Salambo discovering Ethiopia
Independent travel never goes perfectly according to plans, and this is true also in Ethiopia. We had everything lined up (including the lodge paid in advance) to spend 24 hours in the OMO Valley, which started with a five hour drive from Konso to Turmi, the land of the Hamer people, and was going to continue with an overnight stop there. However, one third through our journey, as we were driving on the gravel road to Turmi through industrially grown cotton fields, we had two punctures at once. As we stopped the car to look at the damage and saw that we didn’t have one flat tyre but two, a small group of Hamer people came near us. For a long time, they did nothing but watch us, looking at us sweating over the change of tyres in the full midday sun with no shade to protect us. After a while, we tried to communicate with them hopelessly explaining that the tyre was broken, a huge smile lightened up their face and they started helping us. We didn’t have a single word to communicate with them as they do not speak English or Amharic in that part of Ethiopia, so we had to use hand gesture to express ourselves. We shared dates and snacks with them, tried to show them what cotton was used for as they didn’t seem to know what it was. This chance encounter was the nicest of all, away from the set touristic itinerary which is extremely staged in the OMO valley. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go further as we didn’t want to take the risk to drive another 100 kilometres on a gravel road with no spare tyre, being unable to have ours repaired in such a remote area. With great regrets, we took the decision to turn back and make our way towards Arba Minch a day earlier than planned. I never like turning back on a trip, but sometimes we have no choice but to minimize risks.
I was a bit disappointed with the town of Arba Minch, probably because I wasn’t yet ready to go back to a more urban environment with all the building and road works that come with it in Ethiopia. Having said that, Arba Minch, which means forty springs in Amharic, has a stunning position on top of a hill overlooking Lake Chamo and Lake Abaya. The town itself is undergoing construction like many other Ethiopian cities, however its geographical setting is one of the nicest in southern Ethiopia and makes one quickly forget the building sites around. Arba Minch is also known for its amazing wildlife, in particular zebra and antilopes in the Nechisar national park across Lake Chamo as well as the many crocodiles in the lake. So we went for the boat trip across, and after a long walk through the national park, accompanied by an official ranger, we managed to see the wildlife.
Closed to Arba Minch in the hills above the town, another ethnic group, the Dorzé people, is known for its peculiar cone-shaped houses. They live in a remote area about 15 kilometres from Arba Minch, which can only be reached using the 4×4 vehicle. The drive to their village takes about an hour. I read conflicting information about the Dorzé people: according to one book, they would be ethnically closed to the Abyssinian people, and may have come from the North bringing with them their religion and traditions. However, another book explained that they were part of the OMO valley diversity of ethnic groups. I thought their way of life was similar to the one we witnessed in rural Sidamo, with ensete being the staple diet. The trip to the Dorzé village and the boat trip on lake Chamo were the main attraction in Arba Minch, and I must say that after a couple of days there (three nights in total), we were ready to go back to Addis.