NPC Newsletter (2nd New Series) No. 45 - November 1998

Ethiopia 1998 - In Search for the Holy Grail

'On the 4th of November 1770 I ascended the place and observed everything with great attention; I discovered first two round fountains each about four palms in diameter, and saw, with the greatest delight, what neither Cyrus, the king of Persians, nor Cambyses, nor Alexander the great could ever discover. The two openings of these fountains have no issue in the plain at the top of the mountain but flow from the foot of it. The second fountain lies about a stone cast west of the first.'

James Bruce of Kinnaird
Travels to discover the source of the Nile in the years 1768,1769,1770,1771,1772 and 1773

When Mark and Jackie were first offered a VSO place in Ethiopia, we racked our brains for what we knew about the place and realised it was, in fact, precious little. Mark could remember a talk at the last caving conference by John Gunn entitled 'Guns, Bats, Raw Goats and Dust' or something like that. I remembered hearing about a book written by Graham Hancock who traces the location of the lost Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia, a kind of real life 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. Having a sudden reason to be interested in this country I dug out a copy of this book and read it. Like most Graham Hancock books I found it compulsive reading and could hardly put it down.

Hancock's investigations uncover a plausible sequence of events, which led from the disappearance of the ark from the Temple of Solomon to its supposed resting place in a church in the ancient town of Axum in Northern Ethiopia. He also describes how over a number of centuries various grail seekers came to Ethiopia to try and find the Ark. At first it was the Knights Templar in the 12th century who came to the 'Land of Prester John' and assisted in building some of the amazing rock hewn Churches of Lalilbela (Templar croix-pattée can be seen all over these churches). Laterally after the Templars had been banned by Pope Clement V in 1307, members of their descendant societies the Portuguese, 'Knights of Christ' and the Scottish,'Freemasons' took an interest in Ethiopia. The Scots Mason James Bruce of Kinnaird spent six years in Ethiopia supposedly searching for the source of the Nile. The mystery of this work is that Bruce had blatantly plagiarised the work of two Portuguese priests Paez and Lobo who had discovered the source some 150 yeas earlier in 1618, this is described in their work 'A Voyage in Abysinnia', a work which Bruce was very familiar with. Hancock explains this mystery by suggesting that the 'search for the source of the Nile' was in fact a cover story for Bruce's real agenda, which was to look for the Ark of the Covenant. What suddenly caught my interest from a speleological point of view however was Bruce's Description of the source, coming from the bottom of the mountain as described above.

It sounded very much like the description of a cave resurgence, the altitude of some of the mountains in this area is over 4000m, could I be looking at a clue to a deep cave system? And if so what ancient relics could be stored in them? I certainly got very enthusiastic about this at the time and based on this information alone Tetley and I decided that a 'Source of the Nile' expedition should be organised.

Ethiopia has an ancient history spanning back thousands of years. The city of Axum in the northern region of Tigray was capital of an ancient kingdom which lasted between 52 and 97 generations. The last and most famous monarch was Queen Mekeda in the 11th and 10th century BC who is better known in the west as the Queen of Sheba. According to tradition the queen travelled to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon, and the two struck up a healthy relationship, which resulted in the Queen returning to Ethiopia converted to Judaism and pregnant bearing a son Menelik. Menelik returned to Jerusalem at the age of 22 and spent three years in the temple learning the laws of Moses. He then returned to his homeland to take his throne, but not before he stole the most important relic of the Jewish church. All this is described in a history of Ethiopia known as the Kebra Nagest which is written in their old religious language of Ge'ez. Since Menelik there have been 237 descendant monarchs, the last of which was Haile Salasie.

These kings were Jewish after Menelik but became Christian a few centuries after Christ, a minority community of Jews, known as the Falashas continued and are still in existence today (although most of them have been airlifted to Israel). Islamic Presence in Ethiopia dates back to the time of Mohammed in AD615, they lived at peace with the Christians for centuries. In 1528 a fanatical leader Ahmed Gragn started of a series of wars with the Christians which lasted 30 years, the Muslims were finally defeated by the Christians who were helped by a Portuguese army.

Ethiopia is the only African country not to have been colonised by a European power, although Italian's briefly occupied it under the rule of Mussolini during the Second World War (1936-41). The occupation began with the decisive battle of Meychew (1936), the allies liberated it in 1941. Haile Salasie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, was overthrown by the revolution in 1974. What took over was the oppressive regime of the 'Dirg' and the dictator Megistu who seems to have been universally hated throughout Ethiopia. A counter-revolution started soon after his ascent, mainly organised by the Eritrean separatist movements and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF). The counter-revolution finally defeated the Dirg in 1991 after the collapse of European socialism. Eritrea was given independence in 1993. Since then Ethiopia has been peaceful and the people seem to be relatively free although no democratic election have yet been held.

