Heights

Finally I have found computer and internet access! I am typing on the managers laptop at the moment. I hope that my last post has made it to you all.

Well, day 3. Once again I find myself sitting, and waiting. This time we are stranded in a remote village that really IS in the middle of now here. We are in the Tigrai region with a flat tire.

The day began when we left Mekele at 9:30 am after visiting the place of Yohannes IV, former emperor of Ethiopia. In an 11 passenger minibus again we sped up into the mountains, however this time the mountains were very dry and rocky, spotted only here and there by a few cacti and shrubs. We passed several very grand canyons, and soon arrived in Wukra 45 km north of Mekele. There we attempted to find public transportation to the stone hewn churches of Tigrai, but the yare very remote and there is very little or no public transportation there. After much negotiation we made an agreement with a minbus driver to take us to the churches, then north to Adigrat where we would spend the night.

Now the last few days have been fairly action packed, so I’ll cut to the more exciting parts.

While we were racing along the dirt roads, (the roads are all dirt and gravel in this region) a land cruiser attempted to pass us, I guess our driver wasn’t paying attention and he swerved left at that same moment sending the land cruiser careening off the road. When we stopped to help, the I saw that the land cruiser had come to a stop with its front tire flush with the edge of a 4 foot drop, resting on an unstable embankment of rock. Luckily with the help of several people pulling on the vehical they were able to come out of it safely.

We visited a church with was pretty cool, I won’t go into detail.

The tire blew around 12:00, and that is how we became stranded in the village. While waiting, I was forced to suffer as crowds gathered to stand and simply stare at me, it gets old real quick. All day, kids bombarded me asking for ‘birr, shirt, pen, trouser’ and just simply wouldn’t leave us alone.

We waited unitl 5:30, then I grabbed my bag and said lets go. By then the driver had walked off with the tire to get it fixed. There’s are reason I brought a backpacking bag, not a suitcase; I’m in Africa. We paid a 17 year old kid to show us the way to the nearest town. We set off down the road with an entourage of children following us. Soon after we left the sun began to set and the mountains looked like they were being enveloped in firey flames as the brilliant red streaks in the sky grew brighter the daylight grew darker. It felt good to be walking after spending the last 3 days traveling by bus, I was filled with adventure and excitement. Despite the dryness of the region the air was sweet with the smell of straw, and it was getting cool in the absence of the sun. The moon shone brilliantly illuminating the path for us while the frogs croaked with the familiar sound of home. My bag was growing heavy, and the youth offered to carry it. He was carrying Fikru’s bag at the time. I said no, I was determined to carry my ownweight as we trekked over rocks and a small mountain. Two hours and fourty five minutes later, and 18 km, we arrived in the gravel road town of Hawsien and collapsed in a hotel with surprisingly clean rooms.

Day 4

Leaving our bags behind we set out to find our way to see the church we had been headed for yesterday. We caught a bus to Megab another very small village and walked from there. Our destination was 4 km west of Megab. From Lonely Planet, this is what I expected:

“Although less impressive architecturally, this chruch is likely the most rewarding in Tigray. It’s spectacularly located within a cliff face, halfway up a rock pinnacle around 4 km west of Megab. The first45 minutes of the climb is mildly challenging, with a couple of tricky sheer sections requiring toe-hold action. The last two minutes requires nerves of steel – our hands are sweating just thinking about it! Even if you can’t make the final scramble and precarious ledge walk over a 200m drop (like us the last go around!), it’s still worth getting that far as the views from the baptism chamber are astounding.Inside are beautiful and well-preserved frescoes that adorn two cupolas.”

So I was headed to authenticate that, I seemed to have missed the sentence about ‘our hands are sweating just thinking about it’ until now.

The road was dusty and despite my suggestions of taking the road regardless, we ended up taking the way over the mountain directly to our destination. My hips were aching with pain I have never experienced before, possibly a combination of dehydration,malnutrition, and the elevation. After a while of scrambling over rocks, up and down valleys, the boy pointed out our destination. Whereas it? A dot on the horizon! The kind of dot you see and never attempt to get too. We climbed through the mountainside. At one point I distincly remember frantically scrambling up a hundred food embancment of loose shale while mini avalanches rolled behind me and fear cluctched at my chest at the 200 foot slide below me. Finally, 2 hours later, and considering all the ups and downs a hell of a lot more than4 km, we arrived.

As we began walking up towards the next mountain where several pinnacles reached to the sky, a group of men walked to greet us, they were going to help us with the climb. We made a deal of 75 birr for their assistance. After climbing to the base of cliff portion of the mountain, I took my shoes off in anticipation for the rock face ahead of me. I began to climb, my steps were guided by the men helping. At first, it wasn’t to bad, although I was really wishing for a harness,ropes, chalk, and somebody on belay. Nope, this is Afrika. We climbed,and we climbed. Shear rock faces, I did my best not to look down. My heart began to beat faster, and faster. By the time we made it to the baptism chamber as mentioned above, fear was beginning to clutch at my chest again and my hands were beginning to shake. I can’t remember any complaints about my hips and sore legs however, adrenaline and fear are the ideal pain killers. A hollowed out cave in the cliff side was full of human bones and skulls, I went to take a picture, but was informed there was more bones up higher. We’re going higher!!! Now Mom and Dad, I’m sorry there was no waiver sent home for you to sign my life away for the next part, because I sincerely hope you would have refused to sign without second thought. Nobody spoke english very well, but the pointed to a small door a little higher. I can do that I thought, not to bad. I followed, over a boulder with a sheer drop on either side, it was about 4 feet wide. Sweet mother of God. I followed up, I though I was there, and just when I though I couldn’t be anymore terrified I they pointed to a rock ledge around the corner. My chest clenched, I was trembling. Inching my way I followed, sucked up against the wall, around the corner, OH MY GOD! Trying desperately toshut out my peripheral vision, I clutched the wall, inching along aledge that varied from 2 to 2 and a half feet, all the will sloping down to a paralyzing 200 m drop below. Do you know how many feet 200meters is? Nearly 700!!! Anytime I want to scare myself and make myself quiver, I just think about moving along that ledge, I can’t believe I did it. No ropes, no railing, just a sheer drop.

