Thursday, January 1, 2015

Completing the Historic North



24 to 30 December, 2014 - Tigray, Aksum, Gonder - (Ethiopia)

We've come to love the Ethiopian handshake. A firm grasp with the right hands, pull each other close, and bump shoulders. Usually it is a single bump. There appear to be ocassions, though, where one does not appear to suffice. Sometimes, two or three bumps occur, accompanied by a smile, a laugh, or even an embrace. I have discovered it the perfect way to conclude a transaction, particularly where there has been some arguments. It instantly diffuses the situation and acknowledges that everything is fine. The Ethiopians who I have thusly shoulder bumped have always indicated that it was the perfect way to conclude our dealings.

So this blog entry is to describe the rest of our journey through the historic north of Ethiopia.

From Mekele we headed in to the region of Tigray. Well over 100 cave churches are found in this region, varying in style, age, and quality. While they were beautiful, and worth the effort to get to, there is a major problem. We were well and truly ready to move on after visiting three. Each charges a separate and hefty admission. Then the priests want tips. Then the kids who ran up the hill with you want tips, and where tips are deserved and given, they are never enough. And every person anywhere near the church wants to get in on the action and asks for money, it is all draining. It was certainly a major detraction from the experience, and something I would tell prospective visitors to take in to account.

A Church in Tigray
A Church in Tigray
Around Tigray, there are hundreds of churches cut in to rock. We only visited 3, and each felt very different. This is Medhane Alem Kesho in the cluster of churches called Takatisfi.


Medhane Alem Kesho
Medhane Alem Kesho
A priest unlocks the door to the main church chamer at Medhane Alem Kesho, Tigray.


Aksum, the holy city of Ethiopia. We celebrated our Christmas there. Our Christmas? Well, it's not Ethiopia's Christmas. "Do they know it's Christmas time at all?", Band Aid asked. No! Because they celebrate Christmas in January. They have a different calendar, and different New Year, and so on. It's only 2007 here. "Come to Ethiopia and travel seven years younger" one slogan suggested. Anyway, there was some tinsel and a few trees around, but no Turkey. Lamb "tibs" and enjira for our Christmas meal.

Turned out to be a good time to stop for a few days. Christmas. A nice town with a number of walkable sights. Liked our stay in Aksum.

Great Stele at Aksum
Great Stele at Aksum
Believed to be the largest single piece of stone that humans ever attempted to erect, the Great Stele apparently never quite made it. Somewhere in the 4th century, while being put in to place, it seems it came crashing down and caused the collapse of other nearby monuments and tombs. Quite spectacular, I'm sure.


One of the Oldest Books in Ethiopia
One of the Oldest Books in Ethiopia
Reputedly over 1,000 years old, this bible was on display in St Mary of Zion Old Church in Aksum.


Is the Ark Really Here?
Is the Ark Really Here?
Most of us have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark with Indiana Jones and the Nazis digging lots of holes in the sands of Egypt. Well, most Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant has resided in Ethiopia since about one or two generations after the time of Solomon. Whatever they have, it is here, in Aksum. Most people will never get to lay eyes directly on the alleged Ark, although a replica is paraded through the streets at important religious times. The front building is where it is, but the room there is leaking, and the new building at the back will be ready soon. Whether it is the genuine article or not, the mystery and controversy is all part of the charm that is Aksum.


Arbatu Ensessa Church
Arbatu Ensessa Church
Some of the lovely decorations in one of the churches of Aksum.


No, it's NOT a Butcher Shop
No, it's NOT a Butcher Shop
This is a restaurant that specialises in tere sega, raw meat. Quite the delicacy, here in Ethiopia, and very tasty with various spices and presentations. We enjoyed kitfo again (raw mince, like steak tartar), and gored gored which was delightfully tender raw cubes lathered in spices.


And, then a couple of nights in Gonder before returning to Addis.

Moon Over Debre Berhan Selassie Church
Moon Over Debre Berhan Selassie Church
Gonder


Beautiful Fasiladas Palace
Beautiful Fasiladas Palace
Fasiladas Palace inside the Royal Enclosure of Gonder. It dates from the mid 17th century.




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