Tag Archives: Ethiopia

Four-Cheeked Baboons and Dinosaur Birds: the Animals of the Simien Mountains

Look but not too closely at the four cheeked butt.

As promised I’m now going to talk about the animals that we witnessed in the heights of the Simien Mountains. This will conclude the whole me-talking-about-my-journey-to-Ethiopia thing for now because to be quite frank, the details are starting to get a little hazy and when that happens I just start making stuff up.

I’m typing this blog post on my grandma’s computer, who asked not to be mentioned in the blog, so I’m going to respect that and not talk about her or our discussion at the dinner table about the European meaning of shag.

Anyways, the animals of the Simien Mountains.

Eye contact makes everyone nervous.

High in the mystical mountains of Ethiopia lives the Gelada baboon, which spends its day sitting on its four butt cheeks and using its bizarrely dainty little hands to pull up grass and chomp on it before using those same dainty hands to scratch itself and groom its friends, lovers, and cousins.

According to Wikipedia and me, these baboons are awesome because a. they are only found in the “high grassland of the deep gorges of the central Ethiopian plateau”  b. they are the only primates that are primarily graminivores and grazers, and c. they sleep on the edges of cliffs.

I would also add that they have beady bronze eyes that lurk out from under a permanently furrowed brow so they always look pissed. One morning we were about to leave the campsite and a band of baboons came strolling along, like it was no big deal. We were freaking out and taking tons of pictures while our scout was probably thinking, “They’re just baboons….” It’s like when people take pictures of the squirrels in the states. Quick question: what if humans had four butt cheeks. On second thought, forget it.

Gander at those butt scratching horns.

Another awesome animal: the Ibex. First you’re probably thinking, these aren’t that cool. I have deer in my backyard too. Think again and take a look at the horns on that mother narker.

We stumbled upon an entire herd of these beauties near our campsite and were captivated by their grazing. This dude with the horns was clearly the king of the pack. As we came over a hill we saw him there, a magnificent creature, and as we looked upon him, he majestically tilted his head back and scratched his butthole every so gently with the tip of one his wondrous horns. It was breathtaking. We were sure that every Ibex in the bunch was jealous of his butt-scratching skills.

A raven, an oracle, or a god. Who can tell?

Finally, the thick-billed raven. Personally, I didn’t find this animal terribly interesting except for the fact that it could fly (what!) and that it had one of the most dinosaur-like calls that I’d ever heard.  I first heard it when one was taking off from a rock, and it sounded like a very heavy, very throaty door groaning open. It was probably the call that my grandpa would make if he were a bird, complaining about wanting to watch a different sports game.

On our last day, we woke up surrounded by an entire group of these ravens and boyfriend was really happy to finally be able to use the phrase “an unkindness of ravens.” We rejoiced in the fulfillment of linguistic possibilities and then left the mountains, maybe forever.

Coming up this week: bachelorette party, bridal shower, and food tour madness in Chicagoland.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Story of One Scout, His Rifle, and Four American Lungs

The man himself

En route to the national park on Friday, we picked up our scout whose name I unfortunately could never remember and who spoke perfect Amharic but not a single word of English. About three minutes after he hopped in the captain’s seat, we stopped on the side of the dirt road and he suddenly dashed across the street and around the corner. As he reappeared and ran back to the car, I noticed he had picked up a new friend: his trusty rifle. It was go time.

Based on personal observation, I think he was a mild mannered man accustomed to spending large amounts of time in complete silence and solitude especially in the presence of other people. On our last day, he was sitting on a park bench as we waved goodbye to him and went off to explore the area around the campground.

One such mountain sprinting youngster. It gets cold up there.

When we came back hours later, the sun had gone down and he in the exact same position, scouting away. It’s possible he may have moved but I prefer to imagine that he was sitting sentinel-like over the grounds for the entire time.

Our scout and his rifle were our constant companions. He was our living trail marker and a continual reminder that we

were not built for those mountains. He never tired, never lost his breath, never rushed, and never stumbled. Regardless of how fast I felt I was going, he was always at least a few paces ahead and never noticeably changed his speed.

In contrast to his easy movements up and down the slopes, I always felt like I was trying to keep up with him, panting ridiculously on every uphill, and collecting bruises on my right knee from falling down. Children who lived in the mountains would sprint to greet us as we trudged uphill and I wondered if they would resist if I tried to switch our lungs.

