Tag Archives: outdoors

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?

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Desert Madness: S’more Edition

Illicit s’more innovation

Desert madness manifests itself in many ways. Some bury themselves neck deep in the sand and drool. Others lose the ability to internally narrate. In our cozy group of four, however, desert madness took the form of wild and, at times irresponsible innovation in the s’more field, urged on in particular by one go-getter we’ll call Stew.

Stew is an active young man of about 22, and though I had only met him briefly before our trip, by the end of it I knew two important things about Stew: he’s hungry, and he never settles for second best. Whereas I always leap at the chance to settle, Stew refuses to even look at the second tier of life.

This is a man that used to drink multi-thousand calorie protein shakes before bed in high school in order to put on weight. Wait! Can you hear that? It’s the gooey sound of millions of dieting men and women exploding from rage. Eighty percent of his conversation revolved around things he had once eaten, liked to eat, or was planning on eating very soon. While listening to his culinary fantasies, one was also drawn into his passion and shown an eatable world of which only geniuses and madmen could conceive.

Since we are real, red-blooded Americans, each night we would crack open a couple bags of marshmallows, Hershey’s chocolate, and graham crackers and get our s’more on. The first night passed quite lamely, featuring the usual discussion about how we like to roast our mallows: charred or golden brown and melted all the way through, etc. And just when I had accepted this level of normality, Stew remembered there was an unopened jar of peanut butter sitting on the sand. He hatched a plan, and then the magic began.

The next three nights were a kaleidoscope of different, almost unimaginable combinations of peanut butter, chocolate, marshmallow, twinkies, jam, and both roasted and unroasted banana.

Stew would be silent, and then burst out with a statement like, “What if wrapped this twinkie in foil with chocolate and peanut butter and then roasted it? You know what? Yes! I’m going to do it. Yes.” Never have I seen such a go-getter. There was no delay between the formation of his food wishes and their realization. In one night he ate nigh on 10 twinkies, all prepared different ways. It was a wonder and a blessing to behold. Were I a business person, I would hire Stew for any job that I had, especially if it involved him walking around without his shirt on or grabbing pushups on the go, two things he also excelled at

I once even heard him utter the words: “I’m going to impregnate this marshmallow with chocolate and then roast it.” This is the kind of literary and functional innovation that has made America great. Thank you, Stew. You make me proud to be an American.

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