I normally don’t do long-ish trip reports, but this month I will. It kind-of built up spontaneously – I just wanted to write a few lines about my trip to Ethiopia, but the few lines ballooned a few dozen paragraphs!
Besides that, I’ll share some news on my next book below 😎
Ethiopia – Exceeding Expectations
I liked Ethiopia a lot. It exceeded expectations! I was longing for a culture-focused trip for a while, and Ethiopia delivered and some.
The place is special. There are rock-carved churches, ancient hilltop monasteries, giant castles, and much, much more. The people are unique too – with their own old, distinct brand of Christianity.
If I could describe the place in a few words, I would say that (I guess!) it’s like what, for example, going to India could have looked 20 or so years ago.
Like, take our visit to the Yemrehana Krestos Church. That’s a 11th-century stone-and-wood church built inside a cave high in the mountains a few hours away from Lalibela, in the north of the country.
It’s a long, winding drive through the countryside – (drive is a luxury, until a few years ago, you needed to hike with mules to get to the area), and then a long climb uphill with spectacular views of the highlands.
When you reach the cave, you cross a makeshift door, bow your head, and wait to be blessed by one of the monks, whose wooden cross you need to kiss. The other monks – and there’s a few of them – kind-of ignore your presence – and all keep praying and chanting, both inside and outside the church.
The church itself is and looks ancient – it was built almost 1.000 years ago – closer to the time of Constantine than to our days. The setting has so many details that makes you wow:
- Like many churches in Ethiopia, you can see – barely, but still see – frescos and paintings in the wall, all dating to centuries in the past. It doesn’t really matter which religious scene it is – it’s just the fact that you see something so authentic, painting with (you can believe) so much devotion hundreds of years in the past. No “restorations”.
- Then, there’s Holy of Holies – the inner, “secret room” of every Ethiopian church – accessible only to the most “badass” priests – and where the replica of the Ark of Covenant is kept. (Every Ethiopian church has a replica of the Ark – the real one is kept in Aksum, more of it below). When you’re there, you really want to peek in – but the room is protected by tall, thick curtains and the peery eyes of the old, ancient priests – again, the only ones with the honor.
- While inside the church, you’ll hear the chanting and songs coming from outside – as the priests recite their songs and prayers, long through the day. When you go out, you can even see them dancing with special “sticks” – again, with a devotion that I haven’t seen in any other place.
That’s the standard trip to Yemrehana. We got a bonus, too – going down the hill, back to the village, we saw that a lot of people were getting together at a small plain next the houses.
Soon after, a parade started – and more and more people came pouring down the hills, singing, playing trumpets and joining the group in the plain.
I asked the guide – “what’s going on here” – and he told me, “it’s a funeral – one of the town’s priests has passed away”.
It’s customary in Ethiopia then for everyone in the village and nearby to join the procession, so within an hour or so the place was packed, with dozens of people signing and grieving for the priest.
This is just one story. We’d similar “lucky” experiences in Aksum as well.
The only minus is that I couldn’t see in person the legendary Guardian of the Ark. That’s the one person who is in charge of safekeeping the historic Ark of the Covenant.
The lore around the Guardian is incredible, and you can read some of it here. But the gist is this:
- The Ethiopians claim – and really believe – that they’ve the real, historical Ark of the Covenant in the small chapel of St. Mary of Zion in Aksum
- There’s only one person who can see the Ark – he’s called the Guardian of the Ark – and nobody but him can enter the chapel or even come close to the Ark
- The Guardian is chosen by the priests and serves his role for life – never leaving the chapel grounds, spending his days and years praying before the Ark and offering it incense
If you’re very lucky, you can see the Guardian once he steps out of the chapel – those even more lucky can be blessed by him, a huge deal for Ethiopians.
Like, we met locals that had hiked for two months to come and see the Guardian and the Ark. It’s such a big deal for them.
But the meetup between me and the Guardian will have to wait. I’ll guess I’ll combine it with a future trip to more hilltop monasteries close to Tingray There’s this one that you need to climb by ropes to get there, and I didn’t have the time to check it out this trip.
