High Peaks

High Peaks
Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

The fantastic scenery of Ethiopia just keeps getting better and better as we head up into the Simien Mountains National Park. The park is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and contains the habitats of several endangered species.

The park headquarters is in the small town of Debark, which has the same busy feel I get from Moab, UT and other towns that seem to exist mainly to facilitate enjoyment of nearby attractions. Here we stopped for a while to pay our entrance fees and also to hire the required number of armed guards and scouts. It’s unlikely we’ll run into any leopards or other dangerous critters, but this seems to be more of an employment program than anything else.

Along the road we saw a farmer following an ancient tradition, using his horses to thresh his grain. The horses separate the grains from the straw by stomping around on it, and they get to eat all the straw they want, so they don’t seem to mind.

Our lodging for tonight will be the Simien Lodge, where the electricity doesn’t come on until 6 pm, and you get a hot water bottle from the front desk to take back to your room for sleeping, but…location, location, location!!

Besides gawking at the extraordinary scenery, our main goal for today’s visit to the park is to observe the Gelada Baboons. Not actually a baboon but a monkey, the Gelada’s have a unique and complicated social structure. They can be identified by the triangular red patch on their chests, which led to their nickname, Bleeding Heart Baboon.

They are the only primates that live mainly on grass, which they munch on all day, roots and all. The males get pretty aggressive with each other, but they seem to be fearless around humans. They aren’t afraid of us, though any glimpse of a leopard or hyena would be a signal for all to take off running.

The best way to observe them is to sit down on a rock and wait patiently for them to walk by. They came within a few feet of us and didn’t seem the least bit concerned. They used to be widespread in this part of Africa but the remaining 40,000 or so are now concentrated in this part of Ethiopia.

As we drove around the park in search of the Geladas, we had to stop frequently to enjoy the incredible mountain views. Our lodge is at around 9000 ft. altitude, and not far away is the highest point in Ethiopia at just over 10,000. The amazing thing is that there are farmers and villages in these out-of-the-way places, living on the fertile volcanic soil as they have for centuries.

The table-top mountain we see in this bowl is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is that there are no roads going to it! If anyone in the village needs to make a trip to town, they go by foot down a natural trail. The road we came in on was built by the Italians back in the 30s, and it is still in pretty good shape, although the pavement wore off many years ago. Repaving it is a daunting task, since there is no other road anywhere near it to use as a detour while they work on it.

I noticed this poster in the hotel dining room, saying that the European Trade and Tourism Commission had selected Ethiopia as the best tourist destination of 2015. I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment, and find it amazing that no American tour companies seem to come here. I searched for 20 years or so before I discovered this tour from a Canadian company, Adventures Abroad. I wish more Americans would discover this amazingly beautiful country and it’s warm, welcoming people!


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