After some teary farewells and a 36-hour trip (that would have been pretty dull if it weren’t for the on-plane arrest of an unruly drunk man), I made it to Melbourne, Australia just in time to ring in 2013. I’m now up at Falls Creek, about 4 hours outside Melbourne, to get in a bit more altitude training and to experience the hot spot for Aussie distance runners this time of year.
I was extremely sad to leave Ethiopia– it’s the longest by far that I’ve spent in a single place in the past 5 months, and saying goodbye made that fact all too real. Thankfully, though, I went out on the best note possible, venturing up to northern Ethiopia for a week with Dan and making it back to Addis to celebrate Christmas and wrap up my amazing African stint.
Leg 1: Simien Mountains
Dan and I caught an early flight from Addis Ababa to Gonder and then took a 3-hour taxi to Debarq, the registration point for the Simien Mountains. We rented some camping gear, grabbed a few things from the market, and hired the mandatory scout as well as a guide, mule, and mule man. Our scout didn’t speak English but was clearly a boss, hiking all day in jelly sandals with his big gun slung casually over his shoulder. And our guide Ishoo was hilarious, friendly, knowledgeable, and down to walk quickly and trek off the beaten path.
That first afternoon, our driver dropped us a few hours from Sancobar, our first campsite, so we could start hiking. From that first bit and for the next three days, we were spoiled by stunning surroundings that looked and felt like the Sub-Saharan Africa I always imagined, but prettier.
We walked through little villages, animal herds, and pods of shepherd children selling crafts and playing homemade instruments.
This little guy was good! (and pulled off the pointy hat much better than me)
The highlight of the entire trek came in the form of tons of friendly, furry gelada baboons that only live in the Ethiopian highlands. We passed through a few big packs and were able to walk right up beside them– prime viewing for critter-picking off each other’s backs, piggy-back riding for babies over 3 months old, stomach-clinging for babies under 3 months old, and a few raucous skirmishes I assume were over some fly-looking gelada ladies.
Another awesome part of the trip involved sharing a coffee ceremony and campfire with all of the scouts and guides and a few other trekkers. It was hilarious watching the scouts, still clinging to their guns, snuggled up in blankets, sipping from tiny coffee cups, and eating small handfuls of popcorn. Equally funny was watching Katie, a solo traveler from Melbourne who I’m going to visit next week, try to teach the Ethiopian men to moonwalk by the fire. They didn’t quite get it, but they sure did try!
The great hiking, pretty views, and neat animals were never-ending! In addition to the baboons, we also spotted some ibex, a bushbuck, Lammergeiers (huge bearded vultures), and tons of ravens that I mistook for frogs when I heard them outside our tent. Their croaking is impressive!
Other undocumented highlights included:
> Sharing a cooking hut with a very experienced gourmet chef that a family hired, and asking him to borrow a pot to make a meal out of the only 2 ingredients we had left: pasta and hummus. Needless to say, I don’t think he was very impressed with our culinary skills or tastebuds. But he was probably too busy whipping up a simple meal of crab cakes, beetroot salad, and grilled Nile perch to notice.
> Trying tej, homemade honey-wine that’s popular in Ethiopia (and featured in 2 collages above). I won’t say it was delicious, but it was interesting and definitely worth the try!
> Moseying off on a few “runs” in between and after the hiking. We reached 4,000 m (13,350 ft) at one point, so calling my rambles “runs” isn’t totally accurate. But it sure was fun and hard work!
> Competing with Dan over who slept in more layers. We were pretty even with 5-6 on top and 3-4 on bottom, and we needed every one of them… especially the night it rained and a little hole brought in a nice stream of water through my sleeping bag. Nothing a t-shirt-turned-hole stopper couldn’t sort out though!
Part II of my trip, including Gonder and Lalibela, is coming soon. Cheers to a new year and living the dream no matter where you are in life or the world!