04.02.2017 - 16.02.2017 40 °C
Day. 4. Feb 8. 2017
Ethiopia had never been on my radar until last year at Dougs family reunion in Calgary when I was talking to his cousin and wife who live here. They have lived in Ethiopia for a number of years and John is the director for Save the Children and his wife the head of another NGO. They suggested we come so I looked into what Ethiopia was like and was immediately intrigued. After a few emails back and forth we had arranged to go to their house for dinner last night, but reconfirming a few days ago found out that they were visiting in Canada. They left suddenly, probably because there was a six month state of emergency declared in the Fall and no one could move about very much. It is all fine now . It was disappointing not to see them however.
Fuad is a driver and guide that we hired to take us south to the Omo Valley for the next week and he was waiting for us at 7:30AM in the lobby. He is married with three young children and a very gentle and kind man with a great sense of humour and a vast knowledge of Ethiopia . We will be travelling around in a very comfortable Toyota Land Cruiser four x four. It took quite some time to get out of town as traffic was very heavy in the morning. Once out of town the landscape changed to rolling hills of farmland with mountains in the background. We stopped to take pictures quite often as it was all so unfamiliar and exciting.
Ethiopia not only has its own time system with the clock but the calendar as well. The year starts Sept 11 and it is now 2009. They started the calendar when Christianity came to Ethiopia, 7 years later.
The average blue collar worker in the city makes around $10 a day. Around 60percent of the population is Christian of various types and the other 40 percent Sunni Muslim. Fuad and his family are Muslim.
The picture below is of a small farm where they put sorghum , a grain, on the ground and then have the cows go around in circles to crush the grain. It is a long and tedious job, and they usually make the young boys direct the cows. The larger cows have to have their mouths tied as they would stop and eat all the time otherwise. The land is all owned by the government and people lease it to farm and build their houses.
I took out my good camera to take a picture and find that my lens is smashed to pieces. I almost threw up. I carefully took off the UV Filter and discover that the actual lens is fine. Thank goodness.
This house was typical of the next area where they paint the outside in beautiful designs. We pulled off the road and all these kids came running up and were happy to show us the inside. It was very neat and tidy, a sleeping mat on the dirt floor for the eight children, a straw mat as a partition from where mom and dad slept. A small fire in the middle where food was cooked and the other half of the home is where the animals slept at night. Seven in total, cows, goats and chickens, If they are left outside they are at risk from wild animals.
The kids were fascinated with Lanas hair and kept feeling it. It is so fine and so light in color.
There are more cows and goats on the road than vehicles, Thousands of them walking down the middle of the road, slowly and taking up most of the road but Fuad was very good at maneuvering around them. People walk everywhere. Miles a day, about seven hours to get water every single day. They travel with big yellow containers for miles to wait in long line ups to have them filled with drinking water from a tap or pump from a well. Then they walk miles back and do it all again tomorrow. Some of the lucky ones have donkeys and can have them carry a few on their back or a wagon is attached. We see many people with huge bundles on the their backs of produce, firewood, hay or food for the animals. Again walking tor miles a day and wearing flip flops or sandals made from recycled tires. They have amazing posture though and look very fit and healthy.
The cattle are being driven in the morning to a place where they can drink and eat grass which quite often is miles away, and then driven back again at night. The same thing will happen again tomorrow. The cattle is usually driven by boys and the heavy loads and water fetching by girls and women. Everyone is incredibly fit and healthy looking
Lining up to get water
Last year was a terrible drought in the area , then the rains came and flooded everything but did not last too long. Now most of the rivers are dried up again and the cattle is dying and getting very sick in some areas. We saw a few on the side of the road. Apparently they just stay there, or even in the middle of the road if that is where they land. No one moves them
We stopped for a coffee at a tourist hotel and had a wonderful Machiato coffee, very strong but delicious. A few hours later we stopped again for lunch, a local Ethiopian dish of very spicy chick peas and injura a local bread that is large flat and spongy with a sour taste. You break off a piece and use it as a way to eat your food, there are no utensils. It was very good.
