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Bibi Undercover - The Ethiopian Files

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pault

It’s probably clear I am having difficulty getting this done – just too busy at the moment, which I didn’t expect. Next week should be better.

 

Everyone else at the Sabean International Hotel seemed to be with a tour group. In fact, the question asked when we entered the restaurant was “Which tour company are you with?” This was the first and last time we’d mess with tour groups, although theoretically Limalimo and Korkor are both just about big enough to accommodate a smaller group. I have nothing against tour groups in theory. I don’t go around saying things like “I’d rather nail my ears to the wall than travel with a tour group.” However, in practice quiet tour groups are like quiet troops of chimpanzees – asleep, dead or already split into much smaller groups and grooming. We are social creatures.

 

There is no way on earth I would recommend Sabean International Hotel if there was a better choice in Axum but there is likely truly no better choice. And it’s okay. So I recommend it, or doing Axum and getting out of there - which would be a shame because I feel I was wrong to be working out how I could possibly avoid “boring tourist-trap” Axum a few months before. I was even considering Shire as an alternative for the night. That would not have been sensible. Axum is actually a very interesting, quirky, unique tourist trap – and based on our very limited experience it’s actually only a tourist trap if you let it be so. I have to say I met quite a lot of interesting people here and they seemed very welcoming. It feels as if we were there a couple of days given all the things we did and everyone we met but in reality we were there from midday one day to 9 am the next. Here I am writing like an expert but I barely know the place. My advice could be on a par with that of a mother asking her daughter “Why do you have to hang out with that idle hippy boyfriend of yours? Why don’t you get a nice boyfriend like that Ted Bundy across the street.” It certainly would be hard to call it an attractive town, but it is considerably more attractive than the larger town of Shire (She-ray, not as in the hobbits’ location in Middle Earth) nearby.

 

Our guide rendezvoused with us and our driver at the hotel after lunch and in the car briefed us that it was going to be a bit of a whirlwind tour, but that we should still feel free to ask questions. In the end it didn’t seem all that fast, but despite the invitation to ask questions there was still a reluctance to do so too much because it might delay us. First stop was the most famous and impressive (by far) of the stelae fields. Stelae are basically massive gravestones. Although not as massive as those other extreme gravestones, the pyramids, they are each cut from a single piece of rock mined some miles away and so their mining, transport, carving and erection in the 3rd and 4th century AD is very impressive. Under the largest there are fairly elaborate burial chambers, most of which have yet to be excavated. There are three of these chambers that you can enter I think – two here and one a little out of town.

 

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The largest of the stelae is assumed to have collapsed while it was being erected - just too big and heavy for a single piece of rock. The second stele is the one that the Italians looted after their successful invasion in the 1930s. The Italians apparently broke it, but it has since been repaired and restored very effectively. As the rock is similar to granite it cleans up very nicely, even after 1700-1800 years.

 

Pride comes before a fall

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Italian loot now beautifully restored

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Note all the windows on the above two, and there are false doors too – these stelae are imaginary skyscrapers long before any building would have had more than 3-4 floors.

Down in the burial chamber we visited. Obviously it wasn’t quite as light as it appears and we needed our torches to see much away from the “skylights”.

 

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Another Axum mystery is the sealed stone coffins. Legend has it that a magical machine using now-lost technology was used to soften or melt the stone so that the coffin could be fused with its lid. Intriguing – and no doubt listed among the “FACTS!” supporting a number of far-fetched internet-only conspiracy theories.    

 

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There is an excellent little museum next to the site of the stelae. I didn’t expect it to be any good and at first I refused an old man’s offer of assistance (there is no charge but of course a tip would be expected). However, he knew his foreign visitors and after he offered a couple of choice bits of information about exhibits I was looking at I realised he really knew his stuff and that the place would be very interesting with his help. So I kept on talking to him and asking questions and then passed the information on to Mum, who joined us once she too realised there was a lot of interesting information being shared. So if you’ve been in the country a couple of days at least and so know a bit of the history do visit this museum and do allow the old man to guide you. It’s worth it I think, especially since many exhibits do not have very  revealing captions – or are captioned at length in Aramaic but frustratingly briefly in English. There are also good stories behind some items.

 

When you exit the museum you have to go out via the back door, which oh so conveniently takes you to a café and shops for tourists. Of course Mum had to have a look and then I had to have a look to keep an eye on Mum and to tell her to bargain before she gave up on an item. I would have preferred not to shop here but I didn’t really believe our guide when he said he knew somewhere better and we might not have much opportunity later. Really we should have believed our guide. When he took us to his friend’s shop later the quality of the stuff was of a completely different order and the a shop owner was really knowledgeable about it too. Unfortunately (and I mean that) I didn’t really want anything else. So, the shops next to the museum were a waste of time given our tight schedule already, but I am sure there are much worse places.

 

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Next stop was the the Church of Maryam Tsion (aka Church of Maryam Tsion, Church of Our Lady of Zion, New Church of Maryam Tsion, Cathedral of Our Lady Mary of Zion, etc. – Ethiopia is a nightmare for googling information). This was built in 1950 under Haile Selassie so unless you are a rastafarian it is of limited historical interest, but the grounds include the chapel holding the Ark of the Covenant (aka the alleged Ark of the Covenant) and there is a slightly interesting, much older monastery next door with some impressive ancient books and paintings. The monastery is also the site of (I believe) the first Christian church in Ethiopia but there are no remnants of that. There are remnants of the cathedral that was destroyed by some invader or other.

 

Of course the church is a lot more interesting when in use and our guide had timed our visit perfectly so that we arrived just as everybody was coming out from a service. Since it was lent this involved much clamouring for a blessing from the priest and wafting of incense. Everyone is religious here year-round but during lent they take it up a notch or two.

 

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Once the congregation dispersed, we had an almost empty church to ourselves – just us, a woman who was clearly praying very hard for something and a blissful Rastafarian (You thought I was joking eh?).

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Nice, but worth seeing only because it is right across the road from the stelae field and you can do it, the monastery and a quick look at the uninteresting building that holds the Ark in a short time. Hardly a ringing endorsement but it may be competing for your time with some pretty impressive stuff. If it is not, go!

 

Mum was not impressed that she was not allowed into the monastery and I made sure to be quick there and to tell her it was a waste of time – it wasn’t but she’ll never know, so shhhh…..

 

They have some amazing books and paintings there. It is really one for the purists but you can’t deny that it isn’t worthwhile if you are already there.

I was amazed our guide was actually allowed to touch this book. Not sure how much longer they are going to last shown like this. I suppose that is in the hands of god though.

