After several unforgettable days of rigorous riding through the Turkana and Omo regions we somehow woke to find ourselves in a veritable haven in one of the most out of this world/time places. We had always planned to ride the east route of Turkana to Omorate but we had never expected to have anyone to call in on and certainly didn’t expect such wonderful hospitality. We had mentally readied ourselves for a sweltering night in a dodgy guesthouse in Omorate that even the perennially positive Lonely Planet travel writers had admitted to being a bit of a dump. However, a fateful meeting with an American motorbike enthusiast in Nairobi changed all that.
Caleb had been following our African exploits on ADVRider and recognised the bike I had ridden to the shop for a quick grocery run. After introducing me to his family who generously shouted me lunch he told me that we must stop in on his folks who are still living on the Omo River. Caleb and his brood had recently moved from Omo to Arusha, Tanzania and had told me that during his time there he had ridden his bike all over the place and could help us devise some interesting routes. It was a fantastic stroke of luck and an offer too good to refuse. We are shameless socialisers and love nothing more than hearing the stories of long time residents in the countries we are passing through. It has been firmly established now that our most memorable experiences have, more often than not, occurred at the dinner tables of many a new friend.
A welcome welcome
A week or so later, we were following the GPS bearing to their house through the hot and dusty plains of the Lower Omo Valley. The area in question looks like a land that time forgot and in many ways it had… at least until recently. At first, second and even third glance the area of the Omo looks utterly miserable. However, the more you saw, the more you started to question if it might not be a bit beautiful.
As I looked through the heat haze of the monotonous dusty landscape I remember thinking ‘why would anyone choose to live in such a place?’ We grew ever more curious as to what these American parents were like. We wondered what on Earth they were up to out here and why they were so inexplicably open to taking in two strangers on motorbikes based on a brief interaction with their son in a supermarket carpark?
Dick and Donna’s mission station was in stark contrast to the views around it. It is an oasis in a sea of dust. There were countless trees, constant shade and at that time it seemed rather like the most incredible place on Earth; an opinion strengthened by the appearance of coffee, pancakes and maple syrup on the breakfast table the next morning.
Sure this looks like Mick and Dick gasbagging the day away, however I am informed that any chatting that takes place in a shed and near to tools is in fact important verbal preparation for serious work. They prepared a lot that day.
Over the next couple of days we were riveted to the spot by Dick and Donna’s half a lifetimes’ worth of experience in the Omo Valley. Their stories were better than television and had they any entrepreneurial drive they could have left their tales at a cliffhanger and demanded payment to proceed. We would have enthusiastically thrown money at them.
A few of Dick’s windmills in action. More on these in the return to Omo blog
It eventuated that Dick and Donna were as curious about us as we were about them. Over the years they had found themselves playing the parts of both hosts and knights in shining armour to a string of travellers ranging from the intrepid to the downright crackpot. You see the Omo area, with its iconic tribal groups and inaccessible, wild frontier reputation, attracts some regular people but a disproportionate amount of the ‘crazies’. We were delighted to hear that we fell into the former group according to Dick’s discerning opinion. They had certainly met their share of the latter and given their good natures had always been there to help despite the misfortune these travellers seemed almost determined to invite upon themselves.
One such fellow included an eccentric young Isreali who upon arrival decided that the place and life of the Daasenech was so utopian he wanted to join in on all the fun. Which he did, by donning a loincloth (seriously) and hanging about, however, he didn’t endear himself to his new neighbours in ‘paradise’ (his words) as he would just help himself to peoples’ fruit and vegetables gardens before wandering off. The Daasenech approached Dick and Donna to question the presence of the strange food thieving white man. They were equally confused, yet confident it wouldn’t take long for the harsh realities of the Omo to penetrate his idealistic mental fog. Which it did. Then he left.
Another example were a European cycling couple who intended to cycle the Turkana route in plus 40 degree heat with all of 2l drinking water between them. It came as a surprise to them when Dick and Donna informed them of the significant flaw in their plan to replenish their water supplies at shops along the way – namely, the complete nonexistence of said shops.
The dammed/damned Omo River. At this time of year the water should be spilling over the banks inundating the land on either side to allow for planting. The Daasenech would come to learn that the annual flood is a thing of the past.
