Thursday, 9 August 2007

Yeha and Debre Damo

Today was an organised one-day tour. We have, together with Jo & Stephen, brother and sister from Melbourne (but now living in London and Darwin respectively), rented a car and a driver for the day. The drive to Yeha was, as we have come to expect, spectacular. It was Sunday and the village of Yeha was at an open air mass, held in front of the pagan temple which dated back to round 500BC. The ruins of the temple were remarkable for their antiquity, their masonry and their function as a place of worship, of sacrifice and of rest - if our pricey private guide was to be believed. We were not able to enter the church (apparently they are generally closed after a mass has been held, to give the priest a break I think) but were taken to a small building alongside and shown the collection of books, crosses, crowns and pre-Christian artefacts, discovered mostly by local farmers. As we left, we had to pick our way through crowds of white-clad churchgoers, sitting on the steps supping tella (local home brew) from large green plastic cups.
Next stop was the small village of Enticcio (sounded Italian to me, but looked just like any nondescript, muddy and shambolic Ethiopian hamlet) and somewhat remarkably we ordered 11 macchiatos, before tackling the at times plain scary road to Debre Damo. The 11km stretch of rough road from the highway to the monastery was hair raising. I have seen too many vehicles overturned on the side of the road to feel at all comfortable about the way we bumped and bounced our way up the side of the mountain. The road was deeply rutted, narrow and the drop off was immense. We arrived, of course, intact. Max and Stephen had been rather silent, and I think more concerned about the prospect of scaling the 15 metre wall with only the help of a plaited leather rope, than the nerve wracking road, along which we have yet to return. We could see parts of the monastery complex from the approach - it's a mystery as to how it was built on the top of a flat topped mountain with sheer cliffs all around.
Jo and I watched as first Max and then Stephen were pulled up the side of the rock. I hope it's worth it! We were meanwhile amused by the usual crowd of kids who all wanted lessons in how to use a digital camera - hours of fun for all!!

Deb's photo taken by one of the local kids; and a not specially good shot of a donkey, but that's Eritrea in the background.

Max skilfully making his way up to the monastery, watched anxiously by Stephen.

And at the top.

After an hour or so, they were back. Max scampered down the rock face, which was quite something for someone who's not always so good with heights. Stephen took a bit longer, and was helped down by one of the locals. It sounded like another world up there - around 80 monks living in small huts in complete isolation - except for occasional visitors. Apparently there are no female animals up there, except chickens - I can only imagine why. The only women up there are dead - yep, you can go up if you're female and in a coffin!
All this took a bit of time, and our driver was concerned about getting back to Axum before it rained. The return trip to the highway was equally nerve wracking, specially as there were now two rivers to cross - it's amazing how quickly the streams turn into torrents, and how quickly they become benign streams again. The dirt road of the highway had turned to mud in the rain that fell while we were at the monastery, and the return trip was much slower. Still, we were back in Adwa, our drop off point, round 5.30, booked into the Tefari Hotel, and in time to see the second half of the Charity Cup between Chelsea and Manchester United. Not all bad.

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