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Ben Colclough

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Walking on top of the world

Posted: 06/29/11 12:05 PM ET

There is nowhere quite like Ethiopia. The sights and culture should make this a popular destination, yet the country receives few visitors. It isn't an easy country to travel by any means. Hot showers aren't guaranteed, roads are bumpy and the food can be unappealing. On the other hand, the rewards of travelling here are immense. This country, which boasts a lost branch of Christianity, untouched tribes and some of the best highland trekking anywhere in the world, is begging to be discovered.

At an altitude of 9,000 - 13,500 feet, the Simien Mountains National Park boasts a ridge that towers over the endless highlands of Northern Ethiopia. Eagles and vultures soar overhead while stunning, rare songbirds fill the dwarf scrub with music. On a trek of 4 to 5 days, hikers are never more than half an hour from another endless view.

A big draw of this range is the wildlife. Large troops of gelada baboons roam through the park and graceful Walia Ibex lord over the loftier spots. There is a sense of wonder that accompanies trekking here. All hikers have to be accompanied by an armed scout, many of whom tout Kalashnikovs that would make lovely museum pieces. These wizened men, who have seen more of life than I wish to imagine, become silent guardians. There is no security rationale for their presence: This is really just a way to pay hardened men back for lifetimes of service spent protecting an area that once notorious for bandits.

And when the treks end, travelers can get down to the serious business of ticking off the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, rock hewn churches and medieval castles. When it all gets to be too tiring, then there are the coffee shops.

Gelada baboons at Chenek Camp, Simien Mountains
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gelada baboons scour the ground for roots at Chenek Camp. The main trail runs all the way along the ridge in the distance.
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