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The opportunity to go back in time and view a land frozen in time in Ethiopia’s South Omo Valley region was unforgettable in many respects. The nine days I spent there were not always the easiest but the inside access I had into the tribes of Omo was like something lifted straight out of Discovery Channel. A trip like this is raw, visceral, thought provoking, and simply astounding.
This Ethiopia itinerary across 9 days is meant to gave you as much confidence as possible in planning your trip to Ethiopia and to give you a clear idea of how it works based on my own personal experience.
- The Ethiopia Omo Valley trip planning guide
- An inside look into the Donga stick fighting tournament
- Ethiopia packing guide
- The many faces of Omo Valley
Where to stay in Addis Ababa?
- The start and end of your trip is going to include Addis Ababa. The best property in the city has to be the Hilton Addis Ababa which is super safe, comfortable rooms, great service, and in a central location.
What I learned pretty quickly is that for better or for worse, there really isn’t a whole lot of information out there about Ethiopia. It’s good in that you’re going to a place that travellers rarely ever get to go but that also means that you have to take a leap of faith in a lot of ways.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even know what the itinerary was going to look like before I got there. The one thing you need to understand is that every trip is going to have to be fluid and flexible because of when a nearby festival might be happening or you might be lucky enough to find out that a Donga stick fighting tournament is happening the day of. Just keep in mind that the order of things isn’t as important.
9 Day Ethiopia Itinerary to the Omo Valley
If you’re looking for a starting foundation for your Ethiopia itinerary focused on the Omo Valley, look no further!
|Day 1: Addis to Arba Minch||Day 2: The Road to Jinka||Day 3: An Evening with the Mursi Tribe||Day 4: Accidental Donga||Day 5: Ari to Turmi||Day 6: Dimeka Market and Bull Jumping Ceremony||Day 7: Nyangatom and Karo Tribes||Day 8: Last Day in Omo Valley||Day 9: Rushing Back to Arba Minch|
|Morning||- In Transit||- Lake Chamo boat tour|
- Car trouble
|- South Omo Research Centre Museum||- Donga||- Ari tribe||- Dimeka market||- Drive to Nyangatom tribe||- Morning in Hamar tribe |
- Drive to Omarate
|- Drive back to Arba Minch|
- Stop in Konso for breakfast
|Afternoon||- Pickup from Airport|
- Drive to hotel
|- Lunch in Arba Minch||- Drive into Mago National Park|
- Arrive at Mursi tribe village
- Photography session
- Walk to watering hole
|- Drive back to Jinka||- Drive to Turmi|
- Walk to nearby Hamar tribe
|- Bull jumping ceremony||- Karo tribe||- Dassenech tribe|
- Turmi market
|- Lunch in Arba Minch|
- Flight to Addis Ababa
- Hang out at the Hilton
|Evening||- Drive to Jinka|
- Dinner at Melak's family's house
|- Camping (dinner and hanging out with the Chief and friends)||- Internet cafe|
- Dinner at nearby bar
|- Early rest||- Dinner at the lodge||- Drive back to Turmi||- Rush back||- Dinner and show at Yod Abbisinya|
- Flight to Cairo at 10:40PM
|Accommodations||Swaynes Hotel||Orit Hotel||Mursi Tribe Camping||Orit Hotel||Turmi Lodge||Turmi Lodge||Hamar Tribe Camping||Key Afer Hotel||N/A|
Full Ethiopia Itinerary Breakdown
Here’s a day by day breakdown of the 9 day Ethiopia itinerary for you to follow along.
Table of Contents
- Day 1 – Addis Ababa to Arba Minch
- Day 2 – The Road to Jinka
- Day 3 – An Evening with the Mursi Tribe
- Day 4 – Accidental Donga
- Day 5 – Ari to Turmi
- Day 6 – Dimeka Market and Bull Jumping Ceremony
- Day 7 – Nyangatom and Karo Tribes
- Day 8 – Last Day in Omo Valley
- Day 9 – Rushing Back to Arba Minch
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Day 1 – Addis Ababa to Arba Minch
It actually took 2 days of travel to finally arrive in Addis Ababa but I figured it wouldn’t make sense to include it into the itinerary. The reason why it took so long was because I couldn’t get a direct flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa. Instead, one day was spent on flying into Washington Dulles, staying overnight, and then catching an Ethiopian Airlines flight.
