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Day 203 – Rock Hewn Dinner and Drinks

12th April 2012


In the battle of us versus the bedbugs, we lost. Breakfast and a spot of unproductive tourism office ‘hunting’ led us to a noon departure for a little town called Wukro, the centre of the universe as far as rock hewn churches in Eastern Tigrai go. It wasn’t far and so before long we arrived, parking in the Top View Hotel which looked out over a dusty sports field and had a shockingly stained and delightfully disgusting toilet bowl, it was a wholly disgusting affair; at two quid a night we hadn’t expected much, but we would be crossing our legs for a few days.

It was after one. The sun was still high but the clouds were building as we walked into town on the hunt for another tourism office and the chance to find a guide that might ease our adventures in finding and appeasing both men with keys and priests who could respectively open doors and show us around the churches on our hit list.

In the office we greeted a man named Hailey who eventually agreed to be our guide for the next three days. Our schedule was tight and our chosen churches had quite a spread geographically and so we needed to press on and visit the first that afternoon. We marched back to the hotel, in part escorted by some more hand holding and ringworm ridden youngsters, and with Redvers roaring we immediately set back to collect our guide and venture forth.

The road to Mikael Imba Church was another rough affair on which we suffered another stone throwing incident. This time however we had Hailey with us. His job as a guide was secondary to his job with the Tigrai Tourism Council in promoting historical sites, tourism and educating locals and priests that the benefits (money) out-weigh the negatives (white men and cameras stealing the sanctity of a house of God.) He runs workshops throughout the region and a stone throwing incident was deeply irresponsible in his eyes and the culprits must be dealt with in accordance with the wishes of local elders. When he’d jumped out he’d not only clocked the boys’ faces but also the number and colour of the sheep and cattle they were herding. A boy was more easily identified by his stock than his face. We eventually found the church and took thirty seconds out of our schedule to explain to a group of young boys, while obtaining mug shots, that our car was perfectly capable of looking after himself. Our suddenly erstwhile racketeers lost their smiles and retreated to the shade of the nearby tree.

We climbed a few boulders and then made use of a seemingly ancient ladder to scale the not quite dizzying heights of the rocks on which Mikael Imba was carved. At the summit we were led to the gate, meeting the priest and key man as we arrived. Hailey was proving extremely useful and had sent a child ahead to seek the priest and let him know we required receiving.

The church was extremely pretty in the evening sun, the lines of sedimented sand stone clearly visible throughout its construct. We were lucky enough to see, and be forced to touch, a six hundred year old parchment that, had it existed in any European city, would have been in a museum whose name you’d heard of and encased in thick glass protected with alarms. Here we were touching six hundred year old goat skin with Ge’ez lettering that was as artistic as it was textual. We were shown the secret tunnel, so, not very secret then, and on leaving where invited to sit and eat with some of the priests as the sun sank and the sand stone rock glowed red-orange in the golden light.

Our cups were filled to the brim with sorghum beer and we were offered enough homemade bread to feed an ox. We attempted to be courteous, aware of our surroundings, and took only meagre portions, but it was not to be. The piled tray of bread was for us and it really would have been an insult had we left it. Whilst we sat two elders appeared to discuss the stone throwing with Hailey. We listened as they spoke, actions counting far more than the words which we didn’t understand. They seemed unhappy, but apparently they had been given a description by Hailey a little earlier and a ‘militia’ had been dispatched already to speak to the children and their parents. They were lucky then; I’d have brained them.

The bread and sorghum tasted better than ever. The warm rock beneath our bottoms, amongst friendly church people with blossoming cacti all around was an uplifting experience. It was an experience we’d been craving; we’d been invited to eat with the church elders in a spiritually and sensationally spectacular setting.

Back down with Redvers we were still sailing above the clouds as far as our minds were concerned. The ’car-security’ children were told to politely go away by Hailey and we pulled out on the drive home only just below a setting sun. The journey proved to be a memorable one as we passed caravans of camels, laden with salt as they travelled the final stages of a week long journey from the Afar Desert to the towns in which they could sell their salty wares. Apparently a rich man transports his salt in a fancy truck, but these men were no paupers given their camels fetch around nine hundred dollars a beast, the caravans we saw had been seventeen and fifteen camels long.

In town we found another local eatery who found us exceptionally entertaining despite the fact we were sat quietly minding our own business. Somers whispered to me that she needed the loo and, as is natural, she set off to find it. With no joy from her initial search she asked a lady who had no idea how to speak English and she couldn’t grasp Somer’s ‘curtsey’ charades either. Distended and unsuccessful, Somers returned to our table, still keen to spend her penny. As a man with a woman in need, I took over and despite getting laughter from both the lady and the entire restaurant, my ‘zip down, whip it out, slight lean back as the stream flows (and a perfunctory point at said stream)’ charade worked wonders. Somers was shown to the foul hole where she could find relief through a held breath.

Posted by ibeamish 07:16 Archived in Ethiopia

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