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Published: November 21st 2012
4th Nov ’12 Gondar to Debark and the Simien Mountains
We spent the morning driving to Debark, with a stop at a viewpoint across the Simien Mountains and it was a spectacular sight – all these different sized and shaped peaks stretching off to the horizon. Tomorrow we are going to be driving right through them and at this moment in time I just can’t figure out how!
We carried on passing small villages of huts surrounding greens on which cattle were grazing, young children were carrying babies on their backs and women were walking along bent double under huge piles of firewood on their backs.
We arrived in Debark, a town which is expanding as more hotels are being built to meet the Faranji demand for access to the Simien Mountains National Park. The road through town was being re-surfaced so lots of construction work was under way and there were planks to cross the deep ditches on the roadside to get into the hotel compound.
Tonight’s hotel was classed as the most basic we were staying in on this trip and the rooms were indeed pretty basic. Up in the mountains it was pretty cold
too but once we figured out how to shut the bathroom window, which was high up on the wall, using the hiking pole and asked for extra blankets it wasn’t too bad.
Driving up into the mountains we passed through the town to the usual shouts of ‘faranji, hell lo lo lo lo and lots of waving. The market was in full swing so the place was bustling and full of life. Climbing up out of the town, passing sheer vertical drops and getting into the green, tree clad mountains was breath taking.
Once we were up in the national park we set off walking with our 3 scouts complete with their AK47s and Ziggy the local guide who grew up in this area. We walked down to an escarpment where we stopped for packed lunches and then the vertigo really kicked in! Everyone else was sat right on the edge loving it while I started shaking and panic set in. In the end Howard and I climbed back up away from the edge (huffing and puffing with altitude and the fag needed to calm my nerves ha ha) and walked along parallel to the others. The scenery
was fantastic but no way could I get near to the edge!!
At the top of another hill we had our first opportunity to spread ‘love and happiness’ – the local people had formed shopping collectives and produced lots of local crafts to sell. Rather than have people hassling tourists while they walked it was arranged so that at two points they gathered with their goods, the tourists could then look at everything while the people stood in a group to the side. If you wanted to buy anything you picked it up then the person who made it came over and the bartering began – what a great system and everyone seemed happy with it.
We carried on walking, spotting birds and passing sheep before climbing over another hill and finding shopping opportunity no.2! Back on the bus we drove to another area of the park where the Gelada baboons lived. We all got out and there was an enormous troop of baboons amongst the trees on the opposite hillside. A lot of the group crossed over the stream to them and could just sit in amongst them. Sheila and I sat and just watched the baboons.
Eventually all the baboons came down to the stream, there were massive males with kind of lion manes, females with babies and lots of young ones larking around playing games. It was pretty amazing, they weren’t fazed by humans and lots of our group got really close to them. Everyone seemed astonished and astounded by this experience!
Then it was off to the Highest Lodge in Africa – the one and only place to stay right in the park. We all had a drink and gazed at the views and marvelled at what we had seen and I gave thanks that we weren’t on anymore cliff edges!!
Back down in town we got out and walked back to the hotel, just soaking up the life, watching boys playing table football out on the street (which seems to be a favourite past time in Ethiopia), dodging animals, small children and buses packed to the rafters.
That night we weren’t in the ‘hotel bar’ for a drink, it is actually the locals pub and as they were showing footie on the tv there was a big crowd in. I went out for a smoke and when I came back
my seat was taken so I just sat on Howard’s knee. Immediately one of the local guys insisted that I had his seat and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I said ‘but don’t you sit on laps on the buses?’ he said ‘yes but in Ethiopia we always share, so take my seat’, I said ‘it’s ok as he is my husband’ and the whole place just roared with laughter – I still don’t know why, perhaps I unwittingly broke some taboo?
We had a great buffet tea with the most delicious roast lamb and a wandering minstrel came to entertain us, singing and playing on his one string wooden traditional instrument – if there had been a cd on sale I don’t think I would have bought it. Then it was off to bed.
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