Ethiopia Part 2
After a night in a cheap hotel we headed north on a rainy, misty morning and began a spectacular climb through the mountains. Precipitous cliffs, fertile valleys, lush mountains and small villages made for a great mornings drive.
We eventually reached the highlands where moors replaced forests and shepherds tended their sheep in rolling pastures that stretched to the horizon, dotted with stone houses, creating an amazing medieval scenery. It was one of the top three drives I’ve done in Africa.
The scenery in Northern Ethiopia continues to surprise. I knew it was going to be good but around every corner is another great photographic opportunity and we’re not in the Simiens yet!
After a stay in Bahir Dar, our next stop were the rock churches of Lalibela. Despite the three hour ‘African massage’ on the goat track in, the scenery was once again worth the bumps, as we enjoyed incredible vistas across endless lush cultivated valleys, plateaus and rolling hills.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect at Lalibela. The Lonely Planet guide sums it up pretty well when it says, ‘No matter what you’ve heard about Lalibela, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen, nothing can prepare you for the reality of seeing it for yourself.’ The World Heritage Site is actually really impressive and the only one of its kind in the world.
The churches are not only built into the ground but chiseled by 40,000 people out of a single rock!
From Lalibela we headed cross country to the ancient city of Gondar, aka the Camelot of Africa and then the Simien Mountains.
The Simiens has been one of the locations in Africa I’ve most wanted to visit. I remember sitting on my lounge at home ten years ago and watching a documentary on the mountains and saying, “I’m definitely going there! ”
We hired guides and porters and cook’s and the mandatory guard to tag along with us carrying his two thousand year old AK47. There’s no need for an armed guard in the Simiens but it keeps several locals employed. At the end of the hike, I gave him my warm pants and a warm top.
The park is one of the most spectacular places on the planet and like the rest of Ethiopia it suffers from over population. Ethiopia on a world scale is only a relatively small country but they manage to jam 110 million people into it and the Simien Mountain National Park has 10,000 people living within the park boundaries. With the people come poaching, diseases, cattle, sheep, goats, horses and dogs and hundreds of square kilometers of agriculture. The Ethiopian Wolf is bordering on extinction in the park and the Walia Ibex has been pushed to the highest of most extreme corners of the park.
It didn’t take long to find our first group of Gelada Monkeys, which look a lot like baboons and live on the edges of the escarpment, feeding on grasses, leaves and roots on the plateau during the day prior to retreating to the cliffs at night for safety.
We walked along precipitous cliffs, visited waterfalls and had lunch at lookouts with stunning views.
Our final night was at Chennek Camp where the temperature dropped down near zero and we spent the afternoon watching the world go by from a nearby lookout. Gelada Monkeys descended the cliffs at the end of the day and a lone Lammergeier searched for something to eat overhead, while our cooks prepared a delicious evening meal of goat and vegetables.
On our final morning we climbed up to 4400m to see the endangered Walia Ibex which only live on the highest cliffs.
From the Simiens we returned to Gondar where I spent two days sorting photos. My Canon DO camera lens broke in Portugal prior to flying to South Africa back in May so most of the photos on my blog this year have been taken with my phone.
Tomorrow we leave Ethiopia and cross the border into Sudan. From all reports the Sudanese are extremely friendly, which should be a real change from Ethiopia.
We’ve been above 2000m for most of the last month and the temperatures have been mild. Tomorrow we descent back to sea level where the temperature will hit 40 degrees everyday for the next two weeks and I’ll drive across the Sahara for the second time in two years.
Bye for now.