(Last on Ethiopia – My wife was debating whether to come to the trip or not until the last minute, but finally tagged along. In the end, she said she liked the trip to Ethiopia more than our round-the-world honeymoon 😸 )
Next Trips – More “Normal” Destinations 🏝
I’m grateful that I’ll keep traveling, but Ethiopia will be hard to beat this year. In the pipeline I’ve:
– Cape Verde. (By the time you read this, I’ll actually be already there) – first time in/around West Africa. More kind-of the sunny-and-relax trip. There’s not much to do there, so alas it’s a perfect chance to sit down and get some book writing done.
– North Carolina (USA). I’m going to Charlotte for work the second week of May. I haven’t been there yet – and I look forward to check it out.
– Spain & Mini Trips. Besides that, I’ve probable trips to Spain and France to see family, and aim to (finally) squeeze a weekend in Belarus before spring is over. Let’s see.
Now, with 118 countries under my belt, I’m getting into trouble – it’s getting harder and more expensive to go to the places I want to see. First World Problems, they say 🤷🏼♂️
Still, after Ethiopia, there’s no single, obvious candidate for my most-wanted trip. Iran would top of the list easily,but I’m worried I would’ve issues with the US visa application after that. Let’s see what the year brings.
(Visiting Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan nullifies your ESTA, if you’ve one. You then need to apply for US Visa, even if you’re from an ESTA country. Sucks, as war aside I would love to see a lot of all those places).
My Second Book – Launching June 22nd, 2018 ✈️
I’m all but done writing my second book (Actually, I’m still well behind schedule, but aim to somehow get it done regardless! Public pressure to the rescue 👊🏻)
For now, the book will be titled – How to Travel 60-90 Days a Year – Even If You Work 9-5, and maybe subtitledThe Budget Travel Guide for Normal People.
Logic says I shouldn’t be writing books anymore – I’m too busy for that. I work hard and long hours, and my free time would be better spent either developing myself, my network or a more profitable venture.
After all, books look nice, but they’re hard to write, hard to edit, hard to sell and hard to profit from.
The trade-off doesn’t “click”. But aIas, here we are – I couldn’t help myself, and I’ve yet another book 🤦🏻♂️
There’s a “case” to it, though. I get asked a lot about my strategies and tactics for world travel. People wonder how is it possible for me to combine a corporate career and massive globe-trotting. After all:
- I’m not rich, and I’ve a “normal” job, in a “normal” company
- I’ve ~30 days of holidays per year, the same as most people working in Europe
Yet, I’ve been to almost 120 countries (!) as I write this. I’m 31.
In this book, I will build on that work and add “meat” in three specific ways. I’ll tell you more about it next month, when I hope I can finally be closer to get it done.
Still, the book will be short-ish. It will be ~120 pages in total, or around that. Easy to read, and easy to take with you for your next trip.
🚨– If you’re really interested in the book, I’m going to share the “final draft” with some people for feedback and comments. If you want to be one of those people, write me and let me know.
Bonus Section – Why June 22nd?
June 22nd – the book launch date – coincides with the 2224th anniversary of the Roman triumph in the Battle of the Metaurus!
It’s silly, I know – Roman history has nothing to do with the book, and I haven’t even been to the Metaurus. Can’t help it though.
I love stories, and the story of the Roman struggle in the Punic Wars – of which the Battle of the Metaurus was the pivotal point – is probably my favorite in ancient literature.
(Specifically, Livy’s recount from before and after the battle – more than the battle itself, mind – with the celebrations in Rome. I love it.)
Good thing, the date gives me a bit of leeway – I’ve plenty to write, but the roughly two months from here on to then should do. Let’s see.
Parting Suggestion – Before You Go
Check out “Fear and Loathing in the New Jerusalem” – an epic thirty-hour six-part series on the Israel – Palestine conflict, by Darryl Cooper in the Martyrmade Podcast.
It’s hands-down the best podcast series I’ve heard in years. I liked it A LOT. (Mind, if you’re not interested in religion, politics or world events – maybe this one is not for you. If you’re, though, do check it out!)
Just mind, it’s not a “family friendly” show. As one guy in Reddit put it: “[Martyrmade] is darker than dark and will eat you your soul and any positive thing you ever thought about humanity.” The same guy, though, puts “well worth it”.
With that, wish you all the best – and do write back (or reply), I would love to hear your feedback!