Ethiopian people are a majority of Christians in the North and Muslims in the South but there are communities of both religions in most areas. The Wars and resulting famines have meant that much of the infrastructure of Ethiopia is severely limited. The roads are mainly just dirt tracks and many towns have no or only occasional electricity. Water supply can be a problem, especially in the north and in many places people have to walk for miles to get water. In rural areas the people buy and sell their goods and food from markets in the villages, which are held once or twice a week. Many of the smaller villages are named after the day they hold their market and people walk for a long way to get to market. Despite these hardships Ethiopians seem to be happy people, with generally enough to live on. They are usually very friendly and honest people in my experience. White people or forenge's as they are known (apparently because the first white people in Ethiopia were French), cause a lot of interest especially in rural areas and with children.

Once we became interested in Ethiopia's caving potential the first thing I managed to get hold of was a geological map of Ethiopia, which Goaty borrowed from the Royal School of Mines library. Looking at the map the first thing we noticed was that the area around Lake Tana was not in fact Limestone, but Volcanic. At this point I couldn't help but be reminded of Tony Waltham's Himalayan expedition, who drove all the way out there in a fire engine in 1970 based on a short extract in a book. The book was Maurice Herzhog's famous account of his ascent of Annapurna, and it simply said 'we made our base camp by the cave entrance'. Relocating this entrance after much effort and climbing they found it to be only a few metres long and they jokingly described it as 'the longest walk to the shortest cave in the world'. Of course that area was Limestone but just too immature.

From the map we could see that the main limestone regions were an area south east of Addis Ababa around a town called Bale, an area east of Addis around Harrar and an area in the Northern region of Tigray around the town of Mekele. We were more interested in the northern region, because by now we knew where Mark and Jackie would be staying, a town called Meychew, which was only 100 km from Mekele.

There is a map to accompany this article - for convenience of reference, it has been put on its own page so you can use "open in new window" and keep it on screen as you scroll through the main article.

The main source of speleological reference in existence is the account of the 1972 British Expedition to Ethiopia in the Transactions of the CRG. The expedition spent six months in the field and is a comprehensive report of all the areas. The main cave they explored was Sof Amor in the Bale region which is a complex maze of passages over two levels which they had surveyed to 15 km. They had spent some time in the Tigre region and covered a number of areas, but only found a few short caves, the longest cave in the region was found by a previous expedition of two Wessex members Causer and Wheeler. The cave is behind a rock hewn church known as Zayei and was surveyed to a length of 300m. We had limited information to go on but at least we knew there were some caves there.

One thing we thought may be a complication with our investigations was that this area is very famous for churches carved out of solid rock generally known as rock hewn churches, these sites are absolutely amazing and quite unique to Ethiopia as far as I'm aware. They are exemplified by the huge rock Hewn churches in Lalibela, said to be built with 'the help of angels'. No one actually knows how these churches were built but many consider them to be among the wonders of the ancient world along with the Pyramids and Macchu Picchu.

Often these churches have been built into the entrance of a cave, so we thought that gaining access to caves may be a problem in some places. The other problem we foresaw was that people may think we were looking for these churches when we asked them where the caves were.

The expedition was planned for the Easter break and we recruited Bobby Kynaston from North Wales CC on the trip. As we got closer to the date, Mark and Jackie left for Ethiopia and took up their placement. They were able to do a considerable amount of background research and making various contacts they set everything up so we had lots to go on when we arrived. I wrote off and emailed lots of people and got some interesting responses from Italians and a few climbers with a couple of leads to go on. Tetley sorted out the visa and the transport and Bobby sorted out the gear. With a few days frantically working out what needed to be done, buying a few last minute things and popping our first malaria tablets we all met up in Heathrow, overloaded with gear about one hour before the flight was destined to take off.

The flight was fairly uneventful, the most memorable part of it was having to share it with 50 loud American students who were visiting Ethiopia for 2 weeks to 'build a hospital'. The girl I was sitting next to was a dental hygienist and had brought eighty toothbrushes with her to give out (we later discovered that Ethiopians have excellent teeth).