All in all I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the service of the flight though I think part of it had to do with my fascination over my first 787 Dreamliner flight and it definitely helped to have a full row to myself.
Once landed in Addis Ababa, you have to go through customs and I read somewhere that you needed to have passport photos ready for the visa on arrival but none of that was necessary because they now have webcams there to take photos on the spot. I just handed in my form, paid my $50 USD, and I was on my way.
We got out of the terminal and were a bit confused in terms of what to do. Our original plan was to stay at the airport for our 6 hour layover but we were foiled in a number of ways.
First, the domestic flights are in a totally separate terminal that requires walking around some construction to get to. There was a path laid out but it seemed like we were the only foreigners doing this.
We got there and found out it was way too early to check in. There was also no wifi or lounge to speak of so we walked all the way back to the international terminal to see if we could do anything there but again we’d be stuck there doing nothing.
Ultimately we decided to get into the city. Without quite knowing where we could go for internet and some food, we felt that the easiest and probably safest option was to go to a hotel and hope they had wifi. Challenge was that we didn’t have any hotels in mind. What ended up happening was my friend approached one of those hotel vans telling the driver that we needed a ride to this random hotel. It took awhile for him to understand that we had no reservation but after some price negotiation we were on our way.
The hotel ended up being the Soramba which was nowhere close to the airport. We were literally dropped in the middle of the suburbs it felt like but my sense of direction was totally off at this point. With close to 4 hours to kill, we had the buffet breakfast, watched some CNN, caught up on emails, and chilled in the restaurant.
We eventually caught a cab back to the domestic terminal and landed into the southern gateway city of Arba Minch by 4PM. It was an interesting flight in that it first made a stop Jimma where a group of locals got off, a new batch came on and then we resumed our way to Arba Minch.
Which guides did we use and how did we plan our trip?
For more details about how we came to a decision for everything we did on our trip, what we packed, things we learned along the way and just inside knowledge about how travel in Ethiopia works, make sure to read the full guide.
After picking up our bags we met our two guides, Solomon and Melak, and were driven straight to our lodge, Emerald Resort (formerly Swaynes Hotel) which ended up being our one and only destination for the day. The fresh papaya drink that was offered to us as a welcome drink, followed by that gorgeous view of Nechisar National Park, solid wifi in the dining hall and dinner itself made it quite the relaxing way to end the day.
If we arrived earlier there was a chance we could’ve done Dorze tribe but I was completely content with just taking it easy.
Ethiopian Airlines – I don’t understand why they still use two prong headphones but they do. Bring your own adapter if you want to use your own headphones.
Customs – Make sure you have $50 USD in hand to pay for the visa on arrival. The form itself is pretty self explanatory but it will ask you for an address. We knew we were going onwards to Arba Minch but we didn’t know the specific hotel we were staying at. Luckily, I asked our guides beforehand for a specific hotel name to write here and they gave us “Paradise Lodge”.
Day 2 – The Road to Jinka
Suffering from a little jet lag, it wasn’t all too hard to catch the sunrise the second morning. With my trusty tripod, I was able to watch the sun peek right behind the mountains of the national park that was right below the cliff of our lodge and across the lake.
As I was packing up and getting ready for breakfast, an unexpected family of monkeys passed through the stone wall of the cliff that was connected to the “backyard” of our room. I couldn’t believe my eyes as little ones and old ones made their way across.
The breakfast was a very no-nonsense kind of Western food which I definitely took for granted. I guess they have to start you off easy right? I was loving all the comforts of the lodge, the view, and the food so far but in the back of my mind I knew that this was only going to get rougher from here on out.
Our first stop of the day was Lake Chamo which is directly south of Arba Minch and truly the real start to our Ethiopia itinerary. We had our own private boat that took us out onto the lake. It was quite the leisurely boat ride. There was a bit of hype around seeing hippos but with the sun beating down on us, I had a feeling that the chances would be quite low.
While we unfortunately didn’t see any hippos, we did get a chance to see huge crocodiles. I wasn’t too nervous for ourselves but we saw a local boy paddling by this part of the lake and I was scared for his life!
The lake was also a great opportunity to see a ton of large birds including the majestic pelicans making acrobatic dives.
