Simien Mountains

This morning, a new driver picked us up for the next leg of our tour. This guy, appropriately enough, is named Malas (“bad” in Spanish). He smokes cigarettes, which has evidently damaged his olfactory system because he could use a shower.

He’s a scary driver, though I got more comfortable as I observed him for a while. Unlike Maria. We had a few close calls, but the only time he slammed on the brakes was when a kid threw a rock at the car. Other than that, our only complaint is that he looks at you to talk. Not a big issue because he doesn’t speak English. And he got on the phone a few times with the accompanying distraction.

After a couple of hours, we got to the entrance to the Simien Mountains National Park. We signed in and got a local guide named Fanta. Along with Fanta, we got a scout, a uniformed ranger with an AK47. He was there to protect us from unknown dangers, presumably leopards. Not sure how this gentle little guy would do, but he was mandatory and along he came.

After an hour on a rocky road, the first stop in the park was the lodge where we’re spending the night. We got our luggage into our cute little thatched roof bungalow (much better than the last cute little thatched roof bungalow), then had a good lunch at the lodge and met Fanta and guide for our hike.

There was some confusion about our itinerary, which had us driving another hour on the crappy road to a campsite from which we were going to take a short 30 minute stroll to see the park. When Fanta explained that we could hike directly from the lodge to see the same stuff, and have a nice 2-1/2 hour hike, we jumped at the better plan.

So we walked a couple of hundred yards down the road and found a trailhead. The Simien Mountains are like the Grand Canyon, badlands that stretch as far as you can see. Geology like you see in the Southwest, only with more vegetation.

We walked along the rim until Fanta spotted a Gelada. Geladas are baboons, vegetarians that dig and eat grass roots. They are about the size of medium dogs, so they need lots of grass roots. They feed all day long. They live at higher altitude than any other primates (except humans). They hang around in troops of several hundred, and are habituated to humans.

We walked right up to them, and then into the group. Fanta said don’t touch them and to be sure to stay a half meter away. We sat for a while among them. They were constantly digging, picking grass roots. The youngsters were climbing trees and playing. Babies were riding their mothers’ backs. There were several hundred spread across the hillside.

We continued our hike, stopping here and there to admire the views. We descended probably a couple of hundred feet, and climbed back up, nothing too challenging. Probably two miles total, which was enough, given we were well over 10,000 feet. When we rejoined the road, Malas was waiting for us with the car to drive us back to the lodge.

Now for dinner. We have WiFi up here in Africa’s highest hotel, but the electricity keeps going out.