 

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Showing us the hidden art treasures

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Done slightly later that the rock churches I think but amuch, much cleaner and slightly more realistic painting style.

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Realism didn't stretch to the lions.

 

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There was also a kind of museum somewhere along the way – pretty sure at the monastery but when you reach the end of this and realise we did it all in under 5 hours you will understand why some memories are a bit hazy. I rushed the guide through this as Mum was waiting outside, but there was some amazing stuff in there (very old royal robes and regalia, examples of early writing and displays of the development of the alphabet over time into modern Aramaic, all kinds of ancient stuff from churches and monasteries – all rather casually displayed in a small, darkish room below street level).

 

After the church we took a short break for a cold drink next to the square. We went to a place that doubles as the public baths, where we learned that since the poor of Axum have no running water they come here and pay a tiny amount for a shower in a portaloo style cubicle. Not the kind of place you expect to find yourself having a drink, but it is the only place on the square where you can sit down outside and order a drink (limited to sprite, fanta and ginger ale, but they were chilled!) so it was a pretty cool idea by our guide. We certainly were not concerned by being among the unwashed masses – or in this case the newly washed few, as it was not really a bathing time of day – there were only a couple of kids, presumably ordered to the baths after a very active and smelly morning’s activities.

 

Woman praying at the doors of a non-historic church  near to the Queen of Sheba's "baths"

 

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It was then time for the Queen of Sheba’s baths. Fortunately Mum had been more impressed than she expected by what had come before because this was a bit of a disappointment. I told her to use her imagination, but the fact that the reservoir (what it is) has been completely built over and is still in active use means that a lot of imagination is needed. The fact that the water is green seems a bit disrespectful too. The same was the case for our last stop, which our guide was honest and serious enough not to call the Queen of Sheba’s Palace. It is apparently built on the alleged site of the Queen’s palace, and there a couple of parts where you can imagine you see the foundations of an older building underneath (and there definitely was one) but it is really the ruins of the very large compound of a noble family from the early centuries AD. Actually that is in itself quite interesting as the ruins are complete enough to give a very good idea of how the compound was laid out and you can see how the plumbing worked, where they kept their livestock  and quite a bit else. Well to be honest we would have seen none of this without our guide, so there should be “With a good guide, you can see………”.

 

By the end of the day our guide was a bit exhausted as he had been reeling off facts and stories at double normal speed for well over 4 hours without much of a break, other than for the drinks stop. He apologized if the speed of his guiding had been too much, but he was worried we wouldn’t get around everything in time. We assured him that had not been the case and on the contrary we were very impressed with how he had handled the unreasonable request made to him by Shif on our behalf. Young man but top guide – he even knew his Ethiopian music. Name? Errrrrrrrrr… it’ll come to me I am sure, and this really is the last time I don’t take any notes on a trip.

 

We had an early dinner at the hotel rather than going anywhere because Tesfalem (Mum’s Jasper) had invited us out at 4.30 am the next morning. Yes, he is still around – he has been there all the time taking very good care of us, but usually disappearing into the background when we had another, specialist guide. And for the first seven days of the month there were religious processions that Tesfalem thought we might find interesting and so he had invited us to accompany him. We were happy to do so, even though the thought of getting up at 4 am was a bit daunting after what had been a pretty full day.

 

When we arrived down in the lobby at about 4.00 am we had to wake the night manager from slumber and he slightly grumpily agreed to open the door for us. There was already a regular stream of people dressed in white walking along the road in a uniform direction and by 4.30 am they were still going but at a lesser rate and Mum  was back in the lobby complaining about the cold, lack of sleep, the night manager and anything else she could think of, because Tesfalem was nowhere to be seen and it was past the rendezvous time. I'd blame it on age but she was like this in the mornings at 50 - you have to keep her busy if you get her up early.

 

It wasn't like Tsefalem to be late and in fact of course he had a reason for it, and for our benefit. It was quite cold and he didn't want us standing in the cold until there was something to see. He couldn't call us because he had forgotten to bring the number of the hotel with him so he'd decided we'd be better off in the warmth of the lobby for now. Of course that wasn't going to wash with Bibi,  but in a way he was right - she would have grumbled much worse if she had been stood in the cold for half an hour waiting for something to happen.

 

We drove to a spot where we could wait for the procession to pass. It was led by priests carrying the Ark replica from the church and consisted of hundreds of people wearing what looked like white shrouds, walking slowly, carrying candles and chanting. At just before 5 in the morning it was mightily impressive and moving enough that I didn't dare take a photo at first in case I broke a spell or something. I got over that feeling soon enough and we joined the procession, which was snaking through the town towards the square next to Maryam Tsion and the stelae.

 

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Of course nobody was wearing shrouds and they were simply following the priests to where they would lead pre-dawn prayers for an hour, but it was still an impressive experience and I was really glad we had come out. It feels like we would have missed something of the essence of what Ethiopia is all about if we had stayed in bed. These people were out doing this the whole week and then taking off the white shawls and heading  off the work or to make breakfast for the rest of the family. 

 

Prayers are still segregated here but it is relatively casual - some men moved among the women and a group of the women stood beside a group of the men without anyone freaking out or appearing concerned at all. Just as well as Tesfalem and I were in with the women.

 

Listening to prayers.

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Priest spreading the incense around.

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Bibi says her prayers with a cold and not enough sleep.

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Everybody stood for the prayers and blessings first and then many sat when the sermons started. In fact listening closely to the sermons seemed a bit optional - I suppose the incredibly long services that they have here make that inevitable. Most were very attentive though.

 

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The prayers and sermons continued until dawn, when things were wrapped up and everyone went on their way or followed the priests to church for more.

 

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We were among the leavers as we had to get breakfast and a shower before we left for the long drive to the Simiens at 9 am. It was a very, very cool experience and I can only imagine how intense it must be when there are 50 or more times this many people on one of the big religious festival days.

Edited by pault

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pault

By the way...... you've worked out why it is "Bibi undercover" by now right? 

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Botswanadreams
1 hour ago, pault said:

It was a very, very cool experience and I can only imagine how intense it must be when there are 50 or more times this many people on one of the big religious festival days.

 

You are absolutely right. We remember very often the Meskel celebration in Mekele. It is another world and you are allowed to join this people.      

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pault

The drive from Axum (aksum) to Debark (Debarq) in the Simiens takes 6-7 hours generally, depending on how fast you drive, how many trucks you get stuck behind and how much you stop. The road was built by the Italians early during the Mussolini-era occupation, obviously as a route from Gondar to the coast in what is now Eritrea (the border crossing near Axum has been closed for some decades though, so you cannot drive this.) It is called the Lima Limo road and has now been tarred the whole way to Debark (or to Gondar if your prefer), after which road quality drops off a cliff and you can imagine what it was like when the drive used to be a 12-hour endurance test.

