30 December 2015

Seychelles - Morne Seychellois

24th of December:  On the spur of the moment, I decided to visit Seychelles to climb the highest peak.  There were only three African countries I haven’t visited where I did not need a visa. I knew very little about the island – just that Morne Seychellois was only a 45 minute easy hike from the tea factory.  It was, however peak season but things always work out and a friend of mine’s uncle managed to find me ‘cheap’ accommodation for ‘only’ €35 per day.  Al he wanted was 6 milk stouts and some biltong and whiskey for the lady that arranged the accommodation for me.  Two hours after I received his e-mail, my flight was booked.

25th of December:  Finding milk stout at the airport?  Instead I bought more whiskey and biltong. Sometimes I forget how much I love travelling. I love to watch the people waiting at the airport, meeting new people and sharing their excitement upon arrival. 

I loved the island the moment I stepped off the aeroplane.  At the airport, I drew some Euros, a lot more that I expected to spend, but since I travel a lot, I knew it would come in handy in the future. It was magic driving past Victoria with the Christmas lights all lit up. 

My flight was delayed and I only arrived in Bel Ombre after 22:00, where I was pleasantly surprised with the apartment.  It was humid and I really appreciated the air conditioner. Falling asleep with the sounds of frogs, fruit bats and the sea, was incredible.  
Villa La Cachette - a lovely place I stayed in
 26th of December: I woke up in lovely Seychelles with only a printout of the hikes I googled and showed my landlady, who was on her way to visit family for a week, I gave her a list of all the hikes. She gave me a map and showed me where they were on the map, but it was all Greek to me. I felt like an idiot and then she instructed her husband to drive me to all the starting points.  I was just as clueless as before but I took some useless GPS readings and at least I now knew where the Anse Major hike started. 

The start of the Dans Gallas Trail
I was dropped off at the start of the Dans Gallas trail – according to the book, it is the most strenuous one.  The view was magnificent and after 90 minutes, I bumped into a couple coming down.  “We couldn’t find the path to the top – so good luck”.  I hiked for another 30 minutes before the path disappeared. I was on my own and the reason I was in Seychelles was to climb to the highest peak. It was silly to risk injuries so I turned back.  Because of the humidity, the sweat was pouring off me.

Once down, I started walking.  After walking for quite a while on a tarred road, I remembered that my landlord mentioned something about ‘whatever you do, do not turn right!”.  I have, of course turned right.

Ages later, I stood in front of a police station.  I only had a piece of paper with the apartment’s address on and asked a passing lady if she knew where it was.  She looked at the paper, looked at me, looked at the paper again and burst out laughing.  She then said I must take a bus – and when I said I would prefer to walk, she burst out laughing again. I definitely made her day – if not her year.

Eventually I stumbled through the apartment’s door having had enough excitement for one day. I sat on the veranda and listened to the bats, sea and birds. Tomorrow, I was going to see the view from the highest peak in Seychelles.

27th of December. It was raining and although the bus service is pretty good, the house sitter offered to take me to the bus station in Victoria.  While waiting for the bus, I showed
The bus station in Victoria
the map to the guy sitting next to me, and realised with a shock that I was on my way to Morne Blanch instead of Morne Seychellois.  He suggested that I take the same bus as him, get off at Sois Sois and then take another bus to the tea factory.  Although I made several “small” mistakes, I was finally on my way to the highest peak in Seychelles. I was also able to buy a local sim card so I could at least phone the house sitter.

Just to make double sure, I asked a local if this was the way to Morne Seychellois.  He looked stunned, shook his head and told me that I definitely needed a guide but that everything was closed because it was a Sunday.

I was given the number of the sports centre and told to phone the next morning. 

The next moment a tourist stopped and before he could ask me for directions, I told him I was also lost.  He said his son can drop me off – but then I discovered that he was going on a hike and this was how I ended up hiking the Copolia trail with a German. It sure was my lucky day.  Not only have I discovered that I needed a guide to get to Morne Seychellois,   I also got a lift back to my apartment with the tourists.

"Batman's Fruit Bat"
It was still early and I decided to do the Anse Major trail.  I was told that it was at the end of the road so I could not get lost right?  At the start of the trail I met Richie aka Batman who invited me to meet his fruit bat.  After a while, I bumped into a couple who told me that they were lost.  I guess I might have gotten lost as well but eventually we found the trail to the beach. 

Richie aka Batman
After a quick swim, it was time to hike back and then I sat down with Richie aka Batman who entertained me with hilarious stories

I had to buy some water but missed the shop closest to the apartment and ended up at the police station.  After hiking just about the whole day, I was pretty tired but at least I was getting to know my way around. I had one more day left in Seychelles and my evening was filled with nightmares about not reaching Morne Seychellois.

28th of December. I woke up early to discover that my phone was not working.  With the house sitter’s assistance, I finally got through to the sport centre and the lady that answered informed me that I definitely needed a guide but that everyone was on leave. 

I begged, explained my situation and then just as I was about to burst into tears – she told me she will see what she can do. It started to rain again and for some reason, I still thought I needed to get to the tea factory so the house sitter drove me once again to Victoria Station.  After a while I got a phone call from Francis – who offered to take me to the top for RS5 000.  I only had RS1000 on me and told him I will EFT the rest – still thinking I am halfway to the start of the trail.  I had no choice.  If I postponed my flight and stayed another day or two looking for a cheaper guide, it would cost me at least RS5000.  I told him I will go back to BelOmbre to get the rest of the money.  Thinking I would have to go and draw more money, it was such a relieve to find out that I had exactly RS5350 left of the ‘extra money’ I drew at the airport
Going for a quick swim

An hour later we were on our way and I was informed that it would have taken ages to pick me up at the tea factory and that it was already very late to start the hike. I had my doubts about being taken for a ride, but I had no choice. It was still raining and already 12:00. 

