Major change from the north. The Omo Valley culturally is much more like what we think of as African. One tribe, the Dasenech, is related to the Masai of Kenya which isn’t too surprising since Kenya is fifty km away. Some of the men are tall and long legged and are unlike the northern Ethiopians who look more Middle Eastern. In the small villages many women go bare breasted and the men wear just short loin clothes. Not a bad choice in this hot semi-desert territory.
There isn’t much agriculture, just cattle and goat pasturing, except near the river. If the village we visited on the Omo River is any indication, the upstream damming of the river has been compensated for. Before the river was dammed the annual floods replenished the soil and moisture. Ethiopia built a series of dams to generate electricity which it desparately needs and the electricity is also sold to neighboring countries. Ethiopia has few natural resources to harness. The fear was that the Omo Valley residents weren’t prepared to lose the annual flood; but at least the Desenech tribe village we visited was given a large pump and the fuel to power it as well as training on how to change their agriculitural practices. They now grow a wider variety of crops. This village just across the river from Omorate, may receive more aide because it is on a main road and is more visible. The village of 500 people that we visited doesn’t look comfortable but no worse than many in Africa. Low huts covered with hides, brush and corrugated iron. Water resistant but hot. But they also have brush and straw roofed huts where is is considerably cooler for hanging out. No trees and they haul drinking water a half a mile from the river. This particular village has additional benefits from tourism. Dozens of people a day visit and pay a generous entry fee. Certainly robs them of some of their culture, but gives them some money. Other more distant villages may be worse off.
We were told by a well educated but locally raised guide that genital mutilation has been stopped tor the Omo tribes in Ethiopia. As part of the village visit we were allowed to wander around and take pictures and an informal demonstration of local dancing was put on.
The previous day we were also “treated” to a less touristy experience. The right of passage to manhood (the ability to get married) requires bull jumping—leaping up to the back of a bull and then running across another six or so bull backs which are standing side by side. But maybe more difficult is procuring the resources to supply the barley beer for the festivities. The other part of the ceremony is very off putting. Hours before the bull jumping women are whipped by eligible batchlors.The women include late teenagers and married younger women. The women feel that it’s a mark of toughness to go through the whipping. The women would goad the men into beating them and eventually elder men held off the women and the “beaters” tried to ignore the women. It appeared that the women spend several hours working themselves into a frenzy by singing and dancing and imbibing locally produced beer. Many women have significant scars on their back from past ceremonies. Several sources suggest that most women would prefer to end the practice but cultural momentum keeps it going. If they can stop genital mutilation, whipping may end in the not too distant future. In the ceremony we saw a couple of dozen women participated and about a dozen men. The men were easy to count because they all are shirtless and wear other ornaments to identify them and at the end they all sat together. But the whippings were a bit chaotic because everyone was spread across hundred meters of desert and one or two women would taunt isolated men into whipping them and many of the men tried to get lost in the crowd. We six and two other tourist witnessed this particular ceremony. Probably few in attendance since it was out in the country and another ceremony happened closer to the village the same day. We didn’t see the actual bull jumping because the bulls couldn’t be rounded up in time. The ceremony is a very local affair and there are many things that need to be organized and apparently organizing the bulls didn’t receive top priority. It was getting too dark and our guide heard that the jumping might be put off until tomorrow. We did pay a guide a fee to attend and much of the money was supposed to go to the family, but it was by no means put on for the tourists.
We also have visited several weekly markets. The one in Turmi was mainly for locals—selling roofing straw ($4 for a two-foot diameter bundle), goats, cattle, corn, lentils, spices, shoes, and clothes among other things. Also some local clothing and head rests/stools more directed at the tourists. The weekly market is also an extended happy hour, a time to visit and catch up with friends and later many retiring to restaurants for injera and beer. Injera is not native to the south so they mostly enjoy it in restaurants.
First morning back in “civilization” (written ~20 Nov.). What a disappointment. Yesterday for breakfast we had freshly brewed coffee, freshly baked delicious bread with honey and scrambled eggs on the terrace overlooking a stunning view. Today, Nescafe and factory made rolls. And this in the Canaan International Hotel. It does have an intermittent internet connection, but that is a mixed blessing—nice to miss the day to day politics and disasters.
After having been on the trek, we understand better that Mark liked to site the guest houses up high with great views. Shimbrety and Erar, our lasts nights lodging were on the edge of the bluff and not particularly close to the local housing. The staff stay the night because it takes too long to go up and back up in the dark. They start cooking about six in the morning. We get fresh bread and scrambled eggs. The bread is fantastic. Seheta and Gohgot are sited at the foot of the escarpment on the edge of land that is used for crops and grazing and not too far from local housing.
