The train station was a huge building in the middle of nowhere
Less than one month before I arrived in Ethiopia, the new Chinese built railway started running a passenger service between Addis Ababa and Djibouti City. The total duration of the train ride is twelve hours with three stops on the way, but I just joined from Dire Dawa which was an eight hour journey.
The whole experience was a bit surreal. Getting to and from the stations was a hassle, as they both were located far outside the cities. It felt a bit strange driving into the countryside and then seeing this huge, brand new railway station.
Once on board it was still a bit strange. They had carriages with first class sleepers and second class, but these were only used by the staff. They had a restaurant carriage, but with no food served. People just brought their own and bought from a lady who was just another passenger but was offering everything at a premium price.
The landscape was pretty nice with views over plains with lots of Acacia trees, goats, baboons and camels. Price of the journey was a bit steep at 20$/over three times the bus price but the ride was ten times more enjoyable.
Hawassa was the perfect place to break up the nearly 800km trip from Addis Ababa to Omo Valley. The city is on a lake where one can go on boat trips to spot hippos or just relax with a picnic among wild monkeys like we did.
Hawassa is also a great base for day trips to the nearby hot springs and Shashamane. We went to a naturally heated pool in Sodere which was great, and cheap coating less than 1$! After trying to teach my couchsurfing host how to swim he showed us the way to the mountain where we could see where the hot water was coming from.
We also stopped for a couple of hours in Shashamane where weed was legal and the Rastafarian culture was alive. The museum was closed and the free galleries that could be visited there were full of touts who tried to charge us entrance fees and guide fees. We would have left with a really bad impression of Shashamane if it wasn’t for Ras Hailu Tefari (Bandu) from St.Vincent and his gallery of art which was made completely out of dried banana leaves. He gave us some fruit salad and told us explained to us in proper Caribbean English how he was growing everything he needed in his garden and how he possibly made his art. A true character who I will never forget.
If you are ever planning on visiting Omo Valley, but don’t have an organized tour to take you, your best bet would be to go to Kay Afar and hope that others would come there that you could tag along with. Kay Afar is in the middle of the Valley, and it is just a small junction village where one road would go to Turmi and the other to Jinka, which are the two villages where the famous bull jumping ceremony is held.
When we were there, we only saw one other tourist there and there was not much to do other than going to the bars and drink honey wine with the locals.
Our guide Mickey (phone +251926112219) knew some people from the Banna tribe living in a nearby village where we went to say hi and to see the sunset from a nice view. The landscape there was also quite spectacular, reminding me of the Banfora region in Burkina Faso. It was a familiar mix of green grass, red soil and small mud huts and a peaceful place to stay for a night.