Roadtrip Day 6: Born again in Bet Merkorios and blessed in Na’akuto La’ab

Tuesday 9th January

Today, after a leisurely 9 am start, we are visiting the Southern Complex of Lalibela’s churches and one more church just outside of town.

We start in the Southern Complex with Bet Gabriel, a church that is accessible via a sloping ramp, known as the Way to Heaven. This building is towards the upper section of churches, and isn’t as much dug out as dug into the side of the cliffs. It makes the place a lot lighter, and also less visited.

Inside Bet Gabriel

Next is Bet Merkorios, which is reached via a very long, narrow and pitch black tunnel.

This turned into an amazing experience. We were walking behind a group of praying pilgrims. Slowly shuffling forward, holding on to the wall with one hand and the person in front of us with the other hand. After the first turn, there was no light at all. The tunnel seemed endless. Suddenly, and a baby in the group of pilgrims started to cry. The whole experience took on a feeling of rebirth as we emerged from the end of this very long tunnel, climbing up steep steps into the light of the courtyard of Bet Merkorios.

Our final visit is to Bet Amanuel, which has some of the best preserved carvings. We say goodby to our shoe-man and walk back via the still active monastery. The monks are used to pilgrims walking back past their very small huts and holes carved into the soft volcanic rock.

Nun in Lalibela Monastry

Time for another coffee, and a bit of shopping at the local supermarket. It is interesting to have a bit of a browse. Especially now as the pilgrims are slowly leaving town and it is not as busy. Lots of colourful plastic wares, and a good range of metal pots and pans, as well as the usual range of groceries, clothes, and anything else you might want to buy. I love these type of shops! We end up having to take a bajaj back to the hotel with our purchases, one of which is a very, very large kettle for the church Lina built in her home village.

Ethiopian Supermarket

After lunch we head to Na’akuto La’ab. This church is only a couple of kilometres south of Lalibela, and built in a cave alongside a valley looking outwards. Much lighter and younger than Yemrehannah Kristos, there are a large number of treasures kept in this church. The priest shows us some amazing crosses and crowns. Big drums are set in the back of the courtyard.

Na’akuto La’ab

Water drips down from the roof of the cave into some very old looking stone basins. It is considered holy water with very strong medicinal properties and is collected by the priests who sell it to the faithful.

Lina buys a big bottle of this water, and we all get blessed again by the priest, sprinkled with holy water. Apparently, Mike needs it more and gets a triple dose of holy water by a widely grinning priest!

Back at the hotel we enjoy our last evening in Lalibela with two excellent cheese pizzas and drinks along the fire pit, chatting to the our few fellow travellers. Ready for a big day of driving tomorrow!

Travel Details and Tips:

Accomodation: Panoramic View Hotel, Lalibela

Tip 1: An excellent thirst quencher is the Kool / Coca Cola mix. Kool is the local sparkling water brand, mix it 50/50 with coca cola and you have a refreshing tasty drink.

Tip 2: Wear easy slip on/slip off shoes when visiting churches as you have to take them off each time. The carpets and floors can be quite dirty, so be prepared to put dirty feet back in your shoes. Hiking sandals are great for this, as you can easily clean them. Some travel guides suggest socks to avoid flee bites. Insect repellent is more useful, and your socks would get very, very dirty. And note that most of Ethiopia is well above 2000 m above sea level, so there is little risk of mosquito born diseases like malaria.

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