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.
Traveling around Omo Valley is not cheap. In order to go to the villages you need to rent a car with a driver which costs upwards of 50$. As we had already visited a couple of villages we did not feel the need to go to a Mursi village like we first had planned, but decided that it would bend enough visiting the tribal market in Jinka in hope of seeing some Mursi people there, which we did.
Hammer and Banna people, who can be recognized by the women’s mud covered hair and the men’s punk like hair. Also lots of the women went topless and the men carrying their traditional chairs
The Mursi people would often have gauges in their ears and stretched lower lips to fit disks. The rumors had it that that they would steal and some times be violent to tourists after drinking too much, but the ones we met at the market in Jinka seemed all very peaceful.
People from the hamer tribe happily showed up for a photo
From our visits in Omo Valley, Konso was maybe not the most tribal, but still one of the most interesting to visit.
Konso is the name of the city which the 44 villages are situated around, but it is also the name of the tribe living there. The Konso people typically build their villages on top of the mountains, with views to spot potential intruders. The entrances of the villages all have circular wooden huts where young men would sleep and keep guard.
The reason why the Konso villages are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites is that they were built around 1200 years ago, and the fundaments of the houses and corridors in the village have been remaining unchanged. The villages have maze-like corridors which were fun to walk, especially with a flock of hundred kids following us curiously.
In the village we got to try local beers made of Sorghum, maize and honey. We were also explained how the men would have to go through tests of strength by lifting round rocks and throwing them behind their necks to prove that they were ready for marriage. Surprisingly enough I managed to throw the rocks over my shoulders which meant that I too was ready for marriage, but then I was told that I would also need to have some cows and goats to give to the family of my future wife so I guess I will have to wait some more years for that.
Other than the villages, and the farms where we were explained how maize, khat, coffee and chili was produced there was not much to see in Konso, so we were soon on our way to Kay Afar where we would spend the night.
It was time for the highlight of our South Omo Valley trip- the wedding ceremony of whipping girls and jumping bulls. We had spent the day at the Turmi marked seeing Hammer handicrafts and people in traditional clothing(just some leather clots, not covering much!) and been prepared of what was to come.
The Hammer marriage ceremony took place around a 3km walk from the village and started off with women being whipped until we would see their raw flesh dripping with blood. All of them with a intense euphoric look in their eyes, blowing horns and shouting in rhythm.
Apparently these women were friends and family of the groom who, in this way, wanted to show how far they were willing to go for the soon to be bride.
The test if the groom was to jump over some bulls ranging from small calfs to fully grown ones. After jumping over all of them four times the groom had proven himself ready for marriage and the whole group of people would walk for many kilometers to their village where the party would go on.
Before the bull jumping, the groom sits down, gets face painted and given a new name to be called by
The bull jumping ceremony is one of my rawest tribal experiences and I have already decided to come back to Southern Omo Valley to learn more about traditions and cultures of these tribes.