“Batman has to break the mob…while the Flash travels to the past to solve the secret of…‘The Disco of Death!’”
Yes, that’s right, I read my first comic. Where, you ask? In Kombolcha, Ethiopia, after a 12-hour travel day on public buses, while eating an odd (yet tasty) concoction of rice, beets, and honey. Yes, this is my life.
I left Addis Ababa on Saturday, September 7th after a week and a half for our Mid-Service Conference and medical checks. The day’s destination – Kombolcha. Usually seven hours by bus, we had the unfortunate luck of the private buses choosing not to run and we hopped on a public bus by late morning. Two to three hours later we arrived Debre Birhan hoping to make a quick switch to a bus going to Camise/Kombolcha/Dessie – we weren’t being picky. Two to three hours later, we were on the road again. If you ever find yourself in Ethiopia, don’t, I repeat DON’T travel the weekend before the Ethiopian New Year.
While sitting in the bus station, another volunteer who had left Addis much later than we had caught up to us. He joined our bus and we arrived in his site at 7:30. I remember him shaking his head as the three of us said we were going to try and push on to Kombolcha. An hour and a half later, we were in Camise.
My boyfriend went to Camise a year ago for his “demystification trip” and I’ve never heard a kind word about the city. With that said, we had to hire a private minibus to get us to Kombolcha. We got to our friend’s house shortly after 10. One hell of a day. Which is how I came to find myself reading comics and eating rice/beets/honey. Also…while on the bus, I slept through my first camel viewing. Damn.
Day two almost involved sleeping in….almost. Instead, we made our way to Dessie, twenty minutes away to procure direct bus tickets to Lalibela for Tuesday. But to no avail. Thanks to the holiday, all tickets were sold out. There was talk of trying to hop from minibus to minibus and make our way on our own, busing back to Addis and flying to Lalibela (not actually considered given our Addis/Kombolcha trip the day before), and busing to Mekele and trying to fly in from there. In the end we decided to risk the minibuses and leave a day early. With that decision made, we returned to Kombolcha and spent the evening at the beer garden. We also ate the best shiro and salad I’ve ever had. EVER. And…I saw my first camels.
Chandler and I were up BRIGHT and EARLY the next morning to catch a bus back to Dessie, then get on one to Woldiya, and hope that once in Woldiya we could get to Lalibela – either directly or through other small towns nearby. Our bus driver to Woldiya assured us that we could catch a direct bus to Lalibela from there and proceeded to spray air freshener (that smelled like man) all over our bus.
We were in Woldiya by 11:30 and on the way to Lalibela by 12:30. Good timing considering we almost got kicked off our bus before it even left the station. The man wanted 150 birr for a ride whose distance should have warranted a 60 birr fee. So Chandler started haggling and the man very grudgingly dropped the price to 120. We still felt ripped off until we watched every Ethiopian on the bus pay the 150 price. No wonder he almost kicked us off. Lalibela’s expensive…even before you arrive.
But arrive we did, at 5 pm. The last leg of the journey had been beautiful, traveling up in the mountains and through valleys filled with yellow flowers. The final two hours was on an unpaved road, but the scenery was so captivating I honestly didn’t mind. Also, in 1955, Thomas Pakenham visited Lalibela and since there was no road, his trip took four days (from Dessie) by mule. Seriously, no complaints here. We checked into our guest house, found eggs for dinner, took much appreciated hot showers, and passed out.
Day four – Lalibela. Woke up early only to find that it was pouring. Suddenly found myself thankful we had an extra day in Lalibela. We had already purchased a flight to Gondar for Thursday. Went back to sleep and this time, woke up to sunshine. So we made our way to the churches. After a rocky start (it’s hard to swallow the almost 1,000 birr price tag even when you know it in advance) and a bit of confusion concerning the map, we found ourselves in the Southeast Cluster of churches. We started with Bet Gebriel-Rafael.
This is a photo of the entrance. The guidebook told us we would get to cross a rickety wooden walkway…guess they’ve made a few improvements. We had to pass through some underground tunnels to make our way to the next few churches – Bet Emmanuel, Bet Mercurios, and Bet Abba Libanos.