On the first day, we hiked from the centre of Lalibela to Ad Medhane Alem (which you can just see from Lalibela, perched at the top of the escarpment to the North of the town). This took us about two and half hours of hiking – three hours including stops for rests and drinking. The trek is mainly uphill – it takes you from 2,600 metres to the tukuls at 3,500 metres.
We trekked with Girma, our guide (and friend); and with a donkey man whose donkey took our bags from the meeting point in Lalibela itself. Within 2 minutes of setting off from Lalibela we were on a rocky path, rising above the town
Waiting for us at the top were tukuls perched on the edge of the escarpment with the most amazing views. The sleeping tukuls are very comfortable – with beds and blankets. There is a separate tukul that is used for cooking and provisions. Tea, coffee, bread and honey were very welcome as we sat on the chairs outside the tukuls to watch the sunset. As it became colder, we sat round a fire in the cooking tukul, while a filling meal was prepared for us (we had warned them of our vegetarian diet, which they coped with admirably). Food tastes good after a day in the mountains.
It was cold in the evening – we were very glad we’d packed our sleeping bags. Silk sleeping sacks also help to keep out bedbugs and fleas.
On the second day we had breakfast at dawn and set off early to hike to the top of Abuna Yosef and back. We could see the peak for much of the day, but approached it agonisingly slowly. It is a 22 mile (35km) walk, rising from 11,600 feet to 14,000 feet.
The views are stunning. It was Saturday, so we say many people on the long walk to Lalibela for market day. We stopped for some local beer at a house along the path where the family supplements its income by offering refreshments.
As we walked further we encountered a large group of Gelada Baboons, massed on the hillside. We watched them scatter as two local people walking down the hill towards them.
Our pace slowed as we neared the peak and the altitude started to tell. It was definitely cold enough for a fleece or hoodie, despite the efforts. A short rocky scramble for the last 20 metres took us to the peak, from where we enjoyed stunning views over the valleys on both sides. We stopped for some well-earned lunch, before setting off back to the tukuls, on a slightly different route.
Our guides pointed out a red Simien Wolf, one of the most endangered canid species in the world. It looks like a very large fox. We sat and watched it from the hillside as it circled round looking for prey as mist descended.
On the way home we were privileged to be invited to the home of our donkey guide, whose wife and children welcomed us into their home and gave us coffee (with the full ceremony). We learned a bit about how life is changing in the village.
After more than 20 miles walk, we were pretty tired when we got back to the huts at Ad Medhane Alem, which is where we slept on the second night. Girma and the local villagers slaughtered a sheep, which they barbecued; we vegetarians kept to our rice and vegetables.
On the third day, it was time to return to Lalibela. We went a different way, this time walking down to Ashetan Maryam, which is one of the oldest rock-hewn churches. We collected holy water for a friend in Addis, and then walked back through fields and villages to Lalibela. We finished up at the Seven Olives Hotel for coffee, and to say goodbye to our guides.