Andru Knitwear PO Box 35, Brampton, Cumbria, CA8 7YA. United Kingdom
In addition to running the business she is an active fund-raiser for
the Cancer Research UK and undertakes at least one remote and
arduous trek annually, to some far-flung place. March 2000 saw her in
the Namib Desert (the oldest desert on earth), and previous ones have
taken her up mountains in Morocco and across vast sandunes in the Sahara.
To date she has raised around £15,000 for Cancer Research UK.
and got a few other people hooked along the way.
Andru’s 8th. Trek For Cancer Research UK To The Simien Mountains, Ethiopia Nov. 2004
Andru,(standing)Asmare and Maddy "forever upwards!"
November is the worst possible month for me, right in the middle of the show/fair season, Christmas orders building up and no time to think let alone prepare for this tough challenge to Ethiopia.
Can’t say I was ever really prepared for this one but I was looking forward to it albeit with some trepidation, after all part of the description was “not for the faint hearted” !
Eleven of us finally congregated at Heathrow in November and as usual, everyone looked much fitter than me, but enough experience with these treks comforted me with the knowledge that this doesn’t always pan out.
A lengthy trip via Rome finally deposited us in Addis Abbaba where Africa hits home and red tape goes ballistic. I’m not quite sure how we negotiated ourselves through immigration/ internal airport taxes(one price for locals, another for us)changing currency et al but somehow we seemed to make it back out on the runway for a small prop plane (oh how I hate small planes)up to Gondar, the capital city of Ethiopia back in the middle ages.
At this stage we hadn’t actually met anyone from local organisation but somehow a chap materialised to take us on a whistle stop tour of 16C castles of which there are many and on to our hotel for that night. Finally we could relax, get to know each other and ponder what was in store for us all starting next day.
Again, as if by magic, a small bus appeared at 7 o’clock next morning to take us up to the Simien National park and four bone-crushing hours later we arrived in Debark, the town at the head of the park to be met at last by our team leader Asmare, head guide Esherto and one of several guys with Kalashnikovs, whose names I never did master(shame on me!).We were to meet the muleteers and pack animals a few kilometres up the track.
This was to be just a four hour short walk to the first camp and give us a tantalising perspective of what was to come. Every time we stopped to marvel at the unfolding scenery, Asmare was quick to remind us that “tomorrow much much better, and day after better still”. He was right every time too.
It always feels a bit alien the first days and nights on these treks, getting used to your new companions and the pace of the trek and indeed life in general, camping at steadily increasing altitude in different environments each night, organising your day kit so that you don’t resemble one of the pack donkeys and your camp kit so you can actually find things before you’re legging it off again(not easy with two of you jammed in a tiny tent and no room for one rucksack let alone two).
Somehow the rhythm establishes itself and it quickly became apparent that this certainly was going be a tough one. The daily trekking alone would have been gruelling without the increasing altitude and all the side effects that can bring with it. This was the third time that I’d trekked at altitude and it’s not something you can ever say that you get used to. I didn’t feel as all over lousy as I did in the Andes and I didn’t have the violent headaches that I had in Nepal but my energy levels had just dropped through my socks and left me totally knackered, and my breathing had somehow started to resemble an old steam train going downhill with no brakes, except I was going up hill, forever!
One day was such a long trek that it was way past dark when we staggered into camp, by this time split up into several straggling groups and most of us without torches (because those are always in your rucksack waiting for you in camp).
Day three was to be the toughest so far with an assent of Ras Dashen, at 15,200ft. the fourth highest mountain in Africa. I was feeling utterly done in that morning as I hadn’t been sleeping at all since leaving Gondar but we had the luxury of a couple of riding animals with us that carried extra water along with anything else anyone wanted to off-laod and a couple of hours that morning on Madge the Mule was a luxury I wasn’t going to turn down even though it was pretty scary in places and even Madge lost his (yes he was a chap)footing sometimes. I was back on terra firma though for the rest of the climb. Just below the summit we came across some feral kids who lived in the caves out there and tended the sheep and goats. Pretty wild looking bunch they were too, but tough cookies when it came to negotiating for photo opportunities. Money changed hands needless to say but my dried apricots were unceremoniously spat out – they went down really well!
The kids accompanied us all the way to the top, shinning up sheer rock barefooted with their sheepskin capes and little else making them totally at one with the landscape, unlike our own blot on the landscape.
We got up though, and it was of course worth all the anguish. The view was as Asmare said “ just getting better and better”.
The Simiens themselves are a cross between The Grand Canyon, The Andes and Monument Valley with a huge plethora of flaura and fauna, the flaura growing to gargantuan proportions due to the equatorial climate plus mega UV rays. Packs of Gelada baboons, indigenous to Ethiopia, huge Lamagyers (a type of vulture), Ibix , clip springers , so many smaller birds and animals , and flowers and shrubs as far as you could see, different ones for different bands of altitude. We had hit just after the rainy season, and although the river beds were already alarmingly low and even dry sometimes, the mountains and gorges resembled a huge Alpine meadow.
It’s a terribly tough life for those living high up in the Simiens, so remote and difficult, which we were to see so many times first hand as we trekked on. The distances the kids travelled each morning and back, to school, the almost vertical fields that had to be back breakingly tended by hand in the ice and snow of winter or the high altitude sun of summer, the five day walk to the nearest medical help, the continual moving to find new pastures for their animals and crops as the deforestation and subsequent top soil erosion forces them ever higher. So many things, each one totally daunting to us, but then so many things we could envy too. The close interlocking of each community, the solid family unit that would not only look after itself but others in the village and outlying areas, the simple and honest way of doing simple honest work no matter how tedious or repetitive, the total respect for the elders and the total willingness to share what little they had with any stranger amongst them. Sure, they might well have some envy too, and they know that we represent a means to an end, and they are not too shy to ask, but when you spend time in their humble homes and experience this harsh and beautiful environment and see that so little given even, can make such a big difference, somehow you just want to help, you don’t even question it.
And that’s how we left our new highland friends. With a promise to send books for the school( which we organised from Gondar), with some money to finish the walls on the new school in Chenek, with clothes and anything else we could afford to leave behind, with medicines pooled from our own stashes and administered by Dr. James and nurse Paula at an impromptu clinic on the hillside at one of our camps, and a promise to ourselves that when we got back to UK we would endeavour to raise enough funds to set up a basic health post with a visiting medical worker that might at least save the five day trek and make life just a little bit easier.
And, that’s what we are doing.
Called for the moment “The Ethiopian Village Medical Appeal” we already have about £4,000 but still need to raise several more thousand.Our efforts though are small compared to the effort each one, from smallest child to aged adult, has to experience each and every day, just to exist in that awesome and awe inspiring environment- The Simien Mountains.
If you can donate, many many thanks. Just contact me, Andru Chapman on email@example.com
(Any further donations for Cancer Research UK should be sent direct to Andru Chapman, Wrytree Farm, Greenhead, Brampton CA8 7JA)
For more information on the charity treks go to Cancer Research UK’s website:
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