 

We had planned to set our earlier but delayed due to the procession. Still we planned to spend the rest of the day on the road, arriving at Limalimo Lodge around sunset, with lots of stops on the way. Mum wasn't feeling great though after her lack of sleep and I wasn't exactly full of life either, but I had been looking forward to this drive and I was not disappointed, although the signs of massive deforestation were as depressing as ever. 

 

The road rises and falls quite spectacularly, from 1600m or more down to 800m and abck up again, although it doesn't start to get really high until the climb to Debark. Driving through Shire on the road to Gondar sounds very much like Lord of the Rings but although Tolkien was born in Africa he left at three so it seems unlikely to be more than subconscious coincidence unless you want to make more of it (and you could if you wanted). It wasn't on my mind anyway as I was determined to make the most of the drive, even though we would now have harsh light most of the journey.

 

For the first hour or so while there is not a lot of traffic, there are a lot of people and domestic animals on or near the road. It was interesting to find out that one of reasons that there are so many donkeys, sheep, goats and cows on the road was that if you hot one you have to pay for it - a price I guess agreed with locals unhappy with roads that brought little prosperity running through their villages although that is a guess and not a solution to one of the many mysteries of Ethiopian ways.

 

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Donkeys seem to be smart enough to know nobody dare hit them, even at a young age.

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Even the otherwise relatively reckless minibus drivers cede willingly to expensive cows. Their owners know who has the winning hand here, although not all are this careless and unconcerned.

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Scenes from the towns - a mix of development and the continuation of village ways, with segregation of the poor still only a developing issue. 

 

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The number of apparently unfinished buildings in towns, large or small, was really striking. It could be a symbol of the part of Ethiopia I saw. Most of these were apparently due people building when they got a loan until the money ran out -then just stopping, regardless of where construction had got to. I am not sure if this is the effect of financial instability or poor budgeting or a lack of imagination about what to do with money among people used to having little.

 

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It was the same with paint jobs, but when complete the painting certainly brightened up the roadside villages. This village was particularly striking.

 

The old style and the new

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Women moving stones - I am not sure why but assume there is a purpose.At first I thought they were looking for leftovers from whatever was being quarried here but can't make sense of that either. Tesfalem was not sure - although he had driven this route a number of times he was away from his people now and gladly admitted certain things were mysterious to him too. 

 

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After 3 or so hours however, there were increasingly few villages and the people got poorer and hardier and fewer (although perhaps only fewer because their villages were no longer next to the road, which was getting high and winding. We were getting close to the Simiens now.

 

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This river, a tributary of the Tekeze I think, forms the border between the Tigray and Amhara regions - after this Tesfalem would be a bit of a foreigner too! There was even a stricter than usual checkpoint here with a still casual, but slightly less casual check. 

 

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Just after this we stopped for lunch at a restaurant that was clearly very popular with travelers. Mum surprised me actively seeking out a full Ethiopian fasting set (fasting referring to the absence of meat, not the size of the meal, which was enormous). I asked what their specialty was and it was bean stew, which I think was actually lentil stew, although it was hard to tell as it was quite smooth. They asked me if I wanted it spicy and I said normal and that clearly was not the right response so I said yes (the waiter/ owner here spoke a little English). The pice did not refer to the stew but to the accompanying chili sauce. It was pretty spicy but very nice, if a bit too salty. I am not going to post a picture of my meal as it looked like diarrhea, but you can trsut me that the taste was very good, as long as you can take injera. It wasn't particularly clean here, but it was really posh compared to elsewhere we could go and I got my strong stomach from my Mum so neither of us were concerned.

 

After that, with heavy stomachs we climbed again and the Simiens themselves started to come into view. The scenery was getting quite spectacular here, although unfortunately the high sun and a lot of smoke from seasonal burning meant that I can't really reflect that in photographs. 

 

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The last hour or so we didn't stop at all as Mum was absolutely terrified of the road and was clearly not going to appreciate it more if we were driving after dusk. In fact it wasn;t too bad, although of course if we went over the edge there was little chance we would survive. I eventually persuaded her to try covering her eyes. She was a bit angry about that but in the end agreed to put here shawl over her head first like a shroud. This helped so much (but not enough) that after 10 minutes she improved on my suggestion. This is how Bibi ended up arriving at Limalimo Lodge blindfolded, looking exactly like a hostage. Fortunately there were no police checkpoints on the road up, which rose to the giddy height of around 3200 meters.

 

I have photos on my phone but am undecided whether to share (that's not an invitation to vote :P)

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pault

Visiting the Simiens was the original goal of the trip and although the previous three days had exceeded expectations, the first thing I did when I got into my room at Limalimo Lodge was to unpack all the camera gear and decide what I was going to take out for the next couple of days. I know that, like me, most people who read this will want to be fast forwarding to the wildlife, but first you'll need to get the balance of the bill settled with Shif (he and his wife Julia were managing at the time - they share the job with a partner) who had made some unnecessary deductions for the Mekelle part of the trip (force majeure I thought) and a necessary one for Korkor's mix-up. Shif and Julia - good people and more or less enough said, although I'll come back to the lodge a little later maybe. No surprises though - like Korkor, the website descriptions are accurate and they have friends who take lovely photos. Moreover, those photos would be taken in better conditions than now, when smoke from burning and dust were blotting out some of the astounding views. The lodge is at well over 3000m - you go up from Debark - and more or less on the edge of a cliff, - although there is an area below where you can walk quite a way, which is really nice, after that it is 50 -200m drops and goodbye cruel world. 

 

Of course I was up for sunrise and it didn't disappoint.

 

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Very different plants dominated up here of course - these globe thistle things, which were unfortunately losing their flowers now - spectacular in full bloom. Those spikes are as sharp as they look

 

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View from the edge... when I walked down as far as was safe this was the view - which is here  rather obscured but you can see enough to imagine what its like in, say, August or September.

 

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Limalimo is outside the park (actually the other side of Debark from the park) and so down below there is a lot of farming going on, but up top there are only a few hardy folks farming and a lot of the area is reasonably well preserved. There are geladas and lots and lots of birds, as well as views that match all but the best inside the park. 

