Freelance journalist Lizzie Pook treks through the remote Bale Mountains, where the landscape has been unchanged for millennia

By Lizzie Pook (Evening Standard) |

Hyenas are trying to eat our horses.

The night is oppressive. Inky black, heavy, still. But I can hear the pack outside the canvas of my rain-slicked tent, whooping like ghouls as they close in on our makeshift camp. “Ooweh”, the sound comes, again and again.

A fizzle of adrenaline snakes its way up my spine. I scurry out of my sleeping bag, pulling on my hiking boots and putting my hat on over unkempt hair. The camp has been illuminated by a sequence of fires, sending shadows dancing across our cluster of tents.

The horsemen are feeding the flames with gnarled branches, desperate to protect the horses that have so diligently carried our pots, pans and bulging bags up to this dizzying altitude. I rub my forearms to ward off the damp mountain air, keeping my eyes peeled for the flash of prying eyes in the moonlight. It’s 3am and there’s about to be a showdown. This is what life is like at the rooftop of Africa.

Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park is an otherworldly place, strewn with Willy Wonka-esque giant lobelia plants, moon-like rock formations and oceans of wild heather spread like anemones across the ground. In south-east Ethiopia, roughly 250 miles from the capital Addis Ababa and home to the highest plateau on the African continent, it’s less visited than the Simien Mountains in the north. But it’s also home to some of Ethiopia’s rarest and most fascinating wildlife — from bizarre giant mole rats the color of ginger biscuits and herds of elegant mountain nyala antelope, to soaring golden eagles and colossal swooping bearded vultures; known by locals as “bone crunchers” because they drop the bones of their prey from up high before descending to gorge on the spilt marrow.

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