Yabello, Ethiopia | 9 April, 2007 | $5.68
Due to our extra day in Turmi driving around dirt tracks for five hours in search of a bull jumpers we had to make up time. We quickly made our way back East toward the main road at the town of Yabello—a nine hour journey. Along the way we did spare some time to stop at a village named Machekie, where we saw interesting houses and swarms of children. One of my travelmates had grown bored with the landscape a few days prior and spent our long car rides watching The Colbert Report on his iPod (it would still be a few months until the iPhone launched). As we drove through the dusty terrain the silence would suddenly be pierced by a sharp laugh completely out of context. I couldn’t help but wonder what our driver thought of us before going back to staring out the window, waiting for a glimpse of a traditional house or a beautifully-adorned woman.
I’m not sure if Yabello is much of a town because we only saw our hotel which sat directly beside the main road to Addis. The pool room with a painting of dogs playing pool and shiny UN SUV were shocking contrasts to our three nights in Turmi.
There are a few lonely photos of of the road to Yabello in the gallery.
Turmi, Ethiopia | 8 April, 2007 | $3.41
Our original plan didn’t include a three night stay in Turmi, we had only stopped in order to catch the traditional market day in Dimeka. Most towns have one day a week where the market sets up and people from different tribes in the surrounding area come to buy and sell goods. One woman around my age took a shine to me and found a kid who could translate—she wanted to know why I was wearing so many clothes! She went on to pet my (blonde) arm hair, take my earrings out and question how my tongue piercing worked.
She was definitely as fascinated by me as I was by her and her wonderful beadwork. Hammer woman are responsible for their own animal skin garments and are proud of their handiwork. When I asked about cleaning the hide she told me that if it gets dirty she just rubs it with the same dirt that she uses on her skin and hair.
Up until this point I hadn’t eaten any meat in Ethiopia because of the large Orthodox Christian population strictly following lent. Easter morning in Turmi consisted of blaring Shakira before dawn and a bowl of boiled, unflavored meat for breakfast. The owners were so excited I couldn’t turn it down.
Our unplanned third night in Turmi was due to our five hour drive trying to find a rumored bull jumping ceremony. We didn’t find it and when we tried to take the direct road out in the morning it had flooded enough to warrant our driver to wade in to check the depth and decide to take the long way—a two hour detour. Now more than halfway through our roadtrip through the South Omo Zone and days away from the main road, we started heading East.
Turmi, Ethiopia | 7 April, 2007 | $3.41
Turmi wasn’t much of a town. The dusty orange dirt road ran through a few concrete structures, and we stationed ourselves down the road at one of the only hotels in the area. We each had our own cement cell which became oppressively hot with the door closed. A large, covered restaurant stood in the middle of the dirt clearing where we spent our nights drinking beer, eating injera and dancing with the owner’s friends and family.
From the holes in our shower’s wall I could see across the expansive countryside dotted with traditional twig huts of the Hammer Tribe. The closest Hammer village put on a dance for the three of us one night in a clearing down the road. One girl took the opportunity of a dark night to run over and give me a kiss while she was waiting her turn to dance. I was surprised but I admit all of those stars are pretty romantic.
More photos of Turmi can be seen in the gallery.
More than anything else on the road, I’m interested in seeing how local cultures live and how they dress. Textile design and traditional costuming are something I will go out of my way to see and the Mursi are known for their atypical adornments. Because Mursi women are so well known for stretching their lips with heavy clay plates they are used to seeing tourists. However, this is pretty far off the main road—it’s a 3-4 day drive to Jinka and another 3-4 hours outside of town.
The Mursi are not too welcoming and we were required to pay a national park fee, hire an armed Mursi guard and pay entrance to the village itself. Throughout our eleven days in the South Omo we only saw one or two other tourist vehicles and never ran into any tourists out and about. There the three of us stood in front of a village of painted Mursi, all asking to have their picture taken.
The whole situations was odd, with each snap of my camera requiring a 1bihr payment (approximately $0.12 USD). I prefer portrait photography when traveling, especially with such interestingly dressed subjects, but as they posed it felt all wrong. I don’t deny their right to request payment and I didn’t feel taken advantage of in this select case. However, paying per shot for each person in a shot makes casual and spontaneous pictures impossible. I was glad that I had the foresight to go to a bank in Addis to purchase stacks of tiny 1bihr notes. The Mursi were serious about payment, did not give change and turned away damaged bills, even as they tucked them into their mud covered clothing.
