By Girma Tillahun
Girma TillahunGirma Tillahun often guides travelers to different parts of Ethiopia. He is a graduate of Culture and Communications from Addis Ababa University.

It was around noon as we left Addis for Awassa for an 8 day trip south to Ethiopia’s cultural sites.

We drove about 270 km to Awassa, the capital of the southern region of Ethiopia crossing various towns like Dukem, Debre- zeite and Modjo.

Hamer evangadi dancesDebre-zeite is a small town, mostly a weekend resort area and is surrounded by five lakes.

Zewai is the next town at a lake side named Lake Zewai. The lake is a spot where you can find a huge number of water birds congregated.

Birds such as White Pelicans, Fish Eagles, Marabou Storks and African Pygmy Geese are some of the species to be seen.

Lakes Shala, Abyata and the National Park are situated at the west of the main road as one continues driving to Awassa. Nowadays  the environment of the park has suffered as a result of cultivation, grazing and deforestation. But there were over 400 bird species recorded here during the 1970s and 1980s.

One can still find thousands of both lesser and greater Flamingo’s congregate along the shores of Lake Abyata. Also birds like Little Stint, Gull-billed Tern and Pintail, and a variety of ducks are among the species to be seen here.

The last town before we reached Awassa is Sha-sha-mane; a residence for quite a few ‘Rastafarians’ who migrated here from Jamaica decades ago.  Another thing one can notice is the huge greenhouses by the roadside, covering a vast amount of land. Recently, the flower industry is booming and is creating many jobs.

Awassa to Arbaminch

Awassa is one of Ethiopia’s beautiful and growing cities situated at the side of Lake Awassa. The lake is rich in bird life like Pygmy Goose, Brown Snake Eagle, Grey Kestrel, Spotted Creeper, African Marabou Storks, and the endemic Yellow-fronted Parrot. There are also hippos in the lake and Colobus monkeys in the gardens of the lake side hotels.

We stayed our previous night at Chambelala, a hotel nicely built by the side of Lake Awassa. And after having our breakfast we visited the fish market where lots of people were enjoying fresh fish meals.

At about 11am we drove to Wondogenet a resort surrounded by evergreen vegetation and hot springs. The springs are said to have curative properties and the Emperor Haile Selassie had a lodge there, now part of the hotel.

There is also naturally heated open air pool in the hotel. In the gardens of the hotel we saw the Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, White-cheeked Turaco, and Yellow-fronted Parrot. Then we had our picnic lunch under the shade of a tree.  Dorze village hut

We also crossed Doze village, an exciting place for its bee hive shaped huts.

We were also able to visit the place on our last day as we drove back to Addis. But today we had to rush to Arbaminch.

It was late night as we arrived at Arbaminch because we spent much time at Awassa and Wondogenet.

Arbaminch is an Amharic word implying ‘forty springs’. Though not proven how many there were, it is said forty springs existed by the time the city was founded.

Turmi and crossing Omo River

market at TurmiAt Arbaminch we stayed at Bekele Mola hotel and right after breakfast we drove to Turmi crossing Konso, Woito, Arbore and some other villages.

Along the road it is quite common to see young children trying to catch your attention by performing different kinds of dances.

If they succeed to be photographed, they will ask for a birr or two.

Turmi is Hamer’s main town and the people are beautiful and stylish. We had our dinner at the one and only restaurant and spent our night camping.

We had an interesting time visiting the colorful market of the Hamer people and their famous traditional dancing named Evangadi which is held at night.

Early morning on the fourth day, we had our breakfast and organized ourselves to drive to the Omo River. Crossing Omo RiverWe crossed the river using a local boat to a village called Omorate, where the Dassenech tribes live.

The weather was very hot and there were no  restaurants so we had our picnic lunch under a shade. We arrived back in Turmi late in the afternoon.

The next morning we said good-bye to Turmi and drove to Jinka via the market towns of Dimeka and Keyafar.

The name ‘Keyafar’ means red soil in Amharic which I guess is in reference to the color of the soil.

Jinka, Mago, and Mursi

Late in the afternoon we arrived at Jinka. To visit the Mursi people one has to cross the Mago National Park. But Jinka comes first.

Jinka is the main and biggest town in the lower Omo Valley. It is said to feel like Paris if one has spent the previous nights in the tribal areas. We spent two nights at the Jinka Resort hotel which is also the best in town.

Mago National Park was on our sixth day and it is a must to cross the park to visit the popular Mursi tribes.

The Mursi people are known for putting a clay or wooden plate in the lips and ears.

As we walked around the head quarters of the park we saw a big river with water that was cool and pure. Our guests were surprised to see such a big river in a dry land and didn’t hesitate to take off their clothes and jump into it and cover their bodies with mud.

I guess they wanted to experience what it feels to be like the locals. But they didn’t try the clay or wooden plates inside their lips. Anyway they were having a lot of fun.

On the seventh day of our trip we drove to Arbaminch via Keyafar, a big and colorful market and where one can meet most of the tribal groups together.

On this day we also visited Konso village and a huge hut built for the youth aged between12 and 18. According to their tradition, they have to spend their nights sleeping together alert and stand by for any threats. It is like national service.

Konso people are known for their wooden totems erected  in honor of dead warriors and intricate agricultural terracing techniques.

Tha last day

On the eighth day, we concluded the trip at Dorze village around Sodo and had a chance to visit their interesting way of living and beehive shaped huts.

There is a nice guy named Mekonen at Dorze village who was very helpful and kind enough to show us his house, their way of life, their cultural dances, traditional clothes and invited us to share their unique cuisine.

We had eight great days and finished our trip at the place where we started from, Addis.

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