Monday 18th October, 2010 – YABELLO / MOYALE

A lack of water in our showers last night made us all consider donning our swim suits to wash in the hotel fountains which were still running.  The problem was fixed though and this morning I could have a luke-warm shower.

We drove down very near to the Kenyan border to visit El Sod, a salt lake in the crater of an extinct volcano.  I sat on the edge of the crater and enjoyed the view while some of our group climbed down to get a closer look at the lake and the men that dive into to collect salt.  I do regret not going as seeing the men work would have been interesting to see, but I really wasn’t feeling well enough for the climb up.  Ever enterprising kids were waiting at the top with bottles of soft drink for the weary climbers.  After many offers of drink from them, and an equal amount of refusals from me, they sat down with me and watched me read, hoping I might just change my mind.  I didn’t, and when the others were visible on the returning path, the kids scampered off to hopefully make a sale of their by now warm drinks.

The houses around Moyale were quite different from other places.  With flat rooves topped with growing grass, they keep cool in the heat.  Luckily, for our visit, the weather stayed cool.


Sunday 17th October, 2010 – YABELLO

I awoke feeling nauseous thanks to my malaria medication.  It had been causing me troubles throughout the trip, and I was cursing the lack of options available in Japan.  Elsewhere, there are variations available with less side effects, but as I’m living in Japan, no choice.  I had been considering stopping my weekly doses, but Baty reminded me that feeling crappy for a couple of weeks was probably better than catching malaria.  Good point.  I kept taking my tablets…begrudgingly.

Heading east again we stopped near Lake Stephanie to visit our final tribe…the Abore.  As we pulled up, the villagers encircled the car, but at a polite distance.  Many of the kids wore helmet like hats made of gourds.  Combined with “bandoliers” of shells strung across their shoulders, they looked like mini-soldiers ready for battle in some fantasy adventure.  Others had pointillism masks painted over their faces, and the women often wore black scarves on their heads.


While photographing I got a little overcrowded, and had a dizzy spell that left me reeling for a few minutes.  Some time out, while the others distracted potential photographic models, let me catch my breath, and a sleep and the car afterwards helped immensely.

While not been particular known in Africa for its wildlife, I saw my fair share on the drive as we approached Yabello.  Baboons lounged around in trees, pairs of diks diks – tiny, deer-like creatures – darted for cover under low shrubs, and everywhere were wondrously coloured birds of all shapes and sizes.

We had our first road trouble this afternoon with a flat tyre.  Of course, the drivers were well prepared with a number of spares on each four-wheel drive, so we were on the road again in no time flat.


Rain showers left the vehicles muddied, and at one stop we noticed some uninventive kid had written  F#@* Off in Amharic on one of the car doors.  I guess kids are the same everywhere.  In retaliation I asked Baty to write “No Highland Water” instead.  Actually, I think less kids than normal asked us for water bottles that afternoon, so maybe it worked.


Saturday 16th October, 2010 – KOLCHO VILLAGE / DIMEKA / TURMI


A rough morning’s drive took us into the Tama Wildlife Reserve to visit a village of the Karo tribe. The village definitely is memorable for its location.  Perched beside a high cliff that looked down over a bend in the Omo River, the view was truly spectacular.  Under a large tree by the cliff were some hand-carved chairs on which some elders were reclining.  It was the first and only village in which I saw such chairs.  If you have such a view by your front door, I guess you need something to sit on and enjoy it.

Usually, in the Omo Valley, men carry their chairs with them.  They are little low stools that can be carried on their shoulders when walking, and then propped on the ground whenever in need of a rest.  Many also double as a headrest if a more serious nap is needed.  Often they were beautifully decorated and burnished due to years of use.  I noticed a number of cheap knock-offs in Dimeka market today.  I guess they make good souvenirs too.


Back as base-camp it was time to party- Hamer style.  We splashed across the river following the sounds of horns to what was essentially a precursor to the main event, but no less impressive.  Gathered was a large group of women, the relatives of the young man who was to jump the bull.  They were dressed up with bells on their legs, ochre in their hair, and tops tied up to reveal their backs.  They repeatedly danced into a hypnotising circle which got smaller and tighter before breaking apart to rest and drink some of their home brew.  They appeared almost as if in a trance.  As members of the maza (men who had recently come-of-age) visited, the women would goad the maza into whipping their backs (hence the tied up tops).  It was quite horrifying to watch and must have been painful.  Many of the older women had scarring from previous ceremonies.  These scars are said to represent devotion to the relatives, and if a women ever needs help from the man she was scared for, it has to be given.