To add to the tale, this couple actually returned to Dick and Donna’s after getting ‘held up at gunpoint’. Donna was of the mindset that it was probably a misunderstanding more than anything. Most men in the area carry weapons from old rifles to the ubiquitous AK47, and it takes a bit of getting used to seeing such extreme weaponry casually slung over the shoulder of ¾ of adult males. The weapons are used for raiding/protecting against raids from opposing tribes rather than robberies. Donna seems to think the guys with the guns were probably just asking for something from the ‘rich foreigners’ who were understandably intimidated and started giving away their stuff. The guys with the guns would have been happy with this so continued asking, and in sight of the weapon’s the cyclists continued giving. In this part of the world if you don’t stand up for yourself you’re just meat in a grinder.
Two of Caleb’s wonderful kids were visiting their grandparents while we were there. Omo is a wonderful place to grow up and we were jealous of the fun and freedom the place affords them. Here they are on their mudslide into the Omo. Luckily the crocodiles that were once in the river in large numbers have been mostly shot out by the Daasenech to protect their beloved cows. We did see a tiny baby croc (<30cm) swimming there… but I don’t like his chances of growing big enough to cause a problem
And if you thought those kids were brave swimming near baby crocodiles in the Omo – they helped us clean our rank body armour too.
Dick’s sprawling shed was a great place to get some bike work done
First on the agenda was a tyre change. Behold the damage Turkana wrought on the Heidenau K60. People get a bit fanatical about these tyres but ours was a pretty disappointing relationship. We put it down to the stiffness of the compound and the weight of the bike. These tyres have a good reputation but generally on much heavier bikes. Curiously it performed the best it had ever performed off road while on the Turkana route despite it being at the end of its tyre life at that stage. We think it was due to having a bunch of extra weight on the back of the bike in the form of additional water, a spare tyre and the 10L of fuel in the secondary tank allowing for bagging with greater load. This tyre had 11,500km on it.
The next 2 days spent at Omo were blissful, yet an overlander’s work is never done. There was a bunch of small repairs to do to the bikes after their punishing exploits of late. My rear tyre was more than ready to be changed and Mick’s front fender required a repair after the metal mount cracked. In addition to this we discovered that my Safari tank’s aluminium brace had broken in half so Mick set about making a replacement and a spare for himself out of steel offcuts that Dick had laying about.
After breaking his clutch lever on Turkana we were now out of spares. With little chance of sourcing another lever in the short term Mick set about repairing the broken one using a piece of welding rod as a dowel. Proper replacements, as ever, were going to have to be sourced from South Africa. To minimise the chance of another breakage Mick cut the ends of all our levers. Something we should have done earlier, in retrospect. And there was a lot of tube patching to do as well. We were seriously doubting the quality of our patches and glue and started fantasising about doing some kind of ghetto tubeless conversion or stumbling across a big pile of money in Europe and doing it properly.
The fellas hard at work. Dick’s windmills were impressive and all the windmills were meticulously painted in the same Tiffany’s blue/green colour. It made for an impressive sight seeing the dozens and dozens of colour co-ordinated windmills lining the Omo. Splashes of vibrant colour on a mostly monotone landscape.
Coming up with a more permanent fix than the trailside duct tape repair job
All this work was punctuated by great company and wonderful home cooked meals. Each night was spent hearing Dick and Donna’s experiences as missionaries. It was a real eye opener for us meeting people so dedicated. These guys were so genuine, self sacrificing and pragmatic it really blew us away. We will never understand the dedication it takes to deal with the challenges and limitations of living in such a harsh and remote area all while working to help a tribe that doesn’t even have a word for ‘thank you’. The lives of the Daasenech people are so hard, and death and calamity such an intimate and frequent part of life that simple civilities like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ just do not exist. No time for pleasantries when people are so busy dying or trying not to, I guess. Learning about the Daasenech and the work of Dick and Donna was fascinating but we’ll save all this for our return trip where we got to know them all a lot better.
Welding a new tank brace
The final product. He just did a copy of the original with some steel offcuts and padding was made from a buggered heavy duty tube…we had plenty of those.
The clutch lever repair – clever chicken this guy of mine
We were finally getting the energy together to tear ourselves away from Omo and even got close once or twice, before actually setting out. We’d been dreading both the giant dustbowl that constitutes the route to Omorate and our inevitable reintroduction to Mr Angry-M16 on the bridge over the Omo.
