In November 2014, John and Sally Sparks embarked on a trip to Ethiopia to the Simien Mountains to see the Gelada Baboons. This had always been a long time desire for John. As usual both of our intrepid travellers kept a visual and written record of their trip and have started to document both. The section below is an extract from the 1st part of their journal. The full copy can be obtained via the link at the bottom of the page.
For a long time, Ethiopia had been a country that I had hoped to visit. To be more specific, I had always wanted to go to the Simien Mountains and see Gelada Baboons in the wild. Sally and I therefore booked onto this tour which was organised by Naturetrek entitled ‘The Best of Ethiopia”.However, we added three days onto the beginning so that we could visit the world-famous Coptic churches carved out of the rock at Lalibela. To most people, the mere mention of Ethiopia conjures up images of a scorched country racked by dreadful famines. And yet it is a surprisingly fertile country blessed with dramatic plateaus. It is no wonder that this large, landlocked country has been referred to as the roof of Africa and the chessboard of the Gods. Ethiopia is also the cradle of humanity because just over three million years ago, our diminutive ancestors rose up on their hind legs and made the transition from ape to hominid. From here, our species broke out of Africa to populate the World. In much more recent times, Ethiopia was the home of a dynasty founded, according to legend, by the beautiful andresourceful Queen of Sheba (right) ending with‘The Lion of Judah’, Emperor Haile Selassie in1974.
The fabled Prester John was said to be here ruling over a Christian kingdom beyond the Islamic caliphate which stretched across the top of Africa, isolating it from the rest of Christendom. Today, with a population of nearly 90 million people belonging to around many different ethnic groups, Ethiopia is the second most populated country in Africa. Cultural contrasts are marked, with Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Rastafarians living together. Tribal allegiances add further to the richness of the country. The people are rightly proud that their country, unlike every other African country has never been colonised. Amharic is the main language and the Ge’ez or Ethiopic script is the oldest still in use. The country follows two calendars alongside each other - the Gregorian and the Ethiopian, the latter consisting of 12 months of 30 days which runs about 7 years behind our’s. Furthermore, their day starts at 06.00hrs so that at six in the evening, some of the clocks like those in our coaches on this trip show midday! With two mountain ranges - the Simien and Bale Mountains, the spectacular Rift Valley and the Blue Nile running through the country, the wildlife is very diverse. Of the 830 or so kinds of birds, there are 29 endemic species. The larger mammals are well represented by 80 species and several of those like the Simien Wolf are found only in Ethiopia. The degree of endemism is a result of the presence of mountain ranges set well apart from each other and behaving like ‘islands in the African sky’, isolating populations that evolve in their own separate ways. For just over two weeks, we travelled around this fascinating country, reaching nearly 14,000ft in the Simien and Bale Mountains, visiting the impressive Blue Nile Gorge, crossed rolling landscapes of barley, teff and rice and passed through Acacia woodland and villages of little hatched huts - and much more beside, as the following account will reveal.