More details on route mostly for other trekkers follows. Our five-day four-night route was Idega Arbi-Gohgot-Seheta-Shimbrety-Erar-Rehya. Our route had several deviations from the usual or direct route. On day one, Idega Arbi to Gohgot, we took a slight detour to go the celebration of life I wrote about in the first post. We passed the trail from the valley floor up to the guest house to go to the celebration, then scrambled up from the celebration to the guest house. Not a direct or recommended route.
A note on spelling which is important when searching for information in Ethiopia. I’m not aware of any offical English (European) spelling for minor locations in Ethiopia. I generally followed the Tesfa Treking spellings. The main problem seems to be interchangeable use of i and e. For example, two college educated locals called Seheta, Siheta.
Day two, Gohgot to Seheta. We didn’t follow the Open Street Map published route. Our guide said it was to avoid some very steep parts at the beginning. We also took a detour to visit a church (). We may have also taken a minor detour to meet the manager of the Seheta Guesthouse in a nearby village. He took us to another celebration at a friend’s house. We were all ready to get to the guesthouse and relax (we were adjusting to trekking in a strange county and still suffering serious jet lag). But we went with the flow. Most (many) families have a saint and they celebrate his day. The celebration is equivalent to how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. An excuse to get the family and friends together. We were included. No gifts expected or required, although no doubt the guesthouse manager owes or maybe it doesn’t even matter. The celebration was much like the other but smaller. A dozen or so people. In the kitchen at least six young mothers and their under two-year olds. A priest came and spoke and blessed the food. And then we ate and drank.
Day three, Seheta to Shimbrety didn’t follow the normal route passing near Idega Arbi, because on day four we went via Idega Arbi for the Friday market.
When looking at the routes before hand, it was disappointed that we were sticking to what appeared to be roads rather than wandering among the fields on smaller paths. That turned out not to be an issue for two reasons. The first is that almost no vehicles are on the roads. We saw a couple of trucks and one or two motos. And the countryside is so interesting that the route mattered little. People, animals, children, schools, harvesting, plowing, the mountains.
Before the trip we downloaded some routes from Wikilocs to understand where we were going. We had a guide so weren’t concerned about route finding. Some links to those routes: Shimbrety to Seheta, Gohgot to Erar, https://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/find.do?t=&d=&lfr=<o=&src=&act=&uom=mi&q=Tigray; I also looked at the trails labeled Tesfa Treking on Open Street Maps as well as four of the Community Guest Houses. I’ve tried to add the Seheta Guesthouse, but not sure it’s showing up.
Thank you Laurie. After a day in Addis Ababa we flew north to Mekele in the Tigrai region which borders Eritrea. After a night in Mekele we drove a couple of hours in a minivan with our tour operator, Solomon Seyoum, to Idega Arbi. The countryside was rolling with some small valleys. We saw some agriculture and animals but it didn’t seem to heavily used semi desert. The road was not very good with detours around former mud pits and much bottoming out. We arrived a small desert outpost with a tiny store and a large dirt plaza. Ariga Arbi is a weekly market town, we later learned means “Friday Market.” Our three donkeys with split barrel saddles were awaiting us. Our donkeys and loads were tended by two men from the village near where we would be staying that night. They would stay in their village with their donkeys and returning the next mornilng to go half way with us and turn us over to next two donkey wranglers and their three donkeys. And most important to our survival was our bubbly guide Berhan. Solomon and her made arrangements talked about payments. Solomon also entrusted Louisa with the tips for the donkey wranglers and guest house operators. Solomon was going on to a town near our put out point, Adigat. He would be busy on the phone and computer making arrangements for future tours. There aren’t a lot of tourist resources and so the operator has to stay on top of reservations for food lodging, treks, local guides, etc. If you haven’t noticed this will be a series of digressions. Tesfa Trekking (https://www.tesfatours.com/tour/community-trekking-in-tigray/) was started in about 2011 by Mark Chapman and Berhan has been with them since the early months. She is the only femaie guide in this region. She was our guide because Laurie thinks she is the best guide. (You’re asking who is Laurie, well you should). As I’m am writing this on the second morning we all agree with Laurie. But back to our starting point Idega Arbi. A dusty plaza with a few dozen buildings surrounding. But most spectacularly we are entering a series of valleys below a mesa, much like the Four Corners of the United States. Red and white sandstone cliffs one to two thousand feet above the valley floors. Idega Arbi is at the confluence of many valleys and subvalleys. We will be going up several of the valleys, going part way up to churches and ending up on top of the mesa (plateau). Seheta (Siheta). After good-byes between us, Berhan and Solomon; filling of water bottles, we start off down a local wide path. We only see one motor vehicle the rest of the day, a small motorcycle. My first impression is of a semi-desert, but come to realize that people are everywhere, some coming and going, some in the fields cutting crops. It’s harvest season, the crops are millet, tef, barley, sorghum and wheat with some corn, beans, hops. Also