Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer Vacation

Road Trip!

The most anticipated event of the Miller Family’s summer was the 11-day northern Ethiopia driving trip. Check out the drive! After much research we decided that to save our sanity, our marriage and maybe our lives we would hire a driver and a car to take us on this journey. We began our trip the day after school let out and we used the same travel agency that the embassy used to execute the Harar trip. Our driver was a pretty awesome guy named Bahaftu. I’m sure that I’m totally botching his name but that is what it sounded like to me. The drive the first day was about 6 hours or so. Our first stop was in Kombulcha.
Kombulcha is nothing to write home about, all that I saw of this city was the hotel we stayed in. It was a hotel that I wish that I could forget. While it could have been worse, it was not wonderful by any means. We had three twin sized beds for the 5 of us to sleep on. Each bed had a bed net hanging from the ceiling. Outside of Addis malaria is a concern so you really need to sleep inside the bed net! We have all been on prophylactics since before we went to Harar this meant that we were safe on the medication side, however just to be extra safe we made sure that everyone was inside a net when they slept. The other weird thing about this hotel was the bathroom. I know! You are all so tired of hearing me talk about bathrooms! The bathrooms are always so crazy though. So at this hotel the shower was a shower container that you could move easily into and out of a room. In theory it's awesome. The shower cubicle has like 3 shower heads and can spray from the wall and the floor and in all directions, it does steam and all kinds of stuff! We were kind of excited to try out the cool shower cube. Before we showered the Hubs took Jake to the "park". This park looked like a set for a scary movie. It was a little run down and some of the seats for the merry-go-round were missing. Just a little on the creepy side, Jake did not care. He LOVED it. He played for a long time before the Hubs came back and said that it was time to switch. I did my time at the house of horrors play ground while he took the older boys to dinner. As I've mentioned in a previous post, taking Jacob out to eat is usually always out of the question. So I stayed with Jake while the Hubs took the older boys to eat at the hotel restaurant.  

The park, not to bad looking in this picture

This slide went at warp speed, Jake loved it though

That is the merry-go-round, some seats are missing.

View from the park (there is a swimming pool, no water in it though)

View of the room from the "park"

This was our room after we spent the night. 

So the kids and Hubs get back from dinner and then I head over to the restaurant. I had a wonderful 35 minutes to myself where in no one asked me anything except what I wanted to eat a drink. It was wonderful! The feeling of peace and well being that I enjoyed was stamped out upon entering our room. As I walked in I was informed that Brenden took the first shower. He used every feature that the shower cube had to offer and every drop of water leaked out of the shower and onto the floor. There was so much water that it flooded out of the bathroom and into the sleeping room! Our remaining towels were used to mop up the mess. I chose not to shower that night! There was a tv in our room but I don't believe that it worked. That is often the case here. They have tv's in the rooms but they don't always function. The night was long! I hardly slept at all, Jake had a hard time relaxing. In the end James, Jake and I slept in one twin bed, while the Hubs and Brenden slept in their own beds! Don't ask me how that happened. We left fairly early the next morning in order to make it to Lalibela at a decent hour. 

The drive to Lalibela was about 5 hours. We checked into a nice hotel where all of the rooms are in Tukuls. There was a queen sized bed and two twin sized beds. They had a nice restaurant and a very helpful staff. The staff at this hotel was so helpful that they spent much of their time trying to help Jacob to catch one of the 20 ferrel cats that lived on the premiss.  He never actually caught one but the staff was always there to help him when he wanted to try!

The first day that we arrived at Lalibela we were fortunate enough to see a few of the many rock churches that are in the city. These churches are AMAZING! I was in shock when I first saw them. The major buildings and layout of the city represent the holy city of Jerusalem. The buildings are cut out of the living rock! It took thousands of volunteers (and angels so the legend says) 23 years to build the 11 rock churches. Can you imagine chiseling out 11 churches in only 23 years? It’s crazy!

