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We began with Bete Medhane Alem (Savior of the World), considered to be the largest monolith church on earth.The reddish-brown structure is carved deep into the volcanic rock, with the roof following an imaginary line where the natural landscape would have crested.There are numerous levels and various ramps that made me feel like I was trapped in an Escher drawing.
Some were larger than others; each had a priest who would go from time to time behind a giant curtain hung within each church. Asmro explained in a hushed tone — replicas of the ark of the covenant that only the priests were allowed to view.I usually eschew tours, but I found a deal from Ethio Travel Tours that was just too good to pass up: two nights in Lalibela, a tour guide for two days, entrance to the churches (1,164 birr, if you buy separately), and ground transportation — all for just 0. After a gorgeous, winding drive from the airport, snaking through the Amhara region, the driver dropped me off and unloaded my bag in front of a shabby-looking hotel that was not the agreed-upon Mountain View Hotel.The lodging alone — two nights at the Mountain View Hotel, with breathtaking views of the Lasta Mountains — would have cost me 0 booked separately. Not having to use mental bandwidth fretting about transportation, especially when traveling alone, is invaluable. When I complained, he shrugged: “The hotel changed,” he said. “King Lalibela wanted to construct these churches because Ethiopian Orthodox Christians wanted to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to see the birthplace of Jesus Christ.” But many were unable to make or perished during the journey.It was enough food to carry me through the next day.I had left Lalibela, transferred through Addis Ababa again and was now in Dire Dawa, the city with the closest airport to Harar.