Roadtrip Day 10: Driving from Aksum via the Simien Mountains to Gondar

Saturday 13th January, 2018

Today’s trip 342 km, 7 hours

We are leaving Aksum for the Simien Mountains, a 250 km trip that should mainly go over sealed roads. The scenery has changed again, we are driving through green fields and valleys, with at regular intervals small villages and towns. The roads are busy with people walking to and from these little towns, and bajaj clog up the roads in the towns. And then we have the usual livestock. Herds of goats, sheep, donkeys, camels, horses and the odd cow.

As we are encountering larger stretches of sealed roads, we also discover that a sealed road has many more uses. It is a nice flat surface to store wood, sand, rocks, straw, bamboo or build a wedding marquee on. As a result, significant sections of road are not useable for driving. Luckily though, the driver usually gets advanced notice in the way of large rocks on the road. Yes, rocks are used in place of cones, barriers and hazard triangles. They are much wider available and harder to move out of the way.

There are also a large number of the by now familiar wire road blocks. And we drive past a large UN refugee camp catering for the many people displaced by the previous conflict with Eritrea.

As we head closer to the Simien Mountains the scenery changes again. We could have been in the French or Italian Alps. Interestingly, all the steep ascent and descent warning road signs indicate a 7% climb or drop. Either the engineers have been very precise here, or they just got a job lot of signs.

Thirty Five kilometres before Debark, the road turns back to gravel again, and our journey slows down considerably as we wind our way into the mountains with at times precipitous drops next to us.

We go up and up. After a final amazing climb up, driving alongside waterfalls and through troops of Gelada monkeys, we arrive in Debark. This flat tableland is the access point of the Simien mountains. But we didn’t book ahead, and discover that the hotel we would like to stay in is fully booked. This is a popular spot for young travellers. We look at some alternative places, but were not impressed by what was on offer.

So we decide to continue on to Gondar, with is just 94 kilometre further. After dodging more cattle, bajaj and rogue pedestrians, we arrive safely in Gondar. We check into the lovely Goha hotel. This is also one of the old government hotels, but has changed into private hands and has been updated to make the best of the spectacular setting. The difference with the Yeha hotel in Aksum could not be larger. The rooms are spacious with plenty of (hot) water. The lobby and restaurants are modern and very full, and there is a great pool looking down over Gondar. The hardest of hard beds are a minor inconvenience.

We enjoy the unexpected luxury of a swim, and drinks and dinner with Lina’s brother and sister and their family on the terrace, overlooking the sparkling lights of the city of Gondar.

Travel Details and Tips:

Accomodation: Goha Hotel, Gondar

Tip 1: It is advisable to book hotels ahead of time. Although there may be vacancies in town, those can be in places that you may not want to stay in! Most bookings can be made online and via email.

Tip 2: Note that you can only access the hikes in the Simien Mountains with a guide and an armed scout, who will have to ride with you in the car. It can be arranged beforehand or in Debark itself.

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