I have one tip for you if you intend to visit Lalibela, where easily removable walking shoes. There is A LOT of walking but at every church you must remove your shoes. Tying and untying laces becomes tedious quickly. We had a guide who was from Lalibela that took us to each church and explained each church's unique history. On top of having a guide we also had a shoe guard. That is right, a shoe guard! Just incase some one decided to go shoe shopping outside of one of the churches she was there to beat them off. Our shoe guide was AWESOME! She not only watched our shoes she helped us keep Jake under control, moved our shoes from one door to another and helped the boys and I up and down the rough terrain. I was told that she served in the army at one point and you could tell, she was a tough lady who really took her job seriously.  We saw all of the rock churches inside and out, well the Hubs and the boys did. There was one church that I was not allowed to see all of the rooms because there was one place that was “no girls allowed”. Luckily I heard the priest tell us that and didn’t follow the boys in. There was another woman who didn’t catch that small piece of information and was kicked out!

After we visited the churches we visited a museum where in were held ancient crowns of kings, crosses, and VERY old and beautiful bibles. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in the museum so you will have to use your imagination. Needless to say it was amazing. The funny thing about museums in Ethiopia, and I have been to a few now and they are all the same, is that they place these ancient artifacts in glass boxes and that is the extent of the “museum”. In the USA the pieces would be climate and humidity controlled with advanced alarm systems protecting them. I worry a bit about some of these pieces but they have survived for centuries so perhaps I have been brainwashed into believing that in order for anything to survive for any amount of time it must be in a special box with special air.

Of course the Hubs and I are not able to enjoy ANYTHING together when Jake is with us, the museum in Lalibela was no exception. The Hubs and the older boys went first while Jacob and I waited outside. In the grass outside of the museum 2 goats were tethered to trees. My son Jacob LOVES anything with fur, so naturally he gravitated to the goats. The goats did not exactly care for this tiny human trying to touch them and kept moving away and baaing at him. One of the priests watched Jake for a while and then walked off down the hill. Jake and I continued in our quest to befriend the unwilling goats. The priest soon returned with two big handfuls of some kind of herb from a garden down the hill. He and Jake were soon happily hand feeding the goats, who were suddenly warming up to the tiny human. The priest returned to the garden three times to replenish his supply of goat-nip.

On the second day that we were in Lalibela we saw the rest of the churches and headed out to a church that was built in a cave not to be confused with the churches that are carved from rock. The name of the church is Yemrehanna Kristos and was built around the 11th century.
I saw this church on the travel channel and was really excited to get to go there in person! The drive to Yemrehanna Kristos is about 1 hour out side of Lalibela.  We took our guide with us but the shoe guard was not needed so we said good-bye to her and tipped her very well for all of the help she gave us!

After arriving at the small village near the cave church we pulled out our handy Kelty Baby Back Pack. Jacob HATES this thing. My other children would sit in it for hours; Jake has about a 45-minute time limit on a good day. We were able to convince him to get in and we followed our guide up up up. It was a little bit of a hike to the church but not bad. Maybe a 15-minute walk, the altitude is what gets you here, but we made it just fine. At one point during the walk we past an old nun. She was sitting outside of a little hut and she was cooking over a charcoal fire. She watched us as we approached. Her grey eyes swept over our little party but rested on Jacob in his backpack. She smiled a wrinkly smile and she imparted this piece of wisdom on our party “You know, all things are nice when they are small, goats, cows, sheep, babies. Yes all things are nice when they are small, except for lunch”.  The old and wise nun then went back to her work and we were left to ponder this wisdom that she had bestowed upon us as we continued up the hill. 

The cave church was small but beautiful. Besides the church there was also a small palace as well as a resting place for some 2000 human remains. The remains are not buried. They are just lying in the back of the cave. The remains are roped off, in case you were wondering. We spent quite some time looking in every nook and cranny of the cave. We did not leave until we had seen every inch of this holy place. The walk back to the car was fairly uneventful, there was a stop at a bathroom but I will not terrify you with another account of scary bathrooms. I’m sure that by this point you have discovered, as have I, that bathroom use outside of my home is often less than ideal.

