Sunday, October 30, 2005

Red hot pokers

Red hot pokers
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Two days into Simien Mountains, from Gondar and then a drive up to Axum, the old capital of the Axumite Empire, which was pre-eminent in the Horn of Africa from around 100 BC to 700 AD.

The Simien Mountains were quite simply breathtaking, with escarpments falling vertically for almost 1,000 metres to the forested floor and views of near and distant limestone peaks jutting into the air.

The road from Gondar took us past highland farming country, with rolling hills, green and yellow, from the dominant flower in the region. By the villages there would be what looked nothing less than English village greens, with horses, donkeys, cows and sheep dotted around in small groups, looked over by small groups of young children, wrapped in green or blue rugs, carrying sticks.

We, Fred and I and Michael, quickly arrived in Debark, where in addition to the young chap, Peter, from the hotel who arranged the trip for us, and the driver and a cook, who had all come up with us from Gondar, we picked up a local guide and a scout (the one with the rifle) at the Park Headquarters. Our team would be later supplemented with two mules (ponies actually) and their drivers. All for two 4-5 hour walks in the mountains!

Leaving Debark, we entered a beautiful green and yellow landscape of rolling hills, planted with flax, peas, broad beans and wheat. We stopped off to buy some bunches of peas and broad beans from the children working in the fields and popped them open and ate the deliciously sweet peas as we raced up higher into the Park.

Within an hour we had climbed up to Senkaber Camp, which is 3,300 metres high, perched near the escarpment. Here we picked our mule drivers and set off with guide and scout, first stop being a breathtaking view across to Jinbar waterfall, which has a drop of 500 metres. We climbed through a well beaten path, under low Erica trees up back to the road which we followed for a short distance where we passed numerous baboons, this time the impressive lion baboons, as well as an area, covered with the very beautiful red-hot poker plants.

Back off the road we passed through wheat and barley fields, dotted with blue flowering mint, yellow daisies, blue scabious, purple violets and vetch and the like. Coming up to a stream with dark clouds in the east, it looked nothing less than Scotland! Once over the waterfall where we had lunch accompanied by the large billed ravens, we had a long climb through a rather barren area, being destroyed by erosion. On we went as it grew cooler and cooler until we made it to Geech village, above which we found grassland, on which our camp was set up.

We were delighted to find our tent already set up and also to be greeted by a glass of hot coffee. Being 3,600 meters high (over 11,000 feet), it was not too warm, and I was glad that I had bought not only a scarf but a silly looking woolen hat to keep me warm! After coffee, I joined the guide and the scout to walk back up to the top of the escarpment for some more breathtaking views, while the sun lowered in the sky, with ravens and hawks flying in the valley below.

The low sun put everything into a beautiful light, none better than the giant lobelia plants scattered around. In the meantime, the local villagers were bringing their cattle and horses and donkeys back into the village, a steady stream passing just above camp, with shepherds calling out loudly to each other, happy to be at day’s end.

It was now that we realized just what being 11,000 feet up meant, because as the sun set (very dramatically – all pics to be seen on flickr!), the temperature plummeted and soon there was steam coming out of our mouths as we breathed and we were happy for every piece of warm clothing and wraps that we had with us!

The cook came up trumps with dinner – fresh soup followed by pasta with fried potatoes AND fried beetroot (exceedingly delicious) and a cabbage and carrot stir-fry. We had to rush it down as it was SO cold that we couldn’t stand being outside of the tent. Unfortunately, the camp fire was inside a small hut, so there was no possibility of sitting cosily around this until the small hours. It was just after 7 when we made it to our sleeping bags, Mike to his masai robe.

Fortunately, the sun came up early next morning and warmed us up quite quickly, and after an early breakfast we were soon on our way back the way we had come the day before, this time passing villagers taking their animals out for grazing. Views just as spectacular.

Once back in Debark, we set off on the 360 km journey to Axum. This was easily the most beautiful road journey we have had all the time we have been traveling, as we wound our way up and down the sides of mountains and valleys, past waterfalls, forests, farmland, rivers, villages, often with views back across to the peaks and plateaus of the Simien Mountains. The road was built by Italians and felt and looked very much like and Italian road. The tape of Teddy Afro turned itself around many times, and we learned that his music is banned by Ethiopian radio because his songs are very anti-government. The great thing is though that his music is played EVERYWHERE, protest music as almost every Ethiopian we speak to despises the current Zenawi/Tigray government, which cheated on the elections ion June.

Anyway, we sped along the roads until we almost had made it to Axum, when in a manoevre to avoid a young boy selling guava’s, the vehicles alternator died and we were left stranded 30 kms short of our destination. Still, it was as short bus-ride to Axum, where we had a room waiting for us at the very friendly Africa Pension, where we bumped into all sorts of people we had seen in Bahir Dar and Gondar. Many beers were drunk over a pleasant dinner to end a perfect day.

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