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Debre Damo and Yeha

by - September 28 2010

To round off my visit to Aksum, I hired a 4WD plus guide and driver and got them to take me to Debra Damp and Yeha, two attractions nearby. Debre Damo is an ancient monastery built at the top of a huge natural rock pillar.

The only way up is to climb up the rock face using a leather rope and a few toe holds. In theory the monks help pull you up and keep you safe by pulling on a second rope that is tied round your waist, however in my case the person with the rope was about half my size and didn't seen to be wrapping the rope round anything. If I fell then I suspect he might have just gone down with me. Legend has it that the monk who founded the monastery was lifted to the top by a python.

Once at the top one gets an amazing view of the area. Debre Damo is close to the Eritrea border and from the top one can see buildings on the other side of the border. The monastery itself is quite impressive too. It is made from an interesting mixture of stone and wood.

I was a little worried about getting down again. When going up one has a much better view of ones foot holds. Fortunately my fears of ending up like a cat stuck up a tree were avoided when someone offered to go down the rope below me and supposedly catch me if I slipped. I'm not sure it actually helped though. He went down like an abseiler leaning back vertically and going down the rope hand over hand. This meant that he held the rope so far off the wall that I had to do the same, taking all my weight on my arms.

The next stop was Yeha "temple". Depending on who you ask, this building was either a temple to the moon, or a storage building for traders, or both. More importantly, it is one of the oldest buildings in Ethiopia and is constructed from stone blocks that are fitted perfectly to each other without mortar. The building itself looked fairly mundane, but its age and means of construction are definitely impressive.

On return to my hotel, I discovered that I had run out of toilet paper. Since my hotel receptionist speaks no english, I found myself having to explain what I wanted using a rather explicit mime.