Our hike up the Simien Mountain is both a highlight and a lowlight of the trip. It’s an experience I’ll never forget because of those extremes – I can honestly say that I spent the worst night of my life up in those mountains!
Which is a good indication that it was both horrible and that my life, in general, is pretty good.
We really weren’t prepared for the hike. The guide book instructed us that one could make arrangements themselves for a fraction of the price (but it would require more time/effort) or you could hire someone to make the arrangements for you – ie. hiring a driver, cook, guide, scout, and renting tents and sleeping bags. We opted for the latter since we weren’t convinced the price difference was that much more and we already had limited time. Unbeknownst to us, the guy who arranged things for us was just starting up his tour business and had little to no experience yet – he was a young university student with great English and confidence, so we thought we were in good hands.
We were up before the sun – a common theme on this trip! – and headed out to meet our crew. They had rented a van for our drive to Debark, the small town where you pay your entrance fees, get your guide and scout, as well as gear. The drive to Debark provided a wonderful glimpse into rural Ethiopian life – we saw lots of people carrying water jugs from the well back to their home – sometimes miles away; we saw children helping their families with every day duties like watching the cattle graze; we saw people walking to and from the nearest market – a walk that takes some of them 2-3 days.
Lots of people just walking places, which might explain why the roads are so terrible. Two minutes outside Gondar, the nice smooth pavement ended and the jarring pot-hole ridden dirt road began. Dust billowed through the windows and filled our lungs and our tailbones ached – for five hours. It’s around 100 km (62 miles) to Debark and it took 5 hours. For those in this area, that’s the equivalent of taking five hours to get from Ottawa to Brockville – a regularly one hour drive! Poor Steve, we realized later, was already suffering from altitude sickness, feeling nauseous and dizzy the whole way.
But it was a gorgeous drive. Not only did we get to watch the towns and people go by, but we were also looking out at some stunning views.
I could hardly wait to see what views were in store for us on the trek itself. Once we reached the small town of Debark, our crew made arrangements for us at the park office – hiring the scout and guide – and then picked up some tents and sleeping bags. Had we been able to understand Amharic, we would have overheard at the park office that the trek we were about to undertake in one day was really meant to be done over three days. But we didn’t discover this fun fact until later.
Then we went for lunch and we realized just how terrible Steve was feeling when all he could muster to order was plain pasta. We also realized that gone were any semblance of creature comforts when we had to use the horrific bathrooms in the place – and this was the most “international” restaurant in town! I lived in China for a year so I’m familiar with unusual and very culturally different bathrooms, but even I was pretty shocked at some of the bathrooms we had to use. But when in Rome…
I’ll write about the trek itself in another post. For now, all the pictures are available to see on my SmugMug site.
So stay tuned to hear about the highs and lows of hiking Simien Mountain!