The rock hewn churches of Gheralta, Ethiopia.

We drove the 45 kilometres up to Megab in the Gheralta Mountains in the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia where we camped at a lodge and used one of their rooms for the toilet and shower, camping was free as long as we ate a meal in their restaurant and the opening of a room cost us 12.50 US per day!

The view of the Gheralta Mountains from our camp site at the lodge.

The next morning we had organised with the people at the lodge to have a guide meet us to take us to see three rock-hewn churches in the Tigray cluster. The Tigray churches are not to be missed but there is a catch and that is that they are all at the top of mountains that are very steep and difficult to climb. If you suffer from vertigo in the slightest then this can be a very challenging climb. To my surprise our guide was a female, not because she was female but because virtually ever other guide we have ever had in Africa was a male! Mayhen was 31 and had three children, two boys and then a girl and was a very good and very fit guide.

Our very good guide Mayen with our harness.

We were joined by Tessa and Nick and neither Tessa or Pauline suffered from vertigo but both Nick and I did!

Nick and Tessa. We had climbed from the bottom.

So we first did the longer climb (but not as sheer) of one and a half hours to the Maryam Korkor and Daniel Korkor churches which were both beautifully decorated with stunning frescoes and rock carvings some dating back as far as 1500 years.

Maryam Korkor Church which is cut out of the rock behind the facade.
Some of the frescoes.
Columns cut out of the rock.
Takin g in the view from the front of Daniel Korkor church.
Pauline looking out through the door of Daniel Korkor church.

There is an 80 year old monk and a 79 year old nun who live up there in caves and never come down.

The nun who lives in a cave on the mountain top.

They don’t earn a living but depend on locals to bring them food up and the odd donation which they get a local to use when they need anything like clothes or toiletries. The view was especially great sitting on a ledge in front of Daniel Korkor with a 180 degree panorama across the plains below. Then we descended the mountain and returned to the lodge where we made ourselves some lunch and had a wee rest after the long steep climb we had done.

Kissing this Olive tree gave your family seven years of happiness.

In the afternoon we then visited Abuna Yemata Guh which is sited within a cliff face half way up a sheer rock pinnacle. The first section took us an hour to climb but then we had some vertical sections to do one of which required us to be harnessed.😳. Pauline on reaching the top of this section burst into tears not from the vertigo but because the climb up this section was particularly physical and difficult. My knees are still shaking😂. Then at the very top we had to walk across a very narrow ledge sometimes only a foot wide with a 200 metre sheer drop but before we could do that we had to wait in a cave for the wind to die down enough to cross this ledge. One section of this ledge a very old piece of wood was put across a gap but there was no way I was trusting that piece of wood so took a long step across! Certainly one of the scariest things both of us have done and may not be inclined to do ever again! I probably don’t need to say this but that night we slept like logs and woke with quite stiff muscles and sore knees, it’s a bugger getting old but the alternative is far worse!

This was a natural stair way between two ravines.
Getting a bit steeper.
Nearly there Pauline.
And steeper!
We stopped here to take our shoes off for the final climb up the vertical rock wall. We were harnessed from here.
Pauline in the harness and receiving advice from Mayen.
Marcus being guided up one of the vertical sections. It was often difficult to find foot and hand holds without the help of the guides. It didn’t help that I often had my eyes closed!😂😂
Passing time in the cave waiting for the wind to drop.
The cave with the church above on the cliff opposite.
Coming out of the cave to climb up and out to the church.
The narrow ledge out to the church and you can see the piece of wood over the gap😳.
No way was I going to put my weight on that piece of wood.
So if the wood breaks it’s only a 200 metre fall!😎
The ledge going out to the church.
The Abuna Yemata Guh church door.
Stunning g frescoes.
The church scripts.
Abuna Yemata Guh church priest.

