Belfry Meeting 5th February Keeping Body and Mind Fit In Ethiopia's Simien Mountains

By Carol Sencicle

February's Thursday evening talk was given by Ian Harford, who had agreed to step in at the last moment because the original speaker had had to cancel. The title of his talk "Keeping body and mind fit in Ethiopia's Simien mountains" had us guessing a bit in advance about what to expect.

Would this be all about energetic circuits at dawn with Ethiopian marathon runners and sweating over crossword anagrams in Addis Ababa? Well not exactly but there were a few surprises.

Ian had arranged with his daughter Chloe at short notice to do a two week trekking visit last November to Ethiopia, the world's 3rd poorest country. In a fascinating and well illustrated talk he detailed the practicalities of organizing a DIY trip with transport, tents, guides and food to Africa's rooftop and had photos of the wildlife and flora of the area.

He described life in the cities and the countryside, the need to acclimatize to altitude and the evident and unexpected fascination Ethiopians had for mobile phones and newly elected US president Barack Obama.

Contrary to what many expect and despite the images which we see in the media of civil war and famine, the Ethiopia we witnessed was friendly, brimming with history and endowed with magnificent mountain scenery.

Four days of the trip were spent in 'royal' Axum with its magnificent 11th century stelae; and in remote Lalibela with its 40 odd churches hewn from the rock, which have been described as the 8th wonder of the ancient world. These were buildings of extraordinary grandeur and complexity, where thousands of pilgrims come every year.

The highlights of the trek were the ascent of 4500m Ras Daschen, the country's highest mountain and a 12 hour trek across Africa's longest high mountain traverse at 4200m, which the guides and other Europeans had apparently never visited before.

With night temperatures in the tent down -5ÂșC, shortness of breath at altitude and an early 6am start in the dark, this was not a pampering holiday, but the pictures and account showed how much there is to see and learn in this intriguing country.

A vote of thanks was given by Jane Fairclough and there was spirited discussion afterwards amongst the 21 people who had braved the cold weather.