On arriving in Addis and getting through the customs we sorted out a taxi for about five pounds (50Bir). I had arranged to meet a geology student, Tesfu, who Mark had made contact with, but we could not see him in the airport and presumed he wasn't around. Walking towards the taxi we saw him outside and after some discussion and argument between him and the taxi driver we headed off to a Hotel which Tesfu recommended as being the one Mark and Jackie had stayed in.

The hotel, 'The Central Shoa Hotel', was quite expensive by Ethiopian standards (although we didn't know this at the time) at about 15 US dollars a night, it was a fairly luxurious hotel, with hot water and a television in the rooms. We showed him all the information we had managed to gather and told him that we planned to head North as soon as possible, he said he could sort us out for the bus first thing in the morning and we agreed that this was a good idea. The rest of that day Tesfu took us round Addis, to the British council where we could send email and then to the bus station where we bought our tickets to Meychew, for about 70 Birr each (not bad for a 2-day journey). Taking Tesfu to a restaurant we were able to sample 'Injura' for the first time. Injura is the local food which is a type of pancake which closely resembles carpet underlay. Generally Injura is served on one plate for all and is eaten with the right hand, on top of it are put various sauces. As we were in the fasting season, all the food was vegetarian. Our first impression of this food was not particularly favourable, but over the next few weeks we were to become very familiar with this it.

On returning to the hotel we had a few beers with Tesfu and he told us a few stories of Ethiopia. We quizzed him about caves in Tigray, he told us we should contact a mining company in Mekele, who could give us useful information on where to look. He told us a story of a tunnel from Axum to Eritrea built in ancient times - this was a story which we heard from a number of people as we travelled around and was clearly a well known fable, the essence of the story is something like this:

Two men were digging the tunnel, after a day of digging they exit the tunnel - one man has a handfull of sand. Once they get out of the tunnel he finds that his sand has turned to gold. For some reason, which I can't remember, they can't return to the tunnel, the other man curses himself for not carrying out sand. The man with the gold curses himself for not taking more.

This tunnel has never been found and researching the source of this myth may be a worthwhile exercise as if there was a tunnel it would have to be at least *** km long.

The bus left the next morning at 6.00am international time (that's 12.00 Ethiopian time) and so we arose at 5 and took a taxi in plenty of time. The bus station was hectic and we caused a fair bit of attention, especially with the beggars. Quickly get our heavy packs onto the roof (wondering if we would ever see them again) we boarded the bus to find it was completely full. In fact a number of people on the bus were not travelling and we managed to get a seat without too much difficulty. I was separated from the others and sat next to an old man with a turban who I could communicate with by pointing and facial expressions. After about an hour the bus pulled away and it appeared we were underway. Two minutes later it had stopped for no apparent reason and about 8 people had boarded heavily laden with food and cheap plastic goods. The next twenty minutes the whole of the bus seemed to be shouting at each other as money and goods changed hands in a sea of frantic bargaining. I became aquainted with a guy behind me who spoke excellent English and introduced himself as Yeni. He told me that the bus was refuelling and we would be underway soon. He told me that it was common for these tradesmen would come on and try and sell goods, as we were going on a long journey and need gifts at the other end. He was with his mum and sister and were going to the wake of his aunt in a small town. I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to get out of Addis when the bus pulled away and at last we seemed to be on our way. The journey was pretty uncomfortable as I remember it, with the tape recorder constantly blaring away some particularly untuneful Ethiopian music by Sammy Bohanis (I think the driver only had one tape which we became very familiar with). We seemed to be the fastest thing on the road and were overtaking other buses and lorries periodically. The one lasting image I have from the journey is the driver's face in his mirror, he had bucked teeth and a large smile which made him look like he was constantly smiling, but it looked more like a psychotic smile than a happy one. During the journey we passed through a number of very impressive tunnels: Yeni told me that the Italians built them during the war. They reminded me of something and then I realised what it was- the long tunnels on the rough road to Mangart in Slovenia, which in fact were also built by the Italians, in the Second World War during occupation! The old man sitting next to me got very excited while approaching the tunnels, smiling and pointing. When in the tunnel in darkness, I could still see the whites of his eyes and teeth looking at me.

After a long day we eventually stopped for the night in Hayk. Bobby had met a man from the military on the bus who showed us a good place to stay. That night after a meal with the driver we were persuaded to try 'chat' which is a leaf that is chewed and has the effect of keeping you awake. I found it pretty disgusting to be honest and fortunately I was so tired that it didn't keep me awake.

