my friends!  I'll be at your hotel in ten minutes!"

Next thing we know, our little taxi is racing through Addis and out into the Ethiopian countryside on a two hour journey to our destination. I sit back and try to process all I've experienced thus far as we drive through the beautiful country.

The landscape is endless fields and farms over slow rolling hills. Acacia trees rise like Gothic warriors from a century long gone. Our taxi driver tells us that most of Ethiopia's economy is based on agriculture, and almost all the fields we see are plowed and harvested just as they have been since the beginning of time, by hand.

As we get close to the town that we think is by Tiya, our driver tells us he isn't sure where to go and he must stop and ask for directions. It is late afternoon, and only a couple of people are on the road. Luckily, a man sees us pull off to the side of the road, and approaches.

Amazingly, the man is the gatekeeper of Tiya. He just closed up, but has no problem opening the gate back up for us to see the site. I marvel at the luck we have had while here. The man climbs in the taxi with us, and directs us up a small dirt road. Little naked children run alongside our taxi, smiling brightly.

"This seems like a strange location for a UNESO World Heritage site"

There is no grand parking lot, nor shops set up to entice foreigners. Only a single gate that leads to a field. As we pass the gate, the ancient stones are visible.

The site contains 36 monuments, including 32 carved stelae covered with symbols, most of which are difficult to decipher. They are the remains of an ancient Ethiopian culture whose age has not yet been precisely determined. It is small, but to me that is what makes it special. As an approaching rainstorm threatens, I wonder about the significance of Tiya...
Burial Ground?
Place of Worship?
Sacred meeting place for important leaders?
Sacrificial altar?

We were only there for maybe half an hour, then headed back again for the long drive back to the city of Addis Ababa. I roll down the window and capture my surroundings and the simple wonder that was my journey to Tiya.

09 September 2012

Africa's Jerusalem

After our morning journey to Yemrehanna Kristos , we make it back to Lalibela in time to find a place to eat before seeing the final set of the rock hewn churches in the southeast cluster. As we are walking up the path with Shambel, he tells us that the area we are about to enter is called Africa's Jerusalem.

As we approach Bet Gebriel-Rafael, we pass Ethiopia's river Jordan, and a solitary olive tree at the entrance. A woman is worshipping at the tree's base as we silently walk by.

Bet Gebriel is surrounded by a deep trench, and rickety wooden walkway must be crossed to gain entrance.

Shambel lets us know that all of these churches are interconnected by tunnels, and that we will be in total darkness for a few metres while walking from one to the other. You can not help but walk with faith, as your eyes fail. We emerge from the Tomb of Adam, and see the twelve metre high monolith known as Bet Emanuel.

The priests inside these great churches are humble and accommodating as I try to capture their spirituality.

The final area for us is Bet Golgotha and the Selassie Chapel, considered the holiest place in Lalibela. Visitors have never been permitted to enter it.

As our tour comes to an end, I capture perhaps my favourite image of this experience. To me, it encapsulates everything spiritual and magical about this land and people.

Enjoy the final journey of my time in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Africa.

08 September 2012

the Monastery of Yemrehanna Kristos

We wake from our Tukuls to early morning fog rising from the top of the Ethiopian mountains. After a quick breakfast, Master P and I find our guide and driver, and ready ourselves for a thirty kilometre drive from Lalibella to the village of Bilbella.

This morning we go in search of the sacred Monastery of Yemrehanna Kristos, constructed between the 8th and 12th century.

The drive to Bilbilla takes a little over an hour along the bumpy and unpaved dirt road. The landscape of villagers working the hand plowed fields with only a donkey or cow is a humbling image as we slowly wind up way up the mountains.

Bilbilla has a small village square that we pull into. A handful of curious eyes greet us as we step out of the van. Our guide lets us stretch tired and cramped legs, then lets us know that we will walk the rest of the way to the Monastery. We begin the short hike up to an altitude of approximately 2,700 metres.

The air is thin, and we stop to rest several times. A group of children emerge from the juniper forest to greet the newcomers.

