17th April 2012
16.04.2012 - 17.04.2012
The office of the Ethiopian National Parks was open when we arrived. Inside we asked how many different fees we would have to pay for two days entry. The young man’s answer was non committal but he did begin to write the fees out on a piece of paper. Two days multiplied by two people. One car multiplied by two days. One tent, multiplied by two days, and then incredulously by two people. One scout, armed, multiplied by two days. One guide, did we need two? Multiplied by... “Hang on a minute mate. We’ve got two seats in our car, your country is at peace and you have few beasties big enough to eat us, what do we need scouts and guides for?” “They can show you the way and take you hiking.” “We’ve got two days and one Sat Nav and it takes three hours driving each way, we won’t be going far.” He insisted on the scout and we insisted the scout could go on the roof.
Apparently though, scouts have feelings too and the roof was out of the question. He’d have to be inside, but he would be in considerable discomfort. We perched him on the cubby box, hugging his pea shooter automatic machine gun, his neck crooked against the roof of the car and occupying far too much space whilst he gently assaulted our nasal passages with the fragrance of man, unwashed. The hunt for the Gelada Baboons began. At least we now smelt like we’d been living with them.
Our guides name wasn’t memorable for the right reasons but from recollection it sounded a little like Gazpacho and so that became his name. Since our Amharic hadn’t taken off and his English was in a similar state it would be a charade based interaction from there on. We felt sorry for Mr Soup-soup as he was just doing his job, and only costing us three quid per day, but he really was in the bloody way. I’d lean out to take photos and he’d push and kick and move me trying to get a good look too. Laura and I were shielded from easy communication by the man sat one foot above us and directly in between us. Quite why anyone would want to pay for the burden of an individual you are not expected to look after, but conscience dictates you will, who speaks no English and generally just gets in your way, was beyond us.
The reason we’d come here soon became apparent. As we climbed and climbed to 3773 metres, and still driving, our jaws dropped and our hearts lifted; views so astounding that nothing seemed true. We were so high above all the other mountains it was practically impossible to discern them as real. The Gelada Baboons were to be a highlight of the mountains, with their long flowing hair and bright red ‘heart’ worn on their chests they were first beautiful and second numerous. We stopped to watch as they grazed, they’re predominantly highland grazer which is a little unusual; once more Attenborough’s narration was running through our minds. The other must-see species in the Simien mountains were the Walia Ibex whose numbers, should we believe the guide book, were only 200 at one point, the Lammergeyer Vulture, the huge bird that provides a link between eagle and vulture and the Ethiopian Wolf, which looks for all intents and purposes like a fox.
We arrived at Cheberk campsite and, after the rigours of the mountain passes, we were completely exhausted. Gazpacho was keen to observe the minutiae of everything we did. It was as if he felt that should he leave our side, he would have failed in his job. We told him we were going to have lunch. And we found a view that was stupendous. From on top of the world we sat and watched the Lammergeyers soar and the crows literally whistle past our heads as they reached breakneck speeds. Gazpacho, like a loyal warrior, was laid on the rock by our side.
As superlatives ran away with our mouths we stemmed the flow with a mixture of fresh bread and honey washed down with good old fashioned water. We tentatively broached the subject of walking and were both relieved to find that the other had no intentions of exerting any more energy than necessary. Instead, we retrieved the chairs, our books and a supply of bread and water to last the rest of the day and we sat at the end of a ridge of rock that had sheer drops of hundreds of metres on three sides. It was like a spit of sand on a vast sea of invisible atmosphere.
There we sat, for four hours, in the cool warmth of the mountain air, unknowingly burning, but intermittently astounding ourselves every time we looked up from our books.
Gaspacho, was of course always at hand. First he had lain by our bench and only after us insisting we would be fine alone did he retreat one hundred metres away just behind a thicket, waiting to be called into action.
As the sun drooped we made back to prpeare some chai and a little dinner. As we filled our water butts from the nearby well, we were joined by an extremely tame Walia Ibex, what a treat! Like a large and extremely stout goat he stood proud nibbling away at the undergrowth. His horns were majestic, the huge ridged horns arced back from his skull almost touching the centre of his back; the ibex needed a stout neck just to keep looking forward.
Redvers was the centre of the evening as Gazpacho invited over every other Ethiopian within seventeen miles to sit outside our car whilst we prepared dinner. They had surprisingly little interest in communicating with us, and, of the hundreds of hectares that surrounded us, the immediate ten square metres was obviously their favourite patch. They watched me repair the door locks, they watched Laura make tea, and they then watched as we sat. Don’t be confused; we did say hello, we did try to communicate, but these guys just wanted to sit and watch and stare. Laura had the bigger balls between the two of us and politely and firmly said goodnight to them once, twice and almost thrice as finally the switch clicked and they said goodnight and returned to their homes.
As the sun went the warmth disappeared with it. Three and a half kilometres above sea level is a cold spot. Somers broke out the salopettes, the source of much ridicule on a trans-Africa voyage, and put them to essential use. Even dressed for skiing we were about to endure a long and very cold night.