I had dreamed about visiting the Simien Mountains for many years since I came here. I was drawn by the Gelada Monkeys, that look something like a cross between a baboon and a lion, and by the the landscape here. Geographically, this may be the most dramatic part of Africa Great Rift Valley. The steep, sheer walls are covered with plants that don’t grow anywhere else.
There is a danger in building up so much expectation before visiting a place, but despite my many preconceived notions of what these mountains would be, they blew my ideas out of the water.
Gelada Monkeys, which look suspiciously like baboons, are the most social of all primates besides humans. They live in troops that can be hundreds strong. Social bonds are a key to their existence and you often see them sitting together grooming one another. They have extremely dexterous hands, again second only to humans, and their diet consists entirely of eating ground plants. The high altitude and cool temperatures of the mountains have made long thick hair an advantage. Despite living in large troops they still have a host of natural predators and so they live in small caves and alcoves along the sheer cliffs for protection.
The wild topography of the Simien Mountains is both a challenge and blessing for the people that live here. On the one hand, the land is fertile and the growing season is long. In many ways this is an ideal place to sow crops. On the other hand, unpredictable weather, precipitous cliffs, bad roads, and isolation make this a hard place to live.
Natural factors are not the only challenge here. Bandits, both in the form of the troops of Gelada Monkeys that can destroy entire fields of crops in minutes, and humans can be a real problem. Trekking here requires having armed guards. We weren’t sure how real this threat was, but we certainly had fun with our escorts.
We spent 3 days and 2 nights trekking along a high plateau. It was an easy trek and if we had to do it again we would have spent another few days. On day three we reached Ras Dashen the highest point in the Ethiopia. The view was incredible with verdant green mountains and valleys as far as the eye could see. Clouds and mist made it all the more atmospheric. We had arrived just after rainy season, and probably hit as good of a conditions as can be found.
Another highlight was seeing an Ethiopian wolf, one of the world’s rarest canines.