You’ll be seeing this picture in the next North Face catalog

Part of the stumbling business might have something to do with the fact that I decided use Chacos as my trekking shoe, because I had gone on a 3 hour hike in them once. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that their incredible arch support does not make up for the complete lack of ankle support. They are sandals and should not be used for trekking. To make matters even better, after about two hours of hiking on the first day, I began to get blisters on my feet and donned thick wool socks for the rest of the journey, because functionality beats fashion every time.

My main concern before leaving on the trek had been to purchase Snickers.  Sun protection, for some reason, was not on my radar. In fact, I remember making the conscious decision not to pack sunscreen, bringing my SPF 15 face lotion instead. It was like fighting a wildfire with glow-in-the-dark water balloons and at the end of the first day we were crispy. Though we were more cautious over the next few days, the sun’s roasting was still impressive.

Note my position…note how you can barely see the scout.

My mother’s worst fear of bridesmaids with unsightly tan lines is coming true. I would implore her, however, to consider the fact that my farmer’s tan just might work within the context of my sister’s “rustic” themed wedding.

No time to talk about the animals today but I promise they’re coming up soon and very soon. Don’t get your chacos in a tizzy.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Step Out of the Van and Into a Postcard

View on the way to our starting point at Sankaver.

We’d heard about the Gelada baboons and wanted to see them. This was all we knew. We didn’t consider the fact that sunny mountain sides are perilous for pasty white skin, that cool breezes turn lips into raisins, or the fact that sitting inside and using the internet for the past five months had in no way prepared us for our 3 day mountain trek at altitudes ranging between 12000-14000 feet.

Chapstick-less, sunscreen-less, and fitness-less, we lumbered into a van at 5:20 am Friday morning and made for the mountains in the most uncomfortable car ride of my life. It was the equivalent of traveling in a mobile washing machine and I would rather re-experience birth than go through those painful five hours again.

We wound higher and higher on gravel roads, through land patch-worked with crops and grass, and the sun was shining over the peaks. We hadn’t even done anything and it was already beautiful. All of the sudden, the van stopped, our driver opened the door, and we were tumbled out onto the mountain.

I did nothing to earn this view.

At 10:20 we started our trek and at 10:25 we saw our first incredible view. It was like we had stepped out of the van and into the Google Image search I did of the Simien Mountains a few weeks earlier. Somehow we had reached close to the top of the world and were looking over infinite valleys and peaks that tumbled and cut into one another. Hawks flapped off the side of a mountain and were instantly soaring thousands of feet in the air. I had never wanted to fly so badly in my life as I did while I was in those mountains, to be able to go from standing on the ground to gliding ten thousand feet over it in a single breath.

We ate it up, taking pictures and laughing, giddy with the novelty of “trekking,” which at that point had been nothing more than a car ride and five minutes of walking amidst intensely gold grass set against the blue, blue sky. The entire world felt right and fresh and new.

Eventually we hit our first uphill and realized the journey would not be all smiles and baboons. We would have to pay for some of the views with our own sweat and blisters and sunburns. Damn the altitude.

View from our tent at Geech.

The first day of hiking ended at a campsite near Geech village, which in my mind is distinguished by the fact that a never ending hill preceded it. After only four hours, my legs had been replaced with lead stumps and I was silently bargaining with God to make it all end.

Miraculously, we finally arrived and collapsed as our awesome porters made us tea and then helped set up our tent at the edge of the golden plain. The cows went home as the sun set, the sky fading through shades of purple and blue as stars began their twinkling. Soon we wrapped ourselves tight against the mountain cold and fell fast asleep, our bodies resting up for another day of overwhelming natural beauty.

How did we get so lucky?

Tagged , , , , , , ,

I’m Back From Ethiopia and Peeling

Yeah I roll pretty deep.

I’m back from Ethiopia and probably DON’T have fleas.* Family, get ready for some hugs.

Only two nights ago I was an entire world away, sleeping at 3000 meters above sea level under a Milky-Way-dominated sky in the Simien Mountains, a place that was both completely remote and completely habited by the local population. For the four nights we were in the mountains, I kept thinking about writing a blog post titled, “Ethiopia—stars like whoa” but I didn’t know what else I would say besides “The stars are pretty. There are a lot. Some are bigger than others. They are far away.”

So I probably won’t write that blog post. Now I’m in Cairo and the sky is brown again.

