Dances with Baboons (or Simply Trekking in the Simien Mountains)

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January 13th 2011
Published: January 15th 2011
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As we drove the long, very bumpy road north of Gonder, I kept my eyes peeled for some sign of the mighty Simien Mountains that I would soon be trekking. But it seemed they were nowhere to be seen. All around were gently rolling hills. Where were the mountains, the highest in Ethiopia?

It wasn’t till we practically were falling off the edge that I realized that in fact we actually HAD been climbing into the mountains, gradually making our way up a “gentle” slope that would give way to a jaw-dropping plunge along a dramatic escarpment, with views to put the Grand Canyon to shame. The Simien Mountains were sort of stealth mountains, if you will.

When I signed up for this adventure, I opted for a five-day, four-night trek, which would not get me to the highest point (over 5000m) at Ras Dashen, but it would, I was told – and which I came to believe! – still allow me to see the most spectacular scenery in the area. And after spending my first night nearly getting frost bitten, I was thankful that I would not have to shiver uncontrollably through more than three nights!*

However, as I followed Gezmo, my guide, during our hours of hiking, climbing higher and higher, stumbling on beautiful panoramic view after panoramic view, going from Sankaber to Geech to Chenek Camps, I thought: I could go on forever.

And the added bonus? Baboons! Lots and lots of baboons. **

Unfortunately, the photos cannot do the scenery and animal life justice – but they will give you a sense of what I experienced. And I will let them do the “talking”.

*I had been warned by others who had done this trek that the night time temperatures in the mountains would be bitterly cold. So I came prepared with a fleece, a sweater, ear warmers, and gloves (all of which I was glad to have brought with me to Sudan, where I will never need them!). But somehow I was still taken by surprise by just how cold it was. I slept each night in four layers of clothing (including the fleece) AND in two sleeping bags, yet I was still cold. Every morning I woke to find the tent crusted in frost. However, as soon as the sun emerged, things warmed up rapidly – usually getting warm enough to wear a T-shirt and shorts!

** One thing I quickly came to realize in Ethiopia is that, besides having an utterly unique culture, the country has an utterly unique set of wildlife. In the Simien Mountains there are a number of endemic species, including the not very shy gelada baboon (they allowed me to get within feet!) and the extremely shy walia ibex and Ethiopian wolf, both of which I had the privilege of seeing.

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