The Simien trek: Sankaber

There is a slender slice of rock jutting out into the openness of the valley which makes an impressive vantage point. From the bench placed at its end flouting all health and safety rules, I watched the first sunrays touch the higher mountain tops with the rest of the landscape still steeped in bluish shade.

Just above the lodge a pack of gelada baboons has its headquarters. It’s very entertaining to observe them attending to their morning routine of mutual scratching, grooming and then feeding. They pull out tufts of grass and nibble at them from the root end. The cubs in the meantime are sauntering about in happy frolics. The babies are rather fearful and are afraid if someone draws near, so they cling to their mothers’ back or belly. If only you stare at them, they hide behind they parent and peep from behind to check if the potentially dangerous stranger is still in the offing.


Today we are going to follow the track down to Sankaber. The day is not expected to be a spectacular one and the long march along the road makes it rather exhausting. The Polish trekker had indeed offered a lift in the car he had sent for, but we set out anyway, unsure of being accepted by the driver. We must have been on a shortcut off the road when the car eventually drove past, so we missed the opportunity.

On the other hand, Janto and I would have felt terribly guilty in front of our scout for cheating, if we’d been taken on board the vehicle. Masafent is quite a character. A slender man in his late forties perhaps, he doesn’t speak a word of English, so any attempt at communication is obviously thwarted at the outset. He’s nevertheless made his personality clear to us and we have conformed to his disciplined disposition.

He puts up military airs, sometimes marching, saluting us and calling out our names adding mbasaa, that we understood means “hero”. That’s to say he appreciates our brisk pace, which entitles him to poke fun at a French couple of elderly trekkers. I sincerely take my hat off to these people who are terribly fit for their age to be doing this trek and even sleeping in a tent, but Masafent with cruel disrespect is not of the same mind and he plays the fool mimicking their alleged decrepitude.

This morning his measured tread sounded so military that unconsciously I started humming a military march and all three walked on to this rhythm for a while. Masafent walks in a pair of plastic sandals with no socks, one sole worn through. He wears a hat on his bald head and a gold-plated wrist watch. His only luggage is an Ethiopian air blanket.

He holds his rifle across his shoulders with the barrel pointing sideways at one of us. At first I got an uneasy feeling and moved up or down away from its trajectory, but habit and fatigue have made me careless of this fear. While he walks, his arms are laid over the gun, like the peasants and shepherds with their staff.

Our day was not supposed to last long, especially when at mid morning we learned from a muleteer coming from Sankaber that we’d have about two hours’ walking. Our happiness was short-lived, because the next person our scout asked for the information put the estimate up at about three hours, and at the end of the day we realised it had been exactly as long a march as ever, and more tiring. After yesterday’s incredible vistas, no walk could have been terribly impressive, but the landscape was mainly grassy slopes and valleys.

After Janto’s usual cup of tea, we test culinary skills on a risotto that literally takes two hours to cook barely enough to eat. In spite of the solidified very unhealthy-looking palm oil we had to squeeze out of the bottle to fry the onions, it tastes rather good.  This is the last night of the trek and we meet two nice people that will start it tomorrow, a Canadian and an Italian lady. Our last day walking day will be spent to return to Debark.