After arriving in Addis, the capital of Ethiopia, and relaxing for a few days I decided to visit some of the tribes in the south of Ethiopia. I had heard that they were in a very remote area and that it was mandatory to hire a guide and 4WD to visit them but as I was a single traveler and cant stand tours, I decided to try and do it by myself instead.
After flying into a small town called Arba-Minch I found a shared local mini van taxi that was going down to a town called Konso, still a long way from my destination but one step closer. I have had a number of scary bus rides in my travels but this turned out to be one of the scariest. The young driver and his friend were racing another mini van down the potholed filled road, swerving around people and various animals at serious speed, horn blaring, warning everyone to get out of the way. A group of vultures who were feasting on some road kill didn't heed the horn and we collected one on the windscreen as we zoomed over it. Our driver was hooting and laughing hysterically while me and all the other passengers crammed in the back glanced at each other nervously. We reached Konso intact albeit a little shaken.
I was told that to continue south to the next town I would have to pay for a ride on the back of an Izuzu truck. The best information that I could get was that the next truck would probably leave at around 7pm in the evening because the roads were too hot and the truck drivers preferred to leave in the evenings when the roads were cooler and less damaging to their truck tires.
Being impatient and not wanting to wait this long I decided to try and hitch, not an easy task when only a couple of cars were coming past each hour. While sitting by the side of the road waiting and baking in the sun I met a local kid who offered to accompany me and be my guide for a few days. After a bit of haggling we negotiated a price, about the equivalent of 10 USD a day.
We eventually managed to flag down a car. The occupants were a wealthy Ethiopian couple who were heading down near the Kenyan border to check out some land for farming and we asked if we could ride in the back of their truck. They said they could take us as long as we didn't mind sitting in the flatbed on-top of some sandbags they were using to weigh the car down. So on we jumped and off we went.
After a few hours of driving my guide told me to lie down and hide as we were coming to a military check-point and that the police could be difficult and corrupt. By this time it was dark and as the police flashed their lights over the back of the truck I unsuccessfully tried to hide behind the sandbags and the policeman asked to see my passport.
There wasn't any electricity at the checkpoint so the police were checking my passport using our car headlights. They were also looking through the drivers papers and arguing with him in Amheric (The main Ethiopian language), I didn't know what was going on but kept hearing the word 'Farengi' which means foreigner, ie; me.
My guide nervously explained to me that they were getting into trouble for giving me a lift as it was illegal to give foreigners a ride. The police then turned to my guide and started shouting at him because he was not a registered guide and apparently should not have come with me. It didn't help that my guide had been chewing chat, (a plant that has a similar effect to cocaine), all day and was as high as a kite. I was then told that the police were going to hold me as I apparently didn't have the proper permission documents to be in the area. I started arguing with them pointing at the Ethiopian visa in my passport and saying that it allowed me to go anywhere but to no avail. After a little more arguing my guide told me that the police were going to accompany us to the main police station about 3 hours drive away. One of the policemen got in our car and off we went.
Approximately 2 hours later we came across a river that was completely in flood. A truck had tried to cross the river but had gotten stuck and was half submerged in the fast current and completely blocking our way across.
It was close to midnight at this time, we were in the middle of nowhere and I was extremely tired from my long day. I had been travelling for 18 hours solid at that stage. My guide who had started to sober up said there was a small village about 2 kilometers over the river where we could find a bed for the night. I asked him to talk to the policeman and see if we could cross the river on foot and sleep in the village as the river obviously wouldn't be crossable by car until morning but the policeman stubbornly said no.
It was a cold night which I hadn't expected, so I hadn't bought any warm clothes with me (I had left my large pack back in Addis so I could travel light for hitchhiking).
I lay down in the dirt by the river covering myself with a light raincoat to keep in what little heat I had left and tried to get some sleep but woke up shivering after a couple of hours. When I looked up I saw the policeman in his warm full-length army gear with heavy boots sitting on the bank directly above me cradling his Kalashnikov (old russian rifle).
