“Abuna Yemata Guh.” The name probably doesn’t ring a bell for most of y’all. Your city probably has no streets with this name, or schools… or churches.
I had just spent 3 days in the second lowest place on Earth: Danakil. My body had acclimated to this low elevation, so in hindsight, it’s no wonder that when I found myself at higher elevations, the very next day, I woke up extremely tired, unsteady, lethargic, lacking an appetite and suffering from general malaise. My legs still ached from the 9 KM hike up to the volcano, and the description of my next activity (based on my tour company’s schedule) led me to believe this would be a leisurely day of sightseeing. The description read: “Tigray churches.”
We entered the town of Hausen, and set about finding my local guide. I was relieved when I found out it wasn’t going to be this guy:
I was given a choice: Visit two so-so churches or visit one spectacular church. Naturally, I chose the latter. My “leisurely day” turned out to involve a steep hike up this mountain:
It was hot and I was thirsty, and I’d only brought a small amount of water. In my condition, the hike was a real challenge. I had to stop every 5 minutes or so to catch my breath. But there was shade, and there were cool rocks to rest my body against, so I soldiered on. On the way up, a descending Scottish tourist gave me what he had left in his water bottle. I was grateful for that, and it did rejuvenate me. After an hour or so of this, we got to the “hard part.” It was about then that I recognized this place from a Youtube video. I had seen an elderly monk do this climb with ease. If he could do it, so could I. What presented itself before me was a sheer vertical edifice, described pretty well in this article. Perhaps my altitude sickness had clouded my judgment, but at this point I was feeling well physically, so, with several helpful hands guiding me (after removing my shoes, as required), I started up:
It was the scariest thing I did in Ethiopia. A fall from there meant certain death, and at one point, my only support was a dead tree branch lodged in the rock. After the initial steep ascent, there’s another, less frightening stretch. After that, I reached a plateau, which consisted of a boulder perched between the rock spire that contained the church and the mountain below. This is where people were brought for burial in ages past:
After crossing over the boulder, there’s a narrow path around the rock spire:
It’s about a thousand foot drop off the ledge, but a few feet away was the entrance to the church. Accounts vary as to when it was built, but there is no dispute that it’s a very special place:
Here’s the view out from the entrance:
Lonely Planet sent a photographer to Abuna Yemata Guh, and he put together a nice Youtube video about it.