A few hours later, it was time for the main-event, the bull jumping.  Everyone moved up the road to an area where a group of bulls had been herded.  The bulls were lined up, with men holding their tails and mouths.  The crowd hushed as the boy, standing naked, prepared for his first jump, the first of four.  Soon he would be a man in the eyes of his tribe.  On the first run, he slipped, lucky to escape a trampling.  Unluckily, his friends will certainly tease him about it in the future.  The last three jumps went off without a hitch amongst cheers of joy.  The crowd dispersed with many heading back to the village where the celebrating would go on into the night.



Usually Hamer bull-jumping ceremonies are held around April, but due to a good harvest and a recent aid delivery of grain, our neighbours had decided on October celebrations.

As I lay in my tent, listening to the distant sound of blowing horns, I reflected on how fortunate I was to experience such a ceremony.

Friday 15th October, 2010 – TURMI / OMORATE

I woke up to a beautiful sunrise feeling refreshed after a good night sleep.  The campground was ours alone, only shared with a few hungry mosquitoes.


This morning we followed the road almost all the way to the Sudan border, to the small, dusty settlement of Omorate.  Once there, we walked down to the edge of the Omo River where log canoes waited to carry us across to the Dhasenech tribe on the opposite bank.  Clambering down the muddy bank wasn’t easy, and as I was stepping into the canoe I lost my footing and very nearly took a swim in the river.


The village, with huts covered with tree bark was layered in the dust that was being whipped up by a wind that had risen.  It gave the village a dejected atmosphere.  The people however were welcoming.  Many of them went about their daily chores, unfazed by the presence of six tourists, allowing us a rare insight into their way of life.  There were many weathered faces in the tribe.  The women wore long skirts made from the leather of cattle.  Often their heads were topped with decorated headdresses giving them an air of nobility.  After photographing one such woman, she reached out and held my face while blowing into it.  I’m told it was a Dhasenech blessing.


A beer back at camp helped to wash away some of the dust.  As we waited for the air to cool and the sun to drop, I chatted with guide Baty about the unexpected twists that life sometimes throws.  He had finished university a few years previously.  He had studied mechanical engineering, which he loved, wanted to work in, but way waylaid by his work as a tour guide.  He could earn a lot more money as an untrained English-speaking tour guide, and enjoyed meeting people from around the world, so would stick with it for now, maybe one day opening his own business.

Once the temperature had suitably dropped we went for a stroll to meet our neighbours – a Hamer family, who were preparing for the following days coming-of-age bull-jumping festival for their son.  Amongst the huts mothers were doing their daughters hair, covering twisted braids with a mixture of ochre and butter.  Yards were being swept, and gourds were filled with an interesting smelling home-brew.  We were invited to join the coming day’s festivities.  The invitation was heartily accepted.  I’m truly looking forward to it.



Arriving back at the tents, we found we had yet more neighbours.  A group of Spanish tourist’s tents had been set up right behind our own.  We were set up under the biggest shadiest trees, so I do understand why their tents were put so close, but with the rest of the camp ground being empty; it was a little annoying…particularly when the snoring started!

Thursday 14th October, 2010 – KEY AFER / TURMI


A visit to Key Afer market was a colourful affair.  With locals from the Hamer, Banna, and Ari tribes congregating to sell their wares, the market was full of bustle and good cheer.  Some were there for serious business.  In the cattle yards bulls with intimidating horns waited patiently while their owners engaged in intense negotiations.  In the main market area jewellery, skins, and decorated gourds were lain out.  Here the women were in charge.  Many of the interactions were as much social as commercial.  It was a chance for relatives that live apart to catch up on family news, for friends to share gossip, to meet potential partners, and to picnic under the trees.


That afternoon we set up camp in a lovely tree-filled site just outside of Turmi.  We were to camp for the next 3 nights.  It was my first time camping in about 10 years.  Luckily our trusty guide and drivers set up the tents for us, complete with cosy mattresses, sleeping bags and pillows. I had been expecting to share a tent with another member of the group as my single supplement only covered the nights spent in hotels, but up went a tent of my very own.  I slept as soon as my head hit the pillow.


Wednesday 13th October, 2010 – MAGO NATIONAL PARK / JINKA

There was an air of excitement in the group this morning.  We were to visit some of the Mursi tribe who live within the Mago National Park.  The tribe who are famed for their lip stretching plates are a favourite of many visitors to the area.  Our group was also a little nervous.  There had been reports that members could become somewhat aggressive when vying for the attention of photograph-taking tourists.  Paying fees to take photographs is new to me, but unfortunately has become unavoidable in most parts of the Omo Valley.  If I wanted photographs, and I most certainly did, I would have to pay.  For the majority of tribes the guide advised that 1 birr for children and 2 or 3 birr for adults was an appropriate payment.  The Mursi, being well-aware of their popularity, charged double.