lots of cactus, the fruit of which is eaten. In hard times the “leaves” are cut up and feed to the animals. Other desert plants—agave, euphorpia, aloe—are common. As we progress along the path and we soon learn that a “Salome” is all that needed to being a smile and responding salome. And requently a handshake. Almost everyone is very friendly. The kids are like kids everywhere—some shy, some very friendly and wanting to try out there “how are you, I’m find”s and some wanting to converse and learn about where we’re from. We pass a school that’s reassembling after recess and Berhan shows us into a classroom. Very spartan—no obvious notebooks or paper, the walls covered with simple lessons in English and Amharic. Pictures with matching English. Other English is relation words—mother, father, etc ending in short sentences, e.g., the mother of my father is my grandmother. After a couple of minutes I decide to take over the classroom and lead the students through repetions of that page. They do fine with the short phrases, more work would be required for longer phrases. Afterwards the teacher said he wished he had a library—we didn’t find out what he meant—did he want primer type books or a real selection of various age appropriate books. We would like to follow up on his request. Berhan related that the local public teachers weren’t that good and those in the cities that could afford it sent their children to private schools. It’s easy to believe she is right as many words were mispelled on the lessons on the walls. We kept meeting people coming back from a celebration of life of a 90 year old who had died a year ago. We came to find out we were going to the celebraton. We bought a bottle of a local creme de menthe as an offering. Berhan is from this area and knew the family. She has also been guiding in the larger area and has met and knows many of the people. Anyway the celebration was held in a temporarily covered area that would hold maybe 100 people around small tables. We were seated at one of the tables. We were first offered local millet beer. Then a communal table with a dish covered with injera which had a raised platter with mashed garbonzas with a dollop of seasoned sauce in the middle. Then a young lady came with a dish piled with barley flour dough which she made ¾” balls which she placed on the injera under the raised platter. We were then given skewer to stab the barley balls and dip in the mashed garbonza and sauce to eat. After a few rounds we got into offering the dipped balls to each other. It’s common in Ethiopia to feed the other people in this way. The millet beer helped make for a fun activity. Various family members would come by and get into the mutual feeding. One of the six sons of the deceased stopped by a number of times and talked with us. Others came by also and joined in. We were there about an hour but the celebration goes on all day. Starts with a mass and then people drop by when they can for conversation and eating. I don’t think any of us thought the barley paste balls too exciting, but the garbonza and sauce are good.
You’re still wondering who Laurie is. Louisa and Greg met Laurie Scott and his wife Louise in Lee Vinilng at at campground. They were on a year long tour of the US and we were skiing at Tioga Pass. They then stayed with us in Redondo Beach when they passed through. Several years later Laurie was promoting his friend, Solomon Seyoum, from Ethiopia who was starting Anini Tours. Laurie is a geologist or mining engineer who had met Solomon when he worked in Ethiopia. Several years after that Rich Henke picked up the ball and worked with Laurie and Solomon to put together this trip. Thank you Rich and Laurie. Mark Chapman deserves thanks too for founding for founding Tesfa Treks. Mark organized the building of community run guest houses in the Tigrai region. He also organized Tesfa treks which provides the guides and arrangements with the guest houses. The guesthouses are generally on the edges of the mesa with amazing views, but usually a bit remote from the local housing. He arranged the training of the managers and cooking and maintenance crews of the guest houses. He wanted to help the economy of the region.
We were all surprised how beautiful the region is, how friendly the people are, and how interesting viewing the rural life is. We are here in harvest season so lots of activity—cutting the grain by hand, stacking the grain, threshing with cattle and then tossing the straw so it blows away to separate the grain. To me that is more interesting than the main tourist attraction in Tigrai, the churches carved in the rock cliffs. Some are fairly simple but others have the walls painted with murals. Christianity came to Ethiopia before Rome. Some of these churches date back to about the 5th century and have operated since.
Photos have been posted to Smugmug, http://knobby.smugmug.com
We had a great weekend biking the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona. What made it especially nice was that the six of us pretty much stuck together evne though our abilities varied. Also nice was that over the four nights and four days we stayed in only two campsites. The first because we arrived Wednesday evening and the next day did an out an back and stayed in the same site. The third night we stayed as planned at Bumble Bee Ranch which provided hot showers, good shade and a pleasant environment. After scouting the planned fourth night possibilities we decided the 20 or 30 minute drive back to Bumble Bee Ranch was less time consuming than breaking camp and the possibilities for camping at the next trailhead were limited.
The night we arrived we had dinner at the Arcosante cafeteria. A good meal at an interesting place. Thanksgiving night we enjoyed Louisa’s turkey tetrazzini. The following nights we had food prepared by Rich and Steve.
