I'm edging my way through a long tunnel in pitch darkness, feeling for the roof so I don't hit my head, waving my trusty flashlight around to scan the walls and sandy floor and check for any unwelcome wildlife. I feel like Indiana Jones but a lot less brave.

Then, after rounding a bend, I see a dot of light and emerge into a small cave. Through two large holes in the wall, I glimpse a splendidly carved building — one of the famous rock-hewn Lalibela churches. But when I peek through the holes, I see that they are halfway up a cliff face with no visible way down — no steps, no handholds ... and it's way too far to jump. So, behind me is the pitch-black tunnel I've just come out of; ahead a vertiginous drop.

Just for a moment I find myself wondering what on Earth I'm doing here. The answer is simple: I've been intrigued by Ethiopia ever since I heard stories about the Ark of the Covenant — a chest said to hold the biblical Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets — being here.