Things got a little interesting in the afternoon. Needing to go back in town to cut our micro-SIM cards to nano-SIM size (more on data in Ethiopia in the detailed planning guide), we drove back into Arba Minch.
As we pulled onto the main street, our 4×4 seemed to be labouring and then eventually it went kaput. Our driver thought it was a quick fix and he popped the hood to try to fix it but had no luck. Eventually, it looked like we’d need another car and so our guides said it just made more sense to grab lunch in town while we waited for a replacement car and drive to come in.
Lunch was my first time eating real Ethiopian food and so you can imagine how much of an adjustment it was to eat with my hands and in Hungry Hippo fashion almost just duke it out everyone else to try to claim your food before it disappeared especially at the pace that Solomon and Melak eat at.
The way Ethiopian food is that it comes out in this large circular platter. On this platter, there’s a large pancake/crepe that they call injira. On top of this injira, there are evenly spaced scoops of various mixes of meat, vegetables, and spices. It doesn’t look appetizing but what you do is you pull off a palm-sized piece of injira and roll it in a semi circle so that you can use it like tongs between your fingers to grab a bit of whatever scoop suits your fancy.
This was also the first time in this Ethiopia itinerary I got to be part of a proper Ethiopian coffee ceremony. It’s nothing like back home where you put in your order at Starbucks and the barista hands you a cup. In Ethiopia, they take coffee seriously.
Coffee is made on the spot by a special woman that mans the ceremonial tent. Once the coffee is done brewing, they come to you with burning incense to ward off the evil spirits. In a small cup, she pours the coffee from the pot, dump in a ton of sugar, and you mix it all together in the cup.
I think the biggest difference with Ethiopian coffee is just how much grittier it is because there isn’t a filter. It’s overall thicker in consistency but quite the strong (but very sweet) flavours.
So a new driver and 4×4 finally make it to Arba Minch and we’re on the go again. The drive from Arba Minch to Jinka takes a good 5 hours at least (I lost track) and along the way there was vast landscape to see and we passed by a number of villages. We stopped a few times to see a few things that our guides would point out or kids would be on the side of the streets selling fruit which is why we ended up with a loot of bananas and mangos in the back seat for only $2.
The roads were paved for parts of it but all in terrible condition despite being paved only a few years ago. Then there were parts where it was all gravel and that’s when the rumbling ensued. While there weren’t a ton of cars on the road, there were a lot of farmers and kids herding sheep and cattle which Billy, our driver, had to skillfully maneuver around.
We arrived in Jinka right before sundown at Orit Hotel where we had a bit of downtime to unpack before we head over to Melak’s Mom’s house. This was a special treat because we got an inside look into real modern homes of Ethiopia, and a traditionally cooked meal outside of a restaurant. I was very gracious for them allowing us to enter into their home and intrude in their evening as guests.
There’s going to be a ton of amazing scenery along the drive to Jinka. Don’t be afraid to ask your driver or guide to stop over wherever. There were a ton of shots that I thought I could get later but never did.
Day 3 – Start to Omo Valley Itinerary and An Evening with the Mursi Tribe
Starting our day 3 of our Ethiopia itinerary out in Jinka, we had the morning to grab breakfast in town and check out the South Omo Research Centre Museum. On this day, we finally would get to see the famed Mursi tribe in this part of the Omo Valley itinerary.
Along the way, we ended up meeting a host of different locals. Some were friends of our guides and others were completely random. The museum we went to at the top of the hill in Jinka was a good precursor to all the different tribes we’d later see in the trip. A lot of research has been done on the tribes of the region and there’s a very thorough set of displays that break down each one.
Before hitting the road, we grabbed some food to go in Jinka, loaded up supplies, and purchased a few more recharge cards for our phones. We also picked up a new passenger here and that turned out to be our local guide into the Mursi tribes, Lala.
The drive into Mago National Park was a long one with mostly unpaved terrain as we twisted and turned through the contour of the mountains. There was an opportunity to stop along the way to eat our takeaway lunch but it was a quick stop because we needed to make up some time.
There were plenty of opportunities to take photos along the way but my first taste of what was to come with the photograph was this one stop where there was an outstanding view of the twists and turns in the road we came up on.