I felt anger build up inside me because I was cold and fed up and somewhat foolishly started shouting at the policeman saying that I was cold and sick and that I didn't care what he wanted to do, I was going to cross the river and find a bed and that he had my passport anyway where the hell could I go, we were in the middle of nowhere. There were quite a few F… this and F… that's thrown into my rant and the policeman just looked at me with the same infuriatingly dull expression that he had had all night and shook his head. My guide grabbed me and dragged me away telling me that the policeman had cocked his gun while I was ranting and it would be best if I just went back to the car.
I got back in the flatbed of the truck and drifted in and out of sleep for the next few hours until the sun rose and a tractor from the next town came out and pulled the flooded truck out from the river allowing us to pass.
Finally we reached the police station, if you could call it that, at about 9am. When the police chef arrived to hear our case he asked to see our passports, got angry at the policeman that had held us, said sorry for the misunderstanding and that we could continue on our way. What a waste of time! I think that the only reason that I was let go and not kicked out of the area was because I was with wealthy Ethiopian investors and the police chief was embarrassed by the way they had been treated.
Later that day while wandering through town I met 4 dutch girls that I had seen on the plane on the way down. They had hired a 4WD and proper guide and after chatting with them for a while they offered to give me a ride. They said they were camping and only had one tent but that they might me able to squeeze me in. I wasn't about to argue as i was sick of hitchiking and this was the only way i was going to get anywhere.
I gave my guide a nice tip for staying with me even if he was high as a kite for most of the time and then bid him farewell and headed off with my new dutchy friends.
I had wanted to visit a tribe called the Hamer and told the girls that I had heard that there was a ceremony going on 21 kilometres from where we were. The ceremony called 'jumping of the bulls' is a custom for the coming of age of men. The Dutch girls were reluctant to go due to the somewhat barbaric nature of the ritual. First the female relatives and friends of the boy dance themselves into a frenzy for a number of hours then they beg male members of the tribe to whip them with long flexible sticks. These sticks cause big bloody gashes in the backs of the women, the more gashes they have shows how much hey love the man. After being whipped the woman rub ash into their wounds so that they scar more and everyone will see their dedication.
It was very bizarre to watch as the men would try and refuse to whip some women and the women would then pull at the sticks of the men until they whipped them more. There were around 20 women being whipped and about 10 guys doing the whipping.
After this part of the ceremony 7 bulls were lined up in a row, not and easy feat. The men of the tribe tried for about 10 minutes to get the bulls into position, one man at the front and back of each bull. Then the man who was coming of age ran and jumped across the backs of all the bulls 3 times, back and forth, naked, to prove that he was a man. Because he suceeded he is now able to take a wife.
I had many other adventures on this trip including sleeping with tribal locals on the dirt in their hut because i didnt fit in the dutch girls tent (or i was too smelly for them to allow me in there). We then visited some other tribes including the most famous of all the Mursi. They are the tribe known world wide for having massive discs inserted into their lips. It was a complete tourist trap though with the tribes people lining up and demanding money for any photo taken.
All in all it was a great adventure and im so glad i ended up finding the dutch girls who looked after me well.
After this i met up with my friends Jeany and Avis to visit the Danikal depression. The depression which is the lwest point in africa at -100m below sea level is also on average the hottest place on earth, temperatures regularily rise above 50 degrees centigrade. When we were there our guide described it as unusually cool at around 40 degrees.
The trip was out of this world. We had to take 2 FWD just for the 3 of us as it is to dangerous in the heat if your car breaks down. You can die within hours in the heat. Two cars are also needed as its mandatory to take armed guards and local militia as its near the eritrean border and ethiopia and eritria are still having border conflicts.
The sights were amazing (check out photos). The sulfur fields felt like we were on another planet. We also visited the salt fields in the middle of the desert and the only permanent lava lake in the world. To climb the volcano to the lava lake we had to leave in the evening when the temperature was cool then walk until late in the evening before reaching the caldera of the volcano around 10pm. We had decided that we wanted to sacrifice a goat on the top of the mountain (sacrifice for our stomachs, more like it) so we had bought one that we named 'henry' from some nomad farmers. After walking him up to the top of the volcanoe he became one of our most tasty ethiopian meals. We like to think that he was an adventurer and was the first goat ever to look into the mouth of a live volcanoe.
Overall I think my time in ethiopia was the most rewarding out of all the african countries i have visited so far.
Thanks to all my friends who made it so great.