Growing up in the ‘80s, the one enduring image of Ethiopia we were exposed to is that of fly covered, emaciated children starving in a desert. Therefore, we naively spent most of lives assuming that this was an accurate representation of the whole of Ethiopia. It has been pleasing to find that, although most people are far from well off, poverty isn’t any more prevalent than in the other developing countries we have visited. As for the landscape, it wasn’t until we started to research this trip that we discovered that Ethiopia in fact one of the most mountainous countries in the world, with 20 peaks of over 4000m. During our research, one area in particular stood out, the Simien Mountains. Home to some of the best trekking in Africa and unique wildlife, we made it a must see for our time in the country.
As ever, we had admirable intentions of organising everything ourselves and to that end we teamed up with a Canadian we had met in order to keep the costs down. Fortuitously, within minutes of arriving in Gonder we met an Italian who had spent a couple of days getting quotes for all-inclusive treks and had
found one that was half the price of other quotes. After some brief deliberation we decided to join him and signed up for a five day, four night trek that seemed to take in the best the National Park has to offer. A cost of little more than £100 per person would cover 4WD transfer to and from the trek, our fees for the park, a guide, a cook, all our food, mules and muleteers (their word not ours!), a scout (think less a young boy good at tying knots, more an old man with a big gun!) and camping equipment. By the time we set off the next day we had been joined by a German, making a total of five tourists, five “staff” and three mules in our group.
The trekking was excellent and it is fair to say that the we have probably never been anywhere where the views are so consistently spectacular. In comparison to Mount Kenya, it was a fairly relaxing trip and it was nice to be trekking for trekking’s sake rather than making a mad dash for a summit. That said, it was no walk in the park and the highest point
we reached was a far from insignificant 4430m.
Despite the amazing scenery, the highlight of the trek was provided by the varied and interesting wildlife. In our time in the mountains we saw eagles, vultures, Walia Ibex (a type of mountain goat endemic to the Simien Mountains), Gelada (long haired) Baboons and we even caught a glimpse of the extremely rare Ethiopian Wolf. It was the baboons that provided the most entertainment, being amongst the most characterful creatures we have ever seen and also quite happy to be observed at close quarters.
Overall it was an excellent trek, only tainted slightly by events on our return to Gonder. When we were dropped back at our hotel, after a very bumpy journey in probably the world’s oldest Land Cruiser still in use, the driver refused to let us our luggage until we paid him. Needless to say, we explained that we had already paid for everything, but unsurprisingly the man we had booked the tour with couldn’t be found to verify this! After a good deal or remonstrating on both sides, we eventually agreed to go to the police and let them decide on the best course of action.
The upshot was that we agreed to let the driver keep the hired camping equipment, we could have our luggage back and the police would arrest the man we booked the tour with, when they could locate him. We can only assume that this goes some way to explaining why we paid so little for the trek!
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