The construction of said bridge was good news for overlanders and locals alike. Dick and Donna used to keep a 4WD stored on the opposite side of the river, and whenever they did a shopping run to Addis they would have to transport everything across the river in their small dingy. This included everything they ever used to construct their houses and all the materials for their windmill project. Now however, it is just a matter of crossing the bridge. Life had become a little more convenient. But the completion of the much anticipated bridge was no simple process. Sure it could have been, but this is Omo and so it wasn’t.
No doubt about it – we were going to miss these guys
Before leaving we gave the kids the thrill of a ride on the DRs. If I remember correctly they said something along the lines of ‘wow this bike is infinitely superior to my father’s KTM500exc both in terms of power, handling and general aesthetics.’ Yeah… that is what they said.
Saying goodbye to Dick or ‘Diggy’ as he is known among the Daasenech.
Couldn’t wait to catch up with these guys again. If we knew what Ethiopia would throw are us (figuratively and very much literally) we might have spent 6 happy weeks there instead.
For some time the bridge stood partially completed. Its construction was started on one bank and built out towards the other, cantilevered with sandbags used as ballast. And there it stood for some time, waiting for what I am not sure… perhaps waiting for more money or materials or motivation or because those constructing it couldn’t believe it was actually happening themselves. Eventually the bags used for ballast degraded, the rains came and the sand washed away and the bridge toppled into the river. Ahh Africa….
And there it sat for some time until another company took on the task. This involved building a giant anchored gantry to haul up the submerged bridge. However its extended time in the river meant a small contingent of locals had to clear all the accumulated silt and branches burying the drowned bridge. That too took time as there aren’t all that many people who can swim in these parts and the guys worked with no more sophisticated equipment than their hands and a hose pipe extending above the water surface to breathe.
Leaving to return to Omorate. The dried stalks show old areas of cultivation. The year previous was one of the biggest and best annual floods in a long time so they were able to plant sorghum over a larger area. The Omo’s last gift to the Daasenech before the dam came on line.
The bridge had been finished for some months prior to our arrival but it was only very recently that sufficient work had been done on the foundations to allow vehicles to get up and on it. We had queried Dick and Donna about the origins and motivations of the bridge troll ‘Mr Angry-M16’ but they were at a loss and had never seen him there before. In anticipation of meeting him once more we crossed close together and sure enough he was waiting for us. No doubt he heard the DRs revving their guts out in the soft dust approaching the bridge. He came out of his hut/troll cave and tried to block us, this time dragging a log in front of our path and motioned for me to stop with his M16. Mick just waved and rode over it and so I did the same. He didn’t seem sufficiently bothered by our belligerence to actually do anything in response which was rather fortunate for us. ‘But it’s not like he’d shoot you’ I hear you say?? This is Omo, similar and stranger things have happened. We’ll save all that for the next Omo blog.
Our next destination was the small town of Jinka where we heading for no other reason than to gawk at members of the Mursi tribe. It was something that had us a bit conflicted. On one hand we were curious to see some members of this people group, probably the most iconic of the Lower Omo Valley, that practiced the rather extreme practices of lip stretching and ritual scarification. On the other hand we were also wary of being creepy voyeurs and a willing audience to a human zoo type situation.
And what did we do when faced with such a moral/ethical issue, you ask? We flipped a coin. But not just any coin, it was the ‘coin of destiny’ sourced from Mozambique that has never let us down in moments of decision making incapacitation like this. Coin said “visit the Mursi” so that is what we set about doing. If it was an unpleasant experience we could just jump on the bike and leave.
Lesson learnt with this diabolical dust bowl. This time I avoided the worst of it.
There was plenty dust to be had
But ‘coin of destiny’ aside we had come to the conclusion that paying people for the opportunity to meet them and take photos is hardly a crime against humanity. We had heard that some people disapproved of the interaction for the diluting affects it has on their culture, which is perhaps just a little condescending. Our Western sensitivities (borne of privilege and full bellies) would have us reject it outright as a demeaning practice. It is a shame that these sensitivities give us in the developed world superhuman ability to detect and describe (and post on Facebook) the wrongs and injustices in the world yet don’t do much in the way of presenting alternatives or even determining lesser evils. The harsh reality is that there are no sources of money for these people that keeps their traditions in tact and them free from exploitation. At least not at this stage anyway.