Another early rise saw us leave Hayk before sunrise (which is at 6am all the year round) and on the road to Meychew. A long and hot day saw the roads deteriorate in quality significantly as we climbed huge mountains and gradually gained altitude. By mid afternoon we were in Meychew swarmed by hundreds of children. We unloaded our bags and headed up to the technical college, one boy wearing rags was particularly keen to carry one of our bags and after some persuasion we let him. Mark and Jackie seemed to be very pleased to see familiar faces as we caught up with the news. Jackie had an English class that afternoon and we all attended it so the group could practice discussion, during the discussion I again heard the Axum tunnel story. We decided that after two days of travelling we could not face another day on the road and that the following day would be spent in Meychew, relaxing and going for a walk. In the morning we went to the Tuesday market with Jackie, an amazing place which seemed to sell a whole range of goods, from sandals made out of tyres to coffee stoves made out of EC cooking oil containers - necessity has certainly forced the Ethiopians to be resourceful. In the afternoon we went on a walk up a nearby hill and were joined by Shamus, an American peace corps volunteer and the only other white person in Meychew. He had done the walk before and said he knew the way to go to avoid landmines - which were still a hazard in this area. Also joining us on the walk, but not by invitation, were about 10 Ethiopian boys and girls. At first we were worried that they would get tired, but in fact these children were fitter than us and we had difficulty keeping up with them. Small wonder that this area has produced a string of world class long distance runners with the combination of attitude training and steep fell running.

The following morning Mark took us to the bus station and put us on the bus to Meychew. The next four hours we were shaken to bits on the worst roads I'd ever experienced (at the time) and were very glad to get off the bus at the earliest possible opportunity. On the bus we met a number of school students who were travelling to Mekele on a day trip to sit exams, the rough trip had not been the best preparation for them.

Booking into the Green hotel we then set out to find information and make contacts. Mark had given us the name of an Irish Geologist, Ken Douglas, in the Ashanti Mining company. He was not around but an Italian colleague of his talked with us and then said we should talk to another man in the company, Kiroos who would know more. We had a meeting with a number of these people and were able to show them our reports and plans. They were very interested in what we had and wanted to help, setting up a meeting with the bureau of mines and energy for the following day we seemed to have a definite plan. That night we met up with Ken Douglas and a number of his friends in the 'Castle' which is the plush government hotel on top of a small hill in the east of the town - they were all there because they had no electricity in the houses. The town seemed to have a considerable electricity shortage, the solution of which was to cut off blocks, but what was most frustrating for the residents was that there was no forward warning or rota as to who would be cut off and when.

Our meeting with Mines and Energy the next day proved very useful, they gave us a loan of the detailed topographic and Geological maps of the area and gave us a letter of official permission to visit the caves. They offered us a Man and to hire a land rover for the following day to accompany us to a region. This sounded great and we accepted the offer gratefully. That night in a pub, we bumped into a man called Dewit, who it turned out Mark and Jackie had met when they visited a month before, he was very keen to be our guide and in fact it sounded like he had done some background research already. We began to get a bit suspicious though and asked him how much he would cost, he told us 160bir a day, which sounded a lot. We told we already had a guide for the next day and arranged to meet him in the evening.

The following day we were to visit an area in the North East by the town of May Mekaden. After picking up the land rover and finding a petrol station that worked, we picked up our guide, Adidia, who spoke excellent English and was interested in renewable energy. He was thinking about visiting Europe and possibly Reading so we had lots to talk about. On the drive to May Mekaden we saw limestone for the first time. The area appeared to be very barren. May Mekaden itself was a small town with little memorable about it. On talking to some of the town elders Adidia arranged for us to be taken to a cave near the town. It turned out to be a walled up rock shelter full of junk from the people, the man told us it had been used as a hiding place in far off times. After further discussions the man agreed with Adidia that he would take us to a number of other caves in the area which were along the side of a gorge. Walking down the gorge took us about two or three hours and was quite hot work. With the help of a number of local shepherd boys we were shown to lots of cave entrances. Unfortunately, although all the entrances were decorated with lots of calcite, the caves were all just shallow shelters, none longer than a few metres. After returning to Mekele, Adidia said he would take us to an area South of Mekele, which had an impressive gorge in it. We agreed and after a half-hour journey we stopped at a small town, Debri, and had lunch of bread and tinned fish. The tins were taken off us to be used as water containers. A short walk from Debri and we were able to look down on the impressive gorge, which must have been at least 100m deep with a small river going down it. On the side of the gorge, on a piece of rock jutting out, a Church had been built in the last century. Adidia talked to the priest who told him there was a cave further down the cliff, but no one had visited it in recent times as they needed a rope. This sounded exciting and we decided to get the SRT gear and take a look. The priest said that the cave had been used by priests during the Muslim Christian wars to hide important Christian relics and literature. Bobby rigged a couple of naturals and a rope protector, cautiously sliding down the rope it was some time before we heard from him. Then we heard from him and he sounded quite excited:

'People have been here and there are alcoves carved in the walls to hold things'.