These kids came rushing down out of nowhere demanding to have their photo taken. Not particularly wanting to do so but feeling pressured, we obliged and took a few before they scurried away after payment was delivered.
There were also a few scout stations along the way. These were no fuss as long as we paid and off we went.
After several hours, we finally make it into the Mursi Tribe region of the park and stopped at the first village. Lala knew the elders here and needed to deliver some medicine so he hopped off and ran in. Us wanting to stretch our legs, we started walking down the main gravel road before our car finally caught up to us.
Further into the tribe’s region, we finally make it into the village where we were being hosted for the evening. Lala was quite familiar with the chief and so were our guides so there was definitely a sense of comfort that we were in safe hands.
I’ll be honest in that I was definitely in a certain state of shock when I got to the village mainly because we stopped in this field where you could see cow dung littered everywhere. There was an overpowering odour of manure and there were black flies EVERYWHERE.
While you never really get used to it, you kind of just come to grips with the understanding that this is how these people live on the day to day and that you just have to tough it out.
In a lot of ways I couldn’t really think of it too much because once we got off the car, I was thrown into a state of frenzy because Lala told me that I had to get my camera gear together to do photos. It had to be then because there were other activities planned for us later. I grabbed my Olympus EM-1 with 40-150mm lens and followed Lala’s lead.
Thing is, I was totally expecting to take more candid type photos but once I got into the heart of the village where all the women were essentially waiting for my arrival. It’s a strange thing to have people begging for you to take their photo and be dressed in what looks like traditional clothing and decorations only to realize that this whole thing feels a bit unnatural.
In succession, I more or less went through all of the tribes women and children that were there, taking rapid fire portrait photos without the ability to do a whole lot of posing or direction.
Once I was done, I found my friend hanging out with the chief of the village, Chief Nogali, and a few other men of the village. It was nice to just chat there and try our hardest to learn their language and get laughed at. You could tell that they genuinely were humoured by our attempts.
With the sun starting to come down, our guides asked us if we were interested in going down to the watering hole with the chief, Melak and Lala.
This was perhaps one of the most authentic experiences in the village as we were essentially escorted by Chief Nogali down this trail.
This is the exact same 3km trail that tribe members trek through multiple times a day to fill jerrycan-type containers with water to bring back home. It really hit home for me just how crucial water is to the survival of any race.
When we get there, instead of a small pond of water, you literally get to a muddy hole with dirty brown water that was no wider than my own height. Nevertheless, this is the only water source and they make do. A few of them even shower here as this is probably the only place to do so.
Trekking back to the village was even more of an adventure as the sun was fully down halfway. With nothing but Chief Nogali guiding our way, and the jingling of cowbells making their way back home, we eventually make it back.
For the rest of the night, I had a chance to do a little photography, we the dinner that Lala cooked for us over the make-shift campfire and we just hung out with Chief Nogali and his friends on dried animal skin while watching the stars and perhaps even having a sip of Mursi moonshine called araki.
So apparently most tour groups that come in will end up in one of the closer villages in the Mursi tribe region because they’re the most convenient but because we had our private guides, we got access to a village that don’t see too many visitors. This is one of the reasons why you want to hire your own private guide instead of joining a large tour group.
Always be at the ready with your gear whether it be camera or water. There may be times where you have to get up and go on a whim and you want to always know where you things are and be mindful of what not to forget. Seems easy but staying organized is helpful.
Day 4 – Accidental Donga
I’ve written the story before and so if you haven’t yet, make sure you head over to my post about our Donga Stick Fighting Tournament experience.
What you don’t hear about is the back half of the day which is much less eventful. Since Donga turned into a detour into our guides’ original plans, the remainder part of the day was the drive back to Jinka and settling back into Orit Hotel.
The funny thing is Chief Nogali came with us and we offered to let him shower in our room. Again I was amazed at how he was able to transform from tribal leader to the everyday modern man. We said our goodbyes and he was off to do whatever business he needed to do in town.
We were a little data starved at this point so we were on the hunt for somewhere with internet. There was a small internet cafe just steps away from the hotel so we ended up camping out there for a bit. How was the speed you ask? Let’s just say it was good enough for a FaceTime back home.
Dinner was with our guides and driver that night at a local restaurant on the main street of Jinka.