It turned out to be quite a jovial hike and both of them had great senses of humour. We came across snakes, hedgehogs and a lizard. I was told that I was lucky because not everyone sees animals.  During the 5 hours it took us to get to the top there was constant laughter. He also mentioned that most of the people turn around a quarter of the way into the hike and that his boss had to almost beg him to take me.

 In the beginning I asked him if this was a special price and he said yes – it definitely was.

I then said I will also just charge him RS5000 to take him to the Drakensberg and of course, we all laughed.  He turned out to be the Sports Director and travels a lot with children to other countries. 

And then we were on top of Seychelles highest peak and it was like paradise. The trees were covered by ferns that only grow where there is no air pollution. Francis told me that people thinks he photoshopped the pictures he takes of the trees.  It was raining so unfortunately I could not take a lot of pictures during the hike. But then the clouds opened up, something that does not happen that often once it starts raining.

On top of Morne Seychellois
They just had to make another joke showing me where I would have ended if I followed the ‘trail’ from the tea factory.  Since it was getting dark, we did not stay long.  At one stage Jimmy stopped to tie the lace on his pants and Francis said: ‘you better fasten your seatbelt.  This means Jimmy is going to run down!” And we did it in 3 hours.  I felt like Jane swinging from branch to branch and they told me that they were surprised that I was so strong, which definitely restored some of my self-confidence.

I was dropped off at the apartment and although soaked throughout and muddy from some falls, I could not thank my guardian angels enough for how things turned out in the end.

Using a taxi in Seychelles is extremely expensive but I could not get hold of the person who offered to take me to the airport. I was getting in a flat spin and then there was a knock on the door and Debbie, the lady who arranged the apartment stood in the doorway.  She was there to collect her whiskey.  It also just happened that she worked at the airport and gave me a lift there the next morning at 06:00.

And this is why I love travelling.  Meeting interesting, kind people, seeing beautiful places, getting out of my comfort zone – and yes, every now and again I tell myself I am going to stop being so impulsive and give my guardian angels a break.

17 November 2015

Mauritius - Piton de la petite Riviere Noire aka Black River Peak

Climbing Mauritius’ highest peak, sounded like a holiday in paradise. At my best, I am not so great with directions and maps – so when Christa Van Schalkwyk started arranging accommodation and transport for our trip, it was such a welcome relief.  Of course, 5 star hotels were out of the question but after searching for ‘cheaper’ accommodation, we stumbled upon the Mountain View apartments.

We arrived after 19:00 and our taxi driver was waiting to take us to La Gaulette.  The trip started off great. Our taxi driver took the wrong turn-off but the roads are narrow in Mauritius so he was forced to put a lot of extra kilometres on his speedometer before we were back on the road to La Gaulette.  The road is also very winding and travelling at 80km/hour, I got carsick for the first time in my life. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the accommodation and Shan, the owner, who went out of his way to assist us.
The next morning at 6:00, we started our hike to Le Morne Brabant, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I was told that it was pretty exposed, but I chose to ignore that bit of information and by talking just about non-stop with the rest of the group, I missed all the exposed parts.
On top of Le Morne Brabant
Christa was ready for the beach and asking around, we were told that the beach in Le Morne was only 5 minutes away. In most of the African countries, you are told that whatever you are looking for is just around the corner – or not very far.  In Mauritius we were told that whatever we were looking for, was only 5 minutes away. 

It felt great to be lying on the beach with my hiking boots on and no-one seemed too surprised when I walked into the sea wearing my hiking clothes. 

Getting back to La Gaulette was another matter.  We were told that we could wait all day for local transport and we were advised to hitchhike, which we did.  Scared and surprised when a truck with 3 guys stopped – but we got in.  The driver refused to take any money and by now I was very impressed by the friendliness of the locals. 

Lying on my bed, I heard an ‘explosion’ and ran outside.  The electrical cable was on fire and the people next to us said it is extremely dangerous. I decided to grab my passport and get away as far and as fast as possible.  I have, after all, still a lot of mountains I want to climb.  When I was convinced that nothing was going to explode, after this quick getaway, I looked into my backpack. I had packed in my passport, wallet, a clean set of undies, my favourite shirt and a book to read. 

For the rest of the evening we had no electricity and decided to have some cocktails but since we were on a tight budget, we got some cane and orange juice at the local supermarket.  We could not find any ‘umbrellas’ and settled for birthday candles.  Whilst sipping our ‘cocktails’, I realised that using burning candles instead of decorative umbrellas could end up with my hair scorched. Since we had already an eventful day, I decided to extinguish the burning candle.  Shan arranged transport to the highest mountain in Mauritius for the next day.

Kunal, our taxi driver for the day, arrived at 06:00 and it was only after a while that we realised that he did not know that we wanted to climb Black Rock peak.  So we had to go all the way back to where he dropped us.  For some reason I thought the hike was only 30 minutes, but it turned out to be 3 hours. I loved the forest, and every now and again I had to hug a tree.  The last part was surprisingly steep. We used the ropes that someone put in place. The view from the top was breathtaking. We spent at least 30 minutes on top admiring the view.  
What a view on top of Mauritius' highest mountain
Then it was time to go down. Taking it step by step, whilst clinging to the ropes, we finally made it past the steep part.  I can’t image anyone getting down without using the ropes – and definitely not after some rain. Our taxi driver was there to pick us up. Can you believe that he gave us a discount, because he did not have to travel too far?  It was so uplifting to realise that there are honourable people around.