And call me callous but I think people posing for photos for a fee is the least of the tradition diluting forces at play at the moment. Road construction to serve the large cotton and sugar cane projects being built on their land that the government expects them to want to work at, not to mention the new dam that has halted the annual floods they depend on are the bigger issues here for the various tribal groups of the Omo Valley. With these projects their cultures will be irrevocably altered.
The new Gibb III dam near Sodo. This photo was taken by our mates Karin and Pete who have an excellent blog on their travels in Africa you should check out . The dam is a political hot potato and I wouldn’t recommend going and checking in out…especially at the moment…..especially not with a big camera
The dam is complete and has already denied the Omo Valley its annual flood for the first time. The roads are mid construction and will be tarred before we know it. The tide of change has come and the wave of development is about to crash. Sadly the Mursi, along with the Turkana, Dassenach and all other members of the Lower Omo Valley, will become the human flotsam; crushed by the wave rather than riding it, wherever it dumps them will be outside of their control and altogether unfamiliar.
We rode to Jinka, and found a hotel where my rear tyre went flat as we pulled up. We had no desire to fix it at that point so left it and sought out or first bit of Ethiopian food. Ethiopia was already proving to be a unique part of Africa. For one thing it has cuisine unlike most of Africa that seemed to consist of life sustaining carbohydrates and little else. Dinner was tibs, which is meat (generally goat) cooked in a sauce with berber spices, shiro, which is a chickpea puree, and injera, the slightly sour pancake which is unique to Ethiopia. It is made out of a local grain called tef which is fermented before it is baked, and substitutes for both serving plate and eating utensils. The injera is served on a large stainless steel plate, while the tibs and shiro comes out in bowls and is upended onto the injera by the waiter. A few teaspoons of berber spices will be dumped on one corner of the injera, and then it is a case of tearing off the injera, grabbing some meat and dipping it in the spice. All very unique and tasty.
Even after resolving our moral crisis over whether to visit the Mursi with a coin, the next morning over breakfast we continued our uhming and aghing as the prices we were quoted were silly expensive. A number of ‘official tour guides’ sought us out at the hotel after we arrived and quoted us $20 for a guide (apparently mandatory), $10 each and $1.50 per bike for entry to the Mago National Park, $10 each for the village entry, plus $5.50 for the scout. The village was a 125km round trip from Jinka on dirt roads and we told him we weren’t going to carry a tour guide on the back. ‘No problem’ he said, pay $35 and hire a motorbike for the day and he and the scout would ride on that. At those sorts of prices we just weren’t interested.
Just when we had decided we couldn’t justify the expense, another of the self proclaimed ‘official’ tour guides showed up to encourage us to go with him. However he completely discredited himself by lifting up his T shirt and stroking his ample beer belly like it was a perfectly normal thing to do. I couldn’t take my eyes off him rhythmically rubbing his guts as if summoning an intestinal genie while we sat down to our breakfast.
We were certainly not going to be taking a guide after that horror show. We packed some tubes and tyre irons on the bikes and decided to go alone. The dodgy tour guide mafia were set up at the turnoff to the park and tried to stop our progress. We were pretty sure they we just a pack of young fellas trying to take advantage of silly tourists. But if we were to meet up with them again I looked forward to explaining that rubbing one’s tubby guts over my breakfast is a rather poor marketing practice and one that had greatly influenced our decision making process.
Views as we approached the Mago national park. The government is doing a lot of road works in order to make life easier for the Mursi people… just kidding that is ridiculous – the reason for the construction is to service the huge (and controversial) sugar cane and cotton plantations that are going in following the damming of the Omo. Tribes of the Omo’s loss is foreign multinationals’ gain it appears.
The Mago national park was on the GPS so we headed for it. On the way we passed something that may have been the entrance to the park but it was ungated and unmanned so we just rode on. Turns out the GPS point we were navigating to was actually the checkpoint where you pick up your mandatory scout. So it seems we had entered the park on the sly and we could now add park officers to the list of people we had disappointed that day.
