Axum

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This morning we flew to Axum, the ancient political and religious capital. The main draw to the town these days are the stelae (granite obelisks) dating from around 400 CE. The tallest currently standing is 25 meters tall and weighs 170 tons. A taller one (33 m) is in several pieces on the ground beside it. Although local legend says it stood before being knocked over by Queen Yodit during a raid, it’s more likely that it fell when they tried to raise it.

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After the stelae fields, it was time for lunch and, by wonderful coincidence, a bike race in town. Details were a bit sparse, even many of the locals seemed surprised by the race, but from what we could gather, it was a criterium style race as part of the final day of a five day tour. When we arrived, the category 3 racers were going, but by the time we finished lunch, the pros in category 1 were starting. The race went back and forth on the main road through town. Many locals watched and cheered despite few having any idea what was happening. Several encouraged me to jump into the race assuming it would be hysterical to watch a “faranji” ride with pros. Instead I watched while drinking an avocado juice.

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Later we toured the tombs of early Christian kings (circa 600 CE) and the palace of the Queen of Sheba (circa 1000 BCE).

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The most important history lesson of the day didn’t come from our guide or the museum, but from our driver. One day a dog, a goat and a donkey went to town on the bus. The donkey got on and paid with exact change. The dog paid too much but the driver didn’t have change. The goat said he would pay when he got off, but ran out the door at his stop without paying. The animals remember that to this day which is why when a car drives down the road, the goat runs away, the donkey ignores it and the dog chases it, still looking for his change.

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