Simien Mountains Days 3-4 Geladas Chennek, Argin and Ambaras Villages
April 5, 2016
As we watched the Geladas descend the cliffs and call out to each other, Dave explained that they are monkeys rather than baboons. Sociable, grass, root and flea eating monkeys that live in large social groups of up to 500. The Gelada sleep in caves on the cliff sides for the protection offered against hyenas and wolves. They are very docile. I wondered if their docility is connected with their vegetarianism. But then, I thought of the arguments that break out in the 5 item or less check out line at WholeFoods and decided that there probably was no correlation.
We got very close and they did not seem to mind. When they feel threatned they will first raise their eyelids and then show some gum and teeth. We did see some minor fights between males on the prowl for females. Here is a video of a gelada scuffle.
After the sun set we returned to camp for a large dinner prepared by Abiew. It was windy so we ate in one of the cooking shacks. Dave poured us an Ethiopian drink that consists of Ethiopian Dry Gin with tonic water. It was not for me as it tasted and looked like boozy Scope. The guides from all of the groups built a fire with Eucalyptus sticks (the only wood you are allowed to burn in the park) and we sat around and listened to music on my bluetooth speaker. I put on Ambessa Dub- an Israeli group that plays Ethiopian music and the guys sang along. Dave synched his cell phone and put on his music and we listened until the battery died. The speaker battery was low because it got turned on when my pack was put on the mule and the handlers listened to Barbara Streisand, Donna Summer, Neil Diamond and the other songs on the playlist I made for my mother.
I was able to sleep through the night and use the outhouse for my morning constitutional. I pulled open the door on the squat toilet to find a terrified Japanese woman. I guess their deluxe tour does not include porta pottties. The outhouse was pretty gross, yet it is set in such a beautiful location. It reminded me of some of the outhouses in the rockies. The most expensive hotel rooms cannot compare to the views you get in some of these places.
Squat toilet and view
Gich campsite in morning and the view from the outhouse
We left Gich early and reached a viewpoint at around 3,000 meters. We posed for photos and Dave jumped a gap.
The route descended into this forest with moss-covered trees. There were more shepherds and giant lobelia trees. We then climbed up a pinnacle of the other side and had lunch at around 4,000 meters. The climb down went along a ridge that offered views over cliffs on one side and across the valley to Argin. Dave pointed out a round building with a green tin roof surrounded by trees. This was the church that his grandfather helped establish. He explained that his grandfather used slaves from the South to plant the eucalyptus trees. Although there are no longer any slaves, it amazed me to realize that there were people that had even less than the local villagers.
We arrived at Chennek campsite covered with dirt from the hike. The river was low so we filled a gerry can of water and went to wash in the woods behind the well. Jure filmed Eliot and I as we argued while trying to wash with the Jerry can. Here is the video of us washing up. It is classic Lorne & Eliot show.
We had beer and afternoon snacks with the Finns. One was a diplomat stationed in Addis and his friend was in the army. A village boy walked by with a black chicken in his arms and left empty-handed. That night we ate chicken and french fires and spicy sauce. It was delicious. Dave told us that Abiew had trouble killing the chicken and that it ran around. Talk about fresh and free range. It rained so we ate in the cooking hut and nearly choked on the smoke from the fire. I opened the Jack Daniels and asked Eliot if we should wash the glasses that came with the bottle. Eliot said are you kidding me? Those glasses are as clean as they will get on this trip. We drank the Jack with Abiew, Dave and the rest of the crew while we taught them to play the card game “golf”. We turned it into a drinking game with the loser having to down his drink. the Ethiopians picked it up quickly and soon the tourists were losing every hand.
The next morning we watched the Geladas come up from the cliffs to start feeding. They even walked into the cooking hut looking for leftovers. At this point we said good-bye to Jure who was going to Gonder and headed out with Dave to Argin village.
The route took us across farmers fields. The earth was almost black and the furrows (plowed with ox in the rainy season) made the way a bit challenging. Sheep were eating the dead Lobelia tree leafs and Dave explained that its seeds were used as oil for cooking injera.
Dave’s grandmother was at a funeral with most of the village so we went to his aunt’s house. She lived in a eucalyptus leaf roofed home similar to the one we visited in Gich. She greased the hot pan with Lobelia grease using her bare hands. She then poured the injera mixture (fermented barley) in one smooth motion as she shooed her daughter away from her breast. The injera was crispy at the edges and delicious. We also had home made bear drawn from a plastic barrel. Luckily it was dark inside so I did not see the murky cloudy colour. Dave noted her shoe size so that he could get her plastic sandals in town.
people returning from the funeral walking in front of the elementary school.
Dave’s aunt and Argin Village
We later met Dave’s grandmother. On our way out of the village we stopped at the school so that Scout could give his daughter the money he had gotten as a tip from Jure to take home. We passed a small covered area where the villagers have beer every couple of weeks. The priests and the elders sit in the shade while the others stand around. An Ethiopian beer hall.
The path to Ambaras village crossed the valley and then climbed up to the ridge. Along the course of the winter rains there were strands of nearly planted eucalyptus trees with blue leafs. We had lunch on a look-out near a small waterfall and were joined by 3 curious shepherds (a girl and two boys). They were hungry but not starving as they refused the pasta we offered them though they liked my Brazilian low fat granola. I watched them carefully separate out the raisins and pocket them for later. One boy pointed to a small wound on the side of his head Dave told me he wanted me to treat it. Using our first aid kit we cleaned the wound and dressed it with polysporin and a bandaid. We gave the kid a couple of other band aids and Dave explained to the boy what to do.
That night out tent was pitched in the yard of the elementary school yard in Ambaras village. The kids would run up to us “hello hello, Birr money? pens? We felt uncomfortable eating our snacks in front of everyone. Eliot sought refuge in the tent.
I ventured out and was surrounded by kids from the elementary and secondary schools. It was uncomfortable at first. I kept calm and friendly and said I had nothing to offer and showed empty pockets. Once they knew I was not offering anything they became very playful. I took photos and showed them. They would crowd around and point each other out and laugh excitedly. They then brought out their ball and played the game with the sticks that we saw at Gich. They told me their names and pointed out their school and spoke a few english words. They smiled proudly when I understood what they said. They were very gentle with each other and seemed happy as most schools kids do. I thought about my brothers’ kids and the contrast in material wealth between kids in North America and these kids. I am not sure that they realized the size of the gap. A friend of Dave showed me a class room. He explained that it was better now than when he went to school because they have desks and chairs and classes are smaller. He also told me that they were going to get electricity soon. Maybe electricity and internet will help them, maybe it will show them what they do not have. There were plaques on the walls of the schools from the international donors.
That night the guys sang songs by the campfire as we drank more Jack and looked at the stars. In the morning I walked to the edge of the flat area to see the sunrise light up the mountains on the other side of the valley. Men and women walked by with donkeys carrying loads and jerry cans of water. Local teenagers were practising soccer. One little kid was playing with the bigger kids despite the fact he had no shoes.
After breakfast we packed up and were swarmed again by kids. They ran with us up to the road and wanted to carry our bags. We only had granola and candy to give. The local bus arrived and the men were hoisting a donkey carriage on the back. We left the Simien mountains and headed to Debark and then on to Gonder. Within 5 hours we were back in town in a hotel with electricity, running water and wifi. It was as if we had never left, but the experience left a huge impression that Eliot and I are still processing and which provides perspective on other places we visited and would visit on our trip.