Honestly, my only knowledge of Ethiopia was limited to its great coffee. And trust me, I’m no coffee snob but the coffee there is seriously great. No more double double at Tim Hortons. Only fresh Ethiopian coffee from a jebena or bust. But, I was quite surprised when I learned that the country also encompassed the massive and beautiful Simien mountains, the alien-looking and otherworldly Danakil Depression, the rock hewn churches of Tigray and Lalibela and so much more. And this was all just in Northern Ethiopia. There’s also the vast Omo valley in the south that we didn’t get to explore on this trip. I was not only impressed by these numerous and unique attractions of Ethiopia but also by some of the loveliest and nicest people I’ve ever met when travelling. They really went out of their way to help us out. Or maybe it was just because I was usually assumed as an Ethiopian by the local people. Either way, they were incredibly nice to us. So its no wonder that Ethiopia is one of my favorite countries on the trip bested only by Uganda.
My primary allure of the Simien mountains were not the unique landscapes but the weird, bizarre, cool and cute looking “bleeding heart” gelada monkeys that can be found only on these highlands. Our 3-day trek into the mountains started with a short drive from the city of Gondar (Fun fact: There’s not just the middle earth sounding Gondar but also a place called Shire in Ethiopia). On our short drive to the starting point of our trek, we saw some geladas outside our 4×4 windows. I was excited. But to my dismay, our guide wanted to press on and not stop because we had a long day of trekking up ahead. I was pissed. But what can I do? I thought to myself, if I don’t end up seeing any geladas on this trek, I’m gonna have to get in a fight with this guy or write a strongly worded TripAdvisor review! Day 1 of the trek was not easy but it wasn’t very demanding either. We trekked along the ridge of the mountains for about 8 hours which gave us some spectacular views of the mountains. The sharp peaks, huge valleys and endless plateaus all covered with a weird tint of greenish yellow made these mountains very unique-looking. But there were no signs of geladas anywhere throughout the day. Once we reached the campsite, I decided to venture on my own to find me some geladas. All I ended up finding were some bushbuck antelopes who were cool but they ain’t geladas.
We started early on day 2 because we were going to be trekking for 10 hours. The friendly armed guards on our trek who I talked to with my limited Amharic assured me that we should see some geladas today. But by mid-day, I was getting worried and agitated because there were still no signs of them around. And then bam! I saw something move. At first, I assumed it was just the blades of the greenish yellow grass of these highlands. And then I saw the eyes. Geladas! Finally! Their signature “bleeding red heart”, the fierce looking teeth and the thick fur that blends with the grass around them. They really made this trek special. There were quite a few of them around. After spending some time with them, we decided to move on. This was an extremely strenuous day because of the steep elevation. My breathing was heavy, my heart was racing rapidly, my legs were cramping intensely and we still had a few hours to go. I was a dead man walking by the time we got to the second campsite. But man was it worth the pain! The campsite was overrun by geladas everywhere. There were hundreds of them! All of them attentively digging the grass looking for food. It was awesome! Lisa and I mustered up some strength to hang out with them for a while and then passed out in the tent.
On the final day, we were to return back. But not without more hours of ascending steep slopes of the Simien. After some more gorgeous scenery and more gasping for air we were finally back and on to the next adventure in the enticing Ethiopia.