Just arrived in Ethiopia and there pops up my first hitchhiker, Satu (which means “land” in his language. He comes from Konso, a town, further to the North-East) He’s 23 years old and he’s a student and mobile teacher in four Dasanaach (local tribe) villages. He’s been teaching for 3 years now. He teaches maths to primary school kids. Not easy if you don’t speak their language. He ‘s picking up his degree as accountant and it was his last day of teaching. I ask him who will follow up now, but he doesn’t know.
After a short, tarmac ride we end up in Omorate. Immigration and custom formalities go very smooth. There is no traffic coming through, so no queues. We stay in Omorate with Sedi. He’s the laughing owner of a small truckers stop. It’s definitely more bar and restaurant than hotel. We drink our first beers and enjoy our first Ethiopian food. We repair a few things and tighten all the loose nuts and bolts. We got some remarks at customs about Willems’ missing license plate. So we somebody welds it together again and we attach it to his bike.
Sedi used to be agronomist at the ministry of agriculture and now he’s a hotel owner. He looks like a man of many trades. He’s the best person to give us our first introduction to Ethiopian food, culture and drinks. We chew some khat (inciting herb) with him and visit the highlight of this small frontier town: the Omo river. Dozens of people are cleaning, swimming or just playing in the water under the diminishing sunlight. Willem joins them for a quick wash. I just had a shower and I doubt that you come out of the water much cleaner than you go in.
Sedi invites us to sleep in the courtyard of the hotel under the stars next to him. It doesn’t take too much time for us to be convinced. The rooms are a bit dirty and too hot. Sedi offers us a last beer on the house. The three of us drink it while we’re lying down and watching the beautiful stars. We’re in the middle of a small town but once past 10 pm there’s almost no light, giving the opportunity for the stars to give an amazing light show.
The next day we have to fill up our bike again with jerry can petrol. It becomes a bit of a habit and it won’t change that much in Ethiopia. We head up north. We cross miles and miles of flat lands; sometimes we spot some people with cattle along the road.
All of a sudden we bump into our first real roadblock of this journey. A few tribes’ men have thrown a few branches on the road and are waiting in the shadow of an acacia tree. Behind the branches I can see the outlines of a goat carcass. It becomes clear to me that someone has hit this goat and driven off. They want repayment. We are acting stupid (doesn’t require a lot of effort) and ask directions to the city of Konso, they show us and let us through with a smile. I have a feeling that the author of all this trouble is a small minibus. They’re probably stopping all the minibuses on the road to make one of them pay for the sins of his colleague. Two kilometers after the roadblock we cross a minibus going the opposite way. I’m pretty sure it will have a harder time getting through.
We pass through several, dusty towns. The food is cheaper and a bit better than Kenya, but some of the people in Ethiopia are terrible. A lot of them are nice and friendly but some of them hear coins tinkling as you walk by. In worst-case scenario they even hear banknotes shuffling. Begging seems to be a national sport. Everywhere you go people show you their empty hands.
It’s probably the work of many tourists who just throw money around. Although I very rarely give money (I only reward very creative forms of begging), I still think it’s just not the right approach to have a sustainable solution for these people’s problems.
We’re driving through the Omo Valley, which is home to many different colorful tribes. A lot of tourists visit these wonderful tribes with their traditional clothing and customs. But this is not our cup of tea. We don’t really like to pay to see these performances. Although It might give us some beautiful and colorful pictures and a few more facebook likes.
In a small town some guys propose to us to see the traditional bull jumping ceremony. We kindly refuse. Afterwards I read that this ceremony, which consists of young men jumping over a bull to prove they’ve become adults, takes place in a completely other time of the year. This means that if we had agreed, we would have seen a fake show. No thanks!
We drive up and down the Ethiopian hills, and we end up in Konso. It’s a completely different landscape in comparison to this morning. It’s much greener, colder and there is an abundance of different crops that are grown on these hills. People live in beautifully designed huts in contrast to the rickety huts we saw earlier, which looked like a bunch of sticks that were thrown on a pile.
We stay at an eco lodge, which is most of the time, an excuse to offer dirty rooms, no electricity and to charge double the price. This place is no exception to this. I have the impression that the prefix ECO is used in Africa (an sometimes elsewhere) to lure tourists. A lot of them (especially volunteers) come here with the idea to save the world. If they can save the planet at the same time that’s even better for them! (Makes up for the giant ecological footprint they made coming to Ethiopia by plane)
We get bamboozled while searching a Ethiopian sim card. When we eventually do buy a fully functional card, it turns out that the government has blocked Internet data in most of the country because of the state of emergency. We find solace in the amazing Ethiopian food. We have Injera (typical Ethiopian pancake and their staple food) with wat (sort of curry stew).
A special word about the state of emergency in Ethiopia:
It was one of my biggest concerns at the start of this trip: how will the situation in Ethiopia evolve? Just before the start of my trip the Oromo and Amhara people held some serious manifestations. The government suppressed them rather violently and called for a state of emergency. The international news coverage about these events was rather brief and the travel advice for Ethiopia changed constantly.
During our stay in Ethiopia we didn’t notice very much about this state of emergency (apart from the fact that internet data was blocked in most parts of the country) But sometimes we did encounter strange stories that came to us as whispers rather than strong words. In our famous Eco lodge for instance the receptionist mentioned a teacher being killed in town by police a few days before our arrival. The exact circumstances and reasons were not clear, but it was clearly related to the manifestations. This kind of fog around all these events we would encounter throughout the whole country.