It was getting late but we pushed on to visit the Dorze people who lived on the top of a mountain accessed by a gravel road of switchbacks. We pass so many women bent over with large bundles on their backs trudging up this big hill with goods to sell at the market tomorrow morning. I felt guilty driving past.
A young boy greeted us in front of his house and showed us how the houses were made and what they looked like inside. It resembles a beehive and is referred to as that.
His sister was spinning cotton and Lana and I tried our hand at it but failed miserably.
The women spin and the men weave the textiles.
A local dish was being made from the stems of the false banana tree and we were shown how it is made into a bread which we sampled with some local honey and moonshine.
Young boys and girls played music and danced for us and before long the sun was setting and it was time to go. The days end early here, around 6 PM
Our home for the night was down the mountain and a few miles away in Arba Minsch called Paradise Lodge. We were so bagged by the time we got there we just had a small dinner and straight to bed.
I usually get an average of 10-11 hours of sleep a day and lately it has been 3 or 4 . I am a mess I am so overtired. Another sleepless night last night, Lana too. I have decided to stop taking my Malaria medication because it can cause insomnia, and I never have trouble sleeping.
Our breakfast was in an outdoor resteraunt overlooking the national park and two large lakes. It was a beautiful setting
A local market is enroute to Jinka and was very interesting to see a few of the different tribes in one place buying and selling their goods. There were very few tourists there and we found ourselves surrounded by young children who grabbed our hands and followed us for the day. They would touch our arm s and hair because we look so different. One little girl stayed the whole day and had once crutch and one shoe on her good foot. She had been in a car accident and was doing to best to keep up with everyone. You rarely see anyone with any physical or mental impairments here.
We took lots of pictures. Fuad arranged a local guide to go around the market with us and explain things which was great.
He took us up to this tree away from the market that had a bunch of people sitting around drinking local made beer. They looked at us very suspiciously but eventually we felt a little more welcome when they realized we weren't there to take pictures.
One older woman took a shine to me and offered me some of her home made beer. It was in a filthy dirty plastic bucket and she lifted it up towards me. Our guide said that refusing anything offered is very rude, maybe I could pretend.
I took the bucket, held it to my lips and the smell of yeast was overwhelming I did my best impression of someone taking a big drink.
UMMMMGOOOD. I rub my stomach in gesture that it is good. They all laugh.
The heat is very oppressive here. I had not eaten since breakfast and with lack of sleep all of a sudden it just caught up with me and i felt I was going to pass out so found some shade to hide out for a bit until it was time to leave. Maybe it was the beer.
On our way out we stopped and bought the little girl a pair of new shoes, plastic sandals. Even with the guide negotiating for us we still paid way too much, but she was very happy. The six other barefoot kids asking for shoes were a little disappointed however.
Jinka is our home for the next two nights in the 'Orit Hotel'. I knew it would not be four star, but this was a 1 1/2 at best. We were on the second floor, no fan , cant open windows at night, tap is broken, toilet seat not attached to toilet. I needed to sleep but it was so hot I didn't think I could possibly manage it. I asked for a fan, but they didn't have any, so I asked if Fuad would go out and buy one for me.
I covered my head in a cool cloth and even with the construction right outside the room I finally got some sleep. I felt like a new person.
Lana and Fuad and another fellow went on the hunt for a fan for me, found one and spent over an hour trying to put it together and then it didn't work. They took it back and got it fixed, what a god send. It makes all the difference in the world and worth every penny. I will just gift it to Fuad when we fly to Uganda.
Tonight we went out for dinner at a small local cafe.
Day 6. Friday February 10
Up at out by 6AM to beat the heat and the crowds. Fuad arranged for a local guy to make us breakfast to go as our hotel was not up yet and then we picked up a local guide who spoke the language of the Mursi People, the village we are heading to.
There are over 80 groups and as many different languages in the south. When someone gets an invitation to a wedding or celebration and it is say 10 days away, they tie ten knots in a rope and cut one off every day so they know when to be there.
