The long planning session regarding itinerary, arrangements and costs was carried out during the course of my dinner at around 10 pm. While I was gobbling up mouthfuls of injera, trekking companion Janto was pondering over my proposal endeavouring to make both ends meet and the organiser was ogling us from a nearby table praying to buckle a lucrative deal.
When Janto gave the green light, we came to an easy agreement with the middleman thanks to whom my start was made possible as early as this morning, avoiding any waste of time. He took on himself the application for the trekking permits and buying the food.
He certainly eked out extra money on top of his commission by taking a toll on the food budget, something that became apparent when I saw the unimpressive amount of victuals bought. It doesn’t look like good value for the cash I put on them, but on the positive side I couldn’t possibly have organised all myself in the late evening hours with shops and the park office closed. His cooperation was essential to avoid a waste of time.
Today, the driver is meant to take Janto, the scout and me up to Sankaber, the first camp from where we’ll start our trek. When he enquires at what camps we are planning on staying, a problem arises. The organiser made us pay the lodge fee for three nights and gave us a receipt from the park office, but two of the camps are in fact community-owned and are to be paid locally. We trace the man, who grudgingly returns the corresponding money, and we are free to leave.
At 9.30 we have a mule loaded with our sack and we are walking on the dirt track. We soon branch off to follow a path skirting the edge of the plateau. These heights are in fact an enormous undulating surface of considerable elevation, coming to an abrupt end on all sides with vertical drops of several hundred metres.
When we reach the first viewpoint I can only gasp in amazement. At an incredible distance immediately below me, a few metres off the tip of my feet, opens a chasm of low-lying hills and valleys. It is as much this incredible panorama as the giddy feeling that tickles my spine that has me completely enthralled. It is extreme beauty.
At the stream where we stop for lunch we have our first encounter with a pack of gelada baboons. Then we march on and reach a dainty village of big round huts. Our camp is just up from it, surrounded by the first giant lobelias with their tufts of leaves and picturesque flower spikes rising for several metres. They dot the plain providing a natural decoration to an otherwise barren landscape.
For dinner we have to come to terms with a uncooperative kerosene stove and the altitude, factors that combined don’t seem to be favourable to bringing water to the boil and consequently letting us cook a decent dish of pasta. After a long wait we resign ourselves to eating an uncooked soft mush, made barely edible with the addition of tomato paste.
The temperature has by now dropped to freezing point and after a gorgeous sunset it’s completely dark and cold. Our hands struggle with the temperature and our dinner is eaten at the dim light of a flickering candle. Obviously, we have an early night. A Polish trekker takes shelter in the lodge rather than spend another sleepless night out in his tent.