That evening, after watching an amazing sunset, we had some cocktails (it was happy hour after all) whilst listening to a local band. It was Sunday the next day, most of the places were closed but we managed to find a taxi driver willing to take us around. The plan was to visit the 7 coloured earth dunes, hike down the 7 waterfalls, visit the temple and then have a swim on a nice beach.

Our appointed taxi driver picked us up at 08:30 and then our ‘tour’ started. After visiting the 7 coloured earth dunes, we were taken to a view point where we could ‘see’ the 7 waterfalls.  When we told him we wanted to hike down, he stopped at a remote ‘view point’ and we started ‘hiking’.  Pretty soon we realised that we were dropped off at the wrong place and started to hike back.  Lucky for us, we bumped into a couple in love.  They said we must follow them......  It turned out to be the 5 minute story again.  A couple of “5 minutes’ later, we arrived at a very well-marked path.  I asked the girl to explain to our taxi driver where we must be picked up and she told him it was in front of a temple.  After a steep hike down, I had to jump into the pool.  Once back, we realised that our taxi driver was still missing.  A couple of phone calls later, he arrived, apologizing profusely.  He was waiting at a different temple.  
Abseiling down a waterfall
Looking for a nice beach where we could swim on a Sunday was not the greatest idea. Busloads of people were everywhere and when we had to use a toilet, we had to compete with 20 other people getting dressed in a 2 X 6 m room. To celebrate another adventurous day, we stopped for more cocktails.

The same taxi driver who drove us from the airport arrived to pick us up.  I opened my window, fastened my seatbelt and tried not to vomit whilst he drove 80 km around the bends, abruptly stopping for every speed bump in the road.

It was definitely a great adventure and realising that there are countries where the people are honest and so helpful, was so inspirational.

07 June 2014

Celebrating my 50th birthday on top of the Drakensberg

There not a lot of hikers that can claim they have hiked up/down Rockerie and Mweni Passes in the Drakensberg. Yet, Sarel Van Rensburg, 82 years old, did this with ease to celebrate Karen Hauptfleisch’s birthday on top of the Drakensberg.

Karen & Sarel on top of Rockeries Pass
It was a 3 day hike where they spend on average 12 hours hiking and slept in caves. The temperature dropped down to -10ยบ but his only ‘complaint’ was that he was not as fast as before. 
Sarel ready for the hike
Chris in his sleeping bag
After climbing Kilimanjaro in 2002, Karen was introduced to the Drakensberg by Sarel and they spend several weekends in the Drakensberg where Sarel's passion for the mountains rubbed off on her.  In 2004, she started with her project to see the sunrise on the highest mountain in all the 54 African countries.  After seeing all the litter on top of the peaks, she decided to not just climb the mountains, but to also clean them.
To date, Karen has been to 33 African countries and this has also inspired her to start the NGO, SOAPkidz, which has taken over 12,500 children into nature to experience the things she has seen in Africa.
Chris helping Sarel after a 12 hour hike
Karen's travels into Africa has allowed her to live her passion for the mountains, people and the environment and she has many stories to tell about her trips where she avoids commercial ventures and takes her trips day by day which results in many amusing stories and adventures.

Her next trip will be a 4 to 6 week extremely challenging trip to Chad through desert, where she will be the second person to visit the mountain.


17 October 2013

Talking at FEAT

The speakers
I was very fortunate to be invited to present at FEAT 2013, which in my mind is the pinnacle of events focused on adventurers and epic trips around the world.  My talk was entitled  'Exploring Africa's countries & highest summits'.  I was one of 10 speakers from a diverse background talking about amazing experiences and trips around the world.

The speakers at FEAT Jo'burg on Thursday, 10 October 2013 were:

Chris Bertish - 'SUPin' and surfin' adventures'

Dave Joyce & Marco Broccardo - 'Crossing the Empty Quarter'

David Waddilove - 'From Meteorites to Mandela'

Gavin Moffat & Ingrid Lotze - 'Really mom, it’s not that deep!'

Karen Hauptfleisch - 'Exploring Africa's countries & highest summits'

Kevin Davie - 'On the tracks of William Burchell'

Nikki Candy - 'Space Camp'

Ray Chaplin - 'Facelevel expedition down the Orange'

Ricky Goodhead - 'Expedition running'

Richard Kohler - 'Paddling South Africa's coastline'

On stage
The abstract to my talk was "After climbing Kilimanjaro in 2002, the bug bit and Karen decided to climb to the top of the highest mountain in each of Africa's 54 countries (including the islands). Over the past decade she has travelled to more than 30 ountries<http://www.featsa.co.za/2013/05/karen-sees-the-sunrise-from-30-african-peaks/>, standing on top of their tallest mountains. These journeys are about more than hills and mountains. Karen is exploring the countries of Africa, venturing into remote areas rarely visited by foreigners. She's learning about the history of country, meeting villagers and encountering more friendliness than animosity."  You can see the talk at http://www.featsa.co.za/2014/03/karen-hauptfleisch-video/

Christa van Schalkwyk, myself and Elize Venter




16 June 2013

Ethiopia: Ras Dashen, Simien Mountain

31 May 2013: It was whilst I was looking for assistance at the OR Tambo airport that I became aware of the splendid job ACSA is doing about job creation.  At every available help point there were at least 3 employees, happily chatting to one another and completely oblivious to anyone else.  I just assumed it was management’s strategy to empower passengers, by letting them figure things out for themselves and I made it just in time to board my flight.

My positive visualizing of three empty seats next to one another where I could sleep, paid off and I only woke up to eat. I am a fussy eater and after travelling in Africa for more than 30 000 km, I make sure that I eat when there is food I would eat, hungry or not.

