It was in Gondor that I arranged to share a jeep with an American couple so we could trek in the Simien Mountains. This involved a catalogue of disasters but at the same time was one of the most enjoyable experiences of the trip. Again I should point out one of the pitfalls of travelling alone. When you meet up with others and decide to share your travels for a while, there is a tendency to relax. After being solely responsible for the planning, deciding where to go, how to get there, how much to pay, what to take and so forth, brief interlude where it can be shared is very welcome.
The jeep took us to Debark where we bought supplies to take to the huts on the way. We hired a guide, a man equipped with welly boots and a rifle. We left the jeep to carry on along a dirt track and set out across the mountains. We would meet up again with the jeep and its driver at Sankaber Lodge. It was here that I first encountered baboons. They appear aggressive, barring their teeth, but in fact were more wary of us than we were of them.
Eventually we arrived at the hut in darkness. We unpacked our dried pasta and packaged soup. We searched around for cooking utensils; nothing. The hut contained beds and nothing else. Thanks to our driver donating fuel we managed to get some wood burning and sat around feeling rather glum and hungry. A group of small children emerged from the darkness and as children often do, joined us in our mood, in this case of gloom. After a while, they got up and left and vanished into the darkness. We settled back to our gloom, somewhat enhanced by a steady drizzle and a dampness that permeated to the bone.
But out of the darkness our children re-emerged. This time they were carrying pots and pans, firewood and water. They had clearly assessed our situation and gone to their parents. We devoured our pasta and soup and thanked the children with some baksheesh.
Fortunately the other huts were better equipped. But we still managed to make potentially disastrous decisions. After the first day’s trek I decided that carrying my full pack all day was too much. Yes, I was finally acknowledging the one’s mid-sixties is a time to ease off. The hut was able to organise a mule. We packed the mule with our baggage and set off. To our astonishment, the mule and its handler went one way and we went the other. In a panic, as we were late setting out, we grabbed essentials, put them in a carrier bag and set off again. Thirty minutes or so after leaving the hut, we noticed a small ridge which would give an excellent view down the valley. We set off for this little summit. On the way back to the path I noticed that Dave (that’s not his name) was no longer carrying the bag.
‘Where is it?’ I enquired.
‘No problem,’ Came the answer ‘I left it on the track.’
We searched for maybe half an hour and finally gave up. Either he had misread where it had been left or it had been stolen. We plodded on with no food or water. Fortunately it was relatively overcast and at one village we were offered some fruit.
It was not until we returned to our initial hut several days later that we found the solution. Seeing us leaving the bag and walking on, some boys had guessed we had forgotten it and kindly returned it to the hut.
The scenery of the Simien Mountains is characterised more by valleys than mountains. Walking the high plateaux areas, one is struck by the sheer edges plunging into the deep fertile valleys. The vegetation is typical of tundra, a mix of tufted dry grass, and bare rock. Scattered among this barren landscape are large xerophytic plants, with fleshy leaves protected with harsh spikes. More sheltered part give rise to lush carpets of brightly coloured flowers, many of which can be seen in European gardens.
There are a number of scattered small villages, with the occupants eking a meagre living from the harsh conditions. Clearly lacking schooling, local children pop up seemingly from nowhere to sell home-made trinkets.