The Simien Mountains

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!

One of the early views of the intimidatingly beautiful park.

One of the early views of the intimidatingly beautiful park.

We ran into a troop of geladas, and came surprisingly close. When scared, they'd scream and then tumble over the side of the cliff (somehow finding footing), only to appear a minute or two later.

We ran into a troop of geladas, and came surprisingly close. When scared, they'd scream and then tumble over the side of the cliff (somehow finding footing), only to appear a minute or two later.

Asafa was our trusty guard. Armed with a single shot gun and a seemingly everlasting endurance, he was always a meter behind us. In the evening, Carrie and Nola came back to their tent to see him standing guard. Such an amazing person.

Asafa was our trusty guard. Armed with a single shot gun and a seemingly everlasting endurance, he was always a meter behind us. In the evening, Carrie and Nola came back to their tent to see him standing guard. Such an amazing person.

Ethiopians have an amazing ability to bundle up. All it takes is a blanket, and somehow we were the only ones shivering.

Ethiopians have an amazing ability to bundle up. All it takes is a blanket, and somehow we were the only ones shivering.

Passing through a small gathering of goatherds and a musician, this child's gaze and intensity was something that I had to photograph. Fortunately, he obliged.

Passing through a small gathering of goatherds and a musician, this child's gaze and intensity was something that I had to photograph. Fortunately, he obliged.

The landscape changes so fast that if you blink, you might forget where you are. After passing through a forest, we arrived in fields of barley being harvested. The Ethiopian government wants the villagers to leave  in order to protect the park, and the villagers want to stay, given that it's been their home for hundreds if not thousands of years.

The landscape changes so fast that if you blink, you might forget where you are. After passing through a forest, we arrived in fields of barley being harvested. The Ethiopian government wants the villagers to leave  in order to protect the park, and the villagers want to stay, given that it's been their home for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Children often keep watch over the crops. This kid and I had a great time talking. He spoke English very well, and was pretty happy when I handed him a photo I'd take of him. (People holding photos of themselves is coming soon, don't worry!)

Children often keep watch over the crops. This kid and I had a great time talking. He spoke English very well, and was pretty happy when I handed him a photo I'd take of him. (People holding photos of themselves is coming soon, don't worry!)

The sunsets are phenomenal. Even though it marks the coming of the cold, it still becomes of highlight of each day.

The sunsets are phenomenal. Even though it marks the coming of the cold, it still becomes of highlight of each day.

Sometimes pictures just compose themselves. In the Simien Mountains, as long as you're holding a camera, you're in photographic heaven. As dark clouds rose up in the distance and the sun set, it was impossible not to get this one right.

Sometimes pictures just compose themselves. In the Simien Mountains, as long as you're holding a camera, you're in photographic heaven. As dark clouds rose up in the distance and the sun set, it was impossible not to get this one right.

Yeah, it got pretty chilly in the mornings. After living in Cairo for this long, frost was such a beautiful sight.

Yeah, it got pretty chilly in the mornings. After living in Cairo for this long, frost was such a beautiful sight.

Gech demonstrates the proper and awesome use of a slingshot. Most children are seen with these braided crop-defenders slung over their shoulders. The speed and accuracy with which these unassuming weapons work is enough to send any gelada running.

Gech demonstrates the proper and awesome use of a slingshot. Most children are seen with these braided crop-defenders slung over their shoulders. The speed and accuracy with which these unassuming weapons work is enough to send any gelada running.

A village tucked onto the cliffs of the Simiens was a beautiful farewell to this magnificent place.

A village tucked onto the cliffs of the Simiens was a beautiful farewell to this magnificent place.