Had we done our research properly, we would have seen on our favourite trek site http://www.walkopaedia.net that this mountain trek was considered “strenuous”, in other words way beyond our level of fitness. And so it proved! The treks each day were long and hard and also brought Sylvie a touch of altitude sickness. Of course, the views from what our guide called the “Roof of Africa”, were spectacular. We feel chuffed to have survived the trek, but we definitely learned our lesson only to attempt treks in the future appropriate for old knees like ours. Nearly all the trekkers were under 30 years old and, when chatting to a group of them, we discovered that they had been discussing among themselves how it was that people so old were on the trek! That made us feel good and bad at the same time! We had great support throughout with the tour operator Simien Image, an excellent guide called Endalk who was born in the mountains, a guard armed with a Winchester 1917 (possibly the type our grandfathers used in WW1), an army of helpers (cook, cook assistant and mule men to carry our tent, sleeping bags, food, clothes, etc.) and some lovely French friends (Erwan and Garance) who were so funny and so very patient in always waiting for us to catch them up on the trail.
The highs were of course sleeping in the Great Outdoors under a sky lit up with millions of shining stars. Magical. We were also surprisingly treated by our chef Abe to the best food we have had in Ethiopia. Hot delicious lentil soup at the end of the day and hot pancakes in the mornings were ever so welcome! Such highs were however countered by some quite uncomfortable lows. The “rest room” can be described as the last place in the world anyone would want to “rest”. Plus the nights were so cold (minus 5 because of the near 4000m altitude) that even sleeping in thermals, fleeces, sleeping bags and heavy coats did not keep us from shivering. The bottles of water we left in our tent were, by the morning, filled with ice cubes we could use for the sweltering hot day ahead! We were so tired and dirty by the end of our trek that we longed for a real bed and a shower, but of course we arrived back at our hotel only to discover that it had no water and we had to wait 5 hours for a cold shower. What a surprise!
Everyone comes to the Simien mountains for the Gelada baboons and they are a sight to behold. We saw them a few times on the trek but the best moment by far was when we waited for them on top of a very high peak (at camp Gich) at sunset. Like clockwork, as the sun went down, 300 of them came running back to their caves, all screaming and play fighting before they settled down for the night. Best spectacle we have ever witnessed. Ever! After that, the wildlife we saw – weird and wonderful birds and sweet dear-like bushbacks – were just icing on the cake. We missed seeing the Ibex and Abyssinian wolves which are seemingly very shy. The plant life seen was remarkable – giant lobelia, Abyssinian sweet smelling wild rose bushes and highly acidic tomato like fruit used as washing detergent and securely protected by leaves covered in thorns on both sides. But we will miss the monkeys most of all or, as our friends Erwan and Garance used to say in translating from French, the monkeys will miss us.