It was a most uncomfortable night for Sue who woke in the early hours of the morning feeling hot and unwell and chose to sleep on the cooler floor beside the bed and out of the protection of the mosquito net. Of course, the mozzies did not miss such a golden opportunity and opted to graze on her exposed legs. By the time a huge thunderstorm struck around 4 am she had migrated back into bed feeling much better. For two hours we listened to the ripples of thunderous crashes overhead before deciding to shower and go for an early breakfast. As I waited for Sue to vacate the bathroom I videoed a lone baboon sitting nonchalantly just a few metres from our balcony watching the smoke rise from several chimney fires in the forest below, the locals were starting breakfast in their houses hidden beneath the trees. After a few moments of contemplation, he slowly ambled off.
After breakfast, the group met up and we were on the road for 8 am. The drive to see the Konso people took just over an hour. The lands of the Konso have been designated a World Heritage Site for the way they cultivate subsistence crops on terraces. We picked up a tour guide on our way through the township from the tourism offices and then continued to one of their preserved villages, higher up the mountain.
The Konso erect totems in honour of their dead and also to celebrate every 18 years the village has been in existence. We walked crocodile fashion along narrow stone-walled alleyways which weaved in between compounds containing their unique thatch-roofed houses. This was a busy village and the locals had to squeeze past us as they went about their business. On one occasion we had to carefully tread past a group of elderly gentlemen playing a strange board game involving small coloured balls. Curious children would tag, wide-eyed and smiling with us for a while until they got too far from their compound.
We came across two of their totems set in the middle of a wide terrace and their accompanying 50-kilo stones that the youths of the village had to lift and toss over their heads to prove that they were of marrying age.
With lots of stumbling along rock-strewn paths and plenty of smiles and ‘hellos’ from villagers, we eventually exhausted our cameras and made our way back to the bus. A mile or so back down the mountain we stopped for a delightful lunch just outside the town which gave wonderful views of the valley below.
The afternoon was a very long drive to our accommodation for the night in the Omo Valley. It wasn’t without incident. The first part of the journey was along reasonably surfaced roads, but after 20 km or so, the surface was no more than a bone-shaking gravel and soil track. To make things worse as we entered the mountains the heavens opened and we had another tremendous storm that turned the road into a river at times. We could see people within their houses located on fields on either side of the road sitting in inches deep water from the flood. The animals looked equally miserable attempting some sort of shelter underneath bushes. I felt so sorry for them, but I guess this must be a regular occurrence, and are resigned to their fate.
Many, many miles on, speeding along puddle-pocked, mud tracks we accidentally soaked a man standing at the side of the road. Our driver stopped to apologise but this only created a situation where the man (a drunk community policeman) refused to accept any apology or indeed any money as compensation and just wanted to rant as long as possible. Quite a crowd developed to see what the fuss was about, and though things never got out of hand, after 15 minutes of pointless gesturing by the man we gave up and drove on.
We arrived at our accommodation the Buska Lodge, just as the sun was setting. Its online advertising sums it up well: Situated in the heart of Southern Ethiopia in the Omo Valley, Buska Lodge is an unpretentious eco-lodge offering travellers the best accommodation and meal service in this region. We checked in and had a decent evening meal before retiring to our lodges before the power was switched off at 10.30 pm.
After a very comfortable night’s sleep under a very efficient mosquito net, we woke to the sound of an unfamiliar bird’s song. We delayed rising to savour the sounds of Africa for a little while until the need to shower and dress took precedence.
For breakfast, an omelette and coffee were chosen by both of us to charge the batteries for what promised to be another long and active day.
The group was on the road just after 8 am and we settled ourselves for the 75 km drive to Omorate to visit the Daasanach tribe. The journey went well along good quality roads and we made good time, even after stopping to photograph a couple of termite mounds with spectacular chimneys, reaching at least 6 m.
Suddenly we stopped and our guide and driver began to question the Ethiopian driver of a pick-up parked at the side of the road. It transpired that we had just driven 75 km in the wrong direction. Embarrassing for them both, but all in our party, though disappointed were realistic and of course this IS Africa and you should expect the unexpected and adjust accordingly.
On the return to Buska Lodge, we again stopped, this time to photograph a large flock of goats crossing the road. As is usual, this was spotted by unseen locals and we soon had company. Luckily, they were from the Daasanach tribe with their distinct hair colouring made from butter and natural red soil and wearing skimpy, brightly coloured clothing. The first to appear was a small family group and was soon joined by more extended family members. Photographs of locals are usually concluded with some sort of payment, this time it was chocolate bars and a small payment of money. I was bemused that one of the family members refused to accept the notes that were offered because they were too dirty and our guide had to dig out some newer ones before they were accepted. I wondered whether (fresh from the pandemic) he understood that currency could be a carrier of Covid and that was the reason for refusal.
We continued on our way to arrive back at the lodge half an hour before lunch. It being an Eco establishment there was no electricity on for our unexpected return, but this IS Africa, and the staff set about providing adequate sustenance for our party of eleven.
Afterwards, we relaxed in our powerless lodges until 3 pm when we assembled again to attempt a visit to another of the local native tribe’s people.
The afternoon short drive to see the Hamer tribe was under the threat of an advancing storm, thankfully, other than an increase in humidity the clouds decided to remain on the horizon and drench another part of the Omo Valley.
The Hamer tribes are pastoralists who place great importance on cattle, though they also keep flocks of goats to supplement their diet. The village was a typical affair of circular thatched structures of stick walls with the gaps not filled in with daubed mud, no doubt this allows the passage of cooling air, necessary in this hot part of the country.
The males of the tribe may take up to four wives, the first one is chosen for them by the father, and the next one the husband chooses. Often the third and fourth wives are kidnapped to help out with cooking and farming duties. They have rituals before marrying, the males have a bull-jumping ceremony to prove their masculinity and the women have a whipping ritual conducted by the bride’s mother. We were shown one young girl with terrible scars across her back from the whipping her mother gave her. Sounds and looks awful, but we have to remember these are from a vastly different culture and they accept it. Who are we to judge?
As a group, we wandered the village taking many photos of willing tribesmen, women, and children. They were excited to see us and only too pleased to stand patiently for the camera shutter.
Of course, we had to see their only water source which was just a short walk outside the village. We had been warned to cover up to avoid biting flies and those of us who had were grateful for that bit of advice when we neared the muddy pond used by villagers and animals alike.
The villagers were friendly, but past contact with tourists had made them wiser in the ways of the world and some were persistent in trying to beg for anything that they could see we were carrying or wearing. They had a little success with some members of our party.
Returning through the village allowed us to take more photos and our guide to hand over the ‘camera fees’ collected beforehand and due to be paid to the headman. We boarded the bus and returned the short distance to Buska Lodge.
For once there was time to relax in our lodge before having our evening meal and settling down for the night.
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