However, the great excitement of the day was caused when a Saker Falcon weaved through the trees between the hotel and lake shore. A beautiful falcon, which I had not expected to find, and was a delight to watch once the opportunity presented itself.
Sunday 26th December 1999
Leaving very early, I was able to reach Gonder by 7:00 am, and briefly visited the Royal Enclosure area. I am not quite sure why, but I found this to be one of the most disappointing areas, and didn’t live up to expectations at all. I suppose this was partly due to the constant shouting of the locals at the sight of a faranji, this being the first (and last) area where it was a real problem. As a result I only stayed about an hour before leaving. I am sure that it is possible to enjoy Gonder, but I failed.
From here I drove out north and upwards into the highlands, and reached Dabat by about 12:00, stopping to repair another puncture. Again I was heckled, but couldn't help enjoying it this time. Instead of the continual shouts of "You" and "faranji", the cry was "hello breakfast". I would love to know how they got this refrain, but it was certainly different, and a welcome change.
Another hour brought me to Debark, the headquarters of the Simien Mountains National Park Here you must hire a guard, and also a guide if they can persuade you. I turned down the guide (to their obvious disappointment). Once the guard had collected his rifle and small blanket, we drove west out of town up into the mountains. Curiously, the climb up isn’t too steep or long, as one is already on the highland plateau, and the dramatic scenery is the escarpment from this plateau down to adjacent valleys. However, the scenery is quite stunning, and in the late afternoon the sunlight cast shadows that enhanced the effect.
Stopping of at several view points along the road, Red-rumped Swallow and White-billed Starling were common, as were many crows. At one point we were able to get fabulous views of the endemic - but very rare - Walia Ibex. I couldn't work out why I could see it so clearly at first, since it was some way down the escarpment (probably 1000m below us, even though only 200m away horizontally). Then I realized it was lying flat on the ground with its legs stuck out sideways - once it stood up, it was very had to see.
Walking out to the waterfall - quite a spectacular sight - we passed a mixed flock of birds feeding near some White-rumped Babblers. I spent a long time studying them since the only reliable characteristic was their white rump - a diagnostic feature. Apart from that, they were unlike any other illustration I have ever seen of the species. However, equally interesting was the fact that Ethiopian Catbird and Abyssinian Woodpecker were also feeding nearby. Twice more during the afternoon I found parties of Babblers, and nearby were Catbirds and the Woodpeckers. I can find no reference to this association, and am not sure if it was just coincidence. Chiffchaffs were also to be found in the bush areas, and I disturbed several Klippspringer.
Just before sunset I watched the crows I had seen previously circling and making quite a noise - except that it wasn't really a crow noise. That was when I realized that Red-billed Choughs are actually quite large birds - I had somehow assumed they were more blackbird size. There must have been over 100 in the flock I was watching.
Gelada Baboons were common in several areas, especially around the rangers camp. That night I camped next to the rangers camp at Sankaba.
Monday 27th December 1999
By sunset the temperature was dropping rapidly, and by morning the temperature must have been close to freezing, with a heavy dew covering everything. Consequently I was stunned to find that my Guard was not allowed to sleep in any of the nearby huts (where he had been chatting with the other rangers), but had simply laid down on the ground, and covered himself with his this blanket. He then explained that this was part of his duties, so he wasn't complaining - his job was to guard me. Against what I never worked out.
Originally I was planning to stay up in the mountains for much of the day, and even for a second night. However, having already seen the target birds and animals (I wasn't expecting to see the Simien Fox here), the extreme cold which continued for a couple of hours after sunrise, I decided to get down to a warmer altitude, and drove back down to Debark. As it happened I had to take it very slowly, since a leak on the brake master-cylinder developed, resulting in very mushy brakes - and I didn't have enough brake fluid to bleed the brakes.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000