 After we returned to our hotel the Hubs and I decided that we should take a look at some of the souvenir shops that speckle the city of Lalibela. James and Brenden did not want to go with us on our shopping excursion so we left them in the room and headed into town with Jacob. Jacob is a less than ideal shopping companion, after the second shop the Hubs and I were forced to explore separately. Not only did we shop alone but it also began to rain! Jake and I trudged through the rain and mud as I attempted to shop.

One of the funniest things about Lalibela is all of the people who attempt to scam you. On the first day some boys told me that they had a coin collection and the only coin that they were missing was an American coin. They then proceeded to show me all of the coins that they had collected, Russian, British, Canadian and Swiss etc. I happened to have a quarter on me and gave it to the kids who I’m sure had a stash of American coins safely out of sight. A quarter to you and me is not much but in Ethiopia that is 4.50 birr! While walking with Jake a group of teenage boys began the scam by asking me if Jake liked football (soccer) I said, 
“Sure, what little boy doesn’t”? They then told me that they were a soccer team. 
“Cool, that is great!”
“But, we don’t have a ball to practice with”. (Sad faces)
 “Oh, that is too bad”, I said.
 “We have a tournament coming up and I know that if we could practice we would win”.
“Will you buy us a ball? Right there, at that shop, they are selling balls, please! You can help us to win!”

They were very convincing! I, however, told the boys that I would have to ask my husband what he thought. I figured that I could pawn these kids off on him! Some how they had not only figured out who my husband was but also which shop he was in! So, I went into the shop and told the Hubs that he had an audience waiting for him. We both decided to hide out in the shop until the boys gave up and found some one else to beg off of. We later found out that the scam is this.

The boys convince you to buy the ball and take you to a shop where the ball is being sold. You purchase the ball for 500Birr and give the ball to the boys. They thank you and run off to “practice”, meanwhile you carry on feeling like you’ve helped out the next generation of world cup champions. After you are out of sight the boys bring the ball back to the shop and the shopkeeper gives them 300birr and tomorrow they sell the same ball to someone else! Apparently kids do this scam with all sorts of things, “ I am a student and I need a dictionary". You buy the same dictionary that countless other tourists have bought! Pretty darn sneaky! 

I would love to tell you that our last night in Lalibela was a peaceful one where in we all had a full nights sleep and woke refreshed and ready for another long day of driving, however that would be a lie, our last night was traumatic! Jacob did not sleep a wink. I did everything I could think of to help him sleep short of drugging him! I rocked, read and sang. I even took him to the kitchen and procured some warm milk for him. In the end he did not fall asleep or stop crying until after he had successfully woken everyone in the room up and ensured that when he did pass out the rest of us were too shell shocked to sleep ourselves!

At breakfast I introduced myself to a group of Americans that I had seen at dinner the night before. They were in Addis doing some non-profit work and having finished their work were enjoying some of the sights that Ethiopia has to offer. It turns out that these people belong to the same religion as me and know some friends of mine! Small world!! There is much more to say about this trip but for now I will leave you. Until next time friends and family!

Survival Tips for visiting ancient cities

1.    Have a back up battery for your digital camera!
2.    Have food to feed the goats!
3.    Hire a shoe guard
4.    Tip the shoe guard
5.    If you are a woman, make sure that you know which churches do not allow women!

Top of St. George 

St. George

Many of the churches are beautifully painted.

The hotel that we stayed in.

You can see where this one was repaired. The original church was cut from one stone!

Jake playing the church drums

Yemrehanna Kristos
Yemrehanna Kristos

Yemrehanna Kristos


Priests sleeping holes


1 comment:

  1. I Love Hearing About Your Adventures. Thanks For Sharing!