Travelling on switchback dirt roads over the mountain and through the National park was a dusty and bumpy few hours. We stopped at one point and climbed up a hill to stand and have our breakfast. Lana and I had a glass of pure mango juice which was amazing and that was followed by an egg sandwich for Lana and Fuad and toast for me. A dirty thermos came out and coffee was poured into thin dusty juice cups followed by some sugar. No milk.
It was probably the worst coffee i have ever had in my life. But I was standing on a hill in Ethiopia at sunrise overlooking the national park with Sudan and Kenya in the distance.
Lana pretended to drop something and bent over to pick it up and slyly poured her coffee out. I just said I couldn't drink it, So Fuad finished it for me.
This road is bring used right now as access to a newer road being built, so there are many big trucks on it and the occasional land cruiser.
Parts of the road is so soft, the dirt is like silt, these big trucks cant make it up the hills and are stacked up four to five deep waiting for the one who is stuck to get up. a few have even gone over the edge. The land cruiser just flys by with no problem.
Half way there we stop to pick up a park range with his AK47 to escort us to act as our protection. Not really sure what from........
Finally we arrive at the village. We are the first ones there and take our time walking around the village and taking it all in. We did not take any pictures right off the bat, tried to not be the tourist with the camera and not interested in the people. But that didn't last long.
People were coming up and asking us to take their pictures. This group is really quite aggressive and we felt a little overwhelmed after a while. A lot of their livelihood has been lost so they supplement their income by having tourists pay to take their picture. I don't have a problem with that but everyone wanted their picture taken. It is 5 birr per picture which is about 30 cents. It does add up quickly however. Thank god for the guide to keep order.
I would agree on four girls, hold up my camera to take the picture and there would now be six of them there.
I did arrange to dance with some women however and we ended up laughing and relaxing a bit after that. They really do dress like this but mostly for weddings or celebrations,
The lip plates were started during the slave days. The Mursai decided to cut the lips and put in plates to make them ugly so that they would not be wanted by slave traders and there fore not captured .
After a while the tribe considered it a thing of beauty so the tradition continued.
They also body scarring with razor blades which is very interesting. I brought a package of razor blades from home and gave them to the chief which was appreciated. We are also giving out little bars of soap to some of the people who are thrilled.
We left for our long drive back and stopped to buy little sweet bananas and mangos from the side of the road. After we dropped off the ranger and the guide we went back to the hotel. A group from Israel checked out so we arranged to move downstairs to a much nicer room. Now we have a 2 star. (Maybe). We would have loved to take a shower to wash off all the sweat and dust but there was no water.
Lunch was fresh mango and bananas that were so good.
I had a rest for a couple of hours and then we set off to visit the home of OMO CHILD. When I was googling Ethiopia I came across a documentary that had just been filmed in the omo valley about the tradition of Mingi in the local tribes. It was thought that children who are born out of wedlock, or their top teeth come in first, are cursed and will bring disaster to the village. So the elders come in the middle of the night and take the babies and kill them.
A young man from the Kara tribe found out that his two older sisters had been killed and others children in the village and knew he would have to do something.
He finished his education, became a teacher and then started going to the villages to negotiate with the elders to give him the babies. He and his wife now have 2 daughters of their own and raise 50 mingi chilldren. The website is omochild.com.
I contacted him and omo child and said i wanted to bring some shoes clothes ipads toothbrushes and games. (With donations from friends) I am also a monthly supporter it really touched my heart. They suggested Fuad as our guide as he knew Omo child well. He has his own company and takes photographers from national geographic and other famous photographers around so i was thrilled to get him. He has also driven Will Smith and wife Jada for a week up north.
The home is very nice and so organized. They have a few nannies on staff as well as a nurse and teacher. The older kids were playing soccer with a ball on its last legs so they were very happy with the two new soccer balls we brought. The little ones were adorable, al the kids seemed really happy healthy and it as such an amazing experience
I bought a bingo picture game with English words that we played with them and they loved it, we had to play it twice.
I am so glad that we were able to help out in our small way. We had time to meet Lale as well, the man who's started it all.
We came back and were looking forward to a shower to wash off the dust and sweat, but it was off. For good. They brought us three buckets of water to have which gave us a bit of a taste what the local people do every day.