A Picture of the children along the road
For practical reasons, I chose to fly Air Kenya, and stopped over at Nairobi – where I spent 2 hours trying to fix my broken reading glasses, especially since I have decided for some unknown reason to take 5 books with on this 2 week trip into Africa.  
After giving up, I glanced at my watch, then at my ticket, and started running for the boarding gate, where, I discovered with relief that Kenya’s time zone is one hour behind South Africa.  
1 June 2013: After landing in Addis at 03h00, I had four hours to kill before boarding my next flight to Gondar.  The airport was deserted.  After a hectic 3 days before my trip, my plan of action was to  finalize the rest of my trip in Ethiopia when I was on the aeroplane ,  but since I broke my reading glasses ,  this was not going to happen.   This trip was definitely going to be different and I cursed myself once again for not putting my reading glasses in a protective case.  I knew I had to get to Debark and that the journey would take around 5 hours. Although at somewhat of a disadvantage without my reading glasses, coupled with the fact that I couldn’t find anyone else going to Debark, I knew that some of the Ethiopians speak English and it was the one reason I didn’t go into panic mode.

In Gondar a taxi driver approached me asking if I needed transport. I immediately told him that I am a fellow African and needed transport to Debark and I will take a share taxi.  He mentioned R500 and just then, I was approached by two Canadians who asked me if I wanted to share their chartered vehicle for R500.  I was expecting to pay R100 for local transport, but considering that I was travelling on my own, my fear of being stuck on local transport with a full bladder and the fact that the one Canadian was pretty cute, I decided to pay the R500 and travel with them. 
An hour later, we stopped at the Simien Hotel – a place that was described in Lonely Planet as “flea ridden”.  24 Hours earlier, I had no clue what to expect when I arrived in Ethiopia.  I felt compelled to stay at the hotel, thinking that I would be able to write an article about the efficiency of my dog’s electronic flea repellent gadget – one of the few things I did remember to bring.

My first taste of honey wine
Instead of finding starving people trying to take advantage of tourists, providing a lack of food and flea infested accommodation, I found friendly, helpful people and a charming room with no fleas. 

It was now 11h00 and I was already sitting in Debark eating an omelette and drinking coffee, while being given advice on trekking in the Siemen Mountain.  My only requirement was to spend as much time in the mountain as possible.  

At the Park office, I was informed that there were no guides available but a scout, a mule and a muler were assigned to me. I instantly took a liking to my scout Abebe with his friendly face and felt confident that we would be able to communicate well, irrespective of the fact that he didn’t speak a word of English. I also rented a stove and purchased a 5L container filled with kerosene, which was immediately placed in my backpack.
The start of my hike
With my scout for guidance and supplies sorted, it was time to taste some honey wine. I met a local tour guide who advised me that I should take an English speaking guide to ensure better communication.  Later that evening back in my flea free room, I discovered that my backpack was soaked in kerosene.  

2 June 2013: Sankaber camp:  I woke up with a kerosene induced hangover and discovered that there would be no hot shower, simply because there was no water.  While carefully packing my backpack, taking care to keep my food and clean clothes away from the kerosene soaked areas, a lady came into my room and sat down.  She couldn’t speak a word of English and at first I thought she was looking for a tip, but it turned out that she was just being friendly and was waiting for me to leave so she could clean the room.
Hiking through Debark
I was informed at the last moment that Mula, my mule needed a plastic cover and that I had to buy bananas and bread. Just before I got irritated, Abebe made a hand sign and the two of us started walking. I knew I was going to spend twelve days on the Simien Mountain. I also knew that my scout and the muler couldn’t speak a word of English and that there was no sign of Shegaw, my last minute appointed guide. 

After the first km, I realised I should have made a bigger effort to get my right knee sorted out by a Physiotherapist before I left Pretoria.  I decided to visualise it healthy.  After the second km the pain in my right knee had shifted to my left knee. After 5 km, I had a stiff arm and jaw from smiling and waving at the villagers, especially the children.
The highest lodge in Africa at 3260 m
After 15 kilometres, I realised that the hike was not going to be a stroll in the park and that the only thing in my first aid kit were 12 headache tablets. No blister kit, no anti-inflammatory tablets etc., but I did have the sexy underwear! (See part 1) I called upon all the angels and asked them for protection and a sense of humour.

Abebe signalled to me that it was time for a lunch break and offered me half of his sandwich. When I was kissed by a goat looking for food, Abebe jumped up and chased the goat away, leaving me in peace to finish my lunch.  He then tried to teach me how to say “thank you”, in Ahmaric, but after hiking for another hour, he amused himself with my inability to say this one word!  He would say: ‘thank you’, I would say something similar to ‘amanagowk’ and he would pack up laughing. I really enjoyed his big smile and the goodwill he radiated.

Children playing on music instruments they made
After 21km, we arrived at the Simien lodge – at 3260m the highest lodge in Africa. A kilometre further, I realised that the lodge might be the only place I might find something resembling plaster.
When the receptionist handed me the only roll of plaster they had in their first aid kit, I took it as a sign that I will be covered for any emergency.  I had plaster, 12 headache tablets and my dog’s electronic flea repellent device.

After hiking for 38km, we arrived at the Sankaber camp. I thanked the angels for Amanda’s heavy workload. She would have strangled me. My Enneagram message for the day was to accept the fact that I have limitations and maybe I should have taken a vehicle like everyone else to this camp.
Edwardo, the muler and Abebe helped me to pitch the tent. After four tries, Shegaw arrived and informed me that I was directly in the waterway.  He moved my botched attempt and pitched it in the guide’s quarters. The tourist season had ended and other than the two Canadians who arrived a bit later, I had the mountain to myself. I thanked the angels once again for sending Shegaw. He took me to have a refreshing cold shower and brought me boiled water afterwards.  It was just about at this stage that we realised the stove and kerosene were left behind.