 

Our guide, driver and scout (crowded or what? but since you see most of the wildlife in the Simiens on foot and the scout is really a "non-optional" armed extra who sat in the luggage space of the Landcruiser it was never an issue. For a group of three it would be "cosy" but the guide could drive I think - just he would be unable to guide as much while driving, and there is a lot of driving) picked us up around 8am. We arranged to leave earlier the next day but the reason for the later start is that our goal was the geladas and they don't really come up from the cliffs until it gets a bit warm, so being there earlier is only of benefit if you want to just get deep into the park as early as you can. Of course if you want to do some landscape photography you may want to be there early - but even then you can only get to the great views so early and would be better off at Simien Lodge if that were your goal.... and you'd still be restricted then by the need for a scout  to come in from Debark, so the only real solution would be trekking. 

 

I was surprised that it took us so long to get into the park, but the second day it wasn't long at all, so it was certainly one of those things where longer than expected becomes long in the mind. I was restless that the sun was getting up and we weren't there yet. That frustration was increased when I realised that the first part of the park had been heavily encroached and was basically no more interesting than driving outside the park. However, with retrospective wisdom, what we were doing was arriving at the large troop of geladas not long after they had come up from the cliffs and started grooming, but just after the folks from Simien Lodge had moved on or gone back for breakfast. We had the very nice experience of having them all to ourselves. Whether an extra 45 minutes of less bright light would be better than this is something for an individual to decide, and if that is what you want you can certainly ask for it, whoever you go with.

 

Finding geladas was as easy as I made it sound - you can't miss them, although everything else is much more hit and miss. I scrambled up a bank and then was able to sit with them, undisturbed and undisturbing, as they groomed and moved around me. They would never come too close though as I wasn't prepared to sit still enough, being intent on taking their photos.

 

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After 20 minutes or so, Mum preferred for the most part to watch from a greater distance as she felt safer, was interested in what our guide had to say about them, and there was more shade. Plus, the bank was too steep to come up and down more than once.

 

Upon returning to the vehicle without guide, she was surrounded in a ritual quite different to the geladas' grooming.

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However, our guide was alert and moved in to have a word (with Mum as much as the sellers) explaining that he'd prefer she didn't buy here and he would find her somewhere better. That sounds a little dodgy but what he meant was that buying from people who mob tourists is going to encourage people to mob tourists and there are plenty of sellers too proud, shy or polite to mob tourists, so better to buy from them. We later found out that our guide is the current head of the guides association and this is part of an initiative by them to try to discourage hard-sell tactics and ensure tourists spend their money deep inside the park rather than just around the lodge and the camps, if they do want to spend (and that if they don't want to spend or just don;t like what is on sale, they aren't harassed). Good man and well done Bibi for believing him and keeping the wallet in your pocket. 

 

Rescue 

 

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Tiny drama over, I returned to the geladas.....

 

Groom me please......... who could say no?

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Gelada males generally retain the loyalty of the females by means of charm (grooming in particular) rather than violence, and you can see that in how they behave, although they still behave rather like guys who've attended a slightly disreputable seminar on how to pick-up women. 

 

"Negging" gelada?

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The ultimate rewards of being a "good male"... mating rights and a parasite-free bottom.

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I tended to shoot with my 100-400 more than the 70-200 I also had on a camera, as the nearest geladas were not always the ones I wanted to take a picture of. As I wanted to move around on my hands and knees or my backside, I had to leave the unused camera unattended sometimes - couldn't carry two. That is not wise as a youngster taking an interest could have been disastrous, but fortunately this male was neither interested nor in need of a pee.

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There are so many interesting plants around and the area must be fascinating and very pretty when they are all in bloom.

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Our target today was the geladas and then to drive up to Sankaber camp and walk from there for 3-4 hours, with the vehicle coming to pick us up further up the road. Unfortunately Mum wasn't really recovered from her cold and with the slightly thin air at around 3200m plus and steep and rough terrain she really didn't feel like a 4 hour walk. Fortunately there was a compromise and it was agreed our driver would stay with Mum, who could rest at the camp and maybe walk up to have a look at a view and that we would alter our route slightly so that we'd walk a couple of hours and then come down to the road to get Mum for the last hour, after she had had a rest. We had considered just driving but our guide was pretty clear that this would really mean missing a lot, and especially wildlife. We hoped to see klipspringer and Menelik's Bushbuck today. There were also some classic views that required an uphill walk.

 

Just as we got that sorted out, and especially the relative chance of seeing anything interesting from the road, our guide cried "Oh!..Oh.. oh... leopard. I don't believe it. It's a leopard!" What he'd seen was a flash of orange with black spots in some rocks next to the road, and the "leopard" has now disappeared behind a rock. He explained that while leopards were certainly present it was very rare to see one, especially during the day as they were extremely shy. After a few minutes the "leopard" decided it had better make a run for it and in two bounds leaped up a bank and disappeared into tall grass. "Did you see it?" asked our guide excitedly. "Yes" said Mum, who had actually for once got her binoculars sorted in time. "It''s not a leopard" said I, causing heads to turn from all directions in the vehicle. Even with only a second or so to see it, I knew that shape, tail and everything else very well. "It's a serval." This news was relieved with incredulity by everyone, as the scout and driver asked for translations and the guide struggled to give them. It was as if I had said it was a lorax or a heffalump. 

 

But there was no time to argue as the heffaleopard had descended from the high bank unseen by us in the long grass, and was casually walking down the road not far away from us. When we started moving towards it, it ran, fast.

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We tried to follow a bit, as our guide had realised this was indeed a lorax or other strange beast and was the most excited person in the vehicle. Unfortunately off-roading in the Simiens is near impossible and we had to watch the lorax walk away into the long grass again, without even a single backwards look.

 

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I persuaded everybody that I was not mad and that this was not a skinny leopard that had had an accident with its tail. Our guide wrote down the name and discreetly then asked everybody we met on the way that he knew (which was everyone Ethiopian) whether they had ever seen a serval. Eventually he found someone who confirmed that they were present and could even be melanistic. Obviously (our guide was very experienced) servals are not a common sighting.

 

Anyway, after that it seemd a bit of a step down to be looking for klipspringers, but after a steep walk uphill to near a cliff edge, that is what we were doing. And we were successful, seeing four individuals, although with thick bushes and trees, we had mostly obscured views and glimpses. The light (as you may have noted from the serval pictures) wasn't the best right now either.

 

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View

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Edited by pault

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pault

I am not sure whether you could say things started to get weird with the serval or with the accident. Perhaps it was even with stepping off the plane in Addis. I am not sure, but I do know that from now on things seemed to be out of control somehow, although I could never put my finger on what it was. 

