Luxury in Ethiopia's remote Simien Mountains
'What’s the gun for’? I ask. ‘Just incase’ replies my guide. In case of what, I wonder. Wild animals? People? My mind runs wild.
I’m in Ethiopia. More specifically, I’m in Ethiopia’s highest mountain range, The Simien Mountains. Often described as ‘the roof of Africa’ due to their height and sheer scale. At almost 15,000 feet, Rash Dashen is both the Simien’s and Ethiopia’s highest mountain, and Africa’s tenth highest.
I’m starting my trek at around 10,000 feet, on the grounds of Ethiopia’s luxury and eco-friendly hotel, Limalimo Lodge.
It’s possible to trek from bottom to top of this mountain range; it takes about 5 days, hiking and sleeping in tents on rough roads as you go. But Limalimo Lodge allows you to do things differently.
The lodge opened in 2016 and is Ethiopia’s first luxury lodge. It was opened by two locals, previously tour guides, who chose the remote location with two things in mind. Reason number one; to create a true get-away-from-it-all destination for the visitor; a stay here is you, the other guests and the wildlife for company. Evenings are spent by the outside fire playing board games before settling in for a home cooked dinner and being packed of to bed with a hot water bottle. The hotel is all-inclusive on food and local drink so a fantastic opportunity to sample Ethiopian wine which, if you choose correctly, is pretty decent (I recommend the Rift Valley Merlot as a starting point). Reason number two; as the location is so remote it was a chance to offer sustainable employment to the local community who otherwise miss out on tourism benefits; all of the Limalimo staff are employed from the local area and trained by the owners.
The travel time from the nearest airport in Gondar is around an hour and a half, and enroute you’ll make a mandatory stop to register and pay for a local guide and scout.
Which is how I’m in this position; guide, scout and, um, gun, ready to trek.
With a lunchbox packed by the lodge, some sturdy trainers and lots of suncream, off we set.
By pleasant surprise the beginning of our hike was downhill, making me very happy until the realisation dawned on me that at some point we’d have to walk back up. But, with valley views and horses roaming I was easily distracted and eager to continue. We took trails through the underpass, we stopped at spectacular viewpoints, we said hello to locals who were singing to crops for good luck as they fertilised them. We, inevitably, climbed some fairly steep hills. But the rewarding views made it all worthwhile.
The guides will ask you whether you want an easy walk, or a more strenuous hike. We opted for the latter and hiked for almost four hours.
If you're not keen on hiking then the Limalimo Lodge is perfectly placed to offer some of the best views without leaving the property. You can choose a casual walk to a nearby viewpoint, or a pick-up service if you decide to brave a longer walk than we so, after a more strenuous trek, you are collected and transported back to luxury at the lodge’s base.
Another exploration option that we took advantage of on the following day, is car and driver hire for the day. This meant that in just 5 hours we were able to drive from bottom to top of the popular 5 day hike to the top of the mountain range. In some ways this journey is even more fulfilling than walking it (at least we liked to tell ourselves that) as it allows you to stop and picnic at some of the best viewpoints, rather than hikers who feel the pressure to push on to the top. It also allowed us to partake in mini-hikes off the beaten path, whereby we found lush dense forests areas and overspilling waterfalls.
Perhaps the best bit of the car and driver option is the chance to stop the car once you find the endemic Gelada Baboon - of which there are so many, we have no doubt you'll come across them. The first family we found was 40-strong, but my guide promised me they are friendly and that I could happily roam amongst them, sit down and take photos. As is human nature, I had trouble believing this to begin with but, as I nervously made my way towards the baboons - I tested them. Inching closer and closer until I found myself sitting on the rocks with them, smiling and taking photos as they tried to suss me out. My guide was right, these are definitely the friendliest monkeys I’ve ever come across.
Other endemic species to the Simien Mountains include the Walia ibex and the Ethiopian wolf. But sadly, this time we weren’t lucky enough to spot them.
And so, our drive back to base begins. As I sit in the back of the car, windows open and the wind rushing through my hair, our car winding and bumping through the mountain roads shared with monkeys, donkeys, camels and dogs, the occasional smell of burning coal wafting through the outside air - I feel a sense of freedom, happiness and contentment. A feeling I realised I haven’t felt in a long time. A feeling I hadn’t realised I was missing.
This is free. This is me.
And the gun didn’t have to be used once.
- By Katie Silcox
Read more about travelling in Ethiopia: Exploring Babile Camel Market, Ethiopia
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