We were happy to do some driving the next day to rest our legs and set off for Debark which is the jump off point for the Simien Mountains, it was a longer drive than we had anticipated (as usual!) and the last 30 odd kilometres were up a very steep, narrow dirt road and it was pouring rain so very slow going. A couple of times we needed to back up to allow a truck to pass us and the further up we got the more the temperature dropped until it was only 12c. We had to take a room because again camping options were slim and besides it was going to be cold so we stayed at a funny little hotel with questionable hygiene practices and the next morning both felt quite ill in the tummy region. So we made the decision not to go up to the Simien Mountains and really after our great experience in the Bale Mountains we were happy with the decision. So instead we headed for a camp called Tim and Kim’s on the northern shore of Lake Tana because on iOverlander it rated really well and we were in need of a bit of rest and recreation! The road took us through Gonder and we stopped for a couple of coffees, some bread, chocolate and some fruit and vegetables before driving down to the camp.

This girl was roasting some coffee beans.
Our camp site at Tim and Kims Camp.
This was a sunken lounge in the restaurant/bar but good luck getting a seat!
Lake Tana.

The Ethiopians are always looking for an opportunity to make a dollar or a Birr and while having coffee a young man of about 19 came up and started talking to us which is always nice but at the end of the conversation Marcus asked him where we could get some bread from. Now he could have just told us that we could get the bread four shops down but no he insisted on taking us there and then suggested we reward him for this good deed! This happens a lot and is quite comical as you negotiate a price that both parties are happy with but what ever the outcome they will always have a begrudged look on their face in the hope that you may give them some extra coin! Tim and Kim’s camp was started 12 years ago and is a very well organised Southern Africa style camp not seen very often north of the equator. These days it is only the Kim’s part of the camp because Tim left four years ago so Kim runs it with some young guys who seem to be making the most of the situation, I could be wrong. Anyway it’s an excellent camp spot right under a huge Fig tree and has very clean amenities which all are in good condition and work! We pretty much just spent two days resting and getting ourselves healthy again with Marcus even resorting to taking a course of antibiotics because his tummy bug had been lingering too long. On the second night we thought we might get a bit of rain but what came was totally unexpected because a storm appeared from no where and tried its best to wreak havoc on our awning which was out. There was no other option for us other than to stay out in the storm holding onto the awning to stop it from being destroyed, it only lasted 15 minutes but  we got absolutely soaked in the process and then as the temperature plunged we soon sat there shivering, wondering what the bloody hell had happened.

We camped under this massive Fig tree.

We had arranged for the local baker to drop in some fresh bread rolls to take with us the next morning and then set off back to Gonder to fuel up before heading to the Sudan border. In Ethiopia it can be difficult finding fuel and especially petrol but we were lucky and happened to stumble on a service station that had some diesel but half way through filling up the tank the electricity went off so we waited 20 minutes hoping that it would come back on but it didn’t so we were forced to keep looking. We again found a service station and the line up was only about 7 vehicles long so we were able to get a full tank which was important because we had heard that diesel was very hard to find in the Sudan. We still hadn’t made up our minds whether to camp short of the Sudan border or cross and camp just after but then remembered that we would gain an hour going into Sudan so decided to push across the border.

Next we enter Sudan and get a fiery welcome!

The Sudan flag.

6 thoughts on “The rock hewn churches of Gheralta, Ethiopia.

  1. OMG, You’ve done so well !! Alex and I met you in April at Camp Carnellies, Lake Naivasha. So pleased to hear all went well for you. Love your blog, take care. Simon & Alex.

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    1. Marcus and Pauline February 18, 2020 — 12:53 pm

      Thank you both very much. I do remember meeting you and hope you are well.

      Like

  2. Another great read but no way would I have ever climbed up to those churches. You are both so brave (or stupid). Well done to you both.

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    1. Marcus and Pauline February 26, 2020 — 12:37 pm

      If only we had known!😂

      Like

  3. So much for all that talk about making churches accessible! Can you imagine Aussies ever going near those churches up in the rocks? Very brave of you both 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marcus and Pauline February 26, 2020 — 12:37 pm

      You certainly have to have a strong faith.

      Like

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