Our breakfast was included and porridge was not available so we ordered french toast. I should know better than to order western food in a foreign country. It was deep fried battered bread. Lana tasted hers but I didn't even bother. We just enjoyed our fruit from yesterday.
Fuad took us to a small museum before we headed out of town. It told us information about some of the tribes.
Today we went to a local market with the Hamar People. It was very busy with everyone selling produce and various goods. Women would have their hair coloured with a red clay mixed with butter. They braid their hair and then color it red and wear lots of color full beads and jewellery. Men can have three wife's and depending upon which number you are you have a different necklace on. It was lots of fun but incredibly hot.
Everything is a long drive down a bad road. I had no idea we would be spending so much time in the car. It is all amazing however. We were moving to a new hotel tonight in a town called Turmi where we will call home for the next three nights. We are almost there when a young boy calls to Fuad ( he knows everyone) and they speak in Amari (the main language). Fuad says, there is a bull jumping ceremony about 20K from here, do you want to go? YES!!!
The boy jumped into the car because he could speak the language of the Hamar tribe and it took about an hour to drive down roads that disappeared and at times we drove on dry river beds. The cows are getting thinner and thinner the further south we go. There is a real drought here, no water. Cows are dead or dying on the side of the road. The goats still look good as they can eat anything. They even eat the Hawthorne branches. The people look good too, but the cows are suffering.
The people here use the cows for meat sometimes, but mostly they shoot an arrow in their jugular, catch a bunch of blood and then patch it up again. They drink blood mixed with milk for protein. They do this in many African countries.
We pass some local people who wave and gesture to keep going, you are on the right track. everyone knows there is a bull jumping ceremony.
This ceremony is for a young boy who is ready to marry to prove he is a man. The bull jumping part is at the end where he has to run over the top of 10 bulls, naked , four times. If the bulls keep still enough and he is successful then is able to start looking for a wife.
There were only around 10 other tourists there.
The boys who have passed this test but not yet married are called to 'whip' the female relatives of the boy who is jumping. I thought I would have a hard time with this but it wasn't as bad as i thought. The women dance and sing, blow horns, have bells on their legs and move about this big area and eventually pass one of the boys a switch from a tree. He then whips their backs. Not hard usually, but some of the women would hand the switch back to him and insist he do it harder. Sometimes he would throw it down, and basically say no. But she would hand it to him, put it in his hand and insist he hit her harder. So he did.
The more scars she has proves her love for her son, cousin, brother etc (the boy who is jumping)
One woman was getting very drunk and very insistent on the whipping. When ever he hit her hard enough she would do a little jump, that she was happy.
Her back is bleeding like crazy and it looks so painful. But I had to leave my judgement at home
They have leaves to put over the sores to help them heal.
This went on for a long time. Then we moved up the hill to the area where the family sat and drank some more, more whipping and dancing.
We sat on a little dirt hill to get out of the sun and watch. We were surrounded by mostly girls, women and children. They were watching us intently. Out of curiosity and also to see if we were taking pictures of them. This one girl , a ways away, was really looking at me. So I did a fish face (where you suck in your checks and pucker your lips). Well they started to laugh. So I kept doing it and everyone was laughing like crazy, especially Lana who was crying she was laughing so hard.
A boy behind me asked Lana why she was crying, so I turned around and gave him a fish face. Now everyone was trying to do one. It was a great way to break the ice and pass the time.
Eventually we walked to the top of the hill, it was getting to be sunset, and the men were moving the bulls down from the higher pastures.
The boys were lining the bulls up, while the jumper was standing with the bulls trying to calm them and connect with them to help him do the jump.
Eventually he ran, jumped on the first one and ran across the backs of the others to the other side. He did this three more times with success and the other boys came up and were so happy for him.
The sun was now setting and we headed back to our new hotel, the Buska Lodge.
What a gift that was to be a part of that.
Our hotel is wonderful, little round cabins in a beautiful setting. This is an eco lodge so runs on generator. Unfortunately the generator is shut off between 10P and 6AM, which means no fans. We cant open the windows, it is hot as hell but no air flow which really affects me. I get claustrophobic. Not much sleep at all last night.
