19th July 2019
When you start at Wild Frontiers one of the questions you get asked for your personal bio is what our ‘most memorable journey’ is. My answers thus far had been a toss-up between the drive into the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan for a magnificent sunset and guiding a night drive in Kenya, where we saw a leopard, lion kill and an aardvark. Some fairly incredible experiences to top. However, since returning from Ethiopia, that answer has changed. The drive into the Simien Mountains now holds that title for me.
We woke early and drove from Axum for six hours to the UNESCO recognised national park in northern Ethiopia. Despite not relishing the early start and long drive, we were absolutely rewarded beyond expectation on arrival. You climb and climb and climb, bumping along dirt roads (free African massage) until you hit views like this…
You keep climbing until you’re in amongst the clouds and eventually you arrive at the frontier town of Debark. There was nothing really of note here, except the entrance to the Simien Mountains National Park. You don’t think the views could get any better, but somehow, they do. You’re suddenly faced with dramatic steer drops, rolling highlands and throngs of Gelada Monkeys. They’re the highest dwelling primate and commonly/incorrectly referred to as Baboons. These handsome and incredibly chilled Old-World apes are everywhere in the park and more than happy for you to get the right picture, so I had to get in the zone and channel my inner Attenborough(s).
Interestingly, Ethiopia actually has seven endemic mammals just like the Gelada Monkeys. One other of these is the endangered Walia Ibex, which luckily for us, can also only be found in the Simien Mountains. So, the next day we went searching.
Climbing up to the highest drivable part of the National Park (4200m), we were rewarded with yet another unforgettable moment. Another interesting fact about Gelada’s is that they share very similar vocal frequencies to humans, which means when you’re in a troop of well over a hundred, it sounds like the rush hour crowd at Kings Cross or Heathrow. So, whilst we were looking for the Ibex, we heard what sounded like an army coming over the cliffside just ahead of us. Before we knew it, we were in the middle of 500+ monkeys.
Amazingly, trailing them in the distance, trotted just what we had been looking for…a family of the famous Walia Ibex! Slightly more timid than their primate neighbours, they gave us a wide berth. But thanks to my earlier Attenborough practise, I still managed to get a shot of them and their exquisite curved horns.
Being super passionate about Africa and its wildlife, I would say Ethiopia is completely different from its other East African neighbours. It may not have the volume of game, but what you do see and the landscapes you see them in, make each sighting so much more special. When you take into consideration Ethiopia’s rich cultural sights and historical importance alongside that, you can imagine you’re never left lacking for things to be amazed by...
The Simien mountains will remain a firm favourite of mine and I hope to return one day. I have no choice really, my next mission is to find the elusive Ethiopian Wolf or the rare Black Maned Lion so a trip to the Bale Mountains is definitely in order!