Louisa has posted a video slide show of our adventures on Vimeo. The slides make it look like an easy ride. Although it’s not a double-diamond technical ride, the loose rock makes for tough climbing and the warmer than usual weather didn’t help either. But no rain and sunny weather is nice too.
The first day out and back north from the Big Bug trailhead was disappointing. Rolling over the desert, but a not well used or maintained section which meant we got shredded by cat’s claw, palo verdes and other thorny plants. Protection is in order for this section. The following three days were much better. More terrain variety as far as scenery and biking interest. And well maintained, so although we got some scratches, nothing like the first day.
Small tidbit: at the end we all stayed with family cousins—three of them.
Thank you Louisa for organizing this and to everyone else for a successful adventure. I hope to add to this post with more details, but Rich will likely have a good write up and REI’s MTB Project has good info on this IMBA Epic ride.
Anita, Bob, Louisa and Greg got out after the recent rains and took a local hike. Weather turned out to be good, a bit windy, but otherwise fine. And much better views than we expected. This posting is in part a test of new to me easier photo posting in WordPress.
Sunset from the Pacific Coast Highway seen on our drive home. Lots of cars were stopped to view and photograph this sunset.
Today is our last day and we’re leaving on a good note. Shopping at Barefoot. A delicious lunch at the Galle Face hotel—in continuous operation since 1864. Situated right on the water and next to a large green and boardwalk.
We then met with Tissa, the head of the Fulbright Program in Sri Lanka. Anita worked for the Fuibright in the nineties and Bob and Anita volunteer for some activities. Tissa and Anita met professionally. Tissa has worked for the program for 22 years and has a great perspective on the program and Sri Lankan and US politics.
Yesterday visited the National Museum which has many of the antiquities from the sites we’ve visited and a recently undated displays. The museum put some of what we’d seen in perspective.
We did some shopping yesterday too and saw the Sri Lankan middle class. Many people at a Macy’s like store busy buying stuff.
We’ve enjoyed our trip. Many interesting things to see, clean, and friendly helpful people.
Anita and Bob did a fantastic job of organizing the trip and have been great to travel with.
Now we’re off on our own for a month in South India.
Saturday. After spending yesterday bird watching which means a bit of walking and lots of standing and looking, we opted to try for more of a hike today. We went peak bagging! Took a short hike to a peak. Was nice to get above the canopy and see the countryside.
It seems like the jungle is held together with roots. Hanging roots and so many tree roots that they make nice steps. The peak was 760m (2500 ft.). Mt. Mulawella.
On the way down our guides stopped us for a while and with an MP3 player, played bird songs. After about half an hour they found a small rare owl, named serendip (photo below).
Our local forest guide charged about $10 per day. Not much by our standards. From the little we’ve seen Sri Lanka doesn’t look that poor, but with wages like that it is. Seems to be a good bus system. Many busses even in the country side.
Women wear both western clothes (jeans and blouses), shirts and blouses, and dresses. Not the same styles as California, but maybe would not look out of place in the Applachians. Eomen also wear saris. Men wear western clothes and many wear sarongs, more so in the country side. The mens sarongs are colorful—woven large plaids, solid colors with wide borders. The lengths vary from knee to floor. Short more for work and long for dress. Good because they’re cool.
Found out that the low temperatures we had a couple of days ago were the lowest for the day in 61 years, about 20*F lower than normal. Getting warmer now.
Driving through the countryside, it’s surprising how many people there are, frequent villages, tuk-tuk running back and forth, seemingly buses every few minutes. And in one area dense with tea plantations, many private cars—mostly compacts.
I’ll have to sort out the two Buddhist groups. Anyway, the Sri Lanka form is the same as Thailand—no prayer wheels and not many flags.
The long running war with the Tamil Tigers was ended a couple of years ago. But the taxes have gone up since the war. The taxes increase the prices by as much as three fold according to our guide, but by observation not true for everything. Some of it goes to infrastructure and supporting the environment, but also apparently to lining the politicians pockets.
Still writing this a couple of days later. We’ve seen several electrification projects. One gets the impression that most of the country is electrified. Our lodge at Sinharaja had a water small turbine generator, but power lines were being put up nearby. Cell phone coverage wide spread as elsewhere in the emerging world.
Last two nights stayed in a hotel used in the Bridge Over the River Kwai. And yesterday visited the site of the bridge used in the movie. The bridge is gone (it was really blown up for the movie), but the abutments are still there. And it really is jungle. Thick vegetation. Hot and humid even in winter. Misty mornings. Not much rain here now. Although we’ve heard about the major flooding in the northern part of the country—forty days of rain. We don’t think it will affect our planned trip, although we still have to recheck our northern most destination.