None the less there are lots of adventures ahead of us today. In the restaurant we talk to the other travellers, a few we have seen at different markets and villages and some at the bull jumping last night. We find that everyone we meet here is extremely well travelled, way more than me. I don't think Ethiopia is a place you go to when you are starting out traveling, more for seasoned and adventurous people. Most are also around our age. It is hard to back pack in this area i think.
There are six women from Edmonton, two separate couples form Australia, some from Poland and a number from Israel that we have met over our travels. Everyone is very friendly and it is great to share experiences with them.
Breakfast is always included with the room, sometimes a buffet and sometimes made to order. We have been able to get oatmeal every morning, some times it is better than others and quite often very milky, but good. Lots of fruit and the mango juice is outstanding. Only mangos with a touch of lime. So good.
The coffee is hit and miss. Unless I can order a Machiato, which is like an expresso coffee with milk, I don't bother. I only have one glass but it is tiny because it is so strong.
Today we will visit the Kara group. Another bumpy dusty dirt road for a few hours to reach this group who live by the river. They are lucky as they have water. This is where Lale is from ( the fellow from Omo CHild) and John Rowe, a professional photographer, arranged with the Kara that if they quite practising Mingi he would build them a water pump. And they have which is wonderful. The government also bui lt them a school so more kids will go and don't have to walk for an entire day to get there. They used to just come home on weekends.
We again had a local guy who showed us around, he speaks the Kara language. We had everyone following us of course. The other couple from Australia was there too, but they stayed in a different area. The decoration is completely different once again. They paint their bodies with white clay which keeps them cooler. Being by the river here is a very comfortable temperature in the shade however.
I had a hard time figuring out which were boys or girls, unless I looked at their chest. It is funny because after a while you don't even notice that they are either half or fully naked. They are all so incredibly beautiful and the face painting and beads only enhance the beauty. Some have a nail through their lips, a piercing, or sticks through their ears.
I asked the guide if they would dance with me, this seemed like a lively and happy group. He picked out a few who he thought would be good and they agreed. There were a group of teenage girls who were just too cool for this however, there was no way they were going to humiliate themselves.
We had such a great time laughing and dancing. We all really enjoyed it and it is a great ice breaker. I gave them each some Birr but also a package of 10 razor blades which they appreciated.
Then came the picture taking, they all want their photos taken for 5 birr (30 cents). We want to please everyone but there are just too many, so we pick who we want. Fuad is great because he has worked with professional photographers so knows where I should shoot them with the light and background . Some would ask me again, change something and I would say "I have already taken your picture"
'No....no you haven't " in their own language but you knew what they were saying. Then we would smile and they knew that I was on to them.
The men get the AK47s from the Sudanese and Kenyan armies. They use them mostly for killing animals but have been known to kill enemy's as well. Some of the tribes feud a lot.
We are picture taken out and duck into a hut to have a cold drink. Only men allowed but they make an exception for tourists. I never drink pop but here it is very welcome for the refreshing cold drink but also the sugar to restore some energy. There are not a lot of choices but usually I can find Sprite or if all else fails a Fanta. Coke is the favourite for the locals.
Back at the hotel Fuad wants to take us for a walk down to a river or something. We say " no thanks, we are done and need some down time"
We were supposed to go to see another tribe tomorrow but after speaking to some of the other travellers find that it is very dusty and windy there. Bad for the camera and not so great for us either.
Over dinner we tell Fuad that we don't want to go. We have seen the best of the best, we don't need to check off a bunch of boxes and go for 12 hours a day non stop. I just cant keep up this pace, I am exhausted. It is all so amazing but we have five more weeks to go.
He said that most of his clients want to see everything and do as much as possible. We hopefully convinced him that he is a great guide and that we are very satisfied with all that we have seen, we are really happy, but need some down time.
For the next couple of days I really just want to be here. Experience being in Ethiopia and see the landscape and the rural village and people and learn about their way of life.
So we changed the itinerary, which is great. I loved our hotel but could not bear another night here with out a fan. Tomorrow we will head back to Arba Minch and then the last night in Awasa by the lake. This means that we have two days of only 4 hours driving instead of one day of 8. Suits us just fine.