 

Anyway, if it didn't start with the serval or with my arrival in Ethiopia, it started on the walk. About 90 minutes in, our guide told me that we had to be very quiet as just beyond the next bush was a spot where he often saw klipspringers and they were not too skittish if we moved slowly and quietly. The path here required us to crouch as trees spread low branches across it and the thick bushes made it narrow. The guide went first and as he crossed a very small stream (a trickle really) he looked back and put his finger to his lips to show I should be quiet. Of course I was burned and hot and a bit wobbly being up here walking at 3500m, but the main reason I didn't pay attention to the branches was that I was preparing my camera for an action shot in low light. As soon as my foot moved forward to step across the stream, my upper torso went spinning backwards as a substantial tree branch repelled my head. Any klipspringers scurried off and our guide moved to check whether I, now crouching and trying to curse as quietly as possible, was okay. After about 30 seconds of intense pain I was and although it felt like I had cracked the skin, there was no blood and such wounds really bleed madly so we were good to go. I didn't really feel too bad but I clearly wasn't 100% right then and so it was decided we would abandon the walk (which was only going to get more difficult now) now and meet Mum at the road to have lunch. After lunch we'd decide what to do next.

 

We had lunch under some trees and getting a rest, plenty of liquids and some shade made me feel much better. I still felt a bit below par but that is not abnormal on your first full day at altitude, even if it isn't at sickness-inducing heights. We decided we'd do the planned hour walk to a waterfall, where we would also see vultures. Mum was also feeling good after her rest - even if it had been slightly shorter than planned.

 

On the way, unfortunately with a sign in the way and in awful, awful light, we saw Menelik's bushbucks

 

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Getting to the waterfall requires a crawl or walk along a narrow, natural stone bridge with huge drops either side, but this was not an issue for me as I could stay low if I started to lose balance - it was flat. In the end I walked one way and came part of the way back on my backside as the stone was too high to step or jump down from safely (at 30 I could have done it, but it just wasn't worth the risk). This is a well known place so you can look elsewhere for photos. Having shared that I had vertigo my guide forbade me to carry anything and so I only got my camera back once safely on the other side. Mum did not fancy it at all and stayed where she was with a very nice view too - just a bit obscured by a tree.

 

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The waterfall is a trickle at this time of year, but there was a nice rainbow in it. It would be much more impressive closer to rains.

 

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We could watch the vultures nesting, although they were too far for photos, and we could also watch them flying below us. Surprisingly most appeared to be Ruppell's, although there were a few Lammergeiers too. Not sure if that was the time of day, as this is a very well know site for Lammergeiers and perfect for photographing them if you are not too afraid of heights.

 

Just after lunch isn't the best time for shooting birds of course.

 

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On the way back to the road we saw some more klipspringers (making me feel it really had not been worth the whack on the head).

 

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We arrived back at Simien Lodge while the geladas were starting their evening feed and begin getting ready for the night on the cliffs. Of course it was just coincidence, but it seemed perfect timing that we arrived just as a large troop crossed the road and entered the grasses next to the cliff to feed. Our guide was unsure we should stop after my bump and with Mum not feeling that well, but I persuaded him I was okay and so spent a half hour with them before deferring to Mum and heading back an hour or so earlier than originally planned.

 

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Although there was a bit of shouting going on most were very intent on feeding only. At this time of year there are only really the roots of the grass to provide nutrition so they need to eat a lot.

 

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Hard at work

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pault

Mum was happy to have 2 hours off before dinner but I hadn't come all this way to put my feet up, and headed straight back out on my own.

 

Some more thistly stuff

 

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Down the road a bit I found a troop of geladas that had just been chased away from the lodge vegetable patch. They were coneuqntly not very willing for me to be close, and I had to keep a distance, plus they were kicking up a huge cloud of dust with their root pulling here, and were often in long grass, but I managed to get a few decent shots.

 

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As soon as the sun dropped behind the mountains and the temperature dropped the geladas headed off in the direction of the cliffs and I headed back to my room for a shower before meeting Mum for a pre-dinner drink.

 

It was really quite cold outside but they have a nice fire and the view outside is incredible - the mountains and valleys when light and then the starts when it is dark. This is a great place for star photography usually, but not now with dust in the air and a strongish wind that scuppered any attempts I made. We tried the various Ethiopian wines that are included in the cost here and some were good enough that we never really felt the need to drink anything else - we drank little anyway at this altitude and with this much exercise. 

 

I was feeling really tired that night and although I put it down to a long and very active day, by the time I got back to my room I knew I was not in great condition. Lay down for a moment at 8 or so and woke up 5 hours later feeling really strange. No real symptoms - more like someone had spiked my drink than anything, but of course nobody had. I was wishing I hadn't asked for a 7am start.

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Soukous

I'm feeling mischievous @pault so I'm picking up on your statement:

"This was the first and last time we’d mess with tour groups, although theoretically Limalimo and Korkor are both just about big enough to accommodate a smaller group. I have nothing against tour groups in theory. I don’t go around saying things like “I’d rather nail my ears to the wall than travel with a tour group.” However, in practice quiet tour groups are like quiet troops of chimpanzees – asleep, dead or already split into much smaller groups and grooming."

 

Didn't you just spend time in Zakouma with a tour group?  :ph34r: 

 

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Soukous

Some really great images here @pault 

I love the crowd scenes outside the church of Maryam. Beautifully exposed. 

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Soukous

Some really great images here @pault 

I love the crowd scenes outside the church of Maryam. Beautifully exposed. 

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Soukous

Once again @pault I am totally in awe of the amount of time you put into your TRs. The detail is outstanding and the storytelling always compelling. Illustrated by terrific images. I don't know what your job is, but unless you write travel blogs/stories, you're in the wrong one.

Edited by Soukous

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xelas

"Bibi and ..." title always delivers a great storytelling and excellent photography! Landscapes, street photography, wildlife, ... you have mastered them all, @pault!

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gatoratlarge

ANOTHER serval???  These things are getting old hat!  Cool sighting!

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pault
6 hours ago, Soukous said:

I'm feeling mischievous @pault so I'm picking up on your statement:

"This was the first and last time we’d mess with tour groups, although theoretically Limalimo and Korkor are both just about big enough to accommodate a smaller group. I have nothing against tour groups in theory. I don’t go around saying things like “I’d rather nail my ears to the wall than travel with a tour group.” However, in practice quiet tour groups are like quiet troops of chimpanzees – asleep, dead or already split into much smaller groups and grooming."

 

Didn't you just spend time in Zakouma with a tour group?  :ph34r: 

 

A very small and particular tour group, An exception to prove the rule. :P But I would guess even we would have been noisy at dinner if we hadn't been worn out by our merciless schedule.