Our first photo for cash solicitation. She looks about as comfortable with the exchange as we felt
Miscellaneous objects placed on heads to photographic appeal
We didn’t mind taking a scout with us as they looked like nice enough fellows and the price wasn’t ridiculous. We put old mate and with his rifle on the back of Mick’s bike and he seemed happy despite the lack of pillion foot pegs. We rode further into the park where the scenery and pleasantness of the ride made the trip worthwhile for the views alone. We spotted a couple of boys painted white and yellow standing by the road side waiting for us to stop and take photos. We waved but rode onwards, not being comfortable with the notion of paying to photos just yet.
This practice is said to be a show of the bravery, tenacity and ability to endure pain of the women. All key requirements to being a wife in these parts.
We came upon the village and parked the bikes while feeling slightly nervous. We have come across a lot of different people groups in Africa but each occasion prior to this had just happened during the course of our travels. This, in contrast, was commercial and contrived and we felt unsure of ourselves. I guess we were on the defensive from the start, expecting rude and incessant cash demands, begging and maybe even some hostility based on some of the bad experiences people had shared. However the people there seemed pretty happy to see us and waved and smiled somewhat reservedly.
The head lady without her lip plate. The lip is cut and stretched over time however it is also requires the removal of the four middle teeth of the lower jaw in order for the plate to sit in position. Ever the engineer, Mick was disturbed by the lack of a engineering solution to the lip plate interfering with teeth problem ‘why knockout the teeth to accommodate the plate when they could cut out a piece of the plate to accommodate the teeth?’
Being on the bikes is always an icebreaker and from the start they seemed mildly interested in us. It all seemed pretty laid back actually. We shook hands with the head boss man of the place and gave him the required cash. We then went for a walk through the small collection of huts of what looked like a family unit rather than a village proper. The price per photo is a very well established 5 birr (25 cents). And these people aren’t silly; they count camera clicks. If they suspect you’ve taken more than the one photo they will want to go back through your digital screen to verify. It made us feel a bit embarrassed and sorry the way they tried to make themselves look more appealing for photos by wearing different things on their heads and doing different poses, all trying to look as exotic as possible. To me it looked like they were wearing a random assortment of paraphernalia aimed to make themselves look more ‘authentically Mursi’ to people, that wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what that should look like.
It seems not all women make the decision to engage in the practice these days. I couldn’t help but wonder the reason. Do they perhaps understand their way of life is about to be changed? That their young girls may need to engage with outer world more than ever and the extreme practice of lip stretching would be an impediment to this? Are the young girls themselves not wanting to do it? Is it the young men not wanting a wife who has done the practice? I would never know. ‘Photo five birr’ is the only English the girl spoke.
Yep, it felt a bit shit but it was all pretty calm… but a little shit. Especially the way the young kids worked hard to get their photos taken. I couldn’t help but wonder what it felt like for them when the tall strangely dressed whitey woman declined to take their photo for some reason unknown… not impressive enough perhaps? I felt like the nasty judge from American Idol… ‘that’s a no from me’; quickly dismissing someone’s efforts and leaving them to ruminate on their shortcomings while moving on with the show. What I really hoped, and was inclined to believe, was that they actually don’t give much of a shit about what we think and that we are just a convenient way to gather a bit of cash with minimal time and effort.
The lip plates can get between 6 and 7 inches in diameter.
With and without. Some Mursi women have undergone plastic surgery (offered for free by visiting foreign surgeons) to restore their lips but I can’t imagine it is that common to do so.
It got quite busy with everyone wanting photos taken of them yet it wasn’t out of control. The head lady actually seemed very friendly. There was one young girl who got really pushy but the scout told her off for it. The scout was a fun little addition to the crew actually. We got the impression he was feeling happy with his promotion to head minder of the tourists given the absence of the tour guide. We came to learn there are some striking divisions between the different ethnic groups in Ethiopia, with every ‘non-Omo’ group thinking themselves far superior to the 16 ‘primitive’ groups of the Lower Omo Valley. It is quite probable the local scout is not treated with all that much regard by the tour guides who are almost exclusively from the highlands. He kept things calm and reasonable as time passed on and people become increasing worried about missing out on photos at our departure.
Young girls whose lips are already quite stretched. Most of the women we saw also stretch the ear lobes and practice ritual scarification.
