The Simien Mountains

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The Simien Mountains

We started our next part of the journey to the Simien Mountains with Dawoud and Hussein early on February 26th. The first leg of the trip was to Debark which is situated not far from the entrance to the Simien Mountains National Park. The drive to Debark was very picturesque as there were many people farming along the way. We made numerous stops to admire the scenery and to take photos.

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This hillside was lit up by the sun and made the perfect scene to photograph.

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When we reached Debark, we went first to the hotel we had booked and it didn't take us long to figure out that this was not a place where we wanted to stay. Dawoud suggested another hotel in town and it turned out to be much more comfortable and spacious. The downstairs floor was made up of marble tiling and the exterior fa├žade featured multicoloured neon lighting. The hotel turned out to be a very popular bar and place of celebration. There was even a wedding party one night! What it meant that there was very loud music until about 10pm when it quietened down completely so we slept well for the three nights we were there. The chef was excellent, so we enjoyed our breakfasts and dinners immensely.

After dropping off our bags that first day, we got our Park pass and, with that, came a local Scout who would accompany us for the next three days. Sadly, we cannot remember his name but we will never forget his smile! He was there for our safety and carried a gun. As much as we could gather there wasn't really any danger, but it gave the local population employment. He was really a delight to have with us and I found him so helpful when we were walking in places that were a bit tricky. He really looked after me!

We headed into the Park for the afternoon and got our first panoramic views of the Simiens which are well known for striking awe into their beholders! The road had quickly deteriorated into a gravel road with lots of pot holes and rough sections, but luckily we had an excellent driver. I was a bit concerned when we first climbed into the Toyota Landcruiser that it was way too old (a mid-nineties model), but once I knew that Hussein was also a mechanic, I felt confident that it would be safe. Hussein was incredibly conscientious, each day checking the vehicle to make sure everything was in good running order.

Dawoud knew exactly where to stop to get a great first good view of the mountains just near the Simien Lodge which is located in the Park and in which to stay is very expensive ($250 US per night). Hence we stayed outside of the Park! Another time, I think we would choose to camp in the Park so that we wouldn't have to drive in and out each day ..... though camping could be challenging as, when the sun sets, the temperatures drop dramatically going down to near 0 C. Having been feeling not so well a few days before I was happy for our comfortable accommodation!

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Lo and behold as we were standing at that first stop, admiring the view, we realised that there was a group of gelada baboons sitting just below us. Dawoud encouraged us to move closer so we could see them better. Usually with wild animals you do need to keep a distance but for whatever reason geladas are very comfortable around humans and really pay no attention to us.

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The mountains were amazing, Each time we stopped to get a view of them, it was more beautiful. Both Chris and I had a strong association with the Grand Canyon, with these incredible defined and layered mountains.

We stopped for lunch at a beautiful viewpoint.

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We went on a hike which was actually a small segment of the three or four day hike in the Simiens that we had opted not to do mostly because of the altitude (3500 to 4000 meters) and it is known to be a pretty strenuous trip. This part of the trail was gentle and followed right along the edge of the cliff so we got amazing views all along.

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We marvelled at the location of this house, that is remote!

There were lots of trees that shaded us from the heat of the sun which was welcome. Along the trails, kids often are gathered and as soon a tourists come into view they lay out their wares, which are usually mats and hats woven from grass.

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Here are a few photos we took along the way.

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As we were driving back towards Debark, we stopped when we saw a huge gathering of baboons. We must have been there for an hour watching the going ons of baboon life. Most of the them were eating, digging up small roots in the ground quietly and persistently. Others were grooming eating other pulling out ticks.

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There were quite a few very noisy squabbles between the geladas which really were very entertaining. A number of times, a male gelada would climb on top of a tree and then others would gather below the tree and there was a lot of noise. The male on top would jump up and down and the others would try to climb up.

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We stopped for our last view of the Simiens late in the afternoon and watched how the sun lit up the peaks which had previously been in shadow. It was really stunning! Satisfied with our day, we headed back to Debark for the evening.

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The next day, we started out early as we wanted to catch the early morning light, in the mountains. Today we would drive all the way to the end of the road through the Simiens. We made endless stops along the way, to view the mountains.

As most people who see the park are hikers, the local people carry all the gear and camping equipment for the hikers and meet them at the camp at the end of the day. We would often see groups of local people and their mules with all the gear.

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We stopped at a viewpoint along the way and this local man was there and I asked to photograph him. He was so colourful with his blanket. He asked me for a little money to be photographed and I handed him a small bill and he just tossed it on the ground, clearly he didn't think it was enough. He did it in such a natural way that it was easy for me to come up with a bit a more money. It was a moment!

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We had our lunch with a view at Chenek which is the last campsite in the park where the mountains are the highest. After lunch we walked over with our scout to a lookout point that had a really dramatic view. We took a few photos there.

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Chris and our Scout

I think that Dawoud thought we would just go back after this, but Chris wanted to go up to a pass that was further along from Chenek to see if he could see one of the highest peaks in Ethiopia called Ras Dashen. There was a road, but Dawoud was unsure whether the vehicle was up to the trip. When Chris suggested that he walk the two hours, Dawoud quickly changed his mind and decided to try driving up. We are so glad he did as it really was the highlight of the day for all of us including Dawoud and Hussien. Higher up, the landscape changed dramatically and there were lots of lobelia plants which dotted the hills. They are really picturesque especially with the blond grasses which were plentiful up there. As we got closer to where we would need to hike up, Dawoud spotted some Ibex, which you only find in the higher altitudes. They were just grazing amongst the lobelia.

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We started out walk up to the top, which was over 4000 metres. I decided I would try and go slowly and see how far I got. Our scout was with me the whole way, with a support hand whenever I needed it. We finally got to the top just as several men and horses were arriving from the other side of the mountain.

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The view from up top looking back at where we had come from was fabulous.

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As we came down, we had a fabulous view of the male ibex and so despite that fact that it was getting late stopped to take some photos. It really was a highlight seeing these beautiful animals.

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We started our long journey home and it must have taken two and a half hours. As it turned out, we were at the gate at least 30 minutes later that we should have been and it took a bit for them to let us through. They made us promise we would leave the park on time the next evening.

Our last day in the Simiens, we spent more time walking and less time in the car which was really enjoyable. Several times we met gelada baboons along the way. At our lunch spot, there was a pair of thick beaked ravens who landed not far from us and I was able to get a photo of them.

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There were so many wonderful backdrops for photographs here and so we took the opportunity to take a photo of us.

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The day before we had seen several women on horses who were dressed in traditional clothing as were the horses and I had wanted to get a photo, but they were heading to a funeral. Today, there were several more women coming along the road so I was able to get their photo.

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I was hoping to have one more chance to photograph the geladas and we got lucky seeing them in a very gorgeous setting,

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We had been hoping to see the huge bird called a Lammergeier that frequents this area particularly high in the mountains, but so far they had evaded us. Not 30 minutes from the park gate, Dawoud excitedly points out that there is a Lamengeyer flying high above. What a delight to see this bird.

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This was a great way to end our time in the Simiens. I will continue on with our journey to Aksum, and then our time there in the next post.

This featured blog entry was written by danjali from the blog East Africa Adventure.
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By danjali

Posted Mon, May 27, 2019 | Ethiopia | Comments