After I left Asella I met up with Gaby from Washington DC. She’s a counselor at the school that Obama’s kids go to and she has been working with Girls Gotta Run. She was planning on meeting the teams and doing some traveling as well.
Unfortunately I got involved and made her miss her flight to Gondar. Luckily we figured out a way to rearrange her schedule so that she could go to Debark, Gondar and Lallibella. The plan was for me to meet her at the Simien Mountain Lodge in Debark.
She flew to Gondar and then had someone from the Lodge drive her to Debark and up into the Simien Mountain Park. Debark is about 3 hours from Gondar in a 4×4 on a lovely dirt road.
I flew to Gondar about a day after she did and met up with one of Danny’s friends from grad school in India named Fish. He owned a bar in Gondar and had been living there his whole life. My flight was at the crack of dawn so Fish was unable to pick me up from the airport since I flew in on Saturday morning. He had been up all night working the bar and needed to sleep a bit. So instead he said that one of his friends would pick me up.
So I was planning on somehow getting in touch with Teddy’s uncle’s friend’s friend in Gondar. True Ethiopian-style networking. When I landed, a group of three young females came up to me and asked me if I was Kayla (in what sounded like American accents). I couldn’t have been more surprised. It turns out they were Fish’s relatives that lived in Canada and were visiting for a couple months.
We all hung out for a bit and got breakfast, visited the bar and drove around Gondar for a bit in tiny taxis called Tuk Tuks (or Bargads – but I like the name Tuk Tuk more) that were made in India.
Eventually I had to make my way to the bus station to catch my ride to Debark. I’m really glad Fish was there to help because the station was INSANE. I was a little late but Fish knew the driver of the bus that was going to Debark that day and he got me a seat.
When I first got onto the bus I was sitting in the front, but then the driver motioned for me to move to the back; he said my brothers were there. I was a little confused until I looked down the aisle and saw two white people sitting in the back of the bus. I started laughing and the people around me started laughing, too, when I turned to them and said, “my faringe brothers.” Faringe is the Amharic word for foreigners.
So I went back there and sat with my new friends. They were both from Holland. One was getting his PhD in nuclear physics and the other was interning at Oxfam in Addis. They were planning on hiking through the Simien Mountains. Our bus ride ended up taking about 4-1/2 hours. It included multiple fights, two chickens, three bottles of mango juice from my bag and one talkative Ethiopian veterinarian.
Since the bus arrived so late, the Dutch couple and I decided to stay the night at the Simien Park Hotel and go into the park in the morning. The hotel was filled with foreigners who were preparing to go trekking up the mountain.
The next morning I went to get my ticket to enter the park. The guidebook said it was going to be 50 Birr… yeah right. The Dutch couple said that you should triple anything the guidebook says and that will give you a rough idea of what it will cost you. I ended up spending 180 Birr on a ticket into the park and a scout, which I was required to have.
I tried to fight getting a scout at first. I explained that I was just going to the Lodge and wasn’t going to do any hiking. He said I still needed a scout. So I started getting frustrated and said “So what you are telling me is I need to pay for a scout to drive with me to the Lodge, stay at the Lodge with me and then drive back down to Debark with me… like a babysitter?” His response was “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s the rule.” I decided to pay the money and move on.
My scout was hilarious though. He was a small little man wearing colorful woolen clothes and carrying a weapon that looked like an automatic rifle… I think it may have been homemade. So off we went, one Dutch couple, two scouts and one guide, up the mountain.
The view was incredible. It was like Ireland meets Argentina with a mix of Northern California…. aka the Simien Mountains. The truck dropped me off at the lodge, along with my midget scout, and the Dutch couple continued on up the mountain.
I met up with Gaby and we went for a nice little hike. We climbed down this hill and reached a cliff where we could see for miles… or we would have been able to if the fog cleared out. The view was still great though. We saw a Monastery off on a distant cliff. The guide said it was a “two-hour slippery and dangerous hike from here.” We decided to forgo seeing the Monastery.
Our hike/climb/death march back up to the Lodge almost killed me. The altitude was trying to kill me. Nonetheless we made it to the top and saw a group of Cheladas hanging out at the Lodge. Cheladas are a type of baboon that live only in the Simien Mountains. They have red skin on their chest that makes them look like their hearts are exposed. It was really cool.
It started to downpour so we went inside and made a fire. A group of Irish professors staying at the lodge joined us. They had been there the night before as well. We all ended up talking for hours around the fire.
Later on that night a group of younger travelers joined us as well. They had stayed at the lodge the night before but decided to stay at another lodge they found a little ways away that was cheaper. The group was composed of two Israelis and one British guy.
The female Israeli had been traveling for months through West Africa and was now in Ethiopia traveling with her Israeli friend Ron. They met Dan in Gondar, I think. He has been traveling for several weeks from England down through Africa to Ethiopia on foot/bus. I stayed only one night at the Lodge. It was extremely expensive and cold.
The next day we went down to Debark and interviewed the girls running team. We got to see them practice a bit as well. I think Gaby really enjoyed that; she’s a running coach at the school she where she works.
We stayed one more night in Debark and then headed back to Gondar. Dan joined us on the bus ride back and showed us the hotel where he had been staying in Gondar — the Beleguez. He had actually stayed in Gondar for longer than he planned because he found such a great group of people at the hotel and in the town. I met two doctors from Portland and a student from Ohio who was twenty and doing research in Gondar for ten weeks.
Gaby was leaving the next day so we crammed all the tourist stuff into one day. The next day I hung out with the Israeli duo and a group of Israeli travelers they met and were helping out. It was fun talking to them about their travels. In the evening a bunch of people I had met at the Simien Park Hotel showed up, along with a few that had stayed at the Beleguez.
We decided to take the entire hotel to the Brewery that was about 20 minutes away. I guess it’s not really fair to say that the ENTIRE hotel went. Two scientists stayed behind because they were waiting for a car to pick them up. They had been studying the Cheladas in the Simien Mountains for the past six months, and they came down to Gondar for a mini vacation/warm shower. They were collecting baboon poop to do hormone tests on… ooh yes.
So we packed the remaining thirteen foreigners into a mini bus and headed off to the brewery. They served us these giant tubes of beer. Each tube had 5 liters of beer in it. We ordered 3… you can do the math. It was really fun talking to everyone about their trips and experiences; a great group of people.
The next morning I had breakfast with the Israeli duo, Dan and Gwyneth (the 20-year-old researcher).
Heading to the airport was almost a bit sad. I’m going to miss that crazy group of travelers.