As with the western world the males don’t go to quite the same extremes in the pursuit of beauty. Body paint it common amongst many of the Lower Omo Valley tribes.
The head lady came up to us and thanked us for coming. We were reassured to observe that we seemed to them more of a mild curiosity than a nuisance, and they appeared to quickly get back to doing what they were doing before we arrived. I hoped they viewed us in the same way we might view a pizza delivery guy back home; a stranger invited to our doorstep but no further, and only because we want what he has brought; someone whose face and presence is soon forgotten when what we seek is in our possession.
This girl had stretched ear lobes but had not done her lips nor did she have any visible scars. It must be a personal choice I suppose.
Michael with the head lady
The dwellings of the Mursi. They have few modern conveniences beyond large plastic containers for water, a couple of small plastic buckets for washing and battery powered flashlights.
Really we should have used the bikes to bridge the divide between us as we had so many times before by showing off the GPS, letting some kids sit on the bike and taking people for short rides… but at the time we felt too shy. It was business – no time to play it felt. I regret not having done it anyway.
This girl approached for a photo but really didn’t seem like she wanted one and I felt really shit taking it.
A young man. There were few about. It seemed they were seeing to their cattle.
On the whole it was a decent experience, as it seemed to us that this little family group still had control on what they were doing letting in tourists. It is not the same everywhere by the sounds of things. Abundant tourist dollars can create huge disruptions in some of these villages and has contributed to the rise in alcohol consumption (helped by improved roads too) and all its associated ills. We were utterly flabbergasted and appalled to learn that foreign sex tourists are coming to Jinka to get their ‘ethnic’ jollies in increasing frequency. As if they didn’t have enough to deal with already, they had to face a bunch of fetishising dirty old perverts too.
Our scout back at his post. He seemed happy on the back of the bike despite having missed out on his usual 4WD air conditioned comfort.
We then dropped off our scout and left him with a nice tip and some chewing tobacco as a gift which we carry as an emergency ice breaker (handy around these parts). Now it was time to leave the park and pay our dues at the gate. Luckily they weren’t upset at us for entering without paying our fees and we quickly sorted things out.
The next morning we were half expecting a confrontation from the local tour guide mafia but it never came. We never did figure out if it was officially required that you had a tour guide or not… whatever. After getting some cash from the ATM we fuelled up and left town. Between Jinka and Key Afar we passed many members of the Hamer tribe heading to and from the market. Both men and women were decked out and resplendent in their traditional dress. We got plenty of waves and even more stunned expressions, but in ‘on bike – must ride’ mode we never stopped for photos unfortunately. So once again we’ve had to jag some pictures from the net to show them.
Views approaching Konso
The Hamer tribe are famous in the area for their bull jumping ceremony (the Karo tribe also does this) and their women. The Hamer women, are said to be the most attractive of the area’s tribal groups and are referred to as the ‘black Venus’. But unfortunately for Mick it seems the black Venus types don’t do the market run. All we saw were dozens of old duck’s demonstrating the physical effects of decades of hard labour under the unassailable forces of gravity in a punishing and bra scarce landscape.
The Hamer are certainly an interesting group. They number about 20,000 and like most of the tribes in the area, life revolves around their cattle. They are so enamored with their bovines that their local language has 27 words to describe the colour of a cow. It comes as little surprise then that they don’t mind dying for them either. We heard that while we were there some serious stoushes between government forces and the Hamer were taking place. The government has been trying to restrict the grazing territory of the Hamer. Thems fighting words to the Hamer. I assume the reason is to mitigate against tribal confrontation but you never know with the Ethiopian government; it may just be a way to keep them under heel and extricate land for their own purposes. These tribes, flush with weapons from the war zone of nearby Sudan, are emboldened by crazed cow love. The government forces, made up of outsiders/highlanders who tend to avoid confrontation with the local tribes as much as possible, are no match for them in this instance.
