I always listen to BBC in the morning, 6:00am. It is a 30 minutes swahili news that has been on for as long as I can remember. Many years back, maybe 5, there was a feature on the rock carved churches of Lalibela. That morning still in my sleep, I told myself, I have to visit this place – Lalibela.
Many things have changed since then. Meles Zenawi the then Prime Minister Died, Hailemariam Desale was forced to step down and now Abiy Ahmed has taken the reign of leadership in Ethiopia.
Under Desale, Ethiopia and Kenya agreed to rescind the visa requirements for Kenyan business travellers in July 2015 making it possible to travel without the trouble of acquiring a visa. It’s only Djibouti and Kenya who can travel to Ethiopia without a visa.
It was then time for me to travel. Maybe you have had about Genna, the Christmas in Ethiopia that happens every January 7th. Maybe you have not, then we cannot blame you, because this was not the reason for my visit to Lalibela.
Our journey started in Bahir Dar, 5am in the morning aboard Level 1 bus. It was dark, but i am starting to get used to Ethiopia’s early morning travel. At 4:30am it was just me and my wife in the bus, but some seats had been marked for occupation. Then people started walking in one by one. Then it was Glen, the tourist from China.
The bus was about full when we finally departed at 5am. At sunrise, it was easy to see Lake Tana as it welcomed a new day. The journey took us to Dabre Tudor, then to the hills and mountains, to the clouds and back and we were finally in Gachena……65km from Lalibela. This was our fueling station.
We took sometime to get something to eat and interact with other passengers, at least those that were easy to talk to. Its not common to find English speakers in Ethiopia, many have only managed a few English words. Amharic is what they know and what they speak.
From Gachena it was 65km of semi-tarmac road. Parts of it are still unders contraction so they were really challenging to the car. Some parts are complete. I said to myself…..looking at the amount or construction taking place. The people who will visit Lalibela years to come will have an easy way, especially if they will be using the road.
The landscape is breathtaking. Its one waterfall, then two and suddenly three….all on one mountain. Our driver with years of coming to Lalibela could manage the terrain very well. It seemed far to me, maybe more than 65 km but at about 2pm we arrived at the small town.
The bus park is a long way out of the town. When we arrived, we had to take a Tuk Tuk to our hotel. There are no taxi….just Tuk Tuks and some few personal cars. Lalibela relies purely on tourism so everything is designed to attract you into blowing your dollars.
There is an airport 25km away making it very easy for those who don’t want to endure a whole day on the road, or just dont have the time to do so. A few minutes later we settled ourselves at Villa Lalibela and 5 minutes from the villa, there was Kana restaurant. We made it our home too.
In the evening we walked around, and just saw the churches we were to tour from afar. With the help of a young student we were able to walk to the second group of churches and from the top of the hill, we had a view of the famous St George Church.
The hotel organized a tour guide for us, and we agreed to start the tour 8am the following morning. We went to bed, after a long day of travelling. It has not been possible to travel to Lalibela from Addis Ababa in one day unless you are flying.
But for us we managed to include Bahir Dar into our itinerary making it possible to have a day to Bahir Dar and a day to Lalibela. If you want to have discounted fares on domestic, its advisable to book Ethiopian Airlines on the international flight. Ethiopians or those with International tickets get discounts only enjoyed by citizens.