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Thursday, December 15, 2016

11/13: Buying Shoes in Lalibela & an 'Ethiopian Massage'

We hired a tuk tuk driver to drive us about 15 minutes into the town of Lalibela so I could try and find a pair of new shoes as mine were falling apart. There was little tread left on the soles and the heels had also worn down a lot. I was concerned as we had a lot of hiking still to look forward to in the four weeks we had left on the trip. 
My trusty river shoes from Kohl’s had served me well but I was na├»ve thinking that a $20 pair of shoes would last the entire trip with the conditions that we needed them for. Here’s hoping a pair of Keen’s river shoes that I can use on our next adventure will make their way under the Christmas tree in 10 days’ time!
I was a little bit leery of my chances trying to buy comfortable and decent looking shoes in what passed for a ‘shoe store’ in Lalibela but I was game to look as my options were between slim and none at that point! There seemed to be only one shoe and clothing shop in town. I can assure you that legendary shoe fancier, Imelda Marcos from the Philippines, would not have been content with what passed for new shoe options in Lalibela!
All the men's and women's shoes were jumbled together and the selection of a woman's sneaker type of shoe was absolutley minimal. Luckily though, I was able to find a pair that were pretty comfortable and looked cute. The man wanted $50 initially which was highway robbery. I eventually paid just $15 which must have been a fair price as he was still smiling at me when I left the store as you could see from the above picture!
This is what passed for the supermarket in town. You couldn't walk into it and could only see the available merchandise from the tiny 'window' in the center behind the sales clerk. Steven and I mentioned a great business opportunity for an enterprising Ethiopian would be to open a decent grocery store in the tourist area where there were so many hotels. There was no place anywhere in town, for instance, we could buy an apple, banana, snacks, candy, etc - anything we and other tourists would have been glad to spend money on.
This morning we had toured the rest of the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela itself. Those are certainly the city’s main draw but they were not the only reason we had come to Lalibela. The mountains around Lalibela were studded with medieval monasteries and churches, many of which were very different from their Lalibela counterparts and also less frequented by tourists. Unfortunately, the entrance fees to these outlying churches were not included in the price of the admission ticket for the churches within Lalibela.

The nearest one, and the one we wanted to visit this afternoon, was called Asheton Maryam as the mountain it was on, Mount Abune Yosef, was visible from town. Eshutu, our guide seeing the churches in Lalibela, had strongly advised us to hire a driver to take us to the top of the mountain, from where we could then hike to the church. Not only was the price steep in our opinion, we preferred to take a tuk tuk so we would have much better views on the long ride there and back. Granted, it would mean a far less comfortable ride, but that didn’t matter to us. 
Though the monastery of Asheton Maryam was less than three miles from Lalibela as the crow flies, we would gain around 1700 feet on the hour long ascent. It was situated at an altitude of 10,500 feet on the western slope of the mountain overlooking Lalibela, so about twice Denver's altitude which is known as the Mile High City..
Photos from our journey up the mountain:

I titled part of this post 'Ethiopian Massage' as we driving up the incredibly bumpy road was akin to receiving a massage. This one was better, though, as we didn't have to pay any extra for it!
The driver was young but he still was very experienced maneuvering as best he could around the countless ruts in the road. Steven and I were convinced after a few minutes we were indeed happy that we had chosen to take the tuk tuk rather than hiring a car as we had much better views and the car would not have softened our ride appreciably.

At some point, the plan was for these many piles of rocks to be used as a type of guard rail on the hairpin turns to prevent falls over the cliffs.
Though we were certainly looking forward to seeing Asheton Maryam, the excursion there was just as remarkable for the superb views on the way up.

We had first seen this brightly colored bush earlier today outside one of the rock-hewn churches. We didn't realize then how common a plant it is in Ethiopia.

Lalibela far below us:

It was several degrees colder as we neared the summit of the mountain. Luckily, I had my sweater and Steven his fleece as we needed them then.

Not only did the tuk tuk driver have to contend with all the ruts and rocks in the road, he also had to be very cardeful of the many animals who also claimed the road as theirs!

A lot of crops were grown near the top of the mountain but I don't know what they were. 
I had forgotten how ragged and gray my hair looked at this pount in the trip! Not surprising, I guess since we had been traveling for three months by this point and I hadn't had it cut since leaving home. I knew I wouldn't be able to stand it too much longer but Lalibela didn't offer much in the way of beauty salons!
My brand new and clean, for the moment, shoes I had just bought in Lalibela!
The parking lot with the tuk tuk drivers awaiting their passengers who had hiked up to Asheton Maryam:

Almost from the moment we got out of the tuk tuk, six young men descended on us wanting us to choose one of them to act as our guide to Asheton Maryam. It was very hard getting them to understand that we wanted to hike to the church by ourselves and we didn't need or want their 'assistance.'  A few of the more persistent ones kept following us for a bit until Steven got quite firm with them and told them, in Amharic, to leave us alone!