I still found it difficult to pronounce everyone’s names, never mind some words and the same applied to them.  A mutual decision was made, Shegaw became ‘Shaggy’ and Abebe became ‘Abe’, Edwardo was never a problem and I became ‘Heaven’.  When I asked why, I was told that it was an easy name to remember.

With Abe, my scout
Reflecting back on the day, I felt at peace. This was a place with friendly people who were not starving as I had imagined. Between Abe, Shaggy and Edwardo, I never felt unsafe for a second. 
After taking Fluff, my mascot to watch the sunset, Dizzy, the Canadian’s guide insisted that I join them in the cookhouse.  He entertained us with stories about some of his clients – like the Chinese lady who started shooting at the rats because she wanted to eat them and the Spanish cyclist who got lost going down the mountain. 
During the evening, I heard Edwardo almost crying from pain. It turned out that he had a toothache and I parted with two of my headache tablets. It didn’t seem to work though.
Note to myself:  In future, make sure your sleeping bag is not upside down and sleep with your head towards the opening.

Having coffee in the village
3rd of June 2013: Geech Camp: I asked Shaggy to send Edwardo back – but everyone else was convinced that his toothache will get better once we got higher.  I, however, failed to see the reasoning behind this.  The hike was not flat, but luckily there was a cool breeze every now and again to ward off the heat.  I told Shaggy about the litter I encountered on other mountains and unfortunately, I got the opportunity to show him the white flowers visible whenever there was a “tourist” stop.  He couldn’t wait to show me the waterfall, it involved crossing a very narrow path, with sheer cliffs on both sides.  I accepted his help across but I can honestly say I did not appreciate the view.  

I should have learned by now to empty my bladder whenever possible.  I ended up walking with a full bladder for at least three hours, looking for a place where I wouldn’t bump into villagers and children looking after their goats, mules or cattle. Shaggy and Abe had a siesta in the sun while I tried desperately to stay out of the sun, having opted for the cheaper malaria tablets which made me super sensitive to sun. I had no appetite at lunch but forced myself to eat some energy bars.

After lunch we hiked through patches resembling a desert and once at the Geech village, we stopped and I had my first experience of the coffee ritual. I loved it. 
The shop next to the Sankaber Lodge
Whilst my three protectors pitched my tent in the howling wind, I went for a nice cold shower.  It had now been confirmed that we had left the stove behind.  Whilst Shaggy tried in vain to get a signal so he could make arrangements for our stove to be brought to us, I was entertained by three of the village children. They took turns taking pictures and we all laughed looking at them. It was around this time that I realised that in my haste to pack, I had forgotten to bring a fleece jacket, warm sleeping bag and gloves.

4th of June 2013:  Geech Camp: I put all my clothes on during the night and I survived but I felt ashamed comparing the amount of clothes I was taking up with the rest of my team.  For some weird reason, Edgardo’s tooth did not get better with the altitude and I gave him 6 of the 10 headache tablets I had left. In the morning I was given scrambled eggs and coffee in my tent and couldn’t believe my luck. This was five star galore.  And here I was worried about the starving Ethiopians and getting food that I would eat.

Another spectacular view
We took a leisurely stroll up Imet Gogo and stopped for “lunch” around 11h00 – where I shared my provitas and ‘laughing cow’ cheese with my team.  From their facial expressions, my “hiking food” was not going to be a big hit and I felt ashamed for just assuming from the start that everyone would expect me to provide them with food. I did not have a huge appetite, but by now, I realised that unless I developed one, my sexy undies might not fit me on summit day.

Amusing my team by doing a headstand
Back at the camp, I had a nice cold shower before the wind started to blow. It was impossible to keep my tent dust free.  Four Americans arrived but I kept to myself, sulking because I had to share the mountain. I also suspected that I got too much sun.

After a while, I went to fetch water, and after finding a boy lying on top of the water tank singing, I had a feeling of peace come over me again.
The big litter clean-up started.  I did my best not to take things personally, but the swear words poured out of me.  Three bags were filled with plastics and white flowers. Tourists!

Later, we all walked over to where we could see the Gelada baboons and enjoy the mountain sunset. 

5th of June 2013:   Chennek: After sleeping too long, my body was aching, but I walked up a hill to see the sunrise and although it was a bit hazy, it put me back into a peaceful mood.

The 'white flowers' left by inconsiderate tourists
The hike to Chennek camp was pleasant and whenever I lost focus and took the wrong path, Abe would tap me on my shoulder, smile and point to the correct path. There was no shower at this camp, but a cold wash did the trick.  As soon as my tent was pitched – it started to rain. 

My hands got badly sunburned and I decided to stop taking the malaria tablets – especially after I was told that there were no mosquitoes at this altitude.   All of a sudden, I was called by Shaggy, who showed me the Ethiopian wolf that came to visit the camp.  According to him, the wolf was after the chicken the American’s cook brought with. 

The village where I bought my blanket
The next moment, we saw some Wallaby ibex before taking a walk to a view point where we came across a heard of ibex no more than 10 meters away. Unfortunately, spotting litter next to them put a damper on the magical moment. 
I made it back to the tent just in time before it rained again.  It was the rainy season which is why we had the mountain basically to ourselves and we were lucky that the rain only began to fall once we were settled in. 

