No way was I prepared for these mountains. Do you think of numerous peaks over 13,000 feet when you think of Ethiopia? Probably not. There are even a few over 14,000 feet. The whole area is often referred to as the Roof of Africa.
There is only one road into the park. To get in, a tourist must stop at the park office, sign in, passport number, address, etc. Plus, you will be assigned a guard and a guide. Our guard in the photo above carried an assault rifle. No, it is not to protect people, it is to protect their rare animals from people, from poachers. Wonder why he is wearing all these clothes? It is cold at 12,000 feet even if you are near the Equator.
The drop offs are terrifying, thousands of feet, the vistas endless. Even though I have lived and been all over the Rocky Mountains and been to the Himalayas in both Kashmir and Nepal, I have never seen anything like these mountains for beauty, green, and endless vistas.
My friends near the cliff are much braver than I. In the foreground stands our guide, Michael, who spoke excellent English and was super funny. He had us laughing all the time. People live and farm in these mountains–if you look closely in the middle of the photo, you can see fields. However, the government is slowly relocating people in order to make the park a refuge for rare wildlife.
The above photos were all taken on a hike early one morning. Everything was wet because it was either raining or misty or we were in the clouds.
Because I kept slipping and sliding, I decided not to walk along the cliff with my friends and the guard, who spoke the same Ethiopian language as my friend. Michael and I took off across a meadow and suddenly here we were in the middle of all these gelada baboons, who paid no attention to us at all. They were very afraid, however, of a predatory bird that decided to fly over. How do I know? They suddenly started “talking” to each other in frightened voices. Experts now think these primates actually have a language and do talk to each other. Gelada are the last primates that are herbivores. They eat grass. All other herbivorous primates are extinct. Gelada live only in the high mountains of Ethiopia and no where else on earth, a reason for a guard. At night they climb down the cliffs into caves to protect themselves from hyenas and leopards.
If you look very carefully in the middle of this photo, you can see several duiker which are considered so common it seems no one thought to stop to really take a look so I took the photo as we drove along.
Here we are above the timberline where some very unusual plants thrive.
And some exceedingly rare animals whose camouflage makes them almost invisible until they move. At this point we are about 14,000 feet just under one of the highest peaks in Africa. Look carefully in the middle and you will see walia ibex. People come from all over the world to see these endangered animals that live only in this park. Sometimes the fog rolls in and no one sees anything. We were lucky; we saw more than twenty of them. And then the fog rolled in.
These giant lobelia thrive above timber line. Some were considerably taller than I am.
If you grow red hot pokers in your flower beds and think they are semi-arid flowers, think again. Here they are growing wild.
You can see red hot pokers in the middle of this photo by the stream. These mountain streams run down to and often across the road, making the road a muddy mess. Without 4-wheel drive and an expert driver we would have gone nowhere. In fact, at one point we did have to stop because two stuck trucks blocked the road, one of which had a flat tire.
The highest waterfall in Ethiopia is hard to hike to unless you are not at all afraid of heights. My friends did hike there. Look a bit to the right of the groove through which the water actually falls. You will see a sort of flat area. It is only a few feet wide with a drop-off on each side. Yes, that is where you hike. When I saw this view, I was rather glad I decided to wait, look for birds, and chat with the driver.
The fire pit at the highest bar in Africa is a very popular place on a cold night. Even though we had beautiful rooms, with no heat at 12,000 feet it is not exactly warm. Even the guides and guards were bundled up. The only people who seemed toasty were Scandinavian tourists with their heavy wool sweaters. The hotel staff gave us hot water bottles to put in bed with us at night. Actually, it works. Nevertheless, when you get up in the morning, it is really cold.
The guards and guides live near the park. We dropped off the guard here and watched him walk toward his house down where the trees are. We dropped off the guide near his house in the town when we left the park.