The constant bartering over price, and grabbing at did dampen what could have been an extremely interesting visit, but occasional ducking into huts to sort money and take a breather helped.


I don’t mean for the whole experience to sound a negative one.  It wasn’t.  There were moments of laughter shared.  After having about 5 women look down my t-shirt to inspect my bra, what could I do but laugh.  Learning of the significance of the lip plates was fascinating.  The larger the plate, the more a woman’s potential husband must pay to her parents.  A large diameter could mean a payment of up to 15 cows.  Due to the lip plates being not at all comfortable the women usually wear them for short periods of time.

Overall, I was left with the impression of a fiercely proud group of people, trying their best to find their place in a quickly changing world.  As the tribe is aware of their traditional lifestyle and culture as a drawcard, there is hope that they may resist the ever encroaching modernisations that can be seen in other tribal groups.


Back in Jinka, a visit to the Omo Valley Museum was insightful.  The exhibition showed a number of crafts and artefacts from the various Omo tribes.  Also, the museum, in conjunction with visiting cultural anthropologists had organised a series of discussions with women from the local tribes.  The women discussed tribal roles, marriage, customs, work practises and even circumcision.  The displays resulting from the discussions made for interesting reading.  I hope they also proved empowering for the women involved.

After dinner, I finally had the opportunity to try some of Ethiopia’s famed coffee.  The ceremony involved in grinding, brewing, and pouring the coffee was an event in itself.  Eucalyptus gum incense smoke wafted in the air reminding me of home, and as the coffee was brewed it combined to form a heavenly smell.  The strong coffee had been blended with cardamom that left a refreshing aftertaste and a satisfying end to the ceremony.

Tuesday 12th October, 2010 – KONSO / JINKA

Heading further south, we journeyed to Konso, before making a right and heading out to Jinka, our base for the next few nights.

As we got closer to Konso, the landscape began to chance, becoming much drier.  The low acacia trees that one so often associates with African landscapes could be seen with increasing frequency.


After stopping off for a drink in the ugly modern centre of Konso, we travelled a short way out of town to visit a small Konso village.  Perched high on a hill, the heavily fortified village had sweeping views over the valley below.  After entering through the main gate, we found ourselves being led through labyrinthine rock walled paths that led steadily up the hill.  At occasional intervals the walls opened to reveal gardens of flowers and grains, or stilted huts.  As we wondered the meandering paths, we collected quite a following of children.  As her curiosity and confidence grew, one girl asked if she could touch my hair.  On touching it she gave a squeal.  Perhaps it was her first encounter with straight hair, or perhaps my hair was just really dirty.

At our lunch stop in Weyto, the temperature was really soaring.  It was the first time that I had felt anything other than pleasantly cool on the trip so far.  For lunch I tried out some Ethiopian specialties – shiro and injera.  Shiro is a thick soup made from ground chickpeas and berbere, a mixture of fiery spices.  Injera is like a large sour dour pancake.  It looks like a cleaning flannel, and was so named by a member of our group, but the taste is light and a little bitter – perfect to cut through the rich spiciness of the shiro.  Meal servings were large throughout Ethiopia and rarely could I finish.  Luckily today, I met a friendly goat who helped polish off my leftovers.


During the afternoon drive to Jinka, we saw a lot more traditionally dressed tribal people.  We stopped to photograph a man from the Banna tribe.  He was decorated with red and turquoise beads and had made ingenious use of safety pins to decorate his hair.

As we were stopping for two nights in Jinka, I took the opportunity to get some washing done.  When asking the staff, “How much?” I got the reply, “No much!”  Free washing –great! (though of course I left a tip for him afterwards.)  The boy then asked if it was, “Stress washing?”  I held back a laugh as I told him there was no rush.

Monday, 11th October, 2010 – ARBA MINCH


A lot of southern Ethiopia sits in Africa’s famed Rift Valley.  The area is spotted with volcanically formed lakes.  Arba Minch sits between two of the wildest of these lakes, Abaya and Chamo. The pink coloured Abaya is separated from the Chamo only by a thin strip of land called the Bridge of God.

Today we were heading out on Lake Chamo to visit Nechisar National Park.  The calm waters of the lake hid a multitude of toothy creatures that kept me from trailing my fingers in the invitingly cool water.  Crocodiles the size of tree trucks drifted lazily in the sun.  They looked well fed…hopefully not on tourists.  The hippos that hung closer to shore are apparently no less dangerous despite their ungainly, lumbering appearance.

On land, the park was ruled by Burchell’s zebra.  Once they had shared it with lions, but the farmers that also call the national park home had found the lion’s tendency to eat their cattle somewhat bothersome.  With the farmers dispatching of most of the lions, the zebras had flourished.  National parks in Ethiopia are obviously quite a new inception, with regulations, if they exist, being rarely policed.


After the morning on the lake, I discovered that my combination DEET/sunscreen, while great at keeping away insects was ineffectual at keeping the sun’s rays at bay.  As the day progressed my skin began to give out a red glow of its own.  Ouch.

My main reason for choosing to visit Ethiopia was to see the some of the tribes that live in the south of the country in an area called the Omo Valley.  For many of them, their lives have remained unchanged for centuries.  I was lucky enough to visit a number of these tribes.


The first of these were the Dorze, living in the Chencha Hills behind Arba Minch.  Their woven beehive style huts are designed to be extra tall, so although they are gradually eaten away at the bottoms by termites, they rarely have to be rebuilt.  The ingenuity of the Dorze also extends to farming techniques.  The hills that they live in are covered by intricate terracing which help reduce the erosion that has become a problem in Ethiopia’s south. They have also started teaching other groups this style in the hope to provide a positive influence.  What I’ll remember most about the Dorze however is their dancing.  With dad beating away on a hand drum, some kids gave an energetic performance of a truly joyful, hip-shaking dance.


Which reminds me, when passing by children along the roads, they would shout out for empty water bottles, screaming “Highland, Highland, Highland”, the name of Ethiopia’s most popular bottled water.  However, instead of just regular begging, they would drop whatever they were doing, and simply dance.  Over the trip, I was to see many styles of dance – knee knocking, head standing, hopping – in all kinds of combinations.  The kids in this region though definitely had the most rhythm.

We were told never to throw the water bottles from the moving cars though, as there had been some nasty accidents with kids rushing out on to roads.  So we saved our empties to be given out whenever we stopped for a break.


Sunday 10th October, 2010 – to ARBA MINCH


Our small group hit the road this morning in two four wheel drives.  Our destination for the day was Arba Minch, a university town surrounded by lakes.  With Hassan and Warade behind their respective wheels, we headed south into an unexpected patchwork landscape.

Like most of us, the idea of Ethiopia I held before travelling here was formed during the mid-eighties when images of drought, dust, and swollen-bellied, starving children filled our TV screens nightly.

I was surprised and delighted to find a country of proud, welcoming people, living amongst varied and beautiful landscapes.  Yes, some areas were dry and dusty, but there were also plenty of rolling hills covered with banana trees and terraced with crops, and areas dense with green jungle.


There wasn’t a lot of traffic along the newly built road.  Transport was mostly by foot, and everywhere along the road people were walking – to market, to school, on their way to visit friends and do their daily chores.  Zebra crossings were freshly painted at regular intervals, though they went unused.  For the occasional cars and trucks that passed through there were some road signs to warn of the pedestrian obstacles ahead.  I couldn’t help but giggle at the signs which showed figures with suitcases in hand fleeing as if from a tidal wave.

Just outside of Arba Minch we stopped at a small village on Lake Abaya that had been receiving a lot of local media attention in recent weeks.  When the lakeside villagers awoke one morning they found that a reed island complete with trees, monkeys and birdlife had floated up to their shore.  A multitude of enquiries into the islands origin came up with no answers.  Nowhere on any other part of the lake was anyone missing a chunk of land.  The enterprising villagers were making a few birr by showing visitors their ‘Mysterious Monkey Island’.  By the time we visited the monkeys had wisely scampered to the dry mainland, leaving not much to look at.


Saturday 9th October, 2010 – ADDIS ABABA

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the plane touched down in Addis Ababa accompanied by a round of applause.  A group of women aboard also let loose with some celebratory ululations signaling my first visit to Africa.  I felt like joining their cheers, but after so many hours of flying all I could manage was a weak smile at the thought of the hopefully comfortable bed that was waiting for me.

With my head spinning and my stomach doing flip-flops, my relationship with my malaria medication was cooling quickly by this stage.  I’m thinking perhaps my eyes were also majorly bloodshot judging by the slightly fearful look the immigration official gave me.  Still, she let me in to begin my Ethiopian adventure.

On the way to the hotel the driver informed me that, as Ethiopia runs on its own Coptic-based calendar, the year is only 2003 here, making me seven years younger!  Oh, I only hope that I at least feel 25 years old again after a good nights sleep.

I awoke feeling much refreshed (though stomach still a little tender) at 8am.  Actually by the Ethiopian clock it would only have been 2am.  Yes, along with their amazing strip-the-years-off calendar, they also have their own quite practical time system.  The sun rises at 12 o’clock (6am our time).  After an hour of day light its 1 o’clock and so forth, until the sun again sets at 12 o’clock (6pm by our clocks).  Simple!