Tag Archives: travel photography

Ethiopia: Into the Simien Mountains

Five minutes drive into the Simien National Park we came across our first group of Gelada monkeys. Our driver shrugged when we asked to get out. What was an amazing sight for us was, we now know, just part of everyday life 3,000m up in the mountains.

Our guide, the wonderful Eshete Berju, was thrilled at our enthusiasm. He urged us to go nearer.

“Are you certain?” I asked, looking nervously at the 100 or more baboons frantically tearing at grass whilst grunting at each other. Posing for a photo we were urged nearer and nearer by Eshete and by the total lack of reaction, it was clear the monkeys didn’t give a monkeys about visitors!

It was a glorious introduction to the Simien Mountains and hanging out with Geladas became a necessary and magical part of each day’s trekking; and one that never bored.

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The trip up to the Park was easy and fun. It started really when we got to Debark, to the park office. Craggy, rugged rangers hung around outside, ancient guns slung over their shoulders like troubadours would wear their guitars. Assigned to us for the four day trip was Fantoun, whose museum piece wouldn’t scare a five year old, let alone a hungry leopard. In the truck, Kate asked: “When was the last time you fired it?” Eshete translated and everyone laughed – Fantoun, our driver, Messi the chef and his sidekick. “Well?” Prompted Kate.

“Oh, he’s never shot it,” declared Eshete, seemingly amazed.

“So how does he know it works?”

“Well, he takes it apart and puts it back together all the time, so he knows all the parts work.”

Our laughter set them off again. It was going to be a fun trip.

Debark is at 2,800m and our first camp was 3,250m.

Altitude Guide to our camps and peaks.
Altitude Guide to our camps and peaks.

It’s not much of an elevation but when you’re trying to acclimatise the heart starts to pound and the breath shorten the very second that a path heads uphill. Thankfully that first day, nothing was too steep. Once the driver left us to trek, taking Messi and his assistant onto camp, Eshete, Fantoun, Kate and I set off for a few hours to walk to camp.

Just twenty minutes in, Eshete chatted to a couple of children and then pointed off track into a flat, almost treeless plain.

“There is a big group of geladas across there.” We couldn’t see them but we set off. It took me a long time to spot them but when I did, I was astounded. Hundreds of them. Hundreds. We had lunch with them. Geladas have absolutely no interest in the food we eat, so we were sitting surrounded by them. It was weird. And amazing. The noise is fascinating, as mostly it’s the sound of constant tearing and munching of grass. Every now and then, there would be a minor squabble about nothing and a minor game of chase, but mostly just tearing and munching, munching and tearing.

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Eventually we set off again and the afternoon was filled with great views and birds of prey. As Kate said, “The Simien Mountains: a great place to be a buzzard.” I think I could watch birds coast the thermals for hours on end. It was hard to tear ourselves away from each and every cliff face.

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We arrived at camp to find our tent up and a camp table laid out with flasks of tea and coffee. Popcorn arrived within minutes. It’s the snack of choice in Ethiopia – it’s part of the coffee ceremony that takes place all over the country in most houses, hostelries and hotels.

The view just beyond our campsite was fantastic; a gorge so peaceful that the only sounds were bees (do they have bees that high up or is this a figment of my imagination?) and the occasional distant chatter from the campsite. It was a lovely place to sit as the light mellowed.

The view from the campsite
The view from the campsite

The minute the sun started to sink, however, it got cold. Suddenly we were very grateful for the fire in the cooking hut and layering up, we rushed inside. Expecting a simple supper, we were staggered at what Messi had achieved. He had one big gas ring and about eight different pots. Vast quantities of vegetable soup were followed by a main course of about six different veggies and pasta. As if that wasn’t spectacular enough, we had banana fritters for pud. I had been expecting very simple one pot cooking on the trip. I couldn’t have been more delighted.

Messi the chef - a genius of the cooking hut and a nice bloke to boot.
Messi the chef – a genius of the cooking hut and a nice bloke to boot.

And to top it off, we were given a hot water bottle each to take back to our little tent.

Not bad at all for a first day in the mountains.

