Hidden in a cave and inaccessible to all but the most adventurous travelers, Yemrehana Krestos Church boasts some of the oldest artwork in all of Ethiopia–among other things.
By Keena Roberts (Fodor’s Travel) |
There were several times throughout my journey to Yemrehana Krestos Church where I stopped and thought: I really shouldn’t be here. First off, it was unbelievable that I even made it to the church in one piece. The 12 miles of dirt road from the nearest town of Lalibela in the Ethiopian Highlands were fine at first, but when we started winding our way up Mount Abuna Yosef, I started to have second thoughts. The summit is the sixth tallest mountain in all of Ethiopia, and Land Rovers really should not dangle off the sides of mountains, especially when you can see through the rusted-out floorboards the empty air below. Just close your eyes, I said to myself. You’re a seasoned traveler. You can do this. And I did make it there alive, just as my guide Tariku promised that I would (over a truly astonishing amount of tej, or honey wine) the night before.
That night before, as we swilled our way through the truly delicious tej, Tariku suggested that I might like to see another church. He said it was different from all the others in Lalibela in that it was half a day’s journey outside the city and rarely visited by Western tourists. This one, Tariku told me, dated back to the 11th century and contained the oldest mural artwork in all of Ethiopia. Getting there would be difficult, he said, but worth it. I was sold.
The Road to Yemrehana Krestos
The Land Rover made it in one piece and deposited us at the base of a tall staircase lined with wooden slats that led up the side of Mount Abuna Yosef. The hiking definitely wasn’t easy here at almost 14,000 feet, but I pressed on, marveling at how quickly the local shepherd boys bounded up and down the stairs as if it were nothing at all. I smelled goats and firewood, but the air was clean so high up. The hills were green and gorgeous and there wasn’t another tourist in sight.
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