Day 12: Lalibela

My last day in Lalibela was super low-key. I returned to John Café for another fantastic breakfast, then moseyed back to the hotel to do some work. There were pictures to edit, writing to catch up on, and lots of reading to do. I’ve been really enjoying Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, even though haven’t had enough time to knock out some serious pages. But vacation is vacation and free time is the ultimate luxury—I spent a lot of my day drinking coffee and reading.

In the afternoon, I made my way down to St. George’s church. I had only seen it in the morning and wanted to see how it looked in the evening light. I hiked down and got there around 4:30, though the sun was behind some clouds and tourist groups were moving over the site. I walked around a bit, seeing what I could see, before posting up on the overlook and waiting for my shot. Threading the needle between tour groups on the rocks above the church, the visible heads of tourists down at the base level, and the sun showing from behind the cloud, I managed to get off some of the best frames of my trip. I was super stoked.

Making my way back up to the hotel in the early evening, taking a shortcut through town up a pretty steep hill, I had another 14-year-old kid follow me (it happened the day before, too). Normally, with my knock-off Ray-Bans on and the thousand-yard stare locked into place, people don’t bother, but these young’ns were persistent. It was pretty funny, not gonna lie, as I stared straight ahead, giving either monosyllabic or straight-up surreal answers to the questions about where I was from and my family, often couching whatever answer I gave in impossible to decipher slang. (My American friends have complained about my Byzantine language before, so these kids were definitely thrown). They worked so hard to impose themselves of the periphery of my vision, but I maintained that lock on the horizon, my 6’ frame steadily pounding out long strides that required two of theirs to keep up, finally eliciting from one an exasperated, “My god, sir, you are strong.” I’m really not—eating too much good food on vacation—but it was nice to hear. Eventually, they got to the asking for shoes, shirts, pens and the like, which was about when I disappeared into my hotel and the owner glared at them from the porch. I’m not indifferent to the plight of the rural poor, but the begging in tourist towns hardly scratches my marble heart. I justify my stoic silence through a) having volunteered in development fo’ free the last three years and b) giving a portion of what little money I do make to worthy charities. Plus, if you’re gonna be handing out that cash on the streets, where do you start? Where do you stop?

I made my way back to Ben Abeba one last time, because dammit it’s delicious and the view is simply incredible. I had a drink up on the top balcony and watched the sunset, but everyone else up on the platforms moved downstairs to somewhere warmer and less windswept, and for my poor waiter’s sake, I decided to follow them (even if they were pansies). Down by the bonfire, I chatted with some women from Northern California (who mistook me for British, which is a recurring theme in my life despite having no manner of accent outside “California Bro”), talked a lot about my Peace Corps experience, and eavesdropped on a two groups of European tourists using English as a lingua franca. It was nice. I also ate a lamb burger that could change ya whole damn life. Oh my god it was delicious, perfectly tangy and yet unctuous and fatty in the best possible way. Plus, there was a great tomato, onion, pineapple chutney on it that really set it off, along with a humongous slice of what I think was Jarlsberg. Delicious. It was my last night, so I also sprung for a crêpe with bananas, topped with a delectably bright local honey and lemon sauce.

My final trip down the beautiful, streetlit path home, full with a tremendous meal on my last night in an incredible highland was a dream sequence of fulfillment. I kinda made an effort to pack, but decided to leave it for the morning and drifted off to some well-earned rest, ready to be rounding out my trip.

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