|Sunday 8th July - Ethiopia - Simien Mountains
Today we took the car to the garage for the suspension repair. Whilst that was going on we went to the Debre Selassie church which was built in the 17th century.
The church is very atmospheric and beautiful, while at the same time having a typically Ethiopian worn-at-the-edges feel about it. Ethiopian Christianity seems to be a strange mish-mash of stuff. Some of the images on the walls and ceiling of the church are of familiar Bible stories but others are of Ethiopian saints. One very important saint here is St George - we recognised him as the dragon-slayer on the walls of the church.
After visiting the church we had to wait a couple of hours for the car to be ready. We finally left Gonder at about 3.45pm and drove towards Debark the gateway to the Simien mountains. The road was quite rough and we drove through heavy showers of rain and patches of thick fog.
Incidentally, we are using paper maps and GPS maps to navigate our way on this adventure. For Africa, the maps that we have are Russian military maps. This can prove very confusing. Issues that conspire against us ever navigating our way to South Africa are:
1. a GPS map which uses Russian script
2. signposts written in Arabic script (as was the case over the last few countries) or signposts in Amharic script (as is the case here in Ethiopia)
3. a navigator who can only read the usual, English script and who is also chief entertainer for the back-seat passengers.
Obviously I am biased here, but so far I think the navigator has done pretty well weve found our way without much problem so far. The paper and GPS maps for todays drive didnt relate to each other at all. The Ordnance Survey never made it this far obviously.
We got to Debark at about 5.45pm and went to drive into the Simiens National Park. There is a lodge, Simien Lodge, in the park where we planned to spend the night. We were told that we first needed a ticket from the park office before we would be allowed into the park. The park office closed at 5.30pm. A helpful man then took us on a tour of Debark (not a town worth touring), trying to find the park manager so we could get a letter from him that would then let us into the park. Eventually the conclusion was that the manager was away in Gonder and so we would have to spend the night in Debark. Our helper then took us to a hotel where we happened upon a young man who worked at Simien Lodge. Perhaps he could help us? Our original helper left and this new helper took his place. We then went on another round of Debark, stopping to enquire about the park managers whereabouts. We were assured that the manager was not in Gonder as wed previously been told, but he couldnt be found. Finally our helper wrote the letter himself and off we drove to the park entrance at about 6.45pm. The guards at the gate accepted the letter and let us into the park.
We had about 20km to drive from Debark to the lodge. We drove in the dark, through thick fog, catching a quick glimpse of a jackal as we were on our way. For large sections of the route we drove with our headlights off because that was the only way that we were able to see anything. We were very relieved to arrive at the lodge.
We are the only guests at Simien Lodge tonight, so we were well looked after by the staff. We enjoyed a good meal and then went to our little tukul for the night. The lodge is at an altitude of about 3800m and it is cold here. We were given hot-water bottles for our beds tonight what a change from a couple of weeks ago!