21.01.2013 - 26.01.2013 27 °C
Ok so we cheated, we booked a flight from Gondar to Lalibela following our traumatic bus experiences – but how could we resist at USD $50 instead of 2 days driving facing previous conditions?!
Lalibela is probably the main tourist destination in Ethiopia thanks to its rock-hewn churches built in the 12th Century. People travel from all over the world to see this architectural phenomenon – churches carved into / out of the ground which patiently took up to 24 years to complete.
We arrived in Lalibela to a well organised airport, hotel reps greeting travellers upon arrival with a standard transport fee and an incredible view as we drove higher and higher into the mountains to reach 2600ft. Our hotel was the cleanest and nicest by far that we had stayed in Ethiopia (Lalibela Hotel) with hot water and loo roll, result for 4 nights!
As soon as we stepped onto the street to explore it was apparent that Lalibela was different to everywhere we had been – the town is used to tourists which has had an adverse effect, the prices were extortionate in comparison to the rest of Ethiopia and locals seem to take advantage of what they see as ‘wealthy faranji’. You couldn't walk more than 30 seconds without a gang of kids reciting one of the ’14 cons of Lalibela’ just in case they were lucky and we were tourists who hadn’t been warned. They mostly all begin with them naming the capital cities of a few countries or tell a compelling story to grab your attention– “at school we have to share a text book between 10 students and I have a test tomorrow, will you buy me a school book from that shop over there?” once you have paid $10-15 for a book and you have disappeared around the corner, the kid takes the book back to the shop and him and the shop owner share profits. There was also “my parents live 40km away and i live with my grandmother who takes care of me by herself so I can go to school – she loves meeting people from other countries and giving coffee ceremonies – would you like to come no, today, tomorrow...?” then at the end of the hour you would be presented with a bill for $100 and not allowed to leave until you pay. Luckily we were savvy to these and had to make light of it. We soon realized that the more we turned the questions back on them they would quickly leave us alone.
Lalibela as a town has become quite greedy and recently raised prices to see the rock hewn churches from $24 per person to $50, not even comparable with tourism prices in Europe! This happened 3 weeks before we arrived and tourists had already found a way to beat the system – reselling to a fellow traveller at cost price, easy as the tickets last for 4 days. We managed to successfully trick the system but at the time we were leaving Lalibela, the officials were catching on and threatening big trouble to any tourist found to be using recycled tickets.
The rest of our time in Lalibela we spent walking and relaxing, we met a lovely couple from Holland and joined them for dinner at Ben Abeba restaurant which is truly something else. Created by a Scottish woman and her Ethiopian partner, the restaurant pushes Ethiopia’s architectural boundaries and offers some of the most beautiful sunset views.
We were sad to be heading back to Addis, one because it was Addis and two, because our trip in Ethiopia was coming to an end. As we took a (dramatic) taxi (who demanded more money half way whilst we refused and stormed out of the car but then he apologised and agreed to take us for the original price, we wouldn't normally have got back in the car but the neighbourhood looked pretty sketchy and we had everything on us so trusting him seemed our only option) to Toronto Hotel, we passed by a restaurant called ‘Oh Canada’ (yes this line is for real) and knew straight away that we would be heading there for the evening. ‘Oh Canada’ had been opened by a Canadian named Lily who had moved back to Ethiopia recently to be with her parents, she needed something to remind her of the great white north and thus opened this Canadian themed restaurant, complete with poutine, hockey team burgers and province pizzas.
It was the best way to complete our final evening in Ethiopia. We have enjoyed the 2 weeks greatly, it’s been testing and tiring; every day requires intense thinking and planning but that's all part of the experience. It does make us excited for the 46 day trip ahead of us though, no thinking required!