 

And thank you again for a really kind comment. Unfortunately that is not my job and although I do a lot of writing (and much more editing) as part of making my living, it is dull stuff.

 

@xelas You too are too kind. And Ethiopia is kind to people with a camera.

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pault

@gatoratlarge I was going to tag you for that one. So many in two weeks (well much less if you consider I only spent two days in a park in Ethiopia). This will always be the serval trip!

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michael-ibk

Servals in Ethiopia the guys have never seen is so yesterday - similar situation for us in Guassa, the local guy had never seen one. Really cool stuff, Paul, love your Gelada portraits, and the landscape there is just breathtaking. But where are all the birds? ;-)

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pault
12 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

But where are all the birds? ;-) 

 

I am sure I posted at least FOUR pictures featuring birds. :D

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madaboutcheetah

@pault - Serval or skinny Leopard ...... Love all the images and the report!!! You definitely give me food for thought to travel around Ethiopia a little bit the next time I'm there for work and not run off to other parks far and away! 

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pault

I woke up sometime before 6 am feeling like I was nailed to the bed. Again it was like being drugged more than any illness I had ever had. I waited around until 6.30 for any sign of what was wrong, but there was none so I staggered around the bathroom for 5 minutes trying to wash myself and then pulled on some clothes and slowly, very slowly walked up to the main building thinking there was no way I was going anywhere. Ironically Mum was feeling quite a bit better and wondering why I was late for breakfast. I don't remember if I ate anything but I certainly had some coffee, which got my eyes open. The rest of my body still felt terrible and my mind felt disassociated from what was happening around me. Since this was slightly similar to what had happened to me in Kenya in 2013 and 2015, after I took bumps to the head, I was vaguely aware that I should think about concussion. But the bump the previous day had seemed inconsequential compared to them and, in any case, there had been no direct sensible link between the bumps and sickness in those cases; and besides, only one of three (2015) had involved fever. Perhaps most convincingly, I was determined to go today and felt Mum deserved to be going out on the first day she was feeling more like herself. So, ignoring the fact that I could barely stand steady I walked back to my room, picked up an abbreviated kit for the day (two zooms and nothing else) and managed to stay upright until I slumped into the back seat about 20 minutes late. 

 

We were driving to Chennek Camp, which would take well over 2 hours, and then beyond in the hope of finding Walia Ibex, Ethiopian wolves, Menelik's bushbuck and some beautiful views, at the very least. The idea had been to walk from Chennek up to maybe 4000 meters and then get picked up by the vehicle there. That was not going to happen. I could have walked for maybe 30 minutes at sea level, but at over 3500 meters I'd be on my knees within 5 minutes. I would have killed someone for my bed, but strangely I wouldn't abandon the outing for it.

 

The drive is a blurred memory. I have no idea if what I remember actually happened, is a memory stolen from another time, is what I daydreamed or even dreamed as I nodded off to sleep more than once on the drive. Whatever we passed on the way I just waved off. I sort of had a vague plan that I would use the journey to rest and then burst into life after Chennek. It was a good plan but it had been forced on me by a lack of alternatives. I was also as much fun to travel with as a bad smell. 

 

I think I was pushed out of the vehicle to take a photo at a viewpoint on the way - I don't remember.

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As we got closer to Chennek I was feeling slightly better, or at had least convinced myself that I was, and we stopped a couple of times to admire the views and ask about the park boundaries and so on. On the way up we had passed a number of trucks crammed full of people and their belongings and these are basically bus services taking people and goods from Debark to the various villages deep in the Simien Mountains. As we got deeper into the park, instead of fewer people we saw more, together with a lot more goats and sheep. Many of the villages are being relocated outside the park boundaries but it is apparently proving hard to persuade people to move to the new locations. Our guide seemed to believe it would be done though, eventually, although he was less convinced that there would not still be encroachment for grazing.

 

Sheep inside  the park, villages outside.

 

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View out of the park. Although some of this may officially be inside it is gone now and I think the idea is to give up these areas and draw new boundaries which can actually still be enforced.

 

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Chennek Camp is a not particularly attractive, overused, under-repaired and generally unattractive camp site but the location is pretty good and there is a toilet so, unlike Sankabaer, there weren't quite as many human dumping sites to discover when out on a little walk.  I was still feeling like I was dragging an anvil around with me, but very shortly after we arrived at Chennek some visitors arrived to cheer me up and give me a bit of energy.

 

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A group of three adult females and this cute little male just walked right by the edge of the camp and then down a pretty sheer slope, after which all but one disappeared. Sat in shade and hidden from view (unless you knew to look) but was just chewing the cud and unlikely to return that way. So a bit of lucky timing, although the ibex are apparently relatively regular visitors to Chennek.

 

Mum was off exploring on her own too -  here watching a truck loaded with people pass.

 

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As you can see the sky was a bit clearer today - although there was still plenty of dust and smoke around.

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Special section for @michael-ibk  

 

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Alpine flowers

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Mum posing with giant lobelia at the camp site. This is latest "Cool Bibi" pose. Tent is not hers.

 

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Facts about Chennek - main one being 3620m

 

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There were also geladas there

 

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A little warning for me not to come any closer, I think.

 

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After quite a bit of activity at and around Chennek (it's a big area and of course not fenced so you mustn't imagine this all happening between tents or something) I was pretty much knackered - panting and a bit dizzy. Still better than the morning at lower altitude though, so it was very unlikely any altitude sickness was involved.  Our guide asked if we wanted to look for male ibex and of course I did, but only after some hesitation as I was told this would involve going even higher and we would probably have to walk away from the road, so we had better be sure we were not being negatively affected by altitude. I explained why I didn't think this was the case and he agreed it would make no sense, so we decided we would give it a go. 

 

And so up and up we went, to I guess around 4200 meters (4000 last known height and then up from there for another while). The road was decent even to this height - bumpy but quite usable at slower speeds.

 

Looking down from over 4000m - fields of giant lobelia, some hardy grasses and little else up here  - most other vegetation seemed to stop at around 3700-3800 meters. The trucks were still coming though, and we met a few farmers up here as well.

 

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I was almost out of energy now. I still wouldn't like to say the altitude was getting to me, although I had never been at this kind of height before at it is probably deceiving if you are at a height like this and instead of snow, rocky desolation and clouds, you have open space, greenish vegetation and clear skies with puffy clouds. One expected element though was wind - it was really strong up here and getting stronger all the time. That and the very bright light were adding feelings of snowblindness  and deafness to my list of symptoms.

