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I usually eschew tours, but I found a deal from Ethio Travel Tours that was just too good to pass up: two nights in Lalibela, a tour guide for two days, entrance to the churches (1,164 birr, if you buy separately), and ground transportation — all for just 0. After a gorgeous, winding drive from the airport, snaking through the Amhara region, the driver dropped me off and unloaded my bag in front of a shabby-looking hotel that was not the agreed-upon Mountain View Hotel.The lodging alone — two nights at the Mountain View Hotel, with breathtaking views of the Lasta Mountains — would have cost me 0 booked separately. Not having to use mental bandwidth fretting about transportation, especially when traveling alone, is invaluable. When I complained, he shrugged: “The hotel changed,” he said. “King Lalibela wanted to construct these churches because Ethiopian Orthodox Christians wanted to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to see the birthplace of Jesus Christ.” But many were unable to make or perished during the journey.

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Our final stop, on the outskirts of Lalibela, was the Asheton Maryam Monastery, which we reached after a 20-minute car ride.

The monastery, while not particularly active, was still beautiful, carved into the side of the hill and accessible via a narrow path. Asmro 500 birr for the two days we were together — a little less than $20.

Everything is built from the same rock, including doors, windows and pillars.

Within the cool, dusky interior, heavy carpets are thrown on hard ground for the services that take place.

A less traditional but inventive fusion meal can be had at Ben Abeba, a restaurant off the main highway — a partnership between Habtamu Baye, an Ethiopian man, and Susan Aitchison, a Scottish woman.

The physical structure of Ben Abeba resembles a hulking spaceship from an old television show — simultaneously futuristic and charmingly outdated.

I saw a sullen, hunched-over silhouette, then a pair of glowing eyes. And they were just one of the many compelling things I encountered during my continued exploration of Ethiopia.

Having spent several days in the capital, Addis Ababa, I turned my attention to the cities of Lalibela, with its astounding group of rock-hewed churches dating to the reign of King Lalibela (around 1181 to 1221 A.

The man repeated a high-pitched shriek that lasted a good four or five seconds, something between a mournful wail and a yodel.

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