I was invited for supper by the Israel cook and after I made sure the chicken the wolf was after was not on the menu, I joined the Americans.  
6th of June 2013:  Ambiko: It was cold during the night and since I hadn’t mastered the art of tent pitching yet, I kept on sliding down.  Abe and I left at 08h00, Mula and Edwardo followed later and Shaggy went back to Debark to fetch the stove.  From now on, we would be on our own.

Uphills, downhills and a lot of scree followed and after what seemed like a very long time, we reached a village where I bought a blanket and batteries that turned out to be useless.  During the hour we spent in the village, I had to shake everyone’s hand and was surrounded by children throughout our stay.  It was market day and we ended up walking amongst a mule train where Abe cracked up laughing again at my inability to say ‘Thank You’ in Amharic.
The two of us really had fun when we were alone and with only basic sign language, we understood each other about 5% of the time.  The rest did not matter.

It was whilst in the mule train that I noticed his gun pointing directly towards me and for the first time I wondered if it was loaded. It would have been really tragic if I ended up killed by my own scout whilst amongst a mule train going to the top of the Simien Mountain.  The first group of mules turned off, and I ended up huffing and puffing behind the elderly people that would have walked with crutches, if there were any around.  I was swearing like crazy and could just picture myself enjoying a luxurious bath, shave and being able to wash my hair once in Ambiko and reprimanded myself for forgetting to bring some bath oil.  We were then in the village when Abe announced “Ambiko”.  There were no mosquitoes or fleas but there were a lot of flies. Another 200m followed before he announced “camp”.  It was a cow shed filled with cow dung and I thanked the angels once again for preventing Amanda from coming with me to Ethiopia. 

Pampering myself before the 'big' day
Shaggy arrived and pitched my tent in a better spot before it started to rain.  Afterwards, I was taken to a small river where I could wash my hair and I spent a lot of time pampering myself.  It was only after a manicure, pedicure and a shave, that I noticed that I had quite a lot of bruises on my body.  At one stage, I considered leaving my tent behind in South Africa, but I was very grateful that I did bring it - otherwise I would have ended up wet and sleeping amongst cow dung. 
I was surprised by popcorn before I was invited by my team for a vegetarian supper.  I have never met more generous and polite people. The villagers kept on bringing us food and I felt terrible when my team did not want to use my groundsheet to sleep on.  That evening I was as snug as a bug in my luxurious inner sheet.

The start of our hike to Ras Dashen
7th of June 2013:  Ambiko: Big excitement reigned.  It was my birthday and I was going to Ras Dashen wearing my sexy undies. I made another note to myself: focus the next time your tent is pitched because once again, it was pitched at an uncomfortable angle.
We started off in the dark and pretty soon I was huffing and puffing and we ended up amongst a mule train. The cold increased exponentially with the height and we had several dust storms along the way. My legs felt like jelly several times but all of a sudden, Shaggy asked me which one of the three peaks in front of us was the highest.  I have read about hikers going to all three to make sure it is the highest, but I was tired and Shaggy took pity on me.  It turned out to be a scramble to the top and Shaggy helped me up several rocks to the top where the wind was howling.

Abebe and Shegaw on Ras Dashen
At the summit they sang a song for me and then it was my turn.  After being kicked out of the choir 30 years ago, I faced my fear and sang happy birthday to myself.  Abebe was in stiches and after laughing our arses off, we rushed down to the camp site.  I was starving and when Shaggy shared his bread and vegetable stew with me, I accepted it with gratitude. My body was starting to rebel against the strenuous exercise and required a little protein.

I was knackered when I got back to the tent, but it was too hot and I battled to fall asleep. I then amused myself watching the videos that were taken during the day.  I also realised that wearing sexy underwear and a colourful scarf whilst huffing/puffing and sweating uphill did not make me feel sexy at all.

Colourful scarf, sexy undies, the works
Later, I showed the videos I took on top of Ras Dashen to my team and they cracked up laughing.

Coffee after along day in the mountain
Abe had his colourful blanket draped around him throughout the entire hike and he realised early on that I wanted colour in the pictures I took.  So, whenever I took out my camera, he would jump in front of me with his back turned to the camera and I would take a picture. When I asked when the rainy season was, I was told that it would come in June.  After mentioning that it was already the 7th of June, I was informed that they have a different calendar.  I considered myself very lucky. 

Holding both the South African and Ethiopian flag in Sona
8th of June 2013: Sona: Throughout the evening, I could hear Mula chewing. I suffer from misophonia (The sounds of other people eating — chewing, chomping, slurping and gurgling drives me nuts) but I tried to stay calm and was surprised to discover that mules don’t need a lot of sleep. It was at about this time that my guide realised that we were going to be on the mountain for 12 days, and not the 8 days he expected.

Injera, injera, injera
The hike turned out to be extremely pleasant.  I finally managed to remember the Amharic word for ‘Thank You’ and told Shaggy I must have tried at least a hundred times.  He looked at me and replied: ‘No, it was definitely at least 150 times!’
A lady we passed pointed at her head and I mistakenly though she wanted my hat.  Shaggy informed me that she
had a headache but he told her to drink more water.

Ten minutes later, Abe announced that he was going to visit a friend and we packed up laughing when a dog started chasing him.
We stopped in a village for coffee and Shaggy asked the lady if we would be able to buy batteries for my camera in the village. She replied that the batteries that were for sale was made in China and useless.  