We passed a number of locals on the narrow path as there were small communities up this way too.

I had read that it was supposed to be a ten minute walk from the parking lot to the church but I can only think that must have been in Africa Time, i.e. a time frame that bears no reality to anything any of us were familiar with! The hike took us along the trail where you can see the rocks below.
The views to the valley below were spectacular.
The path was very easy. I didn't need my sweater at all because we no longer had the 'AC' from being in the wide open tuk tuk!

We knew we had to be getting fairly close when we saw this small chapel en route to Asheton Maryam.
There was a fork in the path here and we had mistakenly taken the wrong one that led to near the locals' homes. This man happened to come along and showed us where we needed to go - what a godsend as there were no signs.
The final part of the hike was the most precarious but we both made it safe and sound thanks to the man's help. We were glad to tip him for his assistance.
It had taken us about 40 minutes to hike to the church but it was one of the most beautiful and peaceful hikes of our entire trip. Part of that was due to the fact we only saw one other tourist the whole time. There aren't many places in this fabulous world that we have come across that are as relatively remote and aren't overun with tourists just like ourselves!
Asheton Maryam was carved out of a cleft in the rock face and, like some of the churches in Lalibela, had a covering over the top to protect it from the harsh elements.

The church offering box was located just outside the entrance so we couldn't fail to miss it!
Since we didn't have a guide, we were at a bit of a loss knowing exactly what we should be looking at. The church was full of a number of small chambers, one right after another.

It was magical just being able to wander and poke around in the church's nooks and crannies.
There were several crosses on the walls.

The priests' or deacons' vestments:

In one spot, there was a glorious view of the valley below though a screen.
In no other church in Lalibela had we seen a bell. I thought perhps it was necessary here to call the locals to services but not sure.

Writing notes on our visit so I wouldn't forget them later when I finally got around to writing this post!
It was great being able to sit and relax after the hike up, especially since the altitude was a lot higher than we had been used to.
Since we were the only visitors there, the priest (or was he a guide? We didn't know.) unlocked the church once we had walked around.

The number of religious items inside Asheton Maryam far, far surpassed all the other churches in Lalibela put together.

Nowhere else had we able to view the priests' brightly colored vestments.
Priests' or deacons' hats used during the services:

More crosses to admire:
The church door had been smeared with a type of animal fat to keep it from drying out. As a result, it had a rather pungent odor, shall we say!
The priest or guide offered to show us the priceless collection of religious artifacts the church had. We were so gratified as we had never expected that privelege. As I wrote in one of the posts about seeing so many Ethiopian crosses in a museum in Addis Ababa, various crosses are used in Ethiopian Orthodox Church services and religious festivities.
All but one of these paintings were many centuries old.
One by one, he showed us the beautiful crosses. What a privilege it was to have been in the right place at the right time and seen each of them.

This stunning accordion-style book of paintings told tales of a bygone age. Again, it was many centuries old.

Previoulsly, we had only been able to view ancient manuscripts in the Ge'ez language under glass in the museums in Addis Ababa Here, the priest allowed us to touch the pages.
Stevcn and I were both frankly nonplussed that such priceless items from Ethiopia's history were so cavalierly bandied about and taken care of. We had never seen ancient artifacts treated quite like that before but, from a selfish point of view, it was presumably a once in a lifetime experience both seeing them so closely and being able to touch them.

Gorgeous views of the other side of Mount Abune Yosef:

The monk's house: He was also a farmer, we were told.
The local school:

This man held my hand a number of times over the rocks and down the steep steps as am no longer as sure footed as I once was.
We had passed this girl selling homemade items outside her home on the way up and had promised her we would buy something on the way down. She made sure to remind us as we neared!

A very common sight in the Ethiopian countryside was seeing women using umbrellas to protect agaunst the harsh rays of the sun, not the infrequent rain.
You can see we weren't done with our 'Ethiopian Massage' here!

Some of the homes close to Lalibela:

The trip to Asheton Maryam had been far more rewarding than we ever envisioned; not only was the drive up and back breathtaking and exciting but the chance to see the church's artifacts was a once in a lifetime experience.
I can hardly believe that we will be home in Denver in just a matter of hours now, God willing, after being 'on the road' now for 122 days. It will be great to be back with family and friends as we have missed you all so very much. 

Thank you, one and all, for following us on our journey up to now. I still have a staggering 28 posts to write to complete this year's blog. It will take some time but I promise I will share with you the rest of our adventures from this point forward. I hope you will also enjoy reading the upcoming posts well into the New Year!

Posted on December 15th, 2016 from Copenhagen, Denmark .


  1. Cute pink shoes!!!

  2. Love the new shoes. So happy you coming home I miss both of you. Safe travels.


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