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As far as African cities go, Addis Ababa is a pretty typical, it somehow thrives in apparent chaos. We stayed in the beautiful Sheraton Hotel, it is one of the finest hotels the city has to offer and has all the creature comforts that we would be lacking on the rest of the trip (Wi-Fi, great restaurants and air-conditioning).
We spent the afternoon visiting the Merkato (Africas largest open-air market, it covers several square kilometers). Merkato is the Italian name for a market, held onto from the 5 year period of Italian Military occupation in the late 1930’s. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa never to have had a colonial ruler.
The market is a hive of activity and it is said that there is almost nothing you cant buy, if you know where to look. The people and the vibrant colours of the wares in theory, make it a photographers paradise, but in reality, driving around is the best way to get a feel for it, as the market itself so busy that it makes photography difficult on foot.
Ethiopian Airlines have a monopoly over all the domestic routes and their haphazard schedules and not great ‘on-time’ performance leaves many travellers frustrated. For this very reason we had organized a private charter – a Cessna Caravan – for all our domestic flights across the country.
The 1.5 hour flight north towards the Rock hewn churches of Lalibela gives you your first real taste of the incredible landscape of Ethiopia.
The churches are built as a tribute to King Lalibela, who set out to construct in the 12th century a ‘New Jerusalem’, after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land. The 11 monolithic rock-hewn churches have to be seen to be believed, the scale of the work that was involved is quite something, and the churches have been and are still are used to this day.
The World Heritage Site Simien Mountains National Park was the next spot on our safari, famous for its beautiful scenery, troops of Gelada’s, Walia Ibex, and small population of Ethiopian Wolves. The park contains some of the most beautiful terrain I have seen anywhere in Africa. We ventured deeper and higher into the park on our second day, as the Walia Ibex and Ethiopian Wolf prefer the habitat at a much higher altitude, and the highest we climbed to was 13 900ft! It was well worth it however, as we got a great view of a few Walia Ibex. But unfortunately, no wolves were seen this time.
The highlight for us though was spending time with the incredible Geladas, they are just such fun to watch and hang out with. Every morning and evening they are found near the edges of the cliffs, and they spend the cold nights hanging from the rock faces safe from any prowling leopards. The hour or so before they descend or after they have ascended provides fantastic opportunities to photograph them with picturesque views behind them.
After 4 days ‘out in the field’, a night in the Sheraton is a fantastic luxury.
The Omo Valley is a fascinating place that seems to have remained – until very recently – untouched by the outside world. 14 fascinating tribes call the Omo Valley their home. Each one different to the next, but all equally unusual. We stayed in two different locations to ensure we got to see a few of the different tribes. The accommodation in the Omo Valley is very rustic but for the most part, comfortable.
Our first stop was the small town of Turmi, and here we stayed at Buska Lodge. We were fortunate to be able to witness a Hamar Tribe during their bull jumping ceremony on our first evening. Young men who have come of age are required to jump over a line of bulls with their whole village watching. Fall and slip during the several runs on the bulls back and the young man may never be desirable to anyone for an arranged marriage. The bull jumping ceremony was up there with the most interesting, harsh and ‘out-there’ experiences I have ever witnessed. We also visited the Karo and Daasanech tribes while staying in Turmi.
Our second stop was Eco Omo Lodge in the town of Jinka, about a 3 hour drive from Turmi. On the way we were lucky enough to witness an Ari Tribe market day.
Anyone who has ever heard of the Omo Valley has no doubt heard of the notorious Mursi Tribe. Staying in Jinka puts the Omo National Park, the head of Mursi Territory, pretty much at your doorstep.
This tribe is well known for its scarification, teeth pulling and lip rings. Apparently the original body mutilation was because of the slave trade that came through in the 1800’s and the tribe quickly realized than the ugly people were not wanted as slaves. Pulling out your two front teeth and placing a large ceramic disk in your lip therefore made you less desirable to the slave traders.
Ethiopia is really a fascinating place to visit and as long as your are prepared to have very basic accommodation and food, then you will no doubt have an incredible time. But like so many places in Africa and the world, Ethiopia is a place that needs to be seen sooner rather than later!
“Just over a week into my safari and I wonder how I’ve changed, if at all. Certainly the experiences I’ve had and things I’ve seen have shaped me in someway. But then, as if by some ancient, unspeakable memory, I remember… it’s in my blood.”