Ethiopia is known as “The Roof of Africa” as it holds about 80 per cent of all the land in Africa above 3,000 meters.
When the boy arrives with our firewood, and squats down on the dust-floor to escape the hailstorm raging outside, I find it difficult to tear my eyes from him. It is not only that he is wrapped jedi-like in a threadbare grey blanket and has materialized through the maelstrom with a retinue of six obsidian-colored cattle, despite being only five years old.
Neither is it that, with the fire burning, he spends the next hour glowering at me unmoving, crouched mutely with steam coiling off his sodden clothes; when he gets up to leave, he stops at the doorway to empty his rubber boots of the water he has been crouching in the whole time.
It is, quite simply, that he is the first thing I have seen all day that has not seemed impossibly huge and unfamiliar. Outside is the Simien Mountains, where small is a rarity.
Looming high among the volcanic outriders of the Great Rift Valley in northern Ethiopia, this is nature with a serious case of gigantism: a basalt escarpment 60 kilometers long, staggered between altitudes of 3,000 and 4,500 meters and populated with super-sized plants and monkey armies 500-strong.
This is the place that, in 1978, Unesco dubbed “one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world” when it named the Simien Mountains National Park in its very first batch of World Heritage Sites, alongside Yellowstone and the Galapagos Islands. Here, the tawny Ethiopian highlands reach an astonishing crescendo, so high in fact that this is one of the few places in Africa where you can see snow.
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