Now about half way along the ledge was when the most terrifying thing of all happening, a thought flashed through my mind. What was that though? It was, if I extended my arms in one motion, I would send myself to certain death, and I wouldn’t have to go the rest of the way, or go back down, all my problems would be gone. Now let me tell you, I am in no way suicidal, but in that moment I really didn’t trust myself for a few seconds. I get shivers thinking about it. As Jim Carry says “Its that little voice that says ‘ah ah ah, turning the car into oncoming traffic is counterproductive’ that keep us sane and alive”. Never could that have been more true. I continued to inch my way along, refusing to look down or surely die of a heart attack, and at long last made it to an alcove that was hollowed out and a priest was sitting inside. I looked out at the round door, I was probably high enough to base jump, I wish I had a parachute! That would almos tbe an easier way down. I don’t think my travel insurance would do much good if I slipped. “Alright well I’ll be staying here for the rest of my life and not be going back down” I said.

I apologize for any grammatical or spelling mistakes, there is no spellcheck on this computer and I am writing in a hurry, no time to proofread.

After paying the priest, I was allowed in. I’ve been very cheap lately, and not going into most churches because I can’t afford to pay at all of them, but after that climb I was going into that church. I stepped inside, and saw that there were a few people sitting around speaking with the priests. I guess this must be quite the Holy spot for locals. It was not big inside, but it was hollowed out inside a pinnacle of rock, 200 m up! I can’t imagine building this place, it would have been terrifying beyond reason. So it was huge inside considering the conditions. The ceilings and walls were painted with Orthodox depictions. The Nine Saints were depicted on a rounded ceiling above me, and Nine Deciples were painted on another rounded ceiling. The floor was covered in a huge woven carpet. Apparently the priest climbed all the way up with that carpet all by himself! Anyway, after a while, and taking a few pictures, it was regretfully time for the climb down. Now, the climb down is usually my favourite part,because I’m repelling on a rope! No this climb down was a little more scary. Everyone kept pausing, and having conversations, I was wanted to scream IS THIS REALLY THE TIME!? But didn’t want an angry priest to throw me to my death. The climb down seemed much longer than I remembered, and it kept going and going. Finally, we made it.

We caught a ride in the back of a pick up truck, and everything was great. And then the excitement of it all wound to a stop as the truck stopped and told us to get out, they were going a different way. We were in the middle of nowhere again, and had to walk. We walked to Megab, along the road this time, while looking at the mountain we had come before and realized that we had went way out of our way. One in Megab we had lunch, and sat outside watching the dusty road afterwords, pleading a vehicle would to by. No such luck. We started walking through the afternoon African sun. Finally, a tractor rumbled by, and we flagged in down and climbed in his trailer. It was one of the more rough and dusty rides I have experienced, but is was a ride.Again we had to get out, and finished to walk to Hawsien, where gain I collapsed in my bed with aching body.

Day 5

We took buses to Axum, taking a total of 5 buses. It was rather uneventful, except when our bus was rear ended by a mini van. That bus happened to have several soldiers on it all carrying AK-47’s with collapsible stocks, a formidable weapon. A large crowd from each bus gathered to argue, and finally the man with the hand gun stuffed in his belt with a chain attached to the butt settled things. In Canada people keep their dogs and wallets on chains, in Ethiopia its guns.Some other white guys stopped to watch the commotion in their rented mini bus, then took off. Later one of them approached me at the hotel we were at in Akum and apologized for not picking us up. He was from the UK, and taught English at the University of Barcelona. He was a younger guy, but seemed very well traveled. I talked to him for a good3 hours, having interesting discussions with him about religion, he was a devout atheist. It was good to talk to someone who spoke English natively for a change, sometimes you forget the value of a good conversation.

Day 6

We spent the day in Axum, hired a guide to take us to all of the site. Axum is a fascinating city, great Stelae, Oblisques, tombs, palaces,and the Ark of the Covenant! I have been typing for a long time, and am paying by the minute, so I will let Lonely Planet do the rest of the talking.

“Sprawling, dusty, and rural – Aksum is modest almost to a fault. On first sight, it’s hard to imagine that the town was ever the site of a great civilization. Yet Aksum is one of Ethiopia’s star attractions.Littered with massive teetering stelae, ruins of palaces, underground tombs (most still undiscovered) and inscriptions rivalling the Rosetta stone itself, the town one formed part of the Aksumite kingdom DrNeville Chittick described as ‘the last of the great civilizations of Antiquity to be revealed to modern knowledge’. Aksum is undoubtedly one of the most important and spectacular ancient sites in sub-SaharanAfrica. Justifably, Unesco lists it as a World Heritage site.”

We’ve arranged a ride part way with a land cruiser headed back to Addis tomorrow morning, he will drop us in Woldia, a few hundred km east of Lalibella. It was cheap since he’s already going, and I’m looking forward to finally getting a ride in a landcruiser, I’ll pretend I’m in the UN. I’m running out of money, and its been fun looking for the cheapest of everything. We snuck onto the deck of an extremely posh castle like hotel this evening to watch the sunset with a view of all of Axum. It was one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen, and didn’t cost me a dime! Not that they have dimes here.

Oh I hear it’s 2010? Happy New year everyone! I don’t even know whatday that was.