A Gelada with your sunset?
Upon reaching our campsite at Geech, 3600m above sea level and part of the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, I collapsed into a chair and decided that I was not moving for the rest of the evening, or at least until my bladder decided otherwise. Our local guide had a different plan in mind. He pointed out a nearby hill, selling to me the beauty of the sunset from the top, and the likelihood of spotting the Geladas in their evening preparations. Eyeing the hill wearily I ignored the protestations of my weary limbs and set off.
As it turns out, what I had thought to be the sunset point was actually a false summit. Our guide, with a sly smile, reassured me “just another 10 minutes, almost there.” As it turns out there are some distinct differences between ‘Eithopian’ minutes and 'European' minutes. This might account for why, according to the Ethiopian calendar, it is 2007 not 2014; the difference actually has religious roots, but I am sure their time keeping skills could also be a contributing factor.
I was gasping for air by the time we reached the summit; moving and high altitude are not a winning combination. Lack of air aside, my efforts were sufficiently rewarded. As I crested the rise to stand upon a ridge overlooking the jagged mountains famous in this region, my eyes drank in the visual feast. Stunning rock formations in the foreground fought for my attention against the vivid reds and purples streaked across the skyline.
I felt a tug on my down jacket as my husband stole up behind me and drew my attention to the hundreds of Geladas, grooming on the plain to our left. “Let's get closer” he insisted excitedly, dragging me along with him. This is how we ended up, far too close for my comfort, observing the Geladas in the dwindling afternoon rays. The Geladas, despite their various misleading names, are neither baboon nor monkey, but actually a high altitude, grass eating primate. They are impressive creatures with flowing hair and a red heart shaped area on their chests, this being more prominent in the males.
A fight broke out amongst two sizeable Geladas, who travelled rapidly toward me, a tangle of fur, very sharp teeth and piercing screeches. I braced myself for a sprint, my husband unhelpfully yelling out that I should "stay still and make myself look big", a difficult feat considering my exceedingly small stature. Just as my nerves were about to give way, the action took a turn away from me and, with my heart pounding in my ears, I reminded myself to breathe. There is nothing like mother nature to recall you to your vulnerability in this world.
As the sun started to sink below the horizon the Geladas turned their gaze toward the disappearing light and, in an orderly fashion, commenced to fling themselves off the edge of the cliff; a magical sight and a moment that will stay with me forever.
The Geladas would spend their night in the caves and ledges below the cliff edge, protected from predators. And I would spend the evening in heightened spirits from this unexpected experience.