To get to Yemrehanna Kristos from Lalibela, you have a few options: go by foot, go by mule or go by 4x4 along one of the worst roads you're likely to encounter anywhere. Given that it's about 40 km from Lalibela, those pressed for time will opt for the 4x4. But however bouncy and jarring the ride, the destination is worth the journey. The ancient church complex stands inside a cave, placed there by King Yemrehanna, who received a divine order to build a church on a lake (ask the priest and he'll open a little hatch to show you some damp ground) nearly a thousand years ago. Though there's a modern brick wall in front of the cave, when you step through the entrance and see this arresting Axumite-style church and hear the chants of apprentice priests reverberating off the cave walls, you're instantly transported back in time. According to legend, which is as much worth believing as history in Ethiopia, the wood for the church came from Jerusalem and the gypsum from Egypt. Behind the church, in the darkness of the cave's furthest recesses, is a bone yard littered with the bodies of pilgrims - some say as many as 10,000 - who traveled here in hopes of a last-minute miracle. The interior of the church is largely wooden, intricately constructed and painted, and the friendly priest will gladly show it off to you if you have a flashlight/torch. The cost of getting there can feel a bit steep, given how otherwise economical Ethiopia is, but just go for it.
By Gina Czupka
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