A young Hamer woman taken from the net. Searching for this pic online gave further support for paying the locals for photos. There is a huge amount of these types of photos for sale online. Ok for foreigners to make money from the photos (many hundreds/thousands of dollars) yet demeaning and ‘wrong’ to pay the tribal groups for photos….. can’t deny that we can be a bit full of shit in the developed world sometimes. Especially when offering opinions on what these groups we know nothing about should or shouldn’t be doing
But it is to see the bull jumping ceremony that tourists flock to Hamer villages, primarily Konso. This lucrative flocking has not gone unnoticed by the local government who now set the times and dates of the bull jumping for ease of profit extraction. In order to marry, a young fella needs to get naked and jump a row of about 15 cows that have been covered in butter and cowshit to make them extra slippery. If the fellow falls while trying to leap/run across them, he is denied the right to marry and is beaten by the women watching for his troubles. If he succeeds he is elevated in status, scores the right to a missus and gets to beat some females relatives bloody much to their approval. Female family members will beg the successful jumper beat them with whips and sticks until the point of bleeding. Screaming is not permitted. Often the women taunt and encourage him to strike harder.
The scars then go become thing of pride, status and insurance for the women. If these women go on to experience hardship (which lets face it is inevitable) it is expected that the fellas who inflicted the scars will remember what a swell time was had at his initiation and look out for them, thus honouring the blood debt. Try romanticise that one, friends.
They had some impressive hair indeed. Another random internet pic.
As the bull jumping schedule is now tightly controlled by the government, tourists can sit in the stands (literally) of a government controlled initiation ceremony or they may be offered some secret, faux bull jumping ‘performance’ on the sly. This is likely to be performed by any ol’ naked dude jumping over a couple of hastily organised cows. At the very least you may be offered a chance to watch women get beaten bloody with sticks. Outside of its real context and without its traditional meaning, such a practice I would say is pretty messed up. The Estonian couple Magnus and Karina who have a phenomenal RR on ADVRider described their not so nice experience of this . That is why we opted not to drop in one of these ‘ceremonies’. Paying for photos is one thing, paying to watch women get beaten is another. Plus we weren’t there on bull-jumping day, which made the decision even easier.
We rode through to Konso and eventually found somewhere to eat. In full ignorant tourist fashion we still hadn’t learned the names of any Ethiopian foods so once again we just walked into a restaurant and made eating motions and then nodded our heads at the first thing they offered. This Russian roulette method of ordering had been going all right so far but we had resolved to learn the names of some foods at some stage. Either that or complete the picture by yelling what we wanted in English increasing louder. We were served what we thought was burnt goat… or maybe beef. Either way it tasted good and filled the belly and before we knew it we were on the road again, this time heading for Yabello.
Our tasty lunch of roast meat, injera and bread with some spicy horseradish type sauce
On the way to Yabello
While at the restaurant I befriended an Ethiopian family who were pushing their shy and highly embarrassed kids to come and say hello to us. Seeing the kids’ torment I decided to make the first move and approached and said hello. It was a good thing too because we ended up running into the family twice more and in different towns, each time being greeted like long lost family.
If you stop in Ethiopia… they come for you
Mick tending to our daily flat tyre
Another failed patch
We made it about 45km out of town before I got yet another flat tyre. We were thoroughly shitted with patching and changing tubes by this time. We had a couple of things working against us in this regard. Firstly, we were running heavy duty tubes with slime. I don’t know if there is something about the slime but they just don’t seem to hold a patch the way un-slimed tubes do. Secondly, our crappy Chinese patches were far too crappy for the job. They were simply delaminating to nothingness. And finally, I have to concede, looking at one of these last blown patches my prep work was a little underwhelming. We whipped out the old tube and broke out the new Vee Rubber one we had purchased for a fortune in Jinka. It was smaller than what we like to run but it was all we had at the time until we arranged to repair the couple tubes we had.
We soon had a cheer squad of road workers and the family we had earlier befriended
Riding till sundown – it was hard to gauge how far you could expect to travel in a day in Ethiopia. We soon learned that a 300km day was highly ambitious.
While changing the tyre we had a bunch of young Ethiopian surveyors working on the road show up to lend a hand. With no help needed they instead stayed to watch and offer encouragement. We were soon joined by family we had befriended earlier in the day who also were on hand for moral support. Once it was done we hit the road again, where we once again came across a road busily under construction by the Chinese. It was a nice bit of riding and we arrived in town with enough light to find an acceptable hotel (with a very unacceptable ablutions block) for $7.50. Next up – a foray into the Bale Mountains.