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Published: October 30th 2011
Entering Simien National Park - the lowlands stretch into the distance
Early start delivers us to the domestic terminal for what’s promised to be an early and short flight to Gondar. Soon becomes obvious the flight will be going via Axum and is leaving half an hour later than scheduled. The flight actually leaves an hour and a half late and then sits at the tiny airfield in Axum for nearly an hour, meaning we arrive about three hours late in Gondar. In the confusion of Gondar, we collect our cook (KB).
The drive from Gondar to Debark is appalling. The Ethiopian government are borrowing money they have no way of repaying to pay Chinese construction firms to build a whole series of roads in this area but the one to Gondar is very much still “under construction”. This seems to involve much in the way of destruction – rock is being broken, land is being scarred, ripped, torn from its slumber. And then the rains come. And then the waters run viciously through the unearthed surfaces, washing away more and more of the lands that gave birth to the man that rapes them. Chinese foremen stand around their theodolites as small armies of Ethiopians break rock loose from the path
The Geladas posing for the BBC
of the roads, lifting and shifting the precious stone of their land, collecting it alongside the machine-chewed scars, awaiting use. In this land, everything is used. Everything gets a second use, a third, a fourth, many more.
The plan from Debark (where the Simien Mountain National Park office is and every entry is recorded), was to drive out to the national park gate and hike a couple of hours to the Sankaber camp. By the time we reach Debark, it’s too late to contemplate any hiking so we drive along the mountain road to Sankaber camp. A day’s hiking lost but a bit of vehicle-based cheating means we’ll be on schedule tomorrow morning.
At the dusty, busy village of Debark, we collect our guide (DJ) and our guard (PC). We drive out of Debark past the stone-ringed mounds of the marketplace, few of their occupants in residence as the morning market is well and truly over, the sun only a few hours away from its sleepy horizon.
A long drive later, we pass through the gate to the Simien National Park. A chain lies across the road and the minibus’s horn is required to bring the “guard”
Near Sankaber camp
out to check we’re allowed in. We drive on into the park, the dirt road rising higher and higher into the park. We pass our first gaggle of Gelada Baboons (they’re not baboons but they do look like them). A BBC crew is here, filming the moaning and groaning language of the Geladas – mental note to look out for it when it appears on a screen.
We drive on to our camp and head out for a short one-hour walk as the sun fades and our cook prepares the evening meal. The views of the water-carved mountains of the park are hard to comprehend – truly beautiful and very impressive. The Simien Mountains are truly something to behold. These ancient lands are now a world heritage site and deservedly so.
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