I don’t think I’ve been somewhere before that felt so far away. While I was in the mountains I considered the fact that I was supposed to be heading back to the states in less than a week and the left hemisphere of my brain exploded. No way, I thought. Going to America from a place where I’ve seen shoeless ten-year-old boys plowing the mountainside with pairs of oxen should take at least a month. It’s hard to appreciate distances anymore. Geographical distances can be crossed so quickly, you don’t have time to get used to the cultural and historical gaps between peoples.

I was only in Ethiopia for about six days, which was definitely not long enough. We flew into Addis Ababa at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am last Wednesday and flew out at the even more ungodly hour of 4:30 am today. The entire time I was there I couldn’t believe it. “Wow….I’m in Ethiopia.” I thought, because sometimes interior monologues don’t get more creative than that.

After arriving at Bole International Airport, I exchanged my dollars for birr in the most satisfying money changing transaction I have ever made. I handed over my five thin $100 bills and in return I was given a thick stack of 100 birr bills that made me feel like a real baller. I proceeded to bleed those birr with astonishing speed.

Epic. Yes.

We hung out at the unfortunately named café, “Yellow Spot,” and did some rat watching from the second story (more on this later) before heading to the domestic terminal where we lucked into a 7:00 am flight to Lalibela, the city of the famous rock churches.

In another 36 hours we would be at a castle in Gondar and in 48 hours we would be accompanied by a rifle-shouldering scout while trekking through some of the most epic landscapes either of us had ever seen,  Nega, a guy we met at the airport, arranged the entire trip. After completing the deal, we noticed that his business cards said he organized tours of the Semen Mountains, and I confess that did make me a little nervous.

We were awesomely unprepared as the van trundled off towards our high-altitude adventure at 5:30 am last Friday, but we didn’t know it yet. Oh how our bodies would suffer.

On the whole, was an incrediblamaztastic trip and my coverage of it shall continue tomorrow and forever.

*Someone in a travel forum said that fleas sometimes happen.

P.S. Yes we saw crazy animals.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Ethiopian Adventure Begins

I will get a baboon fang.

At 20:45 GMT on Wednesday, May 16th, an Egyptair flight left from Cairo, Egypt to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Both of these countries are in Africa, by the way. Why does this matter, you ask? Who’s asking, I ask. I am, you say. Big deal, I say. Well can you just tell me why, you ask? Yes, I say. It matters because yours truly was on that flight, probably.

And I probably landed in Ethiopia at the most comfortable hour of 1:30 am GMT, where I was greeted by a crowd of friendly Ethiopians before riding a giraffe named Dorothy to a flea-free safari lodge where I fell asleep. After hours of delicious slumber, I likely woke up to the most wonderful all-day breakfast spread I have ever seen. I may or may not have spent the whole day in the dining room, finally leaving only when I was forced to because Dorothy was getting impatient and we needed to begin the journey to Lalibela.

That was a paragraph of lies. The one true thing is that I am probably in Ethiopia right now, breathing in the sweet Addis Ababa and/or Lalibela air and counting down the hours to drinking my next coffee. I will be in this country for about a week and have left compy at home, making sure to set out some food and water for it and my blog. No, I will not be blogging during my Ethiopian adventure, but I do plan on harvesting a good crop of blog fodder that I will use for upcoming posts. This trip will be a much needed rotating of the mind crops.

There is a slight chance that I won’t return at all, due to kidnapping by the organized baboon gangs of the Simien mountain or because I will have willingly joined these gangs. I also might be overcome with the Simien madness and feel that I have become “one” with the landscape and refuse to leave, clinging to the neck of the mule that we have rented and annoying the mule handler with my incessant weeping.

But, if everything goes well, I should be coming back next Wednesday with a baboon tooth necklace, as few flea bites as possible, mild digestive problems, and priceless memories.

Expected highlights of the trip are:

1. Not being in Cairo.

2. Seeing churches carved out of the living rock in Lalibela.

3. Using the phrase “living rock” as much as possible.

4. Seeing castles in Gondar.

5. Making countless Lord of the Ring references to Gondor.

6. Trekking in the Simien mountains and seeing baboons.

7. Claiming to see family members in and among the baboon herds: “Mom? Is that you!?”

8. Eating in a country that doesn’t have an endless culinary winter.

It should be a good trip, and I’ll probably write stuff about it when I get back. As usual, it will be fact-poor and reveal very little about what I actually did. See you later!

Tagged , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: