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!