The Simien Mountains are spectacular. Even Homer wrote of them, calling them the playground of the gods.The mountains are recognized as a World Heritage Site for their unique topography and wildlife including Wahlia Ibex, the Simien Fox, and the Gelada monkeys.
Upon entry into the Simien National Park, we are escorted by a ranger complete with gun. The scenery is among the most beautiful I’ve ever witnessed. We arrived at our lodge which consists of little huts connected by a stone walk.
We hiked for about 40 minutes before encountering a family of Gelada. These monkeys have one of the most complex social systems of any animal and are only found in Ethiopia. The family units consist of mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and aunts. This matrilineal hierarchy is very stable and the females choose the male. They have the same vocal frequencies of humans and sitting among them is like sitting in a crowd of family members, laughing, playing, fussing, and enjoying life. Grooming is a very important part of this system and part of their morning ritual. The males are much larger than the females and their fur is reminicent of a lion’s mane. They have a fairly short life span of 12-15 years and the babies take a long time to develop.
Their predators are the hyena and the leopard. In order to stay safe, they sleep in crevices and outcroppings on the cliff sides. They possess the shortest, strongest, and fattest fingers among the primates. The most unique thing about them is they are the only grass-eating primate in the world and can pack away one kilo a day.
Watching them was fascinating as they use their hands like little scoops and dig downward and towards their bodies. The munching is clearly audible and they seem oblivious to my presence. In fact, the dominant male of this family moved within 8 inches of me and sat down right beside me.
The hike finished just as the rain began and then a hail storm. The weather at high altitudes is very volatile and we went from sunshine to rain and hail to fog as thick as mud soup. After sitting around a fire in the highest bar in Africa, we retreated to our huts with hot water bottles which was so appreciated and kept me cozy all night. Tomorrow, we hit the road and travel to Axum and to begin visiting water projects with our partners, Relief Society of Tigray (REST).