We flew into Axum (Aksum) from Lalibela and arrived around noon and were met by our Guide and Driver and what we thought was a plan to take us to our hotel, have some lunch and then visit some sites. We hopped into the van and started driving and we asked how long it would take to get to our hotel. “Thomas” our guide calmly informed us “4 hours”. This was shall shall we say, a surprise. This small detail was not mentioned on our itinerary and I obviously failed to catch this on the many distance and travel time bits of research I did before we decided to do this specific part of our tour and itinerary. Okay, it is what it is.
The next morning our final 3 day leg was starting at 9:00 am in the town of Mekele. We asked how long the drive was from our hotel to Mekele? The answer. Two more hours. Two surprises!
When we first arrived into Aksum we didn’t have time to stop for lunch or have any time to visit some of the ancient kingdom’s sites however we had time to briefly visit the ruins of Yeha, dating from the 8th to 5th centuries BC and thought to be the birthplace of Ethiopia’s earliest known civilization. The site is considered to be the largest and most impressive archeological sites in the Horn of Africa. We had time to view the Great Temple, the oldest standing structure in Ethiopia and a small Byzantine church where we were shown some incredibly preserved ancient stone slabs with Sabaean inscriptions and many hundred years old paper tombs with original drawings and writings.
We finally arrived at our lodge, before sunset, thankfully, and unloaded our luggage, went to reception looking forward to a cool welcome drink and cold towel. This was not to be as we were told we didn’t have a reservation. Our itinerary says we have a reservation. No one told us otherwise. Nope, no reservation and, we are fully booked.
Luigi, the Italian owner of the lodge came over to us and introduced himself. He was very apologetic and a very nice man but his hands were tied, they were fully booked.
While we were sitting at an outdoor table in the bar/restaurant with amazing views of the Gheralta Mountains waiting to find out what went wrong and where will we be staying tonight we learned our guide had other information that he didn’t initially discuss with us when he picked us up.
When we arrived at the airport, Thomas asked us what hotel we were staying at. “KorKor” we told him. He did hesitate so I showed him a copy of our itinerary. Well as it turns out, he was told to take us to Gheralta Lodge but because we answered his question “KorKor”, he took us to KorKor. We were never informed of the change in accommodation and we don’t blame Thomas for this.
We reloaded our bags into the van and headed off on another 1/2 hour drive to Gheralta Lodge where fortunately we did have a reservation.
We arrived at Gheralta with no idea of what to expect and the entrance didn’t look appealing. It actually looked like the entrance to a barn built of stone or an iteration of the Nativity scene or what not. It was I guess attractive in a touristy sort of way but we didn’t think we booked a manger for the night. Thomas our driver was very adamant that this place was much nicer than KorKor and George W. Bush once stayed here and many famous people stay here and it is the best choice in the area blah blah etc. The sun set before we checked into our bungalow.
We later found out the Gheralta Lodge was highly recommended by Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet. I’ve already written a review on Google so I won’t repeat myself other than to say, the food (dinner) was not good although it was raved about on Trip advisor and the accommodation which was very “authentic” and “rustic and true to the design of the area” had probably the worst beds we’d slept on in the last 3 1/2 months.
The dinner menu was a set menu. There was no A la Carte menu. Either pay way too much for the set menu, (about $45 CAD for two) or starve. The salad selection was nice, the soup/broth was cold and the main course was comprised of very well-done baked tomatoes which tasted like they were a day old, ground beef flattened into a pan and baked with, well, not sure if there were any spices added, and potato-stuffed, cold and hard ravioli with tomato sauce and real parmesan cheese! Yum yum.
We departed to Mekele around 7:00 am the next morning but first took a couple of pics of the surrounding area.