Friday, January 17, 2014

More to do in Lalibela.



After our visit to the churches, we took a short drive followed by a short walk to arrive at a local establishment where we could sample some locally made honey wine, arak and Ethiopian coffee.

A view of the landscape from the restaurant's terrace.

It was a nice place with a wonderful view of the craggy mountains and valleys that make up the landscape in this region. The process to brew a cup of coffee begins with roasting the fresh beans, then grinding them, boiling the water and then finally brewing the coffee. Everything is done by hand so you can imagine how long it takes. Even boiling water takes and eternity - water is contained a small clay jug which is then heated on a small wood burning stove.

They also burn incense here. I don't know if this is part of the coffee making process or not but one thing I know for sure, I don't like the smell of it - reminds me of the copal wood they burn in Guatemala. The room was small and the smoke became too overwhelming for me in no time. I headed out the front to get away from the smoke and breath in fresh air.

The pottery jugs are typical Ethiopian coffee pots.  The container with the ash in it is the incense burner.

Roasting the beans.

We were all fascinated by the woman's hairdo which she had done for Timket.

Roasted beans ready to be ground.

Water boiling.

Munchies while we waited.  Popcorn on the left and thin pieces of baked dough on the right. Both were addictive!

Pounding the beans to create a fine grind.

While we waited for the coffee to be ready, the wine and arak along with some popcorn and pieces of slightly sweetened baked dough were passed around. I didn't need to eat but the popcorn and bread, as with so many snacks, were addictive - couldn't stop at just one handful or one piece. There wasn't much to do or see here so for me, I was ready to leave a few minutes after I arrived. I did my best to distract myself. I think everyone else was itching to go as well. The coffee came and I swear everyone just took quick sips so we could leave. We each paid 50 birr (about $2.50) for the drinks, snacks, and coffee.

Ta da!  Felt like it took an eternity to make this small cup of coffee.

Back in the van, we were on our way to the hotel for a short break before heading out to have lunch. Earlier in the morning, Judy had asked Achey if we could have lunch at a local restaurant instead of the hotel. We had all agreed that the food at the hotel was horrible....and even, I who will pretty much eat anything agreed.

We had about 1/2 hour to rest in our rooms before meeting back up with Achey to head to the restaurant - Old Abysinnia. Hmmm.... we all kept our fingers crossed the place would be at least decent. The sign indicated the restaurant was located about 100 meters from our hotel and indeed, it was a short walk to get there.

When we arrived, we all collectively gasped at the beautiful vista that greeted us. This place has a magnificent view! The tables had been positioned so that each of us would be facing the view as we ate. A lovely, gentle breeze blew through. It was the perfect spot for a lunch break and surprisingly, we had the place all to ourselves.

Gale, on the left and Carol, on the right, relaxing before lunch.

Achey had arranged the meal with the owner. Hands down, it was the best meal I've had since being in Ethiopia. I started with a bowl of very delicious lentil soup. For the main meal, there were lots of vegetable dishes to choose form as well as lentils and two types of rice. I took a bit of everything including the fresh tomatoes which I know you're not suppose to eat but my stomach is pretty much a cast iron one these days so I don't shy away quite as much as I used to.

A Coke to wash down my meal with.

A plate of thick bread, not injera.  I think this was made with tef.

My lunch plate.  It was pretty much all veggies and thoroughly delicious.

I so enjoyed my meal - didn't leave even a grain of rice behind on my plate! In fact, we were all so pleased with the quality of the food here that we decided to return for dinner which we were told would be a barbecue of some sort and entertainment would also be included. I was looking forward to coming back!

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel for another short break. I took the opportunity to do more laundry.

At 3p, we all piled into the van for the ride to the Nakuto Le’Abe Monastery which is suppose to be a cave church. On the way, we stopped in downtown Lalibela which you only know is downtown because of the itty bitty, teensy, weensy roundabout. Not sure why they need a roundabout. It's not like there's a lot of vehicular traffic here. In any event, Achey wanted to confirm our seats for tomorrow's flight to Gondar so the stop was to the Ethiopian Airlines office.

