Today we took a break from our work and went on a trip to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia. The team discussed it and we all decided that we really wanted our good friend Fikre to join us on the trip. We got him an airplane ticket and made plans for him to join us. Fikre was so excited about the trip. He has read all about Lalibela but has never had an opportunity to go and visit. Lalibela is one of the most holy places in Ethiopia second only to Axum. Axum is where the Ark of the Covenant is supposed to have been lost. It was taken from Jurusalem to Ethiopia by the legendary son of King Solomon and Queen Sheiba. During a time of conflict with Muslims the ark was transported around to different churches to ensure its safety. It is believed based on symbology found in the Church of Mary at Lalibela that it was kept there for some time before being returned to Axum.
We were up and ready to leave the guest house by 5 AM in order to make our 7 AM flight to Lalibela. We had a brief layover in Bah Hadir before arriving in Lalibela at around 9:15 AM. Our guide, Halie Mariam (aka Mario) was there waiting to greet us. Our visit to Lalibela happened to coincide with a religious holiday for the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia. The holiday is called the Lost Cross. They celebrate with a ceremony that includes a large fire. Mario had decorated the floor of the van with herbal grasses and flowers that smelled amazing. We loaded up in the van and drove the 25 kilometers between the airport and the town of Lalibela. The airport is located this far away because it is the first patch of flat ground that is big enough to allow for a runway. Between the airport and the town of Lalibela you gain around 2,500 feet in elevation. The views are unbelievable and the terrain is green with all the rain that has fallen over their rainy season.
We arrived at the Mountain View hotel around 9:50 AM, checked in and then proceeded directly to the stone churches of Lalibela. There are hardly words to describe the effort that went into planning and building these churches that are literally carved downwardly into the rock of the mountain. There are two sets of churches in addition to a single church by itself called St. George's church. The lower set of churches represent the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. They are arranged in a crucifix patter with a head church, heart church (Church of Mary), two arm churches and a feet church. The upper set of churches represent heaven. The final church that is set apart from the other two groups was the last church built and is the masterpiece of King Lalibela's creation. This church was dedicated to St. George and it reflects the experience gained while building all of the other churches. We toured the lower set of churches before lunch and then returned to the hotel for a two hour lunch break. The churches close for two hours to allow for lunch and prayer services. We returned to the tour the upper set of churches and St. George's church at 2 PM. When we were finished with the tour we attended part of the Lost Cross ceremony. It rained during the ceremony so many of the people dispersed to find shelter. When the rain stopped we walked around town and visited various places including a honey wine bar where we partook in the local culture. FYI… The honey wine is potent! Around 7 PM we headed back to our hotel for dinner. The chef at the hotel had talked to us at lunch and had planned on preparing a special Jamaican dish for us for dinner. We enjoyed a Jamaican chicken stew for dinner and discussed our experiences over the past several days. A few of us went back out after dinner to explore more of the town. We met some kids on the way home and ended up partaking in a festival dance around a fire to celebrate the Lost Cross holiday. It was certainly an experience to remember.