 

We got a tip from a local that there were a group of male ibex near the road not far away and so we hurried there in the car and found someone already stopped. Our guide spotted them immediately and even Mum found them with her binoculars, but I was struggling to function any more. I was excited to see the males but after picking up my camera and finding it and lens incredibly heavy I decided to use the monopod and fixed the lens to that. Then I staggered up to where our guide and Mum were standing and he tried to show me where they were, but I couldn't see a thing. It must have been really frustrating for him as I was being totally useless in a way I am usually not. My eyes couldn't seem to focus of define colour as well as usual, and the strong wind seemed to be affecting my ability to identify movement. Since this was not something I could just accept, and I had no way of judging if my chances for getting  a decent photo were receding all the time or there was still actually a good chance if I moved in the right direction, I decided to start walking up the hill a bit, towards the ibex.

 

I got about 5 steps when I realized that my lens and camera were not actually properly attached to the monopod. My guess is that I hadn't clamped it in properly, although it's something I've done countless times and it is just instinct to constantly check I now. Anyway, I had also taken the strap off as I had felt it was "in the way". That's another no-no when walking - the camera can be attached to the monopod or not, but the strap stays. I just felt completely defeated (by what I didn't really think about) as I saw the camera falling and then hit the big sharp rocks that I was clambering up. I hadn't even seen the ibex yet. I just dropped to my knees and sobbed silently for all the things I would never do and never be. In that moment I was ready to be eaten alive by lions - I understood the exhausted, wounded impala at last. I understood the futility of any more effort........

 

 

.......for about 5 seconds, after which I picked up the camera, turned it off and looked at the damage. Big crack on the rear screen and one corner covered in white dust. Okay, turn it on and what happens? Well an error message but that wasn't new - had started the day before) and the rear screen completely out of order, but with the Sony you have full access to whatever you want through the viewfinder so it wasn't too bad. the camera had taken the full brunt of the fall and so the lens was fine. Just that error message, but with a few clicks of buttons it disappeared. 

 

And when I looked up I found I could now see the ibex, and I could see I had time to get closer to them. So I slowly started climbing up, over the rocks. I was still feeling exhausted but I could make slow progress now and got to within shooting distance after 10 minutes or so of careful approach. 

 

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Between every few shots I was getting an error message but as mentioned this wasn't new. Trouble was when the camera switched to writing to the second card after the above shots. Then the message was coming up far too frequently. Still I managed to get a much better angle than above and much better shots too. I would love to show you.

 

When I had my shots I carefully picked my way back down the hillside to the car, crawled in and collapsed in a heap. However, After less than an hour I was shaken awake. There was a group of Menelik bushbucks coming down the hill about to cross the road. We stopped as they crossed and as I didn't have a decent angle I got out and startled them a bit - although I still got my shots I think. Unfortunately, at about shot #8 the camera froze up completely, sending me into a circular error where the solution was to do something that the error said couldn't be done. The camera was working but nothing cvould be recorded. A kind of lively brick.

 

By this time I was too defeated and numb to cry. I closed the car door and didn't take another picture the rest of the three hour drive back to the lodge.

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Botswanadreams

@pault Thanks for your beautiful pics and your stories. So sad you struggled in Semien too. It's like the bane of the mountain for some of us.  

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Zim Girl

Wow, every credit for getting the pictures that you did when you felt so poorly. I hope you were able to recover in time for the next day.

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pault

I was better @Zim Girl No need for suspense with that. Already feeling better that night. A strange affliction. 

 

The typos are horrific though. Some are not even guessable! I was trying to get into character (so to speak) so I could better communicate how I felt, and I think I went a bit far!! ^_^

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kittykat23uk

Fascinating report so far! Looking forward to more! I feel your pain re the camera!  Also sorry to hear that you were unwell.  In all honesty I wouldn't be so swift to rule out altitude sickness as it sounds like you didn’t really acclimatise like we did in Leh. I assume you didn't have any of the local hooch? That did for me in Madagascar.  I was sick for two weeks from my last two days onwards.. 

Edited by kittykat23uk

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pault
On 6/2/2018 at 12:11 AM, kittykat23uk said:

Fascinating report so far! Looking forward to more! I feel your pain re the camera!  Also sorry to hear that you were unwell.  In all honesty I wouldn't be so swift to rule out altitude sickness as it sounds like you didn’t really acclimatise like we did in Leh. I assume you didn't have any of the local hooch? That did for me in Madagascar.  I was sick for two weeks from my last two days onwards.. 

 

I didn't rule it out and don't. In fact it was initially chief suspect, but I didn't really go any higher than 3300 meters (Sankaber) on the first day and the lodge is at 3000 itself (I may have written 3200 above but realise that is Sankaber, not the lodge). I would have expected symptoms the day after driving up from maybe 1500 meters to 3000 meters. Also I didn't really get sicker as we went up to 4200 meters, which I would have expected. Finally, I didn't really have any sleep issues at all, which I understand is a common issue...... and no headaches, vomiting or anything else specific. But I don't rule it out - this is certainly higher than I have been before. 

 

@Botswanadreams It really would be stranger if we didn't struggle a bit at those altitudes I think. Next time I will have a gentle day first and then two days of activity. Even without the sickness a little more lung power would have been nice. 

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pault

As I have mentioned above, I was feeling a little better by the evening - in fact well enough to tentatively arrange a visit to the village down in the valley for the next day... a not too strenuous walk said the mountain-dwelling Julia, which I interpreted as "fairly exhausting". 

 

Other than the bang on the head, altitude sickness, Ethiopian wine and witchcraft, another of my theories for what was wrong was sunstroke of some kind. I had taken a lot of sun in Chad and had rather recklessly donated my N'Djamena-sourced hat to the staff at Tinga, arriving in Ethiopia with just a cap. I'd taken a lot more sun on the head since, especially the first day out in the park when sitting among the geladas and walking along the cliff tops, where there was no shade. Just another theory though.

 

Next morning I was definitely 50% better and got up nice and early because the air was surprisingly clean and clear (I could see this from my room, which had a beautiful view, although useless for photos due to various tall plants and bushes). There was actually a bit of colour in the sunrise, which I milked, and with no commitments until the afternoon visit to the village I could take my time and watch the birds (crows, vultures and tawny eagles, that I could identify, but against the sun that wasn't easy!).

 

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I also did a bit of birding in the bushes and trees around the lodge (shhh... don't tell anyone, especially Michael) watching some Tacazze sunbirds (I believe) and African white-eyes  (whether yellow or Abyssinian/ pale scrub I am not sure) for a while and trying to get some photos of them in flight - fairly unsuccessfully as the conditions were not conducive - it is very steep and very bushy so finding spots with a relatively unrestricted view is tricky. I am only posting the pictures as proof!

