Munchy in Ethiopia - Rolling With The Gelada Crew (Travel Blog #8)

12/21/2015 by Munchy

Munchy in Ethiopia - Rolling With The Gelada Crew (Travel Blog #8)

Munchy in Ethiopia - Travel Blog Day 8

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The excitement about the rock-hewn churches, meeting amazing people like Dieter, Getu and Henok, and my new priceless cross kept me awake almost all night, but I am so pumped with positive energy that my body doesn’t mind, even though I have the physically most challenging day of my journey ahead: I will go trekking today! My guide Alehegn and I take it straight from the center of town. The steep walk starts really just around the corner from his office. It’s Saturday, that attracts traditionally many farmers and vendors from the surrounding areas to the market. Children, men, women, donkeys flock into Lalibela, heavy loaded with potatoes, wood and other agricultural products for sale. We greet the masses streaming towards us, Alehegn knows many of them personally as he grew up in one of the villages up the mountain. For him this is all literally a walk in the park. With just some random not even neatly tied sneakers he almost runs up the rocky path as if it’s nothing, while I pant and gasp somewhere further down behind him. Yes, I grew up in the South of Germany, close to the Alpes, spent many weekends as a child in the mountains hiking and climbing, but to be fair please bare in mind that we already started in Lalibela at 2,500 meters above sea level, while some of our pinnacles in Bavaria don’t even reach that altitude. So let’s blame it on that and therefore the thin air, I am not used to, right?!

But I am lucky today. One of Alehegn’s colleagues stops with his car. He is on his way to pick up some tourists that spent the night in a lodge and are now ready to return. He offers us a free ride. Would be so impolite to reject it, wouldn’t it?!? The distance we make up with the car would have probably taken me one hour, at my snail paste. After this smooth lift I am motivated again. With the steady rise of the sun, the fresh air gets warmer and the temperature more pleasant. From little conifer forests we hike on through rocky landscapes and stony stretches, cross wheat and barley fields softly swaying in the wind. After another hour of walking we pass the lodge the others spent the night in. A wide plateau opens up in front of us and I appreciate the flat, which is a nice change to the steep rise. I would be lying if I said the hike wasn’t exhausting so far, but again I love me a challenge, so I count this as a warm-up and Alehegn and I decide to take it to the next plateau. Our destination is another lodge about an hour further up. Before we continue our hike we have to make a quick stop though, to take some pictures and link up with the gelada baboon crew. Five of the monkeys, including the big boss and a mother with her baby on the back are relaxing along our path, digging up the earth to eat the roots they find within. They couldn’t care less about me slowly and silently sneaking in on them to thief a few pictures of some of my favorite animals.

After this calm little break I am well energized again. With the steady rise our view widens even further, getting more and more amazing. With every turn I explore more, see different color fields on the other mountains glistening in the midday sun and fascinating natural mosaics down in the valley. The dust on my shoes changes from red to white to brown. Little yellow and purple flowers grow wildly along our path. Somewhere behind me a donkey starts to follow with his keeper. I feel a little pressured with the stubborn animal right behind me. One thing I learned with them while traveling this country: the really don't care. They just don't. And if they want to move, they move - regardless of any consequence. So if I feel like slowing down and donkey doesn't, I guess we will have a problem. So repeatedly I let the donkey overtake on the small path but somehow it always ends up behind me again. Evil donkey you! What an ironic twist that this time it's the animal driving the human. I am relieved as our ways finally separate but at the same time I have great respect for the animal making it this far. The path is getting steeper and more narrow as we walk on. Eventually it is just as broad as my one foot and I have to hold on with both hands to the walls on the side. Our altitude is around 3500 meters above sea level. I may have never been this high up. The air is thin and I am a bit scared. If I stumble and fall here, that's it. But then I hear Alehegn yelling 'Finito!' from just a little bit further up. The magic word! I am happy, very exhausted from the heat, the physical exercise and the altitude, but also proud of the achievement and wowed by the view. Sweet!
 
From the plateau we reached now, we have a great view over the magical land. It is almost 360°, only to one side we can still make out a bigger mountain in the far. It is the peak of Mount Abuna Yosef with 4.260 meters above sea level the third highest mountain in Ethiopia. Too high and too far for me today, but I am still pleased with what I reached.

Before I get to inhale my lunch, Alehegn and I start our return. Up here it's a bit lonely, so we descend back to the other lodge, where we also saw a big group of baboons earlier. I really want to get to them, so the hunger can wait. While walking back down we meet a mother and her daughter carrying a big bag of potatoes. Alehegn helps them and shoulders the burden. They only speak Amharic, but my guide translates that they are quite impressed by me, the strong forenji who made it this far up. They never knew how much brakes I took until I reached though. Now, downwards, with little Alehegn carrying the heavy potatoes, I can finally keep up with his paste.

Back in the lodge, I stuff my face with homemade pizza, drink some chai and have a great time hanging with the brown gelada baboons. They are a peaceful group. Just extremely busy with finding roots and eating them – face stuffing like me. For a good while I sit on the ground just a few meters away, watch them, take some photos, and relax. On the way we also passed ones with silver fur, that were pretty aggressive fighting each other. I kept away from them and later I would hear from Wouter that they encoutered silver ones in the Simien Mountains, who would attack them and steal their lunch. Good thing my crew is cool. We even take some selfies.

Once up in my guide's hood I cannot miss to visit his grandparents. They live in a small village another hour distance. This different tour down is lovely again. We wander through various agricultural settings, I eat some shiro, barley and wheat bran just off the plant, children with their goats or cows keep us company every now and then. Grandmother and grandfather, who is 93 years old, are happy to see us. We enjoy the full coffee ceremony, with three little cups in a row. The first one is very thick and dark and symbolizes birth. The other two are more and more watered down, as one ages. Before the sun sets Alehegn and I embark on our final hike to return to Lalibela. He is a very smart and friendly young man and we shared great conversations that made these nine hours of walking through the land fly by like nothing, and turned my days in Lalibela into the best experience in this country.

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