Yemrehanna Kristos is an old built-up church within a large cavern. A woman afflicted with a crippling disease that has her using her arms to move is crawling in the dirt ahead of us to the entrance. You feel the great spiritual presence as one approaches the entrance.

We learn the history of this place from the priests and worshippers inside as we sit on the stone steps of this holy place. The peace I feel here is impossible to put into words.

We walk towards the back of the cavern, and see a small chain link fence protecting  a small area. It is the bones of some 10,000 Christian pilgrims that had traveled from as far as Egypt, Syria and Jerusalem to be buried here.

I feel noticeably different walking back down the steep path to Bilbella. A force has changed me.
I see the faint outline of a priest high on the mountain top, looking down on us as a great protecter in this special land.

As we reach the main village, a woman brings us injera and paste to eat, a common sustenance for the locals. We humbly accept the food, and eat with satisfaction as both our bodies and minds are content.

26 August 2012

Petra Mofrika

The prayer service ended in the early afternoon, and so Shambel Kibatu Haile, our guide, was ready to start our visit to the rock-hewn churches of Lalibella.
We start by paying our entrance fee, which includes a short tour through a museum containing priceless artifacts, and a brief history of this place.
Once completed, we walk the short path to the entrance, while given instructions of what is/isn't allowed.

With shoes off, the smooth stone felt under feet has a calming nature. As we approach Biete Medhani Alem  (House of the Saviour of the World), I gasp for breath.

This monolithic stone is an architectural marvel. It is widely believed that after the Muslims took over Jerusalem, the Ethiopian Christian Orthodox people built this sacred site to preserve their beliefs. These churches were covered by the earth with tunnels and drainage systems connecting one to the other underground.

We enter to see the beauty inside, and meet a high priest for the first time of many to come. They guard the holy artifacts inside, covering them with cloth so they are not visible.

I touch the rock walls and a surge of energy flows through my arm. Next to come is Biete Mariam ( House of Mary). I notice the Swastika, and ask Shambel why it is carved into this church.
"This symbol's meaning is for the Sun, which is the giver of life."
I am torn between this meaning and the horror this symbol holds to most of the world. I ask Shambel about the Nazi's, but he only shrugs. For him, the meaning here in Lalibella is of the most importance.

Many women are at the walls and entrance ways to the doors, praying with holy books clasped to their chest. Shambel lets us know to be respectful, but that we are not intruding. It is a place full of peace.

We find ourselves at the top of the church on an adjacent rock. From this vantage point I can see groups of children doing religious studies under olive trees, and the town off in the distance. Prayer chantings are heard reverberating off the rock walls. I say a little prayer to myself.

As we make our way through the tunnels and pathways connecting the churches, Shambel stops at an entrance, and let us know that we are at the Tomb of Christ, and only men are allowed inside. Master P is a little indignant, but it is explained that no women are allowed due to the betrayal of Mary Magdalene. I slowly enter....

Our last stop is at St. George's church, probably the most famous and well known. Built in the 12th century, you can't grasp it's true size when you first see the top of it from the excavated hole in which the church lies.

Another monolithic ( one stone) wonder beholds me, and I feel the power in the church as I rub my bare hand across it. As we sit in silence next to St. George's, I take pause to be thankful and lucky enough to see the eighth wonder of the world.

Can't wait to see what the next day will bring....

the rock hewn churches of Lalibella from William on Vimeo.

25 August 2012

the journey to Lalibella

Master P and I arose early from our beds in Addis Ababa, knowing that we had two quick flights today before our journey to the pilgrimage city known as Lalibella would be complete. That, however, was all we basically knew. With little information from other travelers about our destination, we relied on faith, intuition, and instinct for this adventure.

The small airport is in a vast, arid and open high desert valley, with towering mountains surrounding it on all sides. An empty, yet beautiful land in stark contrast to the lushness found in Addis. We board the bus, and are informed that the ride to town will be about 30-45 minutes.
A few minutes later, we are rumbling along the dirt road, getting first glimpses of village life here.

