The Simiens

An overnight train out of Delhi has finally given me a chance to catch up on what happened in Ethiopia….

This trip to Ethiopia was inspired by a quick layover in Addis years back, a newfound love for Ethiopian food, and a Human Planet episode. Given this, Bryce and I went with a fairly simple list of things we wanted to do on our extended layover. It included: eat all kinds of food (me), spy the elusive Simien Wolf (him), guzzle coffee (me), hug baby baboons/watch them if hugging not possible (me), and explore the plateau mountains (both). Upon arriving in Addis, this list grew to include chewing chat, guzzling macchiatos, remembering how to say thank you in Amharic and a few other things. Most of these things we could satisfy by hiking the Simien mountains…

We quickly learned that our trip was scheduled at a busy time. Christmas had just wrapped up on the 7th and a celebration for the baptism of Jesus was about to begin. This drew loads of domestic and foreign tourism to hotels, busses and flights. Combined with Ethiopian time (time is told relative to how many hours the sun has been up for) made travel arrangements a bit more complicated than our unplanned selves anticipated.

Sidenote: the fact that it was 2008 in Ethiopia had very little impact on the trip. People seemed totally unphased by the fact that i, and other foreigners, came from the future. Disappointing.

We made it to the Simien mountains in the north through 3 days of busses and small towns. The trip up came with the usual highs and lows. Coming up to cliffs overlooking massive valleys was a literal and figurative high. Plunging down them on a rickety bus was not. Lunch and snack stops were wonderful, but those final hours before a break were trying. We spent 2 nights in lakeside Bahir Dar where we poked around waterfalls and tree filled boulevards. Something about that town felt very Florida-ish. Another few days were spent in Gondar, a mountain town with a massive pre colonial castle that would be the stage for one of the biggest festivals of the year.

The highlight was undoubtably the mountains. We spent our days walking on old footpaths that connect villages throughout the newly formed park. The paths wove us through forests, cliffs, plateaus and valleys. Led by a scout who used the word “no” to say “no” “yes” “lets go” “not safe” “come here” and a few other words, this was probably my most basic trip yet. We were surrounded by baboons, spied 2 foxes and met all sorts of surprising and interesting hikers. I spent a portion of each day dreading the cold that descended each night on our underprepared bodies, and another bit trying to protect my sad burnt Canadian skin… Which is still peeling… 10 days later…

The beauty of the mountains were at times contrasted by incredible overgrazing and drought, which seems to be an ongoing challenge here. While he government and country in general recognize the potential and significance of these mountains for both the environment and tourism, this has been hard to convey to the 2000+ people living in the park grounds.

After a few days, we bussed down to spend a few final days with injera and richly spiced sauces and soups. I have no idea what my favourite meal may have been called since blind ordering was certainly the name of the game. Food descriptors were generally tough to come by.

Then somehow, the 2 weeks were up and it was off to India. Having crossed a number of things off my bucket list ill have to spend some time rebuilding it (suggestions?).

Ahmaseganalou (thank you) Ethiopia. It was all I imagined and more. I do hope you find a short form for thank you that sticks… But otherwise, see you soon.