“What is the point of feeling at home when you are travelling?”
Today was going to be a tough day as Wayne’s car was not in good fettle. Yesterday he took it to a local with some mechanical knowledge, who drained his fuel tank, refueled with clean fuel, cleaned the fuel filter and bled the system as well as cleaning the air filter. This was all to no avail. That evening a very helpful guide helped to change the fuel filter. The opinion was that any further work required the assistance of a diagnostic computer, only available in Addis, about 600km away. He even disconnected his battery in the hope of reprogramming his onboard computer in case the vehicle was in limp mode. This also made no difference. Our plan was to attempt the drive to Jinka which was not too far, with me ready to tow if needed. Perhaps there would be someone in Jinka with the knowledge to help and in any case it was one step closer to Addis should a flat-bed truck be needed. I was a little wary of towing Wayne too far as his Mitshubishi short-wheel base Pajero was an automatic. I must say that this vehicle had thus far stood up very well to the rigors of the recent tough routes.
The road to Jinka was unsurfaced at first but in good condition. Most of the road signs are in Amharic script but the important ones have an English subtitle. The Pajero was smoking badly with no power above 2,000 rpm and even stalling at times. We began towing for 10km and then limping along for the next 10. Initially I used a short nylon tow rope (from the AA) but this proved very stressful on the downhills especially, as the brakes where obviously not operating optimally with the engine switched off. Later I changed to the longer winch extension strap which was easier. Even after reaching the tar of the Konso-Jinka road the going was slow and stressful as towing down some of the steep hills required great concentration. Wayne was terrified he was going to come crashing into the rear of my vehicle. I was relieved not to come across any traffic officials as I was sure they could have found something illegal in our towing procedure if they so desired. In fact throughout Ethiopia we had seen few if any traffic officials with no speed traps or check points. Joy of joys, also no speed humps whatsoever! It took us a rather painful 7hr to cover the 120km from Turmi to Jinka, but this was why we were travelling together and the shoe could easily been on the other foot. Jinka was a larger center than Turmi and we were vaguely optimistic we would find someone to restore the vehicle to its normal working condition, this despite the earlier advice that it would require a diagnostic computer. It is terrible being so mechanically retarded but this was a known risk for us before setting off on this expedition.
In Jinka we stayed at the Jinka Resort, a small hotel that had been recommended to us. I do not think there is much choice for camping in Jinka. They allow camping in their small garden but for rooftop tents one has to use a carpark to the one side of the building and behind the kitchen, which did not make for the quietest and most private of stays. This was our first experience of carpark camping and as expected it was not a particularly pleasant experience. The inquisitiveness of the staff and some guests knew no bounds. We were getting used to the Ethiopian lack of appreciation of privacy and personal space. The manager at first wanted us to use the staff ablutions but they were totally unsatisfactory and he then allocated us an empty room nearby, to use the flush toilet and warm shower. When tested the shower was not functioning (always test these before accepting facilities) and we managed after a bit of pressure to have another room allocated, somewhat further away. We would far rather sleep in our own RTT with our own bedding than in the slightly shabby hotel rooms. This smallish hotel had a fair number of tourists staying there. We had hardly arrived when we were approached by a very personable tour operator who spoke excellent English. He had excellent local contacts and offered to take Wayne and his vehicle to a capable local mechanic first thing in the morning. He also set up a day trip for us into the Mago NP to see the Mursi tribespeople with a guide and in his Land Cruiser. With Wayne’s vehicle out of commission we had no choice but to go the expensive route of hiring a vehicle, driver and guide. We originally were told we also needed an armed guard but this never materialized. I had read plenty about visits to see the Mursi in their traditional villages in the NP and was concerned that we would also find the visit distasteful and demeaning because of rampant commercialisation. But we could not come all this way and not see for ourselves what is widely held to be the most colourful of the South Omo tribes.
Jinka Resort is set in fairly pleasant grounds on a busy road, but the property clearly had seen better days. There is a reasonably priced pub and restaurant with pleasant enough seating and tables, some of them open-air. When on the premises this is where we spent most of our time as there was no space or privacy in the back parking lot to set up chairs or table or even to do our own cooking. We were learning that all we had read about camping and tourist facilities for self-drivers in Ethiopia was true, Mango Campsite having been a marked exception. The restaurant had quite an extensive menu with mainly Italian dishes and traditional Ethiopian fare. The first night for supper we immediately ventured into the unknown realm of traditional Ethiopian food. The food is pretty spicy and tasty. We had goat and beef tibs. This consists of small pieces of fried meat with some onions and other veggies in a spicy sauce. The heat of the spice can be varied according to personal preference. This is served with the traditional Ethiopian flat pancake-like injera. Injera is made from a local grain named teff. This is allowed to ferment a little before the flat pancakes are cooked in a pan and served either rolled up on the side or with the spicy meat and gravy served upon them. Injera has a spongy texture and has a not unpleasant slightly sour taste from the fermentation. We came to like injera but apparently others hate its taste and texture. Unfortunately the small meat strips were very tough indeed but we were to eat better quality later in the trip. This dish is certainly tasty and at least Ethiopia has its own unique tasty cuisine, not a feature of much of Africa. However over time the injera and variations of spicy sauces became rather monotonous. They also serve very tasty blenderised and thick fruit juices which are to be recommended. The seasonal juices available were papaya and banana which we thoroughly enjoyed. I also found that the strong cups of top quality Ethiopian coffee were much to my taste.
