Tourists grant Ethiopian guides' $1 million wish

Tue Jul 28, 2009 9:55am EDT
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By Barry Malone

LALIBELA, Ethiopia (Reuters Life!) - Guide Getachew Tekeba used to bring tourists to his favorite mountainside spot just minutes from his house in Lalibela to watch the sunset and talk of his fantasy to build a hotel with the best view in Ethiopia.

One evening three years ago, a couple from the United States -- who Getachew did not realize had arrived by private jet -- paid closer attention than most. They asked detailed questions on business plans and quizzed him on possible designs.

Top guides in the northern town of Lalibela earn about $200 a month but a few months later the 29-year-old checked his bank account and found a deposit for $800,000.

"I was really shocked," Getachew told Reuters in the lobby of his million-dollar Mountain View Hotel that opened its doors to tourists earlier this year. "You can't believe that things like this really happen."

The remaining $200,000 he needed was gathered from a large group of local investors.

Getachew and his partner Mati Assefa -- also a 29-year-old tour guide -- were given the money as an interest-free loan to pay back seven years after opening. The father of one says he is confident he will pay it back and even expand the business.

"We will honor the agreement," Getachew said, as former tour guide colleagues milled in and out looking for tourists to show around the town's fabled red rock-hewn churches. "But we need more tourists to come. We should promote tourism in our country."

Legend has it that the churches were carved below ground at the end of 11th century and beginning of the 12th after God ordered King Lalibela to build churches better than any in the world and dispatched angels to help him.   Continued...