Mula and Edwardo
After hiking for 6 hours, we arrived at Sona, which turned out to be a school with no water close by and I realised that I had lost my sense of humour.  I was dehydrated, hadn’t had a proper wash for two days, had a backpack and contents still soaked in kerosene and aware that we were now going down the mountain. Shaggy fetched some water, pitched my tent, helped me find hanging space for all my kerosene soaked clothes and even washed my mattress.  I drank 2 litres of water and after finding another 150ml to wash myself, my sense of humour returned. While I entertained the children, Shaggy made us scrambled eggs.
At 24h00 I woke up with a throbbing headache with my face squashed against my boots, this time the tent was pitched sloping horizontally. Since I had given Edwardo all my headache tablets, the only thing I could do about my kerosene induced headache was to stuff my nose with wet wipes.

9th of June 2013: Makarebya:  My whole body was now covered in bruises. I got scrambled eggs, cheese and provitas for breakfast before having pictures taken with some of the children holding the Ethiopian and South African flags.

Everyone talking and laughing.  It was magic
The hike to Makarebya was slow. It was extremely steep with lots of scree and finding water turned out to be quite a challenge.  Poor Mula was not used to so many days on the mountain and Edwardo did his best to motivate him.  I made a mental note to find him something nice to eat.  My feet took a hammering and I couldn’t remember being so grateful to have my hiking sticks with.

We met a lot of villagers along the way and stopped to chat with them and although the hike was tough, we laughed a lot.
Shaggy:  ‘I think the Asians were first in South Africa’
Me: ‘I think it was Jan Van Riebeeck but I am not sure’
Shaggy: ‘But I am sure’

As soon as we arrived, my tent was pitched (on a flat spot) and the worst soaked Kerosene clothes were hung up.  I was then taken to a spring and spoiled by receiving a whole pot of water thrown over my head for a proper hair wash before I had a wash inside my tent.  When I made enquiries about Mula’s absence, I was told that he has had enough and ran away. The next moment I heard Edwardo shout and off he ran, presumably to go and look for Mula.
Abe in Xerima village

It was not long before I was surrounded by children entertaining me.  As soon as Abe thought they were harassing me, he would jump up and they would run away, just to return a bit later. 
A very reluctant Mula was tied to the shed.  Shaggy convinced me that Mula would love a ‘massage’ but he was obviously fed up with everyone and before I could touch him, he tried to kick me.

I mentioned that I thought it would rain more and Shaggy said I was lucky.  But when I mentioned that I won’t mind the rain, he replied:  ‘Well, in that case, I’ll ask the Big man for some holy water because Ethiopia needs it’. An hour later, the wind came up and it started raining.

10th of June 2013: Xerima:  We woke up early – just to be entertained by the children.  Mula didn’t want to eat and I thought he was acting up to make me feel bad about the long hike.  Shaggy predicted a long 8 hour hike and it turned into another challenging day.  I had to ration my water intake and didn’t do well in the “desert” and heat.  We spent a long time hiking down a dry river, boulder hopping before reaching steep uphill’s where I was told that I looked like a tomato.  I was also told to start taking my malaria tablets again – but unfortunately, that’s not the way you take them, so I just rolled my eyes and hoped for the best. 
By now it was clear that Mula was really suffering and I offered to carry my own backpack.  According to the rest of the team, it wouldn’t solve the problem.  Mentally and physically, Mula has had enough of the Simien Mountain. 

We hit the lowland and everyone seemed relieved when I said we must push on past Mulit and Adi Arkay. It took us another 3 hours to get to Mulit. I had had enough of dust, boulders, heat and lowlands though and could also do with a shower.  According to Shaggy, we might have to sleep over because there we no transport to Debark so late in the afternoon.  Once in Adi Arkay, I gave an ecstatic Edwardo my luxurious inner.  After being together in the mountain for 9 days, I was very sad to say goodbye to him and Mula.

We were having some coffee and injera when a beer truck stopped in front of us. Shaggy grabbed my backpack, pushed me into the cockpit of the truck and jumped in the back.  No matter how hard I protested about sitting inside instead of in the back with them, no one understood me and off we sped.  When the lady sitting next to me covered her nose, I realised that I didn’t smell so fresh.  After 30 minutes, the truck stopped and more people got on the back.  I used the opportunity to jump out and on the back, much to Shaggy’s surprise.  It was not long after I joined the group squashed on top of the beer truck that a policeman pulled us over.  Shaggy pulled my leg by saying it is because I was on top of the truck, but it turned out that no one was allowed on the back of a truck.  Expecting that a bribe would be paid, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a fine was given instead.  Some “illegal passengers” got off and in my eyes, chaos reigned because I had no clue what was happening, especially after we turned back towards Adi Arkai before stopping at an official looking building before resuming our journey back to

The lovely lady on the back of the beer truck
I was finally told that the driver paid a fine and that they work on a demerit system.  So, except for the driver, all the ‘illegal passengers’ were pretty happy. The next moment we stopped and a fascinating lady and other people got on and were met by loud cheers. There was a lot of good natured banter amongst the passengers.   All of a sudden, the lady took my hand, looked me in the eye, said something – and someone translated: ‘We are now one’.  The next moment, the elderly lady that was sitting with her back to me took my hand in hers.  And that’s the way we travelled onwards - surrounded by mountains, holding hands and laughing.  I’ve never felt so at peace with myself.  

We arrived in Zerima at 19h00 and the driver announced that we would all be staying over since it was still a far way to travel to Debark. I was then informed that the fascinating lady had invited me for supper which was a huge compliment. But as it had been a long day and her house was an hour’s walk away, I politely declined her kind offer.
Two fellow passengers
My room was very small and stuffy, but I was too scared to open the windows in case of wandering mosquitoes.  I went for a much needed shower before joining Abe and Shaggy for a beer.  Relief washed over Abe’s face when I told him he can go and sleep.  Instead of hiking for 12 days, we have done it in 9 days, and we all felt it. Throughout the night, I heard people snoring and pipes creaking and when my alarm went off at 04h30, I battled to get out of bed.