Remember that almost all hotels and lodges in Omo Valley won’t have internet so either stock up on data on your SIM card or try to find an internet cafe in the larger cities like Jinka or Arba Minch.
Day 5 – Ari to Turmi
On our 5th day of this Ethiopia itinerary, we spend the morning learning about perhaps the most modern of all tribes, the Ari. I thought this would require a bit of a commute but they were in fact just around the corner and minutes away from Jinka.
As the most modern tribe and living just outside of the city, it almost felt like I was meeting local Ethiopians. The member of the tribe that showed us around even spoke English. That morning, he took us all the way around the village. We stopped by to look at their houses, the granaries, fruit trees, visited the blacksmith, tried our hand at making injira, pottery, and ate sugar cane and took a shot of locally distilled araki (tasted like vodka).
What was fascinating to see was just how self-sustaining they were. In this little village they pretty much had everything they needed to survive.
The Ari tribe children were also the CUTEST. They also didn’t harass me for photo money here which was such a godsend at this point of the trip.
We hit the road right after and the remaining part of the day was mainly in transit, bumping along the red dirt roads into more and more desert like terrain. It isn’t until roughly around 3PM when we make it to the southern town of Turmi. This is where we meet our local guides Kala and Ayke from a local Hamer tribe that Solomon is friends with.
We check into Turmi Lodge that afternoon to put our things down and we’re both happy campers to have some creature comforts back, namely in running water, a bed, and even an electric fan.
At 5PM we head back out to meet Kala and Ayke. We start walking towards a Hamar tribe village but as we get closer and closer, the dark clouds roll in and a we have to battle a fierce rain and sand storm. With what visibility we had, we eventually find the village and duck into village hut.
I’m still unsure whether this was the hut we were planning on visit but it was actually quite the nice way to end off the day just sitting inside, being served coffee husk tea, also called buno, in a half calabash bowl. There’s not a lot of conversation as we wait for the rain to die down.
We don’t get back to the lodge until 8PM and by then we were exhausted. So exhausted in fact we skipped dinner and called it a day with a Cliff Bar.
Day 6 – Dimeka Market and Bull Jumping Ceremony
Wanting to do a sunrise shoot at least once on the trip, I woke up bright and early to see what I could capture. It wasn’t the most brilliant of sunrises but I was still pretty happy with the result across the road from our lodge.
The first big thing on the docket for day 6 was the Dimeka market since it was a Saturday. For miles and miles Hamar tribe members were all converging by foot to this market that was only an hour away from Turmi.
The market was a feast for the senses.
There were shacks selling goods, tarp laid out to sell things like coffee bean shells, stations for bottling oil, and also adhoc hairdressing station with Hamar women getting their hair oiled and dyed in the distinct red. There was action in almost every corner of the market.
Outside of the market itself, Melak walked me around to other parts of Dimeka which featured a sorghum grinding station so tribe members didn’t have to do it by hand. There was also livestock trading area where people could buy say new goats of cattle.
Outside of all of the selling and buying of the market, this also seemed to be the kind of place where people would meet neighbouring friends and this was that chance to get updates on what’s happening in other villages – a real-time Facebook you could say.
We ended up having lunch in Dimeka and during that time the guides got word that there was a Bull Jumping Ceremony planned for today. While we knew that there were going to be a lot of tourists there since it was located so close to Dimeka, this was probably one of the only times that this could fit in our schedule so we headed there right after.
Where do I even start with the famed bull jumping ceremony? I could talk about all the different phases of it but if I were to focus on the highlights, these were the most memorable:
- The hysterical desire for women to get whipped by the Maza men and their belief that the more whip scars they have, the more beautiful they’re considered to be
- The jingling of the bells around women’s ankle and the passing around of lots of alcohol
- How jubilant the whole event was
- Couldn’t help but compare the ceremony to a Bar Mitzvah when a boy becomes a man – both a celebration for family members and involves some sort of challenge for the boy
- Trying my best to decipher what’s going on
- The first time I felt overwhelmed by the number of other tourists that were around and that feeling that I felt like we were intruding on their private event
- Ultimately watching the lining of the bulls and the boy running over to the tops of their backs successfully from one end to the other and back
- Seeing the boy as stressed as he was to have that weight lifted off his shoulder when it was all done
- We were there for a LONG time. We got there at 2:30PM and didn’t leave until 6:30PM
Day 7 – Nyangatom and Karo Tribes
For our 7th day, we packed our things up hit the road to see two new tribes. The first was Nyangatom which was a good several hours drive from Turmi.
