Ethiopia, Simien Mountains Part 1 getting there…

The Simien Mountains is in the North West of Ethiopia in the Gondar and Amahara regions. the area was made a national park in the 1960’s and is also a UNESCO world heritage site (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/9). For Hikers the park includes the highest mountain in Ethiopia, Ras Dashen (4,550 m) and for animal lovers you might be lucky enough to see Ethiopian wolves, jackals, Walia ibex and the famous grass grazing Gelda baboons. For bird spotters there are numerous birds of prey and the low lands (only around 3000m) have a plethora of brightly colored winged creatures to marvel at.

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The scenery is breath taking – literally, you are at altitude – 1500m cliffs drop away from flat pastoral lands and ridges run like dragons spines. There are few trees but Lobelia plants tower above the grasslands. The mountains were formed 30million years ago by giant volcanic activity leaving 3000m of rock which has been lifted and eroded ever since to form twisted ridges and surprising flat spots hanging from cliffs.

I planned my trip with Micheal, a local tour guide and operator  (http://www.hikeinethiopia.com/).

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Photo from Micheal’s website

Before the trip he was super responsive to questions and was always very accommodating, even allowing me to pay the full amount on arrival as paying a deposit while traveling in West Africa through my Australian bank was causing all kind of headaches.  I contacted around 5 companies to start with but Micheal was the one who understood and worked best with me. you can read some of my planning with Itinerary here. Everyone trekking must have a scout with gun from the park office with their group and I also had a guide, cook and mule man. One of the things which impressed me with Micheal was he was the only operator I contacted who would guarantee a female cook so it wouldn’t be me and 4 guys in the mountains.

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You can arrange everything yourself in Gondar or Debark and trek in the park with only a scout, but I don’t have time to arrange the details and do the research needed to not be ripped or even end up in the right place, so for me, having someone take care of all the niggly things like  food, toilet paper, daily schedules, car hire, airport pick ups is totally worth it when travelling with limited time. But If you want to know more about independent trekking check out this helpful article.

I flew direct to Gondar to Addis with Ethiopian airlines, although I had a stop over from 10pm until 7am. The hotel pick up didn’t arrive, and I hadnt yet paid for the room so since it was close to midnight after I cleared immigration I opted to sleep in the domestic departure lounge – apart from they wont let you in. I didn’t understand the logic but from 12 midnight until 2am I wasn’t allowed to go into the almost empty departure lounge, then suddenly I was. I grabbed a reclining chair and a few hours sleep and was given breakfast in the Star alliance lounge, finally my flyer points pay off.

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Then I arrive in Gondar, but my luggage doesn’t. At this point Ethiopian airlines shot themselves in the foot. Instead of being calm and telling me to come back in 24-48 hours when my bag will arrive they told me they had no idea where my bag was and it wasn’t in the system! This clearly didn’t make any sense and did not make me feel like my bag was in good hands so I spent a day going backwards and forwards to the airport and the office to try to figure out where my luggage was instead of departing as planned to start my trek.

 Micheal was also great, he spent the day with me calming me down, taking me for food and booking the unexpected hotel that I needed. For anyone needing cheap digs in Gondar L-shape hotel was 12 usd with clean rooms and hot showers, best budget African hotel to date.

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Fascinating tour around Gondar castle

The Ethiopian airline staff were great, they phoned 101 places to try to find my luggage and were always polite and my luggage did eventually turn up, but the “not in the system panic” could have been avoided. On the plus side I did enjoy a nice breakfast at the four sisters restaurant and wander around the Gondar castle which I would otherwise have missed out on and my luggage did arrive on the first flight the next day, so I only lost 1 day in the hills.

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