The Simien Mountains – part 1

How do you begin to describe paradise? This was a thought that crossed my mind when I first looked out over the kingdom of the Simien Mountains.

My friend Pam and I took a four-day trek through these mountains, which are located in northern Ethiopia. After flying to the city of Gondar, we met up with our guide and drove a few hours to the Simien National Park. Shortly after entering, we got our first glimpse of baboons!

Their long flowing hair made perfect sense for the cooler climate, but all I could think was how they looked like giant stuffed animals 🙂  There was a large group of them, maybe 30, and watching the social dynamics (the females and babies grouping together, the littlest ones playing wildly, the younger males off in their own group) and the concentrated looks on their faces as they dug through the dirt looking for bugs etc… they really didn’t seem that much different than humans! (Compared to, say, watching a bird)

Look at that look of concentration! I felt like they could have just as easily been doing a crossword puzzle 🙂

After another hour of driving, with some alluring glimpses of the magnificent views we were about to encounter, we got in a short hike and reached the first camp site. We met up with our scout (a man kind of like a ranger, who knows the park in all its angles) and three Japanese hikers who were using the same guide. We were to hike most of the day and camp at a different place each night.

Logistics aside, now I have to do my best to convey in words and two-dimensional pictures what were probably the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

One thing I loved about the Simiens is that because there wasn’t just one big peak, but rather a never-ending series of peaks, you didn’t have to wait until the end of the trip to see the cherished views. Within an hour or two of setting off the next morning, our breath was stolen as views like this greeted our eyes:

 

 

 

We literally stood frozen in awe for several minutes when we came upon this view that made the Grand Canyon look small. What made this particular magnificence so unique? These undulating series of peaks and canyons, formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, 1. are staggeringly high (we were over 4,000m / 13,000 feet) and 2. just continue on as far as your eye can see.

In addition to the immense height and scope, what truly vivified / gave life to the park was the wealth of living things living on the mountains. Our guide, having grown up in the mountains and completed his master’s in tourism studies, seemed to know the name of every plant we came across. He also told us about the incredible uses the people still living in the mountains put the plants to. My favorite example was the plant in the third picture below (already forgotten its name). Among the array of flowers that lined the path…

Path bursting with plants thankful for the rain. In many places the presence of so many plants wouldn’t be anything special, but in this dry arid environment, their abundance stood out.

…were plants that it’s easy to love:

This is actually the flower of the St. John’s wort plant, which is commonly used in the US to treat depression

…and then there’s this one:

Don’t mess with this! Unless you need soap.

In addition to the intimidating thorns all over its leaves, this plant is highly poisonous. I’d be hard pressed to find a use for a plant that could literally kill me—but the people living in these mountains discovered that the fruit is excellent for washing clothes! What ingenuity.

A few more pics to end part 1 of this journey.

 

 

 

Livin’ on the edge 🙂

 

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