Back in the van, we puttered along towards the monastery. We had a different driver for this trip and he drove at snail's pace. No rush so I just kicked back and gazed out the window. I find it all so fascinating - from the landscape, to all the people walking by, to the mud houses. Speaking of people walking, there doesn't appear to be any form of public transportation here so everyone moves about on foot. Donkeys are the most common animal for transporting goods though I see a lot of people, especially women, hauling around incredibly large loads.


Our ride took us past a village filled with traditional mud homes, the ones with the conical thatched roofs. The village was situated on a bluff with wonderful views of the valley below and the mountains beyond.


It wasn't hard to tell when we had arrived at the monastery - a row of souvenir vendors greeted us. No interest on my part so I walked by them all to take in the spectacular view.


Our visit to the monastery was suppose to begin with a visit to the museum but when Achey went to get our tickets, he discovered that the kiosk was closed. Apparently, the guy who works there fell ill and had to go home. Fortunately, there was no entry fee for the monastery itself so we made our way down the steps leading to it.

The monastery which is built within a cave, under the protective overhang of the mountain.  The story goes that King Nakuto Le’Abe ahdicated his throne in 1270 AD and went to a cave to lead a hermit’s life. Ever since then the cave has been a monastery.  It is known to house one of the most interesting collections of ancient crosses, illuminated manuscripts and other icons some of which are attributed to Nakuto Le’Abe.

It's hard to make out the monastery in the photo but it's there just under the rock overhang.

A set of steps lead down to the monastery.

Still hard to see the monastery in this photo but the entrance is the small brown colored door located to the right of the conical shaped roof.

View of the entrance to the monastery.  You can't miss the entrance, it's where all the shoes are :-)

Clergy man entering the monastery.  In Ethiopia, bright yellow is the color of the clergy.  Supposedly, no one else is allowed to wear the color, especially as a shawl.

By now, we had gotten accustomed to taking off our shoes and hats before entering any church. The monastery was no different. Inside, the space had been partitioned into three sections - there was no roof on two of them. We started in the section where the chanting takes place.

Looking back towards the entry door.  The monastery didn't have a roof so every now and again, water would drip down from rock crevices above.

Another view of the room where the chanting takes place.

Achey explaining one of the paintings.  I couldn't hear what he was saying but I though the painting was quite nice.

From there, we entered into a darker space which not only held the monastery's copy of the Ark of the Covenant but also water that seeped down from the ground above. The monks consider this to be holy water. As Achey was explaining one of the paintings to us, one of the holy men (the priest? monk? deacon?) came in and retrieved some of the water from the naturally formed rock basin.

Natural rock basins that capture water dripping from above.

Another set of paintings, another explanation.  I'm sorry to say, I don't remember anything about any of them.



The last room contained a storage cabinet that held the monastery's treasured items including crosses and incense burners. One of the monks showed us each item. Everyone in the group took photos except for me. The skeptic in me told me it was all for show, not the authentic religious experience especially after I saw the *monk* (is he really a monk?) stuffing fabric into the crown before putting it on his head. So much of what we see these days is put on for tourists and when you travel with a group, it's more likely you see the non authentic stuff so the skeptic in me really comes to the surface. Okay, maybe I should have given the man/monk the benefit of the doubt and think that the crown is real and that it just lost its lining over the decades but I just didn't have it in me. In any event, it took a few minutes for everyone to finish with their photo ops.

The monk stuffing cloth into the crown before placing it on his head.

The monk showing off some baskets.

Next, the man/monk walked towards a podium atop which was placed another manuscript type book. This I was interested in even though it took might not be authentic. As he flipped through several of the beautifully painted pages, I snapped away. As he closed the book, I dropped a 10 birr bill onto the collection tray. Even the skeptic in me has a heart! Real monk or not, the monastery should survive and any amount of donation should help.

I was more interested in taking a closer look at the monastery's holy book.  I think that's a image of Mary holding Jesus.

Another page of the book.  I love the religious paintings in Ethiopia - there's a bit of whimsy to them.

The monk's a little strange looking, if you ask me - especially with the cloth stuffed into the crown.

Some of the monastery's collection, housed in a simple wooden cabinet.

Monks carrying out some of the holy water.  Yes, that's a water kettle.

A leather bound Bible, sitting in the an opening in the rock wall.