We followed him down and had a good look round, there seemed to be a cremation area, a cooking area and an area where things were stored.

Excited by our discovery we documented and photographed everything before heading back up and back to Mekele, hungry and dehydrated.

From what we had read and picked up, it seemed that our best chance of finding caves was around a small town known as 'Hagre Saleam' (Land of Peace) which was a 3 hour bus journey North East of Mekele. After fobbing off Dewit with a cock and bull story we decided to make our own way up there the next day in an early bus. I knew from Cecile that there was a Belgian Geologist, Jan, working in that town who could be a useful contact. Hagre Saleam seemed to be an extremely basic town, we were shown to the only hotel which was a few mud huts - no water or electricity of course but what do you expect for 10 biro a night. In fact there was no water and electricity in the whole town. After settling in we set off to find Jan, whose house wasn't difficult to find as 'Mr Jan' seemed to be known by everyone. Jan was not there however, but his wife was and we arranged to meet up that evening.

In the meantime his wife recommended us a couple of guides who could show us around that day. They said they knew where caves were and led us off to an area South of Hagre Salam. One hour of walking and we were shown to the 'caves'. They were the caves made and used by the TPLF during the last civil war. Although interesting, they were not what we were looking for and so after explaining more clearly what we meant by caves we headed back to the village for lunch. In the afternoon we headed out to an area in the north. Walking past mud huts and ladies carrying water we reached a dry stream bed which had cut deep through the soils during the wetter seasons. Following this down we reached a cliff and could see that there could be caves in this cliff. The first one we were taken to appeared to be a flat out crawl, which Bobby immediately volunteered to investigate. The locals were scared however and were not keen on him going in the cave, they told us that there was a dragon in the cave. Bobby laughed

'but there are no such things as dragons - I'm going in'.

The guide tried to persuade me also, he picked what looked like a feather with no fluff on it and said - 'look, here, a dragon'.

After a minute we heard from Bobby:

'I am face to face with a snake, I'm coming out'

What the locals had meant by dragon however, as we were later to discover, was a porcupine. Fortunately Bobby did not find one of these. Following this a local militia man with a Kalashnikov began to ask questions about us and wasn't keen on us visiting the caves. After showing the map we managed to persuade him and were shown to a number of other small caves in the area.

That night we met Jan and, he told us of a number of places we could visit. He told us that the locals had told him stories of caves with rivers in but he had never had time to see them. He also gave us a number of his publications, which included a geological survey of the area, the limestone seemed to be a 700m thick region. This all seemed very positive and he had a lot to go on for the next few days.

We planned a long day next and as the heat was really tiring we decided to leave as early as possible to do most of the walking early in the morning or late at night.

Leaving Hagre Salam well before dawn, we made a fast pace to our objective for the day, which was a resurgence valley a few miles away. Just before we arrived we were taken up the side of the mountain to a series of caves which the locals knew of. We weren't sure what they were going to be like because they were in the sandstone layer. They turned out to be a series of interconnected chambers probably formed by wind erosion. Entering one of the caves Tetley saw a large animal moving around in the back. Once finding out that was a porcupine we suddenly realised what the guides were so worried about the previous day, this thing looked evil. By around 10 am we had found the resurgence, which was clearly emitting a considerable amount of water, judging by the lush green areas around its mouth. Several hours of scouring this area resulted in the discovery of a number of smallish caves, the largest of which was on two levels and had a small wall on the lowest level. Heading back for the day we found a large rift at the top of the cliff which went on for about 15m before coming out of the other side of the mountain.

