Sunday, October 12, 2014

Climbing the Simien Mountains

I slept with Iron and Wine playing deep in my ears to keep out the incessant giggling of my cotmates.  The walls were slick with rainwater and the fog whipped around my hair and I thought "oi."

I stopped by the hut for some hot coffee and bread before setting off.

We climbed through tall grass and bright flowers.  My old man scout led the way using his stick to clear the wet bushes in front of us.  My (quite handsome) guide led from the back.  When I saw my first view I choked a little.  We were on a soaring cliff looking down on the clouds and green, jagged mountains.  It was awe inspiring.  Awesome, if you will.

We got to a rock bridge we needed to cross to get to the waterfall.  The bridge fell away on either side.  As I was climbing over it, my foot slipped and I fell down.  In a millisecond, my rock climbing skillz kicked in and I did a finger crimp of my life.  Literally.  My guide grabbed me and pulled me up Indiana Jones style.  I knocked my knees around but am living.  The waterfall was a bit of a blur because I was still shaking.  I recrossed the bridge scooching on my butt.

The Bridge

I am only one of 2 solo female travelers my guide has had in his 2 years of experience.  I take pride in that.

We trekked  steadily up the mountain.  The altitude bit at my lungs and held there until I was gasping for air like a goldfish held by its tail.  My legs were leaden and dragged behind me.  When we summited the mountain at 3900 feet the impressive view was completely blocked by fog.  So we just sat down and ate the bread with vegetables we had packed for lunch.

And then it started to rain.

An icy rain so intense it bounced off my back into hail.  The rain didn't let up for 3 hours.  It was miserable but I couldn't complain because I was the stupid head who booked this trip as her vacation.  I pretended I was a refugee running away from some awful persecution.  And that helped.  I couldn't tell my Ethiopian brother what I was pretending because that would be kind of messed up.

At hour 2, my brain waterlogged and I was just a body walking down the mountain.  I woke up to see a large herd of gigantic baboons crossing in the fog ahead.

Back aching from shivering, we finally got to the campsite just to find all of the beds in the hut were taken.  It's ok, I was assured, there is a tent we have for you.  But you'll have to share with a German lady.

"Ok.  Let's talk.  This isn't going to work for me.  Call the boss, have a car pick me up and take me to the nearest city so I can sleep in a warm bed."
Here's one thing that's happened since I got older.  I am no longer afraid of speaking up, no longer feel guilty for making things happen for myself.  Thank god.

"Ok, get changed and then we will head to the main road to meet the car."
I was brought into a stone storeroom and all the men stood by casually looking on.  I built a fort out of bags of rice and hissed at them to leave.  Once dry, they fed me some coffee and popcorn and we set out again, in the rain, down the mountain.

My guide, Ganatsu, and now my best friend, held my hand the whole way down so that I would not slip down the slick, muddy rocks.  I'm a princess.

Down at the river, a mule and mule handler met us to take us up the almost vertical mountain pass.  But first we had to pass through the fast moving, icy river.  The mule handler, porter, scout and guide all stripped down to their knickers to determine the best possible way across with the mule.  All of these men right now are working to make sure I have a good time on my vacation.  I am a ridiculous person living an incredible life.

Mule and mule handler

When they found the best route, they lifted me onto the mule as the scared-as-shit animal crossed the river.  We were laughing hard as the mule kept freaking out and dipping half my body in the water.

The mule took me up the vertical mountain and I gripped on for my life with my legs.  But eventually became a mule riding pro, twisting back to talk to Ganatsu.


We reached the main road 2 hours later--and the car wasn't there.  Positively shaking and drenched, we climbed the nearest hill to get cell reception to call the car.  Nothing.  A white car came in the distance.  Could it be?  Our car? We high-fived.  We hugged.  But no.  Not our car.

We need to find shelter, with every breath I take I feel a sharp pain in my chest.  We see a house in the distance and walk to it.  It is a singular dark room made of stone, chokingly dense with smoke.  Rice bags line the walls and a beautiful woman and her boy took turns adding twigs to the fire on the floor and swatting at the chickens to get away from the rice.

We sat around the fire and smoke rose up from our body as our clothes (and lungs) turned from ice, to water, to vapor.  I was so thankful for the fire but couldn't help think of my friends working all over the world on proper cook stoves.

After half an hour the car still hadn't come and the woman was starting to run out of twigs.  Time for Plan B.  If the car never came, I would cut open a bag of rice and crawl inside to wait out morning.

Then the boy's voice rose up like the sun on Christmas morning.  The car was here!  I thanked the woman and ran slowmo to the car.
"Chelsea!  Poor girl!  Such an adventure!"
Yes, yes, I know I simpered, enjoying the attention.  I took off my outer layer of soaking clothes and they drove me 2 hours back out of the mountains into the closest city of Debarak.  I said goodbye to Ganatsu and my scout and was taken to a hotel with a warm bed.  I ate two bowls of carrot soup, bread, goat and whiskey.  I took a hot shower which overflowed from all the mud and bugs caked on me, ew, and fell asleep at 9pm.

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