Back to Africa: falling in love with Ethiopia

A cold, refreshing beer
© Carole Scott 2015

The Amber beer was cold and refreshing; our host’s smile warm and welcoming. Twelve hours into our two-week trip to Ethiopia and I was already feeling embraced by its people. From the minute we stepped off the ‘plane to be directed by a smiling airport official, I had a good feeling about Ethiopia; a feeling that told me this trip wouldn’t just be about the wildlife, landscapes and history.

With every beautiful smile and twinkly-eyed laugh, I fell a little more in love with Ethiopia.

By the time we reached Gonder and Mayleko Lodge, we were ready for that beer. While the domestic terminal of Bole Airport in Addis Adaba had proven surprisingly comfortable, thanks to its body-curve recliners that allowed us to snooze, 24 hours of travelling were taking their toll. A spacious cabin with big beds was just what we needed as we adjusted from British winter to African summer. A beautifully quiet place, 16km outside Gonder itself, Mayleko Lodge is a complex of about ten cabins, each with its own terrace – the perfect place to drink the owner’s favourite beer, Amber. A few minutes later, she sent over a plate of home made fries as an evening appetiser. Nice touch!

As the sun softened and the beer softened us, my friend Kate and I contemplated our trip with huge grins. The flights had been booked back in December, and nearly three months in which to plan and anticipate had added to the excitement of setting off on our first big trip together. Finally, we were here, in the cradle of civilisation and coffee.

With one day to see Gonder, we were keen to get going the next day, thinking it would be a rush to fit everything in. Not so. It’s a lovely place, full of 17th Century palaces, but most of them are grouped together in one site, making it neat and easy to see everything. The complete lack of hassle immediately marked Ethiopia out as different from many other African countries we’ve been to. I’m not really one for a guided tour, although I’ve been on many of them. I don’t absorb historical facts well, so for me, the enjoyment of a place is much more aesthetic than factual. We entered by the ticket office, expecting to be followed round by guides touting for business. But after a polite enquiry and an equally polite refusal from us, that was it. No-one pursued us and no-one looked at all put out that we weren’t hiring a guide.

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It was a gorgeous complex of palaces to meander round, mostly crumbling. It was wonderful to imagine the grand court of Emperor Fasiladas meeting, greeting, scheming and partying. While we focused on photos of the ruins, Ethiopian tourists posed for photos. And while they were immaculately dressed, we were in traveller’s gear of baggy t-shirts and deeply unpretty walking trousers; not ideal when they asked us to pose for photos with them! There’s nothing like a stunningly beautiful Ethiopian woman to make you feel frumpy and dishevelled. It wasn’t the first time that I wished that I’d packed some make up and I came to regret deeply the absence of hair conditioner in my wash bag.

Quitting the palace complex we hailed our first tuk-tuk. There’s something about a tuk-tuk ride that makes me feel ‘yes, I’m away’. The noise, the dust, the drivers (and in some countries the crazy traffic) signal ‘other world’ in one gloriously loud and frantic snapshot.

The tuk-tuk driver wound up a short hill to Debre Berhan Selassie Church, one of the area’s most richly decorated. Every square centimetre of the walls and ceiling inside are covered in religious murals – wide-eyed cherubs above and bible scenes on the walls. It was fascinating.

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But this was my favourite photo from the site.

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All this history made us hungry for shade. And lunch. The tuk-tuk trundled uphill, struggling and bumping, to The Goha Hotel. It was recommended because of the view; perched on the edge of town, it’s truly panoramic. It was full of tourist groups and was deeply disappointing because of this. I think it was just too European for us on our first day of sightseeing. The view, though, was superb.

Suitably rested, we realised our beginners’ mistake; don’t let your tuk-tuk go when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Negotiate a price for the day instead. Still, the long hot walk back into town meant that we chatted on the way to a few people and had lots of nods and smiles.

Thirsty for our first real Ethiopian coffee, we eventually found a tuk-tuk and asked for the EEPCo Coffee House (praised in the guide book as the one with the best coffee in town). Much to our amusement (and that of our tuk-tuk driver) they had no coffee. So we went round the corner to Habesha Coffee Shop. I loved the fact that although we were the only women there, no-one gave us a second glance. I’ve been in plenty of African and Middle Eastern countries where we would have been objects of intense interest. Ethiopia was wonderfully refreshing in this respect.