Back outside, we put on our shoes and walked back to the van. Several in the group wanted to continue walking. I had had enough so I rode in the van along with a few others. We drove a short distance and when we reached the spot where there was an unobstructed view of the mountains, I asked the driver to stop. We waited for the walkers to catch up with us. There are so many things that I don't like about traveling with a tour group and one of them is the fact that we are basically target for locals to come up and ask for anything and everything under the sun. Here as in so many other places I've been to, children are often the beggars. I've often wondered if parents send them out to do this as the sight of small children pulls at the heart strings of many a tourist. Unfortunately, I'm a hardened soul when it comes to these things.

Walking back up the stairs to the van.

As I got off the van, a little boy immediately latched on to me as I walked and repeatedly asked me for *plastic*. I had no idea what he was really asking for but each time he asked, I shook my head in response. Later on I found out that *plastic* is a plastic bottle and that they can be redeemed for a small amount here. He must have seen the one that I had in the side pocket of my backpack and wanted me to give it to him. While I understand that giving it to him would have benefited him in some way, I still feel very reluctant to in some way, shape or form, encourage children to be beggars.



Eventually, the little ragamuffin left my side and I could take in the magnificent views in relative peace and quiet. I asked Pat to take a photo of me to remember the place by and that's the photo at the top of this posting. Not the best pose from me but that's okay - it's all about the background :-)

From here, we headed back to the hotel.


By the time we arrived at hotel, we had just enough time to freshen up before walking back to the Old Abyssinia for dinner.  Dusk had settled in and it was actually a lovely time for an early evening stroll.

Souvenir shops across the street from our hotel.  There were countless shops with *Obama* in their name.

It was only about a 10 minute walk to the Old Abyssinia Restaurant.  No sooner had we exited the hotel property when we had a bunch of young men attaching themselves to us.  Luckily, it seems like Carol is the magnet.  As soon as I ignore them, the gravitate to her and she's too kind to turn them away.

Evening view from the terrace at the Old Abyssinia Restaurant.

Back at the tables had been placed in a horseshoe layout. In front, was a small wood burning stove where the lamb, the sole meat entree and star of the meal, was eventually cooked.

There was barely any light in the room - only a few small light bulbs in use.  Perfect for ambiance but crappy for taking photos. So, another blurry lot of pics :-(

The chef and his fire.

Bad photo.  Looks like the chef's butt is about to burn!

Working his magic on the grilled lamb.

There was barely any light in the room.  Achey tried to help by using the flashlight app on his phone.

The owner also got into the act.

Our waitress standing next to the table.  This time we were served at our table which was very nice.

Dinner started with soup. Again, I had the lentil. The main meal was a few pieces of the cooked lamb served with vegetables - some of which were the same as what we had had for lunch. The meat was a bit tough and as seems to be common here, not seasoned. Overall, the meal was tasty and satisfying but in all honesty, it wasn't anything all that memorable.  Lunch was better.

After dinner, we were treated to entertainment which was traditional Ethiopian song and dance.Aside from our group, there were a few other people in the room who had come specifically to see the performance.

The musicians.
The singer.



The traditional music is a bit harsh to the ears and the dance moves got repetitive pretty quickly but it was interesting to see the dance style of this region - there's a lot of shaking and twisting of the upper body and it's a very active dance style.  Sadly, it was too dark in the room for my camera to capture any of performances.  I have to seriously consider bringing along a separate video camcorder.  So, I'm only posting up two videos.  The first is one of the singer doing a solo performance. - you can't see him well but you can hear a snippet of the song he sang. The second is with dancers but also has additional singers.




Towards the end, the dancers invited members of the audience to join them the dance.  I graciously declined - I don't dance and I was too busy capturing video.....which unfortunately, did not turn out.


After a few dances, I was ready to leave but being part of a group, I had to stick it out. I suppose this is about all you can expect for a performance targeted at tourists. It's why I hate coming to stuff like this I'd rather pay the extra money and see a world class performance on a world class stage. I decided I will see if something like that is available in Addis and if there is time to catch a performance, I will.

Back in my room, I did some laundry and packing. Tomorrow will be another travel day as we fly to Gondar. I want to make sure I'm well rested so it will be an early lights out for me. Although it was a short visit to Lalibela and there were times that I felt we were just wasting time, I have to say that I really enjoyed the visit to the churches. They are simply astounding and I am truly lucky to have been able to see them!

Goodnight from Lalibela!