Back at the town that night we were all pretty tired and run down, we wolfed down injura and salad, getting an early night with the intention of another long day the next day. I took two litres of water to bed and I drank it during the night. Another early day saw us heading east along the main road, we were hoping to get a lift a few miles down the road to the point we split off but were not lucky. We made a fast pace, only stopping to take photographs of the sunrise and then quickly heading off. Cutting off the road and heading down the fields we could see the limestone gorge in the distance. The sun was beginning to heat the air and we still had a bit of time before we got there. We arrived at the head of the gorge just as it was beginning to get hot. Sitting in the shade we made plans to go down the gorge once it had cooled a bit. Bobby was looking lethargic and didn't look well. We decided to head back as it wasn't worth risking his health. We stopped in a mud hut on the way back for a rest as Bobby wasn't looking well at all. Over the next few hours we saw a steady deterioration of his condition and when we finally decided it was cool enough to head back he was quite ill and need help to walk. I went ahead to try and hail down a vehicle to get us to Hagre Salam. Fortunately a vehicle arrived just as he was getting to the road and took him all the way back. There was not room for Tetley and I however and we walked back.

That night Bobby was up and down to the shit hole like a yo-yo and the only course of action was to go back to Mekele first thing in the morning to seek medical attention. Bobby did very well during the journey somehow managing to hold in his urges in the crowded bus. In Mekele I accompanied him to the Hospital where he was prescribed drugs, while waiting around for Bobby I realised I also seemed to have the shits and was beginning to feel ill.

That night Tetley was witness to a relay race to the toilet and back as Bobby and I made sure it was almost in constant use. Lying around and recovering the following day, I bought myself the same drugs as Bobby which seemed to do the trick, Bobby was feeling better, but Tetley seemed to be coming down with some sort of chesty cough - it seemed non of us would escape heath problems. Bobby was due to fly off the next day and we planned to get the bus back to Meychew to spend the weekend with Mark and Jackie and climb a 4000m peak. One of the VSO people, Muir Forrest, was also flying that day, and was able to make sure that Bobby was OK.

The bus journey back to Meychew seemed like it was never going to end. First they couldn't find anywhere to fuel the bus and ended up hand pumping the fuel in. Getting close to Meychew the petrol tank burst and was leaking, we thought we would have to walk, but the driver decided to carry on. Next we had a puncture, again the driver carried on and we limped our way into Meychew weary from our long journey.

Mark and Jackie were pleased to see us and had planned the trip up the mountain for the next few days. It was still early afternoon, and eager to make the most of the rest of the day, Jackie and I headed off on the mountain bikes for a ride. We ended up descending about 1000 m to a small town nearby. The journey back was a killer and I got completely dehydrated half way up the hill, crawling my way back into Meychew I gulped down a few litres of water before I was able to say anything.

Over the following couple of days, Mark Jackie, the college head, Tetley and I walked up the nearby 4000m mountain Tibutz. Sleeping in a traditional mud hut in the evening we were warmly welcomed by the local family. The walk to the top was pleasant, with the air noticeably thinner at the top. Just walking around the corner leading to the final Col very close to the top we were met by a shepherd who was grazing his sheep - there don't seem to be any uninhabited places in Ethiopia.

Having heard stories of the amazing churches of Lalibela we thought that seeing them would be a fitting end to the trip. We allowed a generous 2 days to get the 150km on public transport. In fact we need every minute of it. The first day we hitch hiked on a lorry which broke down a couple of times and never went faster than about 25km an hour. On top of this driver would stop at every town for a beer and was clearly getting pissed, the only words he seemed to know were 'TPLF Tigray' and 'Man Friend - no good English'.

If we thought that was bad, it was nothing compared with the hectic bus journey down the back road to Lalibela the following day. Truly the worst roads I have ever experienced - the bus managed to get stuck trying to pass a lorry with a puncture, an hour of frantic activity where everybody seemed to be in charge and after a number of failures the bus was finally pulled out. We were both fairly cynical about Ethiopian public transport after that journey.

The fraught journey was, however worth it as over the next two days we went round the famous rock hewn churches. We managed to visit the area at 6am when they were performing Mass and wandering around the churches while priest were chanting from ancient bibles by the light of tapers or candles there was a real atmosphere of ancient medieval monasteries.

With this relaxing end to our trip we flew back to Addis on an empty plane and then after one night in Addis we flew back to London on a half full plane. After all those rough journeys in the buses the trip was absolute luxury, especially as I managed to get 3 seats! Arriving back in London, the weather was cloudy and drizzly, which we were able to appreciate. The trains were full of commuters, just like the train we had set out to Heathrow in 3 weeks before - it seemed like nothing had changed here. I said goodbye to Tetley as we arrived in Putney. We hadn't found any big caves or the Ark of the Covenant, but it had been an amazing adventure.


Jim Evans

> Out of print publications list
> Indices to NPC explorations:
---> Listings by date
---> Alphabetical listing by cave
---> Index to articles by author
> Northern Pennine Club Home page