It was the kind of trip we like best - rambling along on dirt and gravel roads in remote areas where non 4-wheel vehicles are prohibited – for good reason. We had two of those amazingly durable Land Rovers with very likable drivers (Fish and Daniel), our super competent guide, Tes, to whom we became very attached, and three friends who like the same sorts of things we do and never complained about early departures, breakfasts and dinners that were sometimes minimal or limited, plumbing issues (including at various times no water, no hot water, toilets that didn't work, leaking fixtures, wet bathroom floors and one exploding hot water tank), biting flies, power outages, and, occasional rock-hard beds. We did laugh a lot about all that though. The funny thing about the exploding hot water heater (funnier since it was in our friends’ unit, not ours) was that Judi had seen a caution about that on Trip Advisor and printed that page and even highlighted the comment but she had forgotten it and only later did we notice it when looking through the travel booklet we had assembled to bring on the trip.
You wouldn’t believe the number of times we had to slow down for animals on the road and then dodge them or simply stop completely. Once we had to stop for a large troop of baboons, one of which jumped on our hood and peered through the windshield at us. We would rarely drive for more than 5 or 10 minutes between incidents. We learned what it would cost (on the spot) if we hit a goat, a cow or, worse, a camel.
Sometimes we would stop for a closer look at a road scene such as a particularly picturesque donkey cart or just to visit with people. Our guide would exchange pleasantries and sometimes we would pay a couple of Birr (a Birr is 6 cents) to take pictures. We stopped once next to a truck loaded with pineapples to purchase some. Judi bought jewelry from some girls who we stopped to visit. Another time when we had stopped to stretch and take some pictures, an elderly blind man came by headed to/from God knows where. Tes chatted a bit with him and gave him a full water bottle. He was hesitant to accept it as he did not understand what it was. Ethiopia is a very communal country and it just seems normal for people to help one another – all the time. People were kind, sweet and gentle everywhere. We noticed Tes and our drivers giving small amounts of money to people on numerous occasions.
The dress and appearance of the people in this region was quite dramatic, with their colorful clothes and distinctive jewelry and we were always trying to snap pictures on the fly as we passed. You have to have a quick responding camera for that. We would sometimes pass small towns, and the very third-world scenes and markets in these instances were striking to see.
The scenery was beautiful and ever-changing with the slightest variations in altitude. Some stretches were desert-like, some resembled the American southwest, and some lush, green areas looked very much like Costa Rica with coffee, bananas and papaya groves. Mountains were often in view in the distance, Bird life was quite prolific. We saw large numbers eagles of various types, dramatic hornbills, huge maribu storks, many colorful small birds and flocks of flamingoes.
Just about every aspect of the personal appearance of the tribal members is dramatic, from their clothing and jewelry to their use of scarification. Members of some tribes further enhance their appearance with flowers, leaves, grasses, shells and body paint. It is a real art form and there are some excellent books that treat it as such, e.g., Silvester, Ethiopia: Peoples of the Omo Valley (2007).
It must be said that village visits are pretty superficial. Natives these days await visitors and very likely some are more made up than they would be if they did not expect visitors. They often meet you just outside their village. You can see their villages but don’t learn much about their way of life during your visit. Rather, village visits, from their perspective, are all about posing for photos for pay (2 Birr per person). While you don’t gain much insight into village life, you do see where and how they live and you come away with a fantastic photo record. You can learn a lot more about village life by talking with your guide.
Given the friendliness of the country and its cultural and geographic diversity, it is surprising how few travelers we encountered–one Japanese group, one Israeli group and one Norwegian group and a few Dutch, Italian and German travelers. We did not encounter a single American in the south.
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