Ethiopia and Back (part 1)

We had an amazing trip! Visiting Ethiopia was a once in a lifetime experience and, of course seeing Caitlin, was priceless. She is happy and seems to have adjusted well to the demands of her new life. We were able to glimpse just a small window of what her daily life is like and I can say that it is hard. We stayed at Caitlin’s only 2 nights and spent the rest of our trip in hotels so, like I said, we got a mere glimpse of her day to day life. However, the overall trip, provided us a good feel for the culture, the people and the regions she frequents.

One of the things that surprised me was the general sensory experience of the place. Everywhere we visited, except for Caitlin’s village, was so busy with people. So many people on the streets, selling items or walking to various destinations.  We landed in the capital, Addis Ababa, and when exiting the airport we were greeted by armed guards and as we passed airport security, we were immediately greeted by people offering livery services and lines of packed vehicles in the lot. The city was loud with traffic – and car horns are used without restrain. Driving in the city is not for the faint of heart and the car horn is a frequent communicator between vehicles. There appears to be few rules of the road and a 2 lane highway easily becomes crowded with 3 or 4 vehicles all trying to go the same way.  Making a left hand turn, from the right lane, across 3 lanes of traffic also seems to be totally acceptable. There are a few rare traffic lights so being a pedestrian in the city and finding ways to cross the street – also takes a fair amount of skill.

We spent our first couple days in Addis Ababa. These area a few pictures taken from our hotel room. The city is littered with many half finished buildings. We were able to watch a construction crew at work on a building outside our hotel window and I was struck that men were working with no shoes and digging what might have been a foundation using hand shovels.

In Addis we got to spend time with one of Caitlin’s friends, Jesse, and we met up for dinner with a couple other friends, Michael and Sammi.

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After Addis we flew to Lalibela. We selected an interesting time to visit Lalibela as it was January 4th, just a couple days before the Christmas celebration on January 7th. Lalibela is the site of 11 stone churches built by King Lalibela. They were literally dug from the ground and are quite fascinating. St. George is the most famous of the stone churches which you see here in the background (below).

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30,000 pilgrims make their way to Lalibela for the Christmas celebration and the streets were quickly filling during our stay and the churches were crowded with the pilgrims.

Above is a picture of the pilgrim camps on the left and as they were starting to fill the countryside on the right. Some of the pilgrims travel for as long as two weeks or more to reach the churches.

Above is another picture of one of the churches. Removing shoes is required upon entering the churches and we had a ‘shoe holder’ who joined us. I included a picture of our shoe holder helping Michael on with his shoes. It was a funny sight to watch him help Michael on with his shoes as we left each church and also it is funny that they matched! It makes me smile again looking at the picture.

The path on the right represents the narrow path to heaven.

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We stopped for coffee along our tour of the churches. Coffee is abundant and definitely a cultural favorite. We are with our tour guide Tedesse.

When not touring the churches we met many of the local children – or should I say, they met us. They waited for us outside our hotel and followed us while we walked the streets. Their names were Michele, David, Joseph, Gabriel and a few others I cant remember. You can see them crowded around Michael here as he was looking to buy a wallet. One of the things I bought for the kids was a ball – which we are all pictured with below. In addition I purchased text books and we handed out candy and crayons.

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Our second day in Lalibela we traveled to the mountain church. Above is a picture of the peak where the mountain church is located. Do you see the square formation on the top right? We were told it was an hour and fifteen minute hike to the church or we could purchase a taxi for 900 birr. We thought an hour walk was not too bad and decided to take the hike. From the base of the mountain to the church is a 2300 increase in altitude and that, with the incline made for a more difficult walk then we expected.

On the left were were taking a much needed rest – beautiful scenery, though. And on the right we finally made it and were heading on the final hike to the church.

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Here’s the same mountain peak pictured earlier but from the bottom of the mountain. After the long hike, Tedesse, our tour guide, invited us to his home for lunch. The Ethiopians we met are generous hospitable and excited to welcome you into their homes.

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Michael and I celebrated our wedding anniversary while in Lalibela and we had a nice dinner at Ben Abeba – a unique restaurant that boasts traditional Ethiopian dishes with an Irish twist including shepards pie. The restaurant was strategically placed with beautiful views.

After Lalibela we flew back to Addis and then got on another plane to Jimma. We arrived in Jimma on January 6th and stayed through the Christmas holiday on January 7th. We stayed at the Central Jimma hotel – a very nice hotel and a great way to recharge from our long travels.

After resting up in Jimma we took a full day travel to Metu. It required two mini buses and about 8 hours of travel. Security stops along the way were part of the trip and actually brought a welcome break …..

We stayed in Metu for the night and then went to Cait’s…..more of that next time.

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