There we all stood, asking individuals to pose while they counted each press of the shutter—no double exposures! One woman posed for me and popped out a baby hidden on her back at the last second, then demanded payment for the baby as well. I was taken aback but there was no arguing when you’re surrounded by men armed with rifles and machetes. As we prepared to leave some men began to rock our car and threaten to push it into the river unless we paid them a special fee. We had never intended to not pay but they got their point across.
We gave two teenage women a ride to Jinka to exchange money and buy supplies. With hours to kill they loosened up and joked around with us, looking through my Lonely Planet guidebook and gasping in horror when I showed them my tongue piercing. You’d think women with stretched earlobes and lips dangling past their chins wouldn’t be shocked by the metal stud in my tongue!
More photos of the Mursi village can be seen in the gallery. Photo of girl braiding my hair by my travelmate, Jay.
Jinka, Ethiopia | 5 April, 2007 | $5.68
Jinka is a sizable town in the remote Southwest area of Ethiopia near the borders of Sudan and Kenya. It was also home to a fascinating little museum that’s part of the South Omo Research Center. I enjoyed the chance to walk around town and people watch. It wasn’t a market day so I found people playing ping pong, kicking a soccer ball around and congregating on the side of the road to see a huge snake someone had killed.
Arba, Minch | 3 April, 2007 | $5.68
We stuck around Arba Minch for another day to meet up with our travel partner, who took a short flight from Addis Ababa. Driving around Nechisar National Park, I saw my first wild zebra! What a contrast from Tanzania, when zebras were so plentiful that I stopped being impressed.
Arba, Minch | 2 April, 2007 | $3.40
During our second day on the road we stopped for gas in a town named Ziway where I first noticed how popular fooseball is in Ethiopia. Kids and young men played on dusty tables on street corners and hung around waiting for a free table.
In the afternoon we veered off the main road to visit a market village named Dorze where locals build very distinctive, beehive-shaped houses. Wandering the market proved great people-watching with interesting goods like cotton, potatoes and imported items like blankets and umbrellas.
Wondo Genet, Ethiopia | 1 April, 2007 | $5.68
My rough plan for Ethiopia was to head up North first and then find some people to join me for a trip around the South. I had been worried about timing because rainy season was on the way, which makes navigating many roads in Southern Ethiopia impossible. I also worried about meeting people to share a car with—public transport in the South is possible but I would miss out on a lot of places I wanted to see.
When the two Americans mentioned sharing a car I jumped on the chance and spent my first day in Ethiopia running around trying to get enough cash to pay for our Land Rover, driver and get spending cash to last the 11 days we would be gone.
Our first day and a half on the road was spent with just two of us and our driver, until the other guy got back from his interview. There’s only one descent road South from Addis Ababa and we stopped at a tiny town called Ziway to refuel and had a bit of time to walk around Lake Shala.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | 31 March, 2007 | $2.60 (my portion of a 2-bed room)
Although I arrived from the airport with two Americans, one left the next day for an interview in the Middle East so we switched to a double room. Before his flight the three of us explored Addis a bit and had a nice dinner where we randomly met an unapologetic sex tourist from New York City.
After I skip more than a few days of posting on my “Where I Slept” series I never catch up. For that reason I’m going to skip ahead from where we left off in January and transport us from India to Ethiopia—skipping over Southern India, Jordan and Egypt. Don’t worry, I’ll fill in the blanks eventually. I’m excited to write about Ethiopia because I wrote so little about it here at the time.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | 30 March, 2007 | $2.27 (my portion of a 3-bed room)
My first night in Ethiopia was shared with two American men I met at 3am in the airport parking lot. It’s hard to explain how much my usual decision-making process changes while I’m traveling. Normally I would not approach two strangers in a dark parking lot, let alone agree to share a taxi, then a room with them. Who does that!? I rely on my instincts on the road and my instincts told me that I could trust these guys more than riding alone in the middle of the night into a city I know little about.
When we arrived at the hotel and the nightwatchman pulled aside the rusted metal gate to allow the driver into the compound I was glad that I wasn’t alone. We were told that they had a 3-bed room. Fine, I said, we’ll take it. This is how I met the two men I spent the next two weeks with traveling around Ethiopia.