Whilst on Ethiopian food, the next night I tried their spaghetti with tomato sauce which was fine. The Italians have had a considerable influence on Ethiopian restaurant fare and the pastas are a safe bet throughout Ethiopia, especially when tired of the traditional food. Another dish of Ethiopian origin is fir-fir which is injera within injera, with a spicy sauce. One can also have one of the specials which are various assortments of spicy meats and sauces served with again, injera. This is fun for sharing and tasting. The injera is taken by hand, a suitable piece torn off and the sauce and meat loaded onto it before eating. Very similar to the manner in which curries are eaten with nan or chapatti. There are a wide variety of Ethiopian lager beers all of which were very good and everything is reasonably priced. In fact all through East Africa the beer is excellent.
Camping, Birr 160 (US$8) per tent per night.
St George’s beer, Birr 8.
Goat tibs, Birr 80.
The excursion to see the Mursi in Mago NP was a lot more expensive. Without breaking this up into individual components, this cost US$250 for the 3 of us. This included the vehicle hire, the driver, the compulsory guide, park entrance fees and fees for visiting the Mursi village. It did not include the price of taking photographs of individuals in the village. Here it costs Birr 5 for each photo and they do count the clicks. For a portrait of 2 individuals together it is Birr 10 and a mother and baby Birr 7,5. There is no charge for panoramic shots of the village with the people in the basckground. As I understand it there is no limit to the amount of time you spend at the village but believe me 2 hrs is more than enough.
The following morning we set off for the fairly long drive to the traditional Mursi village on the far border of the Mago NP. It pays to leave early before the tourist crowds arrive and, we were warned, before the Mursi become drunk and aggressive. Our guide, (Barak believe it or not) had a reasonable command of English and did provide some information of interest along the route through the park and within the village. However I would like to think that his principle function is to communicate with the Mursi, head off those who were becoming aggressive and unpleasant in their demands to be photographed and to sort out the inevitable disputes that arise about payments.
After a reasonably early start of 08H00, it took us about 2hrs to drive to the particular Mursi village chosen from a few we passed, based on the absence of other tourist vehicles there, although others arrived as we were leaving. Perhaps an even earlier start is advisable. Mago is reputed to have some animals but we saw not a thing, it does not say too much about Ethiopia’s conservation efforts as apparently poaching remains rife. This area of the Omo Valley is scenic as the good road twists through the hills. There are various viewpoints where one stops for photos. The driver proceeds at breakneck speed through the park on a reasonable dirt road, at times travelling at above 100km/hr. So much for game viewing. At one stage he carried out the most incredible maneuver. He wanted his mobile phone which was locked in the cubby hole of the vehicle. Choosing a long straight downhill he switched off the ignition, removed the key, opened the cubby hole, retrieved his phone and restarted the vehicle, all the while whilst coasting down the hill without power steering or brakes. This was done at about 80km/hr.
The visit to the Mursi was a most unsatisfactory experience and I think it is best described warts and all. Look, this is something that all should probably do and decide for themselves if it was worth the time, money and occasional frank embarrassment. We all found it demeaning, undignified and unrewarding in almost every aspect. It is quite frankly alike to a circus or zoo. These naive Mursi people have lost all their dignity due to the greed created in them by commercial tourism. This is in total contrast to our experience amongst the Hamer tribespeople.
When you arrive at the village in the middle of nowhere, the guide makes contact with the headman and pays the required fee. One can take pictures of the village without any further charge. The village, which is functional and not merely a showpiece, consists of a circle of huts. In the central clearing is where the cattle are corralled overnight. This cow dung-laden clearing is not surprisingly absolutely infested with flies. As is the case elsewhere in Africa the people do not appear to be bothered by the flies crawling over their faces. There was lots of rubbish lying about and quite frankly the general odour was not too pleasant. Once again this was not new to us, born and bred in Africa.
However the dress and appearance of these people was fascinating. The Mursi are the most famous of the Ethiopian tribes and with justification. The women have an alien appearance with their pendulant, stretched lips and lip plates, as well as stretched, decorated earlobe piercings. Their animal skin clothes and necklaces are very ornamental as were their intricate skin scarifications and all in all their appearance appeared to be authentically traditional without any apparent concessions to western influences. Anne felt rather strongly that these mutilations were hard on the women as they apparently have no choice in the matter if they wanted peer acceptance and status. I personally feel that we are in no position to deliver comment on the traditions of others.
One is harassed to take photographs with both verbal and physical contact by the women. Our guide had his hands full preventing us from being mobbed too much. The more aggressive of the women have no hesitation in grabbing you by the arm forcefully. I found it best to stand off to the side, visually select someone that I wanted to photograph, arrange for the guide to draw them to one side for the photo, agree on the 5 Birr price and then photograph. The women seem to age prematurely but some of the young maidens were really striking. After taking our requisite photos we made our escape and escape it was. We had spent just over an hour there and this was about as much as we could tolerate as the people had begun verging on near-hysteria with the arrival of another group of tourists.
Ultimately all should make this visit. You really cannot judge until you have experienced this for yourself. Your experience and opinion may be different to ours. These Mursi people are unique, the only near-equivalent in my experience being the Himba of Namibia. If only our visit could have taken place half a century earlier. The one thing we did not do in Jinka, which others may find interesting, was a visit to the Cultural Museum which highlights and explains the traditions of the Omo tribes.
We were back in camp by early afternoon and later that day discovered that the mechanic had discovered obstructing feeds from the fuel tank in Wayne’s car and that it was now running perfectly. What a boon this was compared to the inconvenience and expense of transporting it to Addis to the Mitshubishi agency. Wayne's Pajero eventually made it all the way to Tsrael on this repair, give the man a Bell's! Well, all for one and one for all!
Mursi woman with lip plate and scarification 206
1. Mago NP 201
2. Mursi woman without lip plate but with rifle. 213