Friday, September 04, 2015

Rock-Hewn Churches of Tigray (II)

Since I fell asleep at 7:30pm the night before, I was up at dawn.   I made my way over to the already-bustling bus yard, and caught a minibus to Dinglet--the village closest to the Takatisfi cluster.  I climbed into the nearly-full minibus to the back left corner of the tiny, cramped van.  Men and women in white muslin cloth filled the vehicle.  The soft banter of Tigray filled the vehicle, as soft stares and gentle smiles met this faranji who didn't fit in the scene.  Ever the only.

We were off past rock cliffs and old stone houses.  The subtle mournful voice of a singer broke the stillness of the ride, accompanied by a single-string lute.

Fingers of cacti littered the road, and pointed up to the heavens like hands in prayer.

The little bus whipped through the hills of the countryside, until we reached a sign in the road that said Petros we Paulos.  I had arrived.

I hopped out, and began my walk down the red clay road, as the morning mist hung in the valley.  And I remembered adventures in the fertile riverlands of Guatemala as I trekked in the morning through villages.  I am always traveling forward to remember the past.

I walked past mud and stone houses.  I had read that the priest for the rock-hewn church of Petros we Paulos lived closer to the road than the church so I was keep an eye out.  In my walk, I was met by two teens.  One spoke decent English, and they led me on to the church carved on the hilltop.  I realized I would need a guide to get me from church to church so I made an arrangement with one of the kids to show me around.

We walked over to the Petros we Paulos church above, and he ran out to fetch the priest while I played with the local kids and bounced a baby on my knee.

 After a little bit, the priest and guide came back, and we all scaled the rockface and ladder that led up to the church heights.  The wood ladder was not too perilous and I reached the top and the priest let me in to the church.  From the top, I took in the spectacular view of the valley below.

I walked inside the outer church and into the rock-hewn chapel.  One of the teen guides explained all of the centuries-old murals, and their connections to Ethiopian religious beliefs and doctrines.

After examining the murals, I made my way back out of the church and back down from the heights.  The guide and I trekked across fields and ravines to the next church.  I sat outside, while he went to fetch the priest and I played rock games with the little village kids.  The guide returned but said the priest was away in the market today.

We made our way on to the third church of the cluster. We walked through the landscape dotted with cacti, aloe and mud-stone houses.  We climbed up the rockface to reach the Medhane Alem Kesho church--one of Tigray's oldest and best.  I crossed the mural-designed rock entrance, and paid the priest for entry.  The priest opened the door with a fascinating locking mechanism that I couldn't begin to describe.  He took me in through the cave, and into the church itself.

In the darkness, the priest lit a long tapered candle to show me the designs on carved into the stone walls and ceilings.

 After taking it all in, I headed back down the mountain, and trekked across the fields with the young guide back to the highway.  I hailed a minibus back into town.  I realized it was early enough to check out of the hotel and get moving on to Woldiya where I would have to overnight before making the final leg to Lalibela.  I packed up my things, paid the hotel for my stay and headed over to the bus station. I caught a minibus to Mekele, a city an hour away that was much larger and had more transit options.

We drove through the dessert, and I chatted with agricultural engineer who worked on water irrigation projects.  He mentioned how much progress had been made in Tigray to deal with droughts.  We arrived to Mekele, and I had to catch a bajaji from one bus station to another.  At the Mekele bus station, I ran into the ticket tout who had screwed me over the day prior.  We laughed when we saw each other.  Perhaps because he felt bad for screwing me the day before, he helped me get going to the bus station I needed for a fair price in the bajaji.

I got over to the dusty bus station in Mekele and caught a minibus to Alamata, where there would be more minibuses to Woldiya.  Yet despite the minibus in Mekele being basically full, we still sat around the hot bus yard for an hour before departing.  We drove 4 hours along dusty roads and past camels and other livestock.  We crossed from Tigray into Amhara, and arrived earlier than I expected to Alamata.

From Alamata, I hopped on the next minibus to Woldiya, where I would stop for the night.  If the trip to Alamata was quicker than expected, the ride to Woldiya took longer than expected.  And into the darkness, we drove.

When I arrived to Ethiopia, I scoffed at the early departures for the buses--leaving at 5:30am, because it was illegal to drive at night; driving at night, I could see why.  Roads filled with cows, sheep, camels and people crossing with nary a street light to be found.  We almost hit a cow, a few sheep and a camel.  It was actually a rather scary ride that seemed to never end.

But end it did, in Woldiya.  One of the shittiest places I have even passed through.  Woldiya is the transit point for many, many buses going to Lalibela.  Yet there are really only two hotels, the Lal and the Yordanos.  Meanwhile, the city was just a clusterfuck of bajaji, trucks and whores in the road.

The Lal was the "luxury" hotel, and since I had been trekking all day, I thought I would treat myself.  But they wanted 500 birr ($25) for a room that was utterly lackluster and no better than any room I had been paying 200 birr ($10).

So I decided to check out the Yordanos.  I asked a fellow standing at the gate of the Lal where the other hotel was.  He said he would show me since it was close; since it was close, I said just tell me.  But he followed me anyway.  It was right next door.

I was trying to talk to the hotel manager, but the fellow was right up in my space.  I kept telling him to back off, and go away.  But he said he worked there.  I figured he was a tout, and told him to go away.  He kept saying something to the manager, and  was getting annoyed--telling him to leave me alone.  But turns out he actually did work there, and was just using the internet at the hotel next door where I met hi,.

The rooms were shitty and overpriced even for $10 but much cheaper then the only other hotel.  Once I put my stuff down, I explained to the fellow that I was sorry I was being short with him, but I was tired and he was in my space.  We made peace, and let it go,

But the room had no water.  Not just a lack of hot water, but a lack of water.  The annoying fellow said he would turn on the taps and I would have water in 30 min.  But it never came on.

I grabbed some dinner at the Lal, which was actually pretty good.

I turned in early with the intention of getting out as soon as possible.

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