The style of village housing we see is unique, not seen by our eyes before. We find out that this style of house is called a Tukul, common in Ethiopia. I start to get excited, and tell Master P that the place we are staying in Lalibella is called Tukul Village.
"You think we might be staying in one of those?" she inquires excitedly.
I shrug my shoulders, not knowing what to expect. The bus winds slowly up the mountain, higher and higher. You can palpably feel the change in temperatures.
Where exactly are we going? I nervously wonder to myself....
We turn a corner and see the first glimpses of the town and people, mixed into the canyons and mountain sides of this land. The streets are cobblestones, making a bumpy entrance. When the bus finally reaches our destination, our guide lets us out and points his finger to the sky...
"Lalibella" he calmly stated.

The feeling of a great spirit immediately takes hold, as I feel my mind tingling and body lifted by a greater power. I'm shown to my Tukul, and walk out on the deck to feel the cool breeze. I look out across the ravine to see a group covered in white robes, chanting and praying next to an object I can't quite make out. It is my first realization of the true specialness of this place.

We settle in, get a meal in our bellies, and set up a guide to show us around for the next few days. Days that end up changing and molding my world view once again.

30 July 2012

Addis Ababa

You can learn much about a country while in line at customs waiting for a visa. Things such as Ethiopia's primary language is Amharic, which looks like Arabic to a layperson. The greeting of "Hello" is different for men (Endeminnesh) vs. women (Edeminneh), and I may have that backwards. You will see gatherings unlike what you are used to in your hometown, but that is what exploration is all about.
After settling into Addis Ababa by spending a few hours at the National Museum, and the Ethnological Museum set within the former palace of Haile Selassie on the grounds of Addis Ababa University, we decided to head to the top of the Entoto mountains that surround the capital city.
The steep drive to the top of Mount Entoto at 3,200 metres above sea level takes some time in our little cab. We spend it chatting about the country, the government, life in general. The mountain is covered with trees that I do not recognize, yet the sweet smell from the forest is inviting and familiar. Our driver lets me know that the trees were brought from Australia in the 1800's and planted along the mountainous countryside, but he can't remember their name. With my ancestry from the land down under, I hazard a guess...
"yes, yes...that is it!"
Women are carrying huge bundles of tree branches down the mountain to the city to be sold. Eucalyptus holds many healing properties in it's leaves and bark, and I form a theory that the peacefulness of the city can be somewhat attributed to the constant smell of burning Eucalyptus trees from the cooking fires in the homes below.
Oldest Ecucalpytus tree in Addis Ababa.
As we arrive at the top, we find the holy St. Mary's church and shrine to Abeto Menelik II, Emperor to Ethiopia, founder of Addis Ababa, and considered by many to be the most powerful black person in history.
The museum houses riches beyond measure, yet there is no State of the Art security system. The respect for the holiness of the artifacts is security enough it would seem.
We walk on the grounds, enter the rooms of the great Emperor that still remain.

As we overlook the city below, I turn to see a woman worshipping next to a great tree below the church.

The sense of a great spiritual journey ahead was starting to form....

28 July 2012

the origins of Man

As we arrived into Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, you could feel the noticeable difference between this country and Kenya.

First, Ethiopia drives on the same side of the road as the United States, which was a welcome comfort for me. Ethiopia was so much cleaner than Kenya, and the landscape was mountainous.

Still, one must act with a certain amount of caution when in a new country for the first time. We decided to get our feet wet by going to a couple of museums, one that housed "Lucy", and the other on the stunning campus of the University of Addis Ababa.

A culture rich with history was to be found. Tracing the origins of man to the oldest found skeleton of Lucy, learning of Ethiopia's relative independence in development of government, art and music was fascinating.

Seeing a country that has three predominant religions; Muslim, Christian Orthodox, and Ethiopian Judaism, all with influence but no conflict within it's people is a lesson to be learned by the rest of the world.
Ethiopia's musical instruments go almost as far back as Lucy itself. As you learn about them and the tribes which developed them, the museum plays the hypnotic sounds.

On the campus grounds, they have the actual rooms of former great Kings of the past. You can stand before a dressing mirror that has the scratch from a bullet that was from a 1960's assassination attempt on the King's life during a Coupe D' etat.

The museums were a great way to slowly adjust to a new country, and learn about the history of the great Ethiopia.