omo river omorateEthiopia’s vast landscapes are a world in micro organism with virtually every known form of environment from desert to icy mountain peak.

Much of the country is a giant plateau 2500mts above sea level reaching well above 4000mts in many places. This plateau forms the watershed for some dramatic rivers, including the awesome Blue Nile and the equally exciting Omo River.

Rising in the highlands south-west of the capital of Addis Ababa, the Omo courses south for almost 1000km but never reaches the sea. It’s the sole feeder of Lake Turkana, East Africa’s 4th largest lake which enters just above the Kenya boarder.

As it tumbles off the escarpment, the Omo passes from the alpine environment and the rain forest, and on into savanna country and finally searing desert lands. Through the millennia its flood swollen waters have cut stupendous gorges.

Wild games roam in abundance on both banks; antelopes, zebras, buffalo, gazelles, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, and large and small cats; strange and colorful birds dart in and out of the lush vegetation.

For much of the Omo’s length the river waters sustain prolific numbers of Nile crocodiles and hippos. This is all part of the excitement of river running, however, and the Omo lures increasing numbers of adherents to this adventure sport. Eager to test themselves shooting the river’s countless and often lengthy rapids.

On the final leg of its journey south to Turkana, the Omo forms the boarder between Kaffa and Gamo-Gofa regions. It is here that Ethiopia’s largest nature sanctuary, the Omo national park, one of the richest in spectacle and game and yet the least visited areas in east and central Africa is located.

And another sanctuary Mago national park has also been established on the east bank a land of endless distant horizons. Here there are few landmarks or tracks as the visitor plunges into the rolling grasslands that seem to stretch into infinity. No traveler here can fail to experience that ‘away from it all’ feeling.

Virtually free from any modern human habitation, this stretch of the Omo valley is never-the-less the most probable site for the cradle of mankind that elusive Eden for which man has searched so long.

Scientists have discovered in the Omo valley fossil remains of man kinds earliest ancestors dating back almost four million years. But today in this breathtaking wilderness, nature’s creatures are king – stately herds of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, oryx and zebra browse and graze on the banks while the endemic hartebeest, ever alert, mingles with waterbuck and kudu.

Yet despite the isolation, some people do live here – much, perhaps, as man’s forefathers lived thousands of years ago; rich in bushcraft and the lore of the wild.

Although there are some fixed settlements along the river banks, the people of the Omo – the Karo, Geleb, Bume, Hamer, Bena, Dassenach, Mursi and others pursue a life style that is still nomadic.

They wonder through these lands carrying their few possessions – spear, knives, stool and driving their livestock before them, always forward to fresh pastures.

Clothing is simple – a short wraparound toga, enhanced with iron rings and other craft jewelry. Hair styles however are elaborate in the extreme – shaped and fashioned with rather sharp knives and adorned wit scull cap of red mud.

Many of the men are further decorated with tribal cicatrices scars which denote their standing in the community as young warriors or wise elders. The women walk bare breasted; wearing a simple short skirt of leather, the hems elaborately decorated metal work and distinctive head dress of beaten tin plates.

Some of these proud and colorful people have abandoned their wandering ways and settled their down to till the rich soils deposited on the banks of the Omo, or have turned to hunting. Others fish from long dug out canoes.

But the dominant impression that the visitor will take away of the peoples of the Omo is that of their individualism and resourcefulness amidst a harsh environment. Many of the men carry old carbine rifles toward off predators threatening their cattle or goats.

The image of one of these, tall, motionless guards standing watch as the sun sinks below the horizon while herds of wild game moves slowly across the skyline remains vividly in the memory of a visitor long after he has returned home.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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