by John and Gail Murphy

group on trekking The baby was an amazing addition. Local folks have seen the odd white trekker but never a white baby.

Thankfully there were donkeys to carry our luggage. The trekking was rough… quite flat but very stony. I was very glad to have packed my serious hiking boots.

The land is arable but the primary crop is rocks. They are used to terrace the fields, but still there are so many that plowing looks impossible.

We walked 5-6 hours each day and stayed in huts built and maintained by local villagers who also prepared our meals…injera with wat (stew) or lentils, chick peas.

When we weren’t ogling the view over the edge of the escarpment at +2600 m, we were watching the local people farm this rugged landscape by hand. It was harvest season. Grain is cut handful by handful with a small scythe, stacked carefully so that the grains are in the middle and the cattle and donkeys won’t get to them too quickly.

Threshing is done by using cattle, and horses driven in a pivoting circle to trample the grain off the stalks. John noticed that to reduce contamination the guy driving the animals must do a quick turd catch so that it doesn’t land among the stalks.

Winnowing is done by two guys who lift the stalks up into the wind to blow the chaff away. Grinding is done in a large wooden mortar with a log as a pestle. It is very labour intensive work.

The local people live in smoke filled huts that accommodate them and their livestock so they are toasty warm…I wonder if the meat tastes smoky?

We flew back to Addis and I promptly got VERY sick. The local doctor diagnosed amoebic dysentery and prescribed powerful bug killing drugs. We ordered up a double set as we figured John was probably right behind me. We both slept the next 24 hours away.

Thank God we were on an individual tour which could be adjusted by our wonderful organizer, Eskinder, at Highway Tours.

Then off to the Omo Valley, always wondering where the next toilet stop might be! Omo Valley is home to a large number of tribal groups who live very traditionally.

The Hamer women, many dressed in skimpy goatskins who rub their short little dreadlocks with ochre to give a reddish tinge.

The Konso ladies with their multicolored skirts. The Banna boys who decorate their bodies, even their penises, with white paint and jump about in athletic dance moves.

The Dorze weavers who depend so completely on the false banana trees for their food and building materials. They make their tall houses to last 80 years, just getting shorter and shorter as the termites eat the bottoms of them.

The Mursi women who cut and then stretch their lower lips to fit larger and larger lip plates…only wish they would wear the lip plates all the time because the default setting is without and is decidedly unattractive. Here it was a fashion show beyond belief as women begged and argued and flaunted themselves to earn the photo fee.

Tourism is having a negative affect on these people. Children beg for empty water bottle by yelling out the brand name “Highland”. If you didn’t know, you would think it was the Amharic greeting.

We had a rest day at Lake Awasa which was actually Christmas Day, at least on our calendar. We did some strolling along the water’s edge and bird watching a bit. The best part was the unspoilt atmosphere where we could walk without being targeted for sales or scams.

A nice hotel in this spot with a view of the lake and vervet monkeys playing in the treetops and rooftops. Throughout our tour the various rooms were billed as “best available” but some communities are not into tourist options so services ranged from bleak to fantastic.

Onward to the east of Addis to visit Harar, an old walled city with an Arabic flavour, a Muslim enclave dotted with tiny mosques.  It is cleaned nightly by packs of hyenas!!

The hyenas are fed nightly in a public place where tourists show up and watch the daring Hyena man with their car headlights as he feeds them by hand. We saw 10 adults at one of two feeding sites. Then the hyenas cruise the streets looking for garbage.

Then we headed back to Addis for a city tour and the two museums we wanted to see. The ethnographic collection at the University is fantastic and gave us an excellent review of the tribal groups.

The National Museum holds the remains of some of the oldest of our ancestors including Lucy, a tiny proto-human some 3 million years old. They are presently working on a couple of finds that predate her by quite a bit…the cradle of human life.

We really appreciated the service we got from Highway Tours. We were met at every stop; the local guides and drivers were excellent; the program at every site was well-planned. The flexibility when we were sick and needed a doctor and a pharmacy and a day chopped out of the plan were admirable.

Ethiopian Airlines got us safely back to Kenya and we moved through the airport in record time! We shopped a little knowing that our cupboard was bare at home and then headed to Soysambu Conservancy and the Mweha Lodge on the property of Lord Delamere not far from Greensteds.

Here with several of our colleagues we occupied 7 of their 10 rooms and welcomed in 2010. Champagne flowed. It was a lovely end to the holiday.

We’ve been back to work for a week now.

Wishing you the best for 2010!
Gail and John

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
Turning Your Dream Vacation Into a Reality

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