The Simian Mountains was one of the first must-see places on our list when we started planning for Africa. Many overlanders have discussed back and forth if this area is safe to visit, but apparently all are believe this is a magical place. For a long time, however, it has been recommended not to travel the “historical loop” in Northern Ethiopia, but lately this has changed. Most tourist fly in to the nearest town to the main attractions, but we met some traveling over land as well.
From the begging priests in Tigray and the tall stelaes of Axum, we head east and then south towards Gonder. The road to Sudan go west from Gonder, and this is the northern most bordercrossing between Ethiopia and Sudan open to tourists. There are roads further to the north, but the border area here is not considered safe due to the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Many people in these areas have been forced to move from their homes, and there are refugee camps on both sides of the border. It seems quiet and safe along the main roads, but it is not a very long time ago that conditions were very different. Along the main road just south of Shire is one of the refugee camps in the area.
It is a strange feeling to travel through and area where you know there was a terrible war just over ten years ago.
Most travelers going to the Simian Mountains drive north from Gonder and then the same way back out. We came south from Axum and crossed the mountains on our way to Gonder. And of course we stopped for a few days to take in the scenery.
In the Simian National Park it is mandatory to bring an armed guard. Some travelers tried to get in without, but this is not possible at the time. We do not believe it is necessary though, but it is more money for the locals who are trained as “scouts”. We suspect that this park has changed a lot the last few years, and there is now a good gravel road going all the way through the park. In and around this park there are about 20 000 people farming the land. Our plan was to stay a few days in the mountains for hiking, but we ended up driving more than hiking. The scenery is great, but we found the area to be a little too crowded and developed for the good mountaineering feeling.
According to our scout is Bwahit Mountain the second highest in Ethiopia with its 4430 meters (14535 ft). We parked the Patrol at 4130 meters and walked the rest. Not exactly what we had in mind when we talked about the Simians months before, but hiking along a gravel road wasn’t in our plans either. And I like to drive…
The mountains ARE beautiful, but we were a little disappointed when it came to the possibilities for hiking.
The Simians are also known for the Gelada Baboons. This is a baboon with a thick fur that protects it from the cold weather in the high mountains. Those living close to the camps were relatively comfortable with people, so we had to keep windows and doors closed at all times…
Gonder has a castle. A real medieval castle. We weren’t prepared to find anything like this in Africa, but there it was. It was built by an emperor called Fasiladas in sixteen-hundred-and-something.
Our last stop in Ethiopia we talked about as “the decompression stop”. I think we were both tired and a little worn out after more than six weeks travels in a fantastic country. There is more than 90 million people living in Ethiopia, and there are people everywhere. Because of this traveling here can be quite intense, but we had no problems of any kind. People are very friendly. Still, it was good to drive in to Tim and Kim’s Camp by Lake Tana. This is a Dutch couple running a great camp site (and they have cabins as well), and every overlander coming up the east coast stops here (and you should!). There are no people around trying to sell you stuff or begging for money. As Norwegians we are used to a bit of “space”, and it was good to have a little break here. We stayed six days reading and relaxing.
There wasn’t many other overlanders in camp, and according to Tim and Kim this was the quiet time of year. The Sahara is too hot in the north, and Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda has rainy season in the south. Fortunately, we had excellent entertainment…
And the GPS was loaded with maps for Sudan!