Today’s post is a story about five geniuses from the city (including me) who traveled through the Northern Ethiopian Highlands, over 4,000 meters to pay homage to one of Africa’s most beautiful scenery, the “Rooftop of Africa” sculpted by continuous volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. They charged up the mountains with hardly any gear that prepared them for the great outdoors. Rather than attending to basic hiking tips, they directed their attention to satiating their expectations of being blown away by crusted pinnacles towering valleys in luscious hues of green with bursts of muddy water flows that signified the presence of arable land.
It was July 31st, the peak of the wet season.
The wet season is pretty amazing. The purity of air, various shades of green and spontaneity of the day renders you speechless. So, the story begins.
Despite the vicious roar of thunder and lightning ripping the sky, we paid more attention to steering clear of the over toasted toast (hard as a brick ) that almost broke our crowns.
Apathetic to the abrupt weather change, we headed north to Semien National Park in the Amhara region from Goha hotel, Gondar at 7:30am. We dressed to stroll through the park because WHO KNEW jeans, running shoes, light jacket, fabric bags and trendy scarves were not hiking essentials? Besides, clear skies were expected to roll in. Eventually.
While passing through countless farms and villages tucked in the greenery, our driver continuously hit the brakes and honked at donkeys and goats springing towards the moving van. Occasionally, we pulled over to take photos and whenever we did, WHEREEVER WE WERE, leering children would run towards us and just, well… bunch up. An hour and a half into the journey, we may have hit something on the road that caused the back wheel to clink. The driver ignored it until it was noisy enough to stop and investigate. So, he asked us to get out of the van while he looked into it. Then, this happened. Rubblenecking. No pun intended.
The road got rougher as we approached the park’s headquarters at Debark to pick up our tour guide and scout who exposed his hunting rifle before getting on the bus. We had NO IDEA why he was there or whether his rifle was loaded. Though Enrique Iglesias’s “HERO” softened the atmosphere, for a little bit, the dense fog ahead didn’t make it any better. We drove 22km into the unknown and put our faith in the driver who circled cautiously to the top, 4,000 meters above, carefully maneuvering his way through the slippery mud. After a good gut churning hour, we made it to the lodge where we would start our hike. Two hour hike to the next viewing point where our driver would be waiting for us.
We gasped in horror. Hiking? Trekking? FOR REAL? Before we knew it, the driver sped away while we learned that the guide and scout did not have a phone. The drizzle wasn’t going to make it any easier and it certainly didn’t look like the fog was going to clear up. We “hiked” downhill to the edge, “the viewing point” for a stellar view and photo frenzy. A hundred kilometers of pure beauty, cliffs, pinnacles, grassland and rivers, the most spectacular view in Africa. But all we stared into was MIST.
“It will clear up in 20 minutes.”, said our guide. We unanimously agreed it was a bad idea. You bet it was. We slipped our way through the hilly terrain avoiding thorny shrubs and muddy trails. The drizzle soon turned into steady non stop rain 5 minutes into the hike. We ran into large groups of rain drenched gelada baboons screeching to one another while some exposed their fearsome teeth which made it all the more creepier. Gelada baboons are also known as bleeding heart baboons are only found on Ethiopian highlands. Side note: There’s only 200,000 of them left living on the edge of the “viewing point”. Fear not, they are vegetarians.
Chaperoned by the armed scout, we hastily hiked into the mist looking at clouds of nothingness. Absolute nothingness. I dreaded childhood memories pondering what life would be like in the clouds. The rain continued. We soaked up. Finally, after an hour long 5km hike, we made it to the next point. We were relieved to see the driver waiting for us an hour earlier. BUT! Our excitement quickly evaporated when we realized it wasn’t our driver. It was impossible to get a hold of him.
So, we patiently soaked in the rain. Naturally, random children appeared through the murk. At that point, it didn’t matter if they were ghosts.
The van finally made it. 30 minutes later. We ran for cover, though it was impossible to dry up, especially when we had no dry clothes. No biggie. We looked forward to drinking cinnamon tea at the Semien Park Lodge cozing up by the fire place. But then, a few minutes later, this presented itself.
Truck driver did a 180 on a narrow mountain road. The rain became heavier sending more mud into the road, and don’t even get me started on the fog. As a result, he skillfully blocked the entire road and held up a bunch of sopping wet tourists. Our eye balls popped out in shock. The driver, guide and scout volunteered to help and suggested we have our lunch in the van because ‘it was going to take a while until we reached the lodge’. For the amount we paid, (more expensive than full meals at restaurants) lunch, arranged by the hotel, was a complete rip off, and it was something like: boiled potato, boiled egg, banana and a cheese sandwich a two year old could have easily put together. No utensils. Instead, I squeezed a couple of soft avocados that melted in my mouth while the others went all out with a full bag of peanuts. So, we waited for another 40 minutes, and although it looked like the truck was going to stay there forever, we wanted to leave immediately. We called the driver back and he drove us………… into a ditch.
“What else could go wrong?” My friend asked. Advice: Sometimes when you ask stupid questions, nature responds relentlessly until you drift off to sleep.
So, the scout and guide were back on the road trying to push the van out along with other guys who were on board the truck. The downpour was so heavy, it was literally impossible to push the car out. AND The worst part of it all???? 2 minutes into the rut, THE TRUCK DRIVER SUCCESSFULLY TURNED AROUND. Our impatience cost us another hour. Anyhow, the rain eased off and we climbed out of the van to slowly watch the clouds unveil the rooftop of Africa, while the truck driver promised he would yank us out of the ditch. BUT only after he did a 180 on a wider radius, MANY MANY kilometers away.
Now that we were yanked out of the ditch, our royal sogginess triumphantly hopped back into the van eager to make it to the mountain lodge. A minute into the drive, the rear door opened because the latch handle lost its shape. Perhaps it was yanked too hard? Another 20 minutes of hammer bang. Finally! We bounced down the road, gave the lodge a miss and indulged in mother nature’s breathtaking magic. We stopped at a great view point to ONCE AND FOR ALL embrace the beauty of the highlands without interruptions.
Despite the crazy twist of events, we took it lightly, sometimes we cried out laughing because it was just too MANIC to be true. On the way back which felt like a considerably longer ride, we envisioned relaxing in our rooms, drying our gears and enjoying sunset before heading out to dinner. Halfway up the path that lead to the hotel, a popular sunset spot, the van’s rear door swung open. We considered the stubborn latch handle to be the last of our surprise du jour and went our separate ways before meeting up for dinner.
It didn’t take long before we all met around the fire place in the “lobby” to cozy up and get some real drying on. We found ourselves in an unlucky predicament. The electricity, EXCLUSIVELY in our part of the hotel, was OUT! Oh mon Dieu! And so we sat by the fire place looking down at our phones.
Dinner at “Four Sisters”, a popular Ethiopian joint, was delicious. Our generous driver suggested we experience some real local nightlife before heading back to the hotel. In full spirits, we paid the bill and before we ran into the van……. UH OH! A FLAT TIRE!?? YOU MUST BE JOKING!
He was not joking. While other guests, who paid the bill much later than we did, left, we stood there waiting as the temperature gradually dropped.
SO, next time you ask “WHAT ELSE COULD GO WRONG?”, be very very careful.