11th of June 2013: We left at 05h30.  According to Shaggy, the driver thought I was beautiful – actually, a lot of Ethiopians told me that I have a beautiful smile – and it must have been because I was so happy and laughed so much.

Once in Debark, we took a Tuk-Tuk to the Simien hotel where coffee and breakfast awaited before it was time to say goodbye to Abe.
I had a much needed hot shower and then I tried to get some of my clothes clean.  It was not long before I gave up and paid a lady to wash them whilst I went with Shaggy and one of his friends for a beer and injera. The Ethiopians I met were very religious, happy and care free, there were no gender, religion or race issues. The men finished studying when they were around 30 years before getting married and they all seemed so wise. 

Dancing in Debark
After a much needed nap, Shaggy knocked on my door and handed me a paper bag which contained an Ethiopian music cd, a scarf and a map of the Simien Mountain, this unseen gesture made me burst out in tears.  An evening of dancing, eating injera, drinking coffee and laughter followed.

12th of June 2013: We had omelettes and mugs of coffee for breakfast before Dizzy, the guide who takes Canadian Tourists to the Simien Mountain, entertained us with his stories and said for 50 cents he will fall for me with his bicycle.  We all followed him but instead of seeing him fall, we once again laughed too much. More coffee followed while someone named Mr Fantastic kept us entertained with humorous stories.
Whilst I was drinking coffee, waiting for my guide to take me bird watching, a Tuk Tuk driver stopped by and said I must call him if I needed a ride. Shortly thereafter, Shaggy arrived and said he “misplaced” our driver.  When I mentioned that I just met a guy that said I must phone him when I needed a lift, he asked me if the driver was black. I looked at him in surprise and said:  ‘but you are black Shaggy!’  And then we both burst out laughing.

I must have had at least 5 cups of coffee in this coffee house
After taking me to a cornfield to do some bird watching, I realised that I might know more about birding than my guide.  We visited some of his friends and more laughter followed.  The guy that arranged my trip to the Simien Mountain offered to take me to Debark to show me all the museums, but after 10 days of laughter in the mountains, I decided to ask Shaggy instead.  When I told him that I didn’t come to Africa to go to museums he burst out laughing before replying: ‘But you are from Africa!’

I spent my last evening in Debark drinking honey wine, dancing and enjoying the company of the great friends I had made. 

13h of June 2013: Gondar.  It was whilst on the taxi to Gondar that I realised how lucky I 
Our taxi to Gondar

was that I invited Shaggy with. It became obvious that not all the Ethiopians speak English and it seemed as if everyone knew everyone else in Ethiopia.  We kept bumping into some of his friends and when he told me they all studied in Addis Ababa and that he has lots of friends that work there, I asked him to accompany me to Addis Ababa.

That evening, we went out dancing again and pretty soon we were surrounded by more of his friends.

14th of June 2013:  The bus only left at 05h30 but Shaggy woke me up at 03h00.  I thought he took his responsibility as my guide maybe a bit too far, but I was more than happy to sit around for two hours chatting with two guys from Sudan before the bus arrived. I was very impressed with the bus that arrived, we had to wear safety belts and it even had a toilet inside. When they started handing out lunch, I realised that the toilet was used as a storeroom.   After 3 hours, the bus stopped for a toilet break and no, there were no men’s room that side, woman’s room this side. Once again, I thanked Amanda’s angels for preventing her from coming with. 
Once in Addis, Shaggy phoned a friend and pretty soon I was settled in a nice hotel.   By now, I was used to him having friends all over Ethiopia so when we went out for supper and two guys joined us, I was not surprised at all.

On our way back to the hotel, he stopped to chat to a guy staying in a shack and it just dawned on me that I was not going anywhere with my material possessions and no compassion. 

15th of June 2013:  I had come to love injera and Ethiopian coffee and while sitting outside a restaurant, we were approached by a beggar who asked Shaggy for money. Without

Shaggy waiting for change from the beggar
hesitating, Shaggy pulled out a big note and held out his hand for some change.  The transaction seemed quite normal.

Then it was off to meet more of his friends, eat more injera and drink more Ethiopian coffee.  That evening, we joined some of his friends who were having a farewell party for a guy that was getting married and moving to Israel.  Lots of beer, 
Having my shoes cleaned
dancing and laughter followed before we all decided at 02h00 that it was time to get some sleep.

16th of June 2013:  It was the world cup soccer and South Africa was playing against Ethiopia.  Big excitement reigned and after a visit to the museum where Lucy is kept, we walked to the stadium, stopping every now and again to eat injera and drink coffee. In the end, we got lost but laughed a lot.   Ethiopia won the soccer and that evening, everyone was celebrating.
17th of June 2013:  We walked pas a book store on the way to the taxi rank and I couldn’t help but notice a book about rat infestation.  Whilst in the taxi to the airport, I thought about the story Dizzy told me about the girl that he took to the mountain and how surprised he was when she killed a rat and wanted him to cook it.  When I explained to Shaggy that the rat problem could be solved by getting people to consider rats a delicatessen in Addis, he looked strangely at me and said: ‘You think too much”.

After coffee at the airport it was time to say goodbye and I couldn’t help the tears.  My trip to Ethiopia was a spur of the moment thing.  Two days after booking my flight, I was on the aeroplane without a clue about what to expect.  My fears of finding starving, hostile people and flea ridden accommodation, I found the Ethiopian people to be friendly and warm people that never made me once feel unsafe.  

On my way back to sunny South Africa