 

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Alpine flower

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I was going to start on insects, especially bees, but I was feeling tired and decided I had better stop and save my strength for the village visit in the afternoon. There s a lot to chase around and photograph on a nice day - unfortunately the best time to be here at the lodge is also the best time to be out, I found out that morning.

 

Mum was not unhappy to be having a late breakfast with me and was adamant that she was not going down the hill to the village and that she was perfectly happy up at the lodge - and fair enough, she really loved the rooms here and seemed genuinely pleased just to hang around reading and napping and then having meals with me. I wondered whether I was maybe bad company, but I don;t think that was it - I think the altitude and a cold had just made her a bit more age-aware than usual and she genuinely liked just hanging out anyway. 

 

I took it easy before the walk, although I started to pack for our departure the next day and tried to revive the card causing the issues (and with my good photos of rare mammals on) but without success. To date I have had no success. Sony have confirmed it was a card failure and repaired my camera under warranty, except for charging me $130 for the replacement rear screen. They also offered me me a replacement card but I have refused for now as they want the old one back to do diagnostics on and I still have a slim hope the content can be recovered. It is only 20 -30 shots but all are what I am fairly confident are good, clear shots of Walia ibex males and Menelik's bushbucks! 

 

After lunch I was introduced to my guide for the village visit, who was a native of the village who normally worked the rooms. He didn't speak more than basic English and I think I was asked if that was okay - not sure but whether or not I was asked, I said it was okay and agreed it was much better to visit with someone from the village, regardless of their language skills. That style suited me much better.

 

The walk down to the village was a 90 minute walk down the road, which was a bit boring and very exposed to the sun, so when my guide told me there was an alternate route sued by the locals that was much quicker, but quite steep, I said I was up for that, as it promised much more shade and a more interesting walk. It lived up to all of that - quicker, much steeper and definitely shadier (and I was glad for that as the sun was surprisingly strong). Of course I had to hand over my camera again for much of the walk as it really was a bit steep to simply walk down and I was definitely not yet agile. 

 

The path down - mostly like this but with a few steeper and smoother bits that I did not have a camera to photograph.

 

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I was focused on humans this afternoon, as it would be very rude to do otherwise - it was clear from the greetings on the way down that I was very welcome (evidence of Limalimo's efforts to have a very good relationship with the village) but it turned out there were other visitors to the village  and I couldn't resist being a bit rude and paying more attention to them than my human hosts for a few minutes.

 

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The males showed their teeth a bit more here - clearly warning me not to get too close, although all they would do if I did would be to move off.

 

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Geladas and cattle- and you can see from the background that a direct route to the lodge would be a wee bit strenuous.

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The village church, which we had a quick look at since our host for the visit was the village's priest (host duties rotate between families so the $20 fees are distributed fairly and directly, avoiding any suspicion or argument - Limalimo makes nothing so far as I can tell). 

 

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The visit itself was very nicely done, in that nothing was done except that most of the priest's family had turned out to eat and drink coffee with me. It was really just like visiting someone's house, but with the payment smoothing over the inevitable awkwardness. I broke the ice by kissing the priest's cross, which helped a lot, although I did have to confirm that I was a Christian first (not a real lie as technically I surely am, and a Catholic too, so well used to kissing rings and other bits and pieces offered up by priests or bishops). I may have approached things differently had it been someone else's house, but I have no interest in village visits being anything other than other than pleasant for everyone and interesting for me, so I just felt it was the right way to start things off. I was not rewarded with speeches about how homosexuals should burn in hell or the like - in fact the priest appeared to be a very gentle and humble man - so I think I guessed correct. 

 

From left to right: The priest, his brother, his sister, his wife, his daughter and his parents

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I was offered Injera and more of that nice bean stew, although both here had a more sour taste than in the restaurant. I ate a little but I had only had lunch an hour before so I had to excuse myself. That was a little awkward obviously but the priest's brother seemed delighted and appeared to eat both mine and his (to what I am pretty sure was disapproval from the wife, who had not made such a nice meal for the likes of him). It was interesting that the meal was served in a single dish, with multiple layers of injera and a single bowl of stew. Each person in turn (visitors first) ate their fill and then the bowl was refilled and passed on to the next person. I was also served groundnuts of some kind that I wouldn't describe as tasty but rather as edible and healthy. I could not avoid these and had to eat them until I was queasy. 

 

The wife also made coffee for us all, which was interesting as it was my first close-up look at the coffee making "ceremony" (not really ceremonial). 

 

The beans are green to start and then roasted until dark brown on a skillet over an open fire. They are then ground with pestle and mortar while the water boils, and then the coffee is infused. It was bitter and strong and I'd love to say it was the best coffee in Ethiopia, but can't. It certainly got the heart pumping though! 

 

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Preparing coffee - my guide enjoying some beer in the background (I refused the beer given the steep walk back to come, but did risk the water - from a borehole - as we had only brought down one small bottle and it was not enough).

 

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Infusion step.

 

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The priest's kids

 

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The family (mother preferred not to come out for a photo)

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We chatted comfortably enough. Nothing earth-shattering was learned but I got a stronger impression of what was what in the villages here - how people made a living and what the young folks were doing nowadays (no surprise to learn that they weren't as keen on subsistence farming and teenage marriage as their parents had been). After coffee and goodbyes, the priest's sister took me to her house to get me some honey to try. It was really nice, sticky and sweet but again the portion was rather generous and I found it really hard to eat it all. A nearby kid helped me while the sister's back was turned though and clearly had his own incentive for not spilling the beans to the adults, as he ran off with it and only returned when it was gone.

 

The climb back, with a full belly and a real thirst (I had not dared drink too much water, borehole or no) was a bit of a struggle. We even took the road for a bit, but since that was just taking longer and the thirst in the hot sun was as much of a problem for me as the climbing we quickly switched back to the steep but direct path, and then across fields. It had been a bit ambitious doing this the day after such a bad day physically but I just made it back to my room, where I lay on my bed and guzzled water for an hour and then took a nice cold shower.

 

I had arranged to meet Mum for pre-dinner drinks at 6.30 so I went up at 6 to get a few photos of our first near-proper (still obscured but less so) sunset.

 

The views that keep on giving

 

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That night the stars were great but my efforts were all foiled by the strong wind and dark, at 10pm I gave up and went to bed.

 

Next day was Gondar and then the evening flight to Addis Adaba, from which I would connect to my flight home.

 

 

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