05 December 2013

crosses and crosswords - part II

Continued from crosses and crosswords - part I

[PRO TIP: If you just wanna look at a ton of cool pictures, click on any picture in this post and click through the slideshow. Most of the pics were taken by either Laura or I. They're cool friggin' pics.]

There are hardly words for the breathtaking beauty strewn about this area of Ethiopia. The town is known for its cluster of rock-hewn churches, reportedly built with the help of angels, but the surrounding landscape actually offers more interesting sightseeing options. We obliged our sense of historical and cultural significance by checking out the churches of Lalibela on day one, but used the next two days to get out and see more than the average visitor. Day two saw us renting an old, rugged Land Cruiser and necessary driver for perhaps the most scenic drive I’ve ever experienced, before reaching a remote village, some 40km outside of Lalibela. From there it was 12km of off-roading (what our guide called an “African massage”) in order to access a church made of marble and cedar wood, located in a cave in the middle of a mountain. And since we didn’t get quite enough spectacular from that experience, we set off on a hike to reach a rock hewn church situated atop a mountain overlooking Lalibela on day three. In both cases, we encountered only one other set of tourists, which afforded us lots of bragging as we closed off our time in the town with a night at a Torpedo, a popular tej house, in the company of fellow travelers from Canada (see: highfiveadventures.com), France, and Spain.

"Roger" starting to show on my face

Pilgrim village near Lalibela Churches


Most awkward photo ever?                       

 Yemerhanen Christos - Church made of really heavy materials, hundreds of years ago, in a cave in the middle of a mountain. Kind of looks like a dollhouse, no?

Crypt of mummies behind Yemerhanen Christos         

Pretty much what the whole drive out to Y.C. looked like.
Holding on tight for the "African Massage"

Pretty sure we wandered onto the set of Jurassic Park

Overlooking Lalibela (the cluster of buildings afar on the right)

Ethiopia, Spain, Canada, U.S.A., France

Lalibela = Epic

The Valley below Lalibella, toward Y.C.

We touched down in Axum less than a half an hour after departing from the Lalibela airport and caught a cab to meet up with Joel, Christine, and Todd before darting off to Adwa for a few days with the Lutrells. While historically significant in Ethiopian history, there’s nothing particular to see or do in Adwa, which is exactly what we were looking for. The majority of our time with Dan and Danielle was spent sharing good food and great laughs. That’s not to say Adwa was completely uneventful. We set out for a hike that turned into a scramble up and down Mount Soloda, which probably had us closer to death or serious injury more times than anyone would openly admit to folks back home (read: approaching a steep cliff from above and encountering two scorpions). It was quite an adventure, to say the least, but was certainly well worth it for the spectacular view high above Tigray.


Kindred Spirit

Beautiful! And the landscape ain't too bad either!

Mount Soloda Expedition Team

The inaugural TITTY!

First pizza delivery in Adwa history!

Approaching Mount Soloda

One of the scorpions that nearly killed us

The cliff that nearly killed us

Our lovely hosts

Four days and 20 minutes on a mini-bus later and we were back in Axum. Word on the street was that Axum is the least impressive of the three big historical areas in Ethiopia (as it’s currently only about 5% excavated), so we were preparing ourselves to be underwhelmed. While we had a blast checking out the obelisks and unearthing tombs, sans guide, it was the time with spent with Joel and company that really defined our time in Axum. We were even lucky enough to be on hand for the weekly Wine Day Friday tradition!
Puttin' that Insanity to work!

Lizard Obelisk!

In the Northern Stelae (Obelisk) Field

King Kaleb's tomb

For the final stop on our northern tour, it was off to Gondar, a one-time national capital. Known for its 17th century castle, Gondar is also home to the Dashen brewery, Debre Birhan Selasie Church, and is within spitting distance of the Simien Mountains. We were lucky enough to take in all of these sites, though suffered the misfortune of being completely enshrouded in cloud during our half day hike in the Simiens, robbing us of some unreal views. But we did see baboons and met some RPCVs from Mozambique on their COS tour before returning stateside, so that’s cool. We also got to spend quite a bit of time with “Mama Heater” Morgan, bringing the total number of “PCVs with whom I spent my Peace Corps training” visited during this trip to four (Dan & Danielle and Joel). Can’t imagine a better way to cap off the Great Buddy and Monkey Northern Expedition!

Sharing beers with Moz RPCVs

Stunning! And the castle ain't bad either!
If you look closely, I think I'm making Laura laugh

Just chillin' in a lion cage. NBD.

Inside Debre Birhan Selassie Church

Ceiling of DBS church


So it was back down to Addis to make our way to Bekoji. We were greeted at the airport by Shawn, a Canadian who works in Qatar and an avid runner/fan of running culture. He had seen the film Town of Runners (which, in case you don’t already know, is about athletes in Bekoji) and did some poking around on the interwebs which led him to this here blog. Shawn and I connected in advance of his trip, and since the timing worked out, we were able to meet in Addis and Shawn could avoid the chaos of trying to get to Bekoji on his own. He also brought a hockey bag full of running shoes to donate to the athletes, which was pretty awesome.

With Shawn at Marta Cafe

After playing tour guide for a couple days, it was finally time for that down time in Bekoji we never had, and perhaps a quick jaunt to Hawasa for a little resort relaxation before Laura would prepare to head back Stateside. Not so fast…

Shortly after we arrived in Lalibela, I developed pretty strong flu-like symptoms that came and went throughout our trip. Toward the end of the trip, I noticed some swelling in the lymph node area on the right side of my neck (which we eventually named “Roger”). Long story short, the swelling increased and landed us back in Addis before we could even come close to settling down in Bekoji. Longer story even shorter, the swelling in my neck remained a mystery – even after a giant needle made its mark to extract a sample – but eventually went away with a double dose of aggressive antibiotics. What this amounted to for Laura and I was spending the majority of Laura’s last two weeks in Addis Ababa. Not such a bad thing, really (pizza! ice cream!), just not what we were planning on. We did make one more quick trip to Bekoji to have lunch with my counterpart, give Laura and opportunity to say goodbye to my landlord and family, and pack up shop before putting the bow on an important and memorable two months.

Vanilla frap = OMG

Indulging in the wonders of Sishu

...ends in hilarity
^^^ this results in this ===>>

MK's Pizza. Possibly world's best.

Sun sets on Laura's last day in Bekoji

Tractor loves bananas!
With my Ethiopian family
Now more than three months removed from Laura’s departure, it’s still hard to believe it all actually happened. I’m not sure it will ever stop feeling like some sort of dream, but perhaps it’s because it was, in essence, a dream come true. From the moment Laura and I made the decision to commit to one another for the duration of this Peace Corps experience, that she would spend her entire 2013 summer in Ethiopia was pretty much a given. At times it seemed like a distant fiction that would never materialize. But we made it, and that’s huge. We told ourselves that if we could make it to this trip, there was nothing that could hold us down the rest of the way. It certainly feels that way in reflection. Not only do we now have a shared set of experiences in Ethiopia, but also an invaluable shared understanding for what Peace Corps life and life in Ethiopia is all about – all those things I could never find the words to explain now make sense. And that’s really what’s going to carry us through to August.

See you back here in a couple months, behbeh. Maybe I’ll hire these kiddos to pick you up from the airport!

1 comment:

  1. awesome pix Joe! Looks like you two had a great time :)