Back before the 17-month Ethiopian civil war halted tourism and scared off travellers, Don Pinnock took the long, hard road to the Simien Mountains. Up there, he recalls, lammergeiers rule the ramparts and gelada monkeys bare their hearts.
My eyes registered the gradient as gentle but, after 35 kilometres at around 3,500 metres above sea level, my legs calibrated each step in degrees of pain.
The deeply grooved pony track led up through giant lobelia and huge Erica trees towards a sky which swirled and rumbled, threatening rain. I found myself chanting my usual mountain mantra: "Why, why, why do I do this?" It was 2007, and my goal was Imet Gogo (The Mother), a lofty eyrie on the rim of the Great Rift Valley in northwestern Ethiopia -- but that was still a long way ahead.
"Eggs?" he said, hopefully. When I failed to respond the other one tried another tack: "Hellowhat'syournamedoyouhavepenforme?"
"What?" I croaked at him, then realised it was a heavily accented version of a standard local greeting to foreigners. But I was too far gone to be polite: "Look," I replied, knowing he wouldn't understand a word I said. "I've just walked all day through these...