The coffee was stunning – as strong as an espresso but beautifully rounded and deep without a hint of bitterness. And no grounds, unlike Turkish coffee. Ethiopian coffee made the traditional way is the best coffee I’ve ever drunk and probably ever will.

Next stop was the ceremonial baths, which in Fasiladas’ time was a summer house and party central. These days, it is the focus for Timkat (Epiphany, on 6 January), when hundreds of people are ‘re-baptised’ in a raucous, joyful celebration. In the quiet season, the pool is empty and a gentle wind breezes around the walled enclosure, leaves fluttering to the floor. It was a serene, lovely place.

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The highlight of the day wasn’t the sight-seeing, although everything we saw was superb. The highlight was getting on a little minibus, crammed in with local shoppers and workers. We couldn’t chat, as we had no Amharic, but there were many smiles and nods and laughter. I think my bleached, cropped hair was a good source of entertainment but mostly I think it was just that tourists tend not to hop on the bus.

It was a pretty fine start to the holiday but the best was yet to come. The Simien Mountains beckoned…

Sydney or ‘take it to the bridge’ – a photo gallery

Finally, I’ve had a chance to edit some Sydney photos. I realise that out of the many I took, only a few merited editing. It’s one of those cities where the finger is on the shutter almost constantly when the bridge or Opera House are in view. Whittling down the many to the elected few is a tough task.

So here they are – my Sydney Selection 2014.

Must start with a pano of the view from The Macleay, proving my point (from the previous post) that paying a wee bit extra for a view is very much worth it.

© Carole Scott 2014
© Carole Scott 2014

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By Carole Scott

Blue Mountain Magic

I had a great billy work bonus the other week – I was invited out to take part in a communications workshop by a sister organisation in Sydney.

It was a fun and interesting trip and I’ll post with all my top tips and experiences in Sydney itself but first, my day trip to the Blue Mountains.

Our host from The George Institute, Rich, organised a day trip out to the Blue Mountains and I was thrilled, as I didn’t get there on my last trip.

It was winter, so the sun wasn’t consistent and it did get perishing cold at times but it was stunning. We went to Scenic World – a great way to get a slice of the area in one day and I never say no to a cable car ride or two! If you click on the first photo, you’ll get a full screen gallery.

By Carole Scott
 

Best photos of 2013: lost shoe

Lose shoes may well become a photo project in its own right next year. I am always mystified by single shoes lying derelict in public places. How did someone manage to lose it and not notice? Surely not every piece of left footwear is discarded by a drunk or drunken reveller? But if you’re not drunk, why else would you leave one shoe behind?

This particular shoe caught my eye because it’s so neat, tidy, clean and – with the lace still tied – it looks as if the person whose foot had occupied it had evaporated a few moments before.

Perhaps I’ll create the ‘Lost Shoe Bar’. Up high (where you can’t smell them!) shoes on display and every night around a wood burner, folks turn up and tell or sing the tales behind a particular half a pair. If anyone ever walks in with the matching shoe, they get free drinks in exchange for the real story.

Lost shoe © Carole Scott 2013
Lost shoe © Carole Scott 2013

Best photos of 2013: sole II sole

A shoemaker must surely be one of the oldest crafts in existence. After all, I just read on the internet that humans first started wearing footwear 40,000 years ago.

In this photo, taken in Marrakech, I feel the echoes of centuries past, as if time has stood still. Shut your eyes and those leather souls, drying in the sun, could be the base of 15th century slippers, 12th century boots, 8th century shoes. At the same time, they are a story of what is to come; who will fill these footsteps and where will they lead?

© Carole Scott 2013
© Carole Scott 2013

By Carole Scott

 

Best photos of 2013: shrouded

I love those moments in photography when you do manage to lift the camera to your eye in that quick moment and get the shot on the hoof that really works.

I couldn’t believe my luck when this man strolled past an arched window in Marrakech. I try to keep my camera in hand, with the strap wrapped around my wrist to avoid any accidental drops, and switched on whenever I’m in a photogenic place and it really paid off here.

To me, he looks like a medieval monk on a secret mission, hunched over, hurrying and not wanting anyone to know who he is.

Possibly my favourite photo of the year but I’ll see what you all think!

© Carole Scott 2013
© Carole Scott 2013

By Carole Scott