Fuad wanted us to visit the local market in Turmi. It doesn't start till 11AM, this gives all the people in the outlying areas time to walk here as it takes many of them hours and sometimes overnight to do so. We arrived at 1030 and it was no where near ready to start so we convinced him that nothing could be better than the Hamer market anyhow, we could just push on.
The country side changes so much every few hours. At one point we see a herd of camels cross in front of us. They are raised to meat and sold to Saudi Arabia. Young boys of around 10 spend a couple of weeks tending them, sleeping with them, and only eating bread and drinking camel milk. They are afraid if they eat anything else they may get sick and these camels are so important they cant risk anything going wrong
All the children we are are so happy, playing and smiling all the time. They do have to help out with the work at a very young age however. It is common to see boys as young as 5 with machetes ( We wont even let ours have a table knife!). They also go all day with the goats and cows to graze. School is either morning or afternoon, but a lot of kids only get to grade 3 and then have to drop out to help with the chores.
When we are driving kids run up to the car, when they see a Toyota Land Cruiser they know we are tourists, they hold out their hand and say "highland". This is the name of the bottled water and they want the empties to use to fill with water or home made juice
We stopped for lunch and then picked up another local guide to take us for a walk through a Konzo village which was quite different from the others. A lot of rock was brought in to make walls and divisions of areas.
Back at Paradise Lodge in Arba Minsch we are greeted by the staff like we are old friends. A cold wet towel and juice is very appreciated. At dinner we see once again many of our traveller friends, heading in different directions tomorrow.
Wednesday Feb 14.
I woke at 6 to watch the sunrise on our terrace looking over the lake. I could hear the howler monkeys and animals making lots of noise below in the forest. This was a wonderful start to the day.
Our drive today is ONLY 4 hours over many large hills and the scenery changes often again. It is getting much cooler again the further north we go. We stopped for a Macciato and mango juice half way and it was very cool sitting outside on the grass. A welcome change.
On the way we passed lots of farms and kids selling fresh produce on the side of the road. We stopped and Fuad negotiated a price for a bunch of bananas and a huge papaya to enjoy later on.
Lewi resort in Awasha is beautiful. We are on the lake and there are many gardens and monkeys running around. It is valentines day, a relatively new holiday in Ethiopia, and we find that our twin beds have red rose pedals sprinkled on them.
The resteraunt is all decked out with tables of two and pink table cloths and red balloons.
Fuad met us for dinner and we enjoyed our last night together. We had to put on light jackets tonight as it was quite cool. This town is high in the mountains so a popular vacation spot for Ethiopians.
It was a real treat to have a relaxing morning sitting by the lake and finally getting a chance to work on this blog . The weather is quite cool but such a wonderful change. The Mango juice this morning was extra delicious.
At 10am we start our drive north and find that we are sharing the road with many big transport trucks. Ethiopia is really doing a great deal of road building and construction everywhere. The roads are terrible, but they are working on them
When we were in the south we found that the big trucks would hang branches of hawthorne trees on the back so that kids wouldn't climb on and go for a ride.
We pass by many farms, huge greenhouses of roses for export, fields for cotton , winery's and and strawberry fields.
THe smaller towns seem to have a lot of plastic garbage on the side of the road but the villages and larger cities are spotless. People take great pride in their homes and the outside and inside is also spotless and tidy.
A break was at a lovely place on a lake and we enjoyed probably our last machiato coffee in Ethiopia.
After a few more hours we stopped again for some fresh strawberries which were delicious.
Back to the Sidra hotel in Addis Abbaba and we say our goodbyes to Fuad. He was such a great driver and guide. He wanted to go out for a traditional dinner tonight but we politely declined.
Tonight is going to be getting organized for the next part of our trip. Uganda.
Ethiopia is an amazing country. It is very large and we only covered a small portion of it but even so we found it quite diverse in not only landscape by the people and culture as well.
The people are very fit and healthy looking and incredibly attractive. Everyone we met is calm and friendly and very welcoming. I am very glad that we came here.
here is a video of my trip.
click here for video