Ethiopia, From Churches Underground to Churches in the Sky. This is a must read. Best ever

For those of you following this blog and reading from the email, it would be better for this one to click on the link and read it directly from the site as there are some must see videos.  The videos are the best part of this blog.

The landscapes of northern Tigray seem to spring from some hard-bitten African fairy tale. The luminous light bathes scattered sharp peaks that rise into the sky out of a sandy, rolling semidesert.              Lonely Planet.  

IMG_1488We meet our guides and car at 7am, have breakfast and head for the isolated Churches of Tigray which is over a three hour drive.  We are primarily interested in one church, Abuna Yemata Guh.  There are over 120 churches carved from cliff faces or caves and we are going to attempt to climb to the most difficult and exciting of all these churches, Emily’s choice. The monolithic place of worship is said to be the world’s most inaccessible and dangerous church, reachable only by a 45-minute to 2 hour ascent with 650 foot drop-offs at the top.  YOU HAVE TO WATCH ALL OF THE VIDEOS BELOW and turn up the volume so you can hear the priest incanting.  Not for the faint of heart.

I don’t remember camels in Ethiopia.
Our first view of the pinnacle that we are going to climb.


This is where we parked to walk to the sandstone monoliths.
Basecamp, heading up from here. People are praying all over the mountains here.
You can just begin to see the white specks heading up the mountain.
Beginning of the ascent.
Definitely getting harder and scarier.  You go Claude.
This is where left our shoes and ascended a short section with a harness and ropes.  Claude elected to stop here and pray with the locals.
We had to wait for this whole group of women from NYC to descend, with the rope and harness, before we could go up.


IMG_1559You should bear in mind that all of the locals attending services here make this climb without the rope and harness.  This is a link to a YouTube video on this church which is worth watching.

Claude waited with that group just below us.
Selfie at the top with 650 foot drops on both sides of us.  The door above my head holds the remains of dead priests, none of whom fell from the mountain.
The last little bit.
This is where it gets scary with a 650 foot drop-off on the left.


The ironic thing is that once we rounded the corner on that ledge we were at the church entrance but it was so full of worshippers that we were unable go on in and view the reportedly beautiful domed ceiling and all of the wall and ceiling paintings. Apparently the exact day and time that we were there was the day that father Yemata was being worshipped.
Whew, we all made it back down with no injuries or falls.
A well earned meal after our climb,
and a well deserved beer.
One last church carved out of one piece of sand stone.  Quite anti-climactic, considering our previous adventure.

12 responses to “Ethiopia, From Churches Underground to Churches in the Sky. This is a must read. Best ever”

  1. Wow! Quite an adventure

    1. It was really great, you would have loved it.

      1. On my God those climbing videos are awe inspiring. Not to mention SCARY!! What a beautiful country.

  2. Hi Jim and Sandy,
    Loved this blog and especially the Gondar one. You mentioned Garis. I have a vivid circa 1954 memory of riding a Gari up Churchill road. Even have a picture of it somewhere. But my recollection was that they disappeared. The Gondar ones look like the Addis ones.
    Also the dates you gave that you left in 59 helped clarify some of my memories.

    I am sad that Dad didn’t insist on taking us while we were there.

    So happy that Peter looks so happy! Claude is a real trooper….
    Thanks for the blog… it’s amazing

    1. I think that the whole group loved the trip. Claude and Jeanne were real troopers. Thanks for correcting my spelling of gari, I knew it didn’t look right although the spelling of all Ethiopian words is very fluid. Emily co-wrote the next blog on Harar which is very nice for me.

  3. Totally amazing

  4. Victoria Kinnally Avatar
    Victoria Kinnally

    It is such a surprise to me that these churches are in such a remote and inaccessible (to some) location. What a disappointment to not be able to go inside after such a dramatic climb. I can see you all enjoyed to quest. Great video and photography and really great photo of Emily.

    1. I agree about the remoteness and inaccessibility. Also why are there so many churches both underground in Lalibela and in the sky here? Very strange. It was definitely a highpoint of the trip.

  5. I HAVE to go to Ethiopia. It looks exquisite. BUT I will NOT be doing any of that perilous, precarious very scary climbing…with ropes (AKA harnesses).
    Jim we ate glad you got home to sweet Sandy in one piece. You all look so happy. How did the anti mosquitoe clothing work out?

    1. You should go to Ethiopia but it takes more time than you would think to see all of the historical stuff and beautiful scenery. You could stop off for a day or two in Addis to or from Uganda but I would recommend doing a tour of the city as it is quite large with a lot of sights. Emily wasn’t really interested in seeing Addis anyway so I went where her interests lay.

    2. Never saw one mosquito, that’s how good it was.

  6. Wow! You guys are all Spider-Man!!

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