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Published: January 11th 2010
I am usually happiest when on the move, so the bus journey up to the Simien Mountains significantly lifts my spirits as the route weaves higher and higher across rolling mountains and their brief plateaus. I debark at Debark hungry for some hiking but this proves to be problematic due to the higher costs of going it alone, something that frequently plagues solo travel. Bubbling with impatience I manage to curb my enthusiasm enough to stick it out and wait for fellow trekkers rather than plunge in with an unnecessary flurry of Birr.
Although the park office naturally neglects to inform me about the other aspiring mountaineers that book with them, in spite of my repeated requests, fortunately my fairy godmother still appears the next day in the form of P. I notice an Australian lady dining alone at my lodgings and with nothing to lose I approach her. It transpires she has just arranged a six day excursion to Chenek camp and back. Perfect! After chatting for the afternoon (to check that neither of us is a crackpot) we agree to go together, splitting the costs.
We set out promptly at 8am – thanks to the
bounding keenness of our highly motivated scout - to begin the 24km to our first campsite, Sankaber. I don't really want to waffle on describing the beauty of the scenery, so let's just say it’s incredible! The feeling of wonderment as we reach the first 'view point', gazing across countless mountains below that disappear into a blurry purple horizon, or when we a crest a rise to see a troop of Gelada Baboons, a couple of hundred strong, happy to lounge languidly about as we stroll captivated between them, well, words are plain pointless. My rapid fire photography falls pitifully short of doing our sensational surroundings justice.
Our second campsite, Geech, provides a lovely, misty sunset which we enjoy over Christmas dinner. I honestly doubt that P's decision to hire a cook as part of our entourage has been matched as a stroke of genius since Archimedes got in his bath. Initially I am sceptical (characteristically wanting to keep costs to a minimum) but the good nutrition is welcome over the course of six strenuous days and watching other groups washing up their cooking utensils with freezing cold water as the dark descends I am very grateful for
our investment in this deliciously decadent luxury.
If Gonder is Ethiopia's Camelot then the Simien Mountains must be its Holy Grail. Day three yields some of the most breath-taking scenery I have ever had the privilege of laying my eyes upon. P and I quickly give up on articulating to each other the ceaseless superlatives that can be applied to the views from Mt. Imet Gogo. It is simply spectacular.
That night our cook almost puts me in a food induced coma, so well does she feed us.
With P feeling a little worse for wear on day four I tackle the 4430m Mt. Bwahit with just our scout for company. It is the highest point I have ever hiked to and is a lung busting ascent especially at the brisk pace set by my intrepid guide, more mountain goat than man, which gains us a brutally direct 800m of altitude in under two hours. On the way we spy a small herd of female and infant Walia Ibex, though sadly none of the enormously horned males. Further on the scout suddenly drops down low into the grass
and extends his arm. Thinking that he has spotted more I excitedly follow suit, but he gives a quick yell and a wave indicating that I should continue up the path. He is in fact just about to relieve himself, something he does with frightening frequency throughout the whole trip.
More than satisfied with my day's exertions I pass the afternoon stalking the large resident troop of baboons at Chenek camp. I am obsessed with the majestic males whose immense bushy manes and long, twitching tails, tipped with yet more abundant fur, remind me of the Lion from 'The Wizard of Oz'. My excessive attention does not go unnoticed and I am startled when, having made the mistake of engaging eye contact, one particularly cantankerous male objects to my curiosity, rolls back his eyelids, briefly bares his fangs and makes the shortest of sudden starts towards me as a warning. Heeding this I back off a bit and he later rewards my deference by giving me a massive, photogenic yawn, revealing his titanic teeth in all their grass covered glory.
While climbing Bwahit I noticed a sign indicating both the mountain's height and also the distance
Our scout shows that he's more hygiene conscious than I am
from Debark; 65km. Our outgoing route followed a much longer trail, over many monstrous mountains and along dramatic cliff edges, but for the final two days we largely stick to the more direct, dusty track in order to make the return journey. The scenery is refreshingly different (not that I could ever tire of what we've already seen), crisscrossing valleys and passing more local villages and vibrant agriculture. As we approach the end the increasing density of children enhances the constant chime of "hello" that accompanies me everywhere in Ethiopia like high pitched birdsong. The familiar phrase "Meeser, gimme plastique," also becomes more insistent. Passing more and more local farmers and their minuscule mules I try to imagine what they must think of us; two dirty and exhausted foreigners - "Why do these strange faranji choose to do this to themselves?!"
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