This post will have more than my usual 6 or 7 images. Just a warning.
3 days. 40 kilometres. High elevation. Awesome travel companions. And an 89 year-old (in appearance) guard, clad in a worn suit jacket and plastic, clog-like shoes.
The Simien Mountains of Ethiopia had captured my imagination ever since I first saw it in the BBC's Human Planet. And they stayed there. Oh, did they stay there.
Marked by striking changes in biodiversity and landscape, this national park is the result of old-school volcanic activity mixed with new-school vegetation and wildlife. The peaks jut up from the rich-green floor like a fantasy movie, and the valleys are so far below that they almost become distant ideas.
Gelada monkeys dot the grasslands in troops sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Our awesome guide, Gech, told us there are more than 17,000 of these furry creatures feeding off the flowing grasses of the mountains. When Gech wasn't guiding us through narrow mountain passes and fields of barley, he'd sit by the campfire at night and regale us with tales of Ethiopia's storied past.
Despite the high elevation (more than 3,500 meters), the mountains are speckled with villages. We were fortunate enough to be passing through during the harvest season. The villagers have only 5 or 6 days to harvest the barley and teff (the grain that's used for the spongy 'injera' that makes up most dishes) and are always watching for the thieving geladas and birds which will strip the crops if given the chance.
While the sun hits you hard during the day, the moment it dips behind the mountains, cold rushes in. Our second night in the camp brought in sub-zero temperatures and frost all over the ground and our tent.
It was a humbling experience to see that while we were often doubled over trying to catch our breath ('From the elevation!' we claimed), our guide and guard were showing no signs of any exertion or fatigue. It definitely puts 'being in good shape' into context.
A special thanks goes out to Claire, Carrie, Nola, Tadele, Gech, Asafa and Messi for making this trip so unbelievably awesome.
I wish the photos I took did the place justice. But no click of a shutter can capture striking peaks and lush valleys. The lens couldn't even come near to conveying the beauty of the geladas as they slowly picked their way through flowing grasses that matched their rich coats.
Having said that, here's my best shot at it. Enjoy!