Ethiopian Exploration

Ethiopia conjures up images of a war-torn, drought-plagued country, of famine, of a repressive dictatorship. But recently, this landlocked country in northeastern Africa is making a name for itself in international tourism.

Ethiopia houses numerous historically interesting sights. To the north sits the ruins of Aksum, capital of an ancient empire and the alleged home of the Ark of the Covenant. To the mid-northwest is Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. The lake is dotted with 37 island-based monasteries with religious murals from the 17th century. Monks claim no retouching has been preformed but the colors are suspiciously bright. A three-to-four hour boat ride allows for four monasteries ($10 per person).

Because the murals are roughly identical, four monasteries are sufficient. Fortunately there are other attractions, including bird watching, the Blue Nile outlet, the Tis Isat Waterfalls and the summer palace of Haile Selassie, Ethiopia’s last king. By wandering around we secured a lovely hotel room ($11 a night).

To the east sits Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to 11 rock-hewn churches ($50).

Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Here, every mountain has a church inside, sometimes more than one.

Even for those not religiously inclined, the carvings are splendid. It is surreal to stand on top of a mountain, a gapping pit inches from your feet with a two-story church surging from the base.

Stonemasons dug down, removing the rock that was not to be part of the church and carving the interior. More on Global Times.

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