Ethiopia Part 1
Ethiopia is a comparatively large country by African standards and with a diverse range of habitats and cultures it’s easy to spend six to eight weeks here as there’s so much to see and do.
We started in the southern town of Jinka which is near Mago National Park and close to the Omo Valley, the tribes of which are increasingly becoming a popular tourist attraction.
After jumping in a local van we headed off to a Mursi tribe about 50km out of town. After a tour of the village we spent half a day with the tribe sitting in the shade under trees and drinking local tea.
The Mursi are agro-pastoralists and live in circular thatched roofed huts usually close to a river so they can collect water and their cattle and goats can drink.
The older Mursi woman wear wooden circular lip plates which they started doing two hundred years ago during the slave trade to make themselves unattractive to the slave traders.
The men take part in the local custom of stick fighting which is called Dongo. The fight is symbolic and the adversary has to be defeated without being killed.
While I was there the Chief offered me two young brides dressed in blue. I had to pay 38 cows and two AK-47’s for each. Then he explained they came as a set and I had to take them both. Two wives for seventy six cows and four Kalashnikovs !!
The following day it was ‘Hammer Time’ and we drove further south to within a few miles of the South Sudan border to a village of the Hammer Tribe. The Chief allowed us to camp inside the village and we put up the tent with the help of the local kids next to the goat compound.
We spent the afternoon at a local coffee ceremony which tasted more like tea than coffee and then checked out the local river and played soccer with the kids.
After another half day with the tribe we began the two day drive to Addis. The entire route was lined with fields and various types of agriculture and scattered villages.
The plan was to spend four days in Addis to apply for our Sudanese visa. After a week of injera for lunch amd dinner we opted for pizza on our first night in Addis. The following morning, the visa applications were submitted and rather than sit around in Addis, which isn’t the most inspiring of cities, we hired a van and headed six hundred kilometers east towards Somalia, to the old walled city of Harar.
Harar sits about 130km from the Somali border and I thought we’d be driving across miles of semi desert to a old walled city similar to those I’d visited in Chad and Niger last year. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
After exiting Awash NP we started to climb through fertile hills, lush plantations and countless small villages. The entire route was awash with wet season rain as people in local villages ran for cover and torrents of water ran down the gutterless streets.
The last two hours of our drive was at night dodging cattle, pedestrians, cyclists, potholes and broken down vehicles without a street light in sight.
We spent our first day entirely within the thousand year old walled city, walking the maze of colorful alleyways and back streets.
Before long we were totally lost but the city is only small and our local guide took us to the museum and Cultural Centre and one of our group, Sam even had a dress made while we had lunch.
We visited the coffee processing plant where I stocked up on local Harar coffee for the remaining six weeks of the trip north to Alexandria. I’ve sampled local coffee in Uganda, Cameroon, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania but Ethiopian Coffee is definitely the best. Unfortunately coffee plantations are being dug up and replaced with the native plant, Khat, an addictive stimulant which is chewed like Coca leaves in South America.
The next two nights we drove down to the city wall to where the Hyena Man has been feeding some of the local Hyenas for the last thirty years.
The Spotted Hyena have been living in harmony with the locals for at least 500yrs but things went a bit awry during a famine in the 1960’s when the hyena began taking livestock and the odd child. A village elder started feeding the hyenas regularly and since then they have stopped attacking livestock. Yusuf Mume Saleh has been the ‘Hyena Man’ for decades but now his son Abbas does the job.
In the headlights of our van we waited and slowly out of the darkness fifteen wild Spotted Hyena emerged from the surrounding bush. Abbas started throwing some meat around and called them in. The larger matriarchal female fed first and not long after it was my turn to sit on a nearby rock and join the feeding. I firstly hand fed them and then put the stick in my mouth with some meat on it and it took the meat in one quick bite.
The next time I did it, another hyena jumped on my back and another few came in closer. It was an amazing experience.
Not long afterwards, after some laughing and yelping and a few squabbles among the younger hyenas, they all slipped away into the night.
Rather than the unattractive vicious powerful predators I’d seen in East African game parks, these animals were clean, friendly, intelligent and had personality. It was easy to see, especially when one jumps on your back, just how big and strong they are and how they’re capable of taking on lions.
From Harar we drove back onto the hot plains of the Afar Region, not all that far from where I was in Djbouti last year. After half a day we arrived at the Doho Lodge and hot springs. It was about 35 degrees and a swim in a hot thermal pool wasn’t what I really wanted to do but it washed the dust off and was refreshing standing around in the breeze after I got out.
After a lunch of Injera we headed back north towards Weldiya.
I’m only halfway through my time in Ethiopia and its certainly one of Africa’s most beautiful and spectacular countries and like many other countries on the continent, it’s poor and grossly over populated. Unlike most poor African countries where the people are happy, inviting, smiling and friendly, Ethiopians are an unfriendly, suspicious bunch more interested in trying to scam, steal or con money out of you than genuinely and warmly welcoming you to their country. The food is also the worst I’ve had in any of the thirty-two African countries I’ve visited. Apart from the traditional meal Injera just about everything else served up is usually bland, processed and un-nutritious. Ten days in Ethiopia and I’m yearning and planning to return to West Africa ASAP.
Over the next fortnight we’ll head up to Lalibela and Gondar and trek the Simien Mountains before crossing into Sudan.
Bye for now .