The peculiar thing coming into primary town of the Nyangatom tribe people was that we had to cross a bridge but it was built with Chinese people and Chinese equipment. What you learn more and more of when you come to Ethiopia is that there are a ton of infrastructure works by China and is a hotly debated topic because of controversial projects like sugar cane factories and plantations.
We stop by the Nyagatom Yeshi Hotel for “breakfast” which to me just seemed like more of the same food as every other meal. Nothing against Ethiopian food but at this point I was at that point in the trip where I was missing food from home.
Here is also where we bumped into Elof and Nana who were on their epic bike ride from Sweden all the way down South Africa. I think all of us were amazed that they had gotten to where they were in their journey. The most incredible story was how they took a road to an area inhabited by less than hospitable tribes where rocks and spears were thrown at them. Even our driver, Billy, said the Western region of Omo Valley was not somewhere even he’d ever want to go to.
By the time we got to the particular Nyangatom village we were supposed to be at, it was around noon and boy was the sun out in full blast.
It was so hot that all the remaining women, children, and elders were all huddling around the tree. As a result, we didn’t get to do a whole lot here.
Steve jumped into the fray and tried to help one of the elders with some sewing. I ended up getting the tour around the village and got a chance to see the unique village layout and hut structures with their pointy top.
When we finish, we hop back onto our 4×4 and we start our long drive to our next tribe. Along the way, there’s plenty to see including these abandoned birds nests which delicately hang at the tip of a tree branch as well as the tallest termite towers you will ever see.
The second tribe of the day is the Karo tribe which is a tribe that is positioned in a resource rich area. As a result, I noticed a visible difference in prosperity.
Situated right by the Omo River, this tribe was outfitted with its own bar powered by their own generator and had fences 10 feet tall with much more advanced “urban planning”. While in other tribes, men would not be seen until the end of the day, there were a number of them just hanging out.
In this village, I was able to have a beer with locals, got taken around by a few kids, ground some sorghum and even helped pluck leaves off of a vegetable for cooking. Steve even got his face painted by
The setting for this particular Karo village was stunning. The Omo River bends around in a horseshoe manner and made for stunning photos. It is in fact the same Karo tribe that a lot of other famous photographers get to shoot and the village knows it.
After we finished our tour, I was immediately asked for “Hello photo!” by members that I am sure just got their bodies and face painted for visitors like myself. Regardless, I couldn’t squander such a picture-perfect moment so I would say some of the cleanest and vivid photos all came from here.
For the evening, we made our way back to Turmi where we first had dinner at the Tourist Hotel. While I didn’t know it then, this ended up working out very poorly for me as overnight and into the next couple of days were all sorts of gastro issues.
To close out the night, we drove into Kala and Ayke’s family’s village (of Hamar tribe) to stay the night.
What made it special was being able to sit by the campfire with all the rest of the children of the family and sing songs we didn’t know the words to and others we tried to teach.
At the same time, the light show put on by the stars that night was truly remarkable. The Milky Way had never been clearer up until that point.
Day 8 – Last Day in Omo Valley
We didn’t know it at the time but our 8th day in Omo Valley was to be our last full day in our Ethiopia itinerary. Waking up early in the morning, I caught another brilliant sunrise just as the village was starting to come alive with the sounds of daily routine.
This particular morning was special because instead of being in a rush to pack up and go, I had the opportunity to spend a good hour inside Kala’s home, which turned out to be the home of the second wife of the family.
The digs inside were much more spacious than I had imagined. With various animal skills, containers, pots, pans and other random bits of fabric hanging on the side, a cooking station on the far end, there was still space to fit 6 of us easily. They even showed me that there was second level above which was used for storage.
Alongside Kala, Ayke and a number of other children, the mother served all of us coffee husk tea. We were just sitting around in peace which was nice. Eventually to break a bit of the silence, I got them to listen to some music I had on Spotify (to my amazement streaming actually worked with my SIM).
The kids were also fascinated with the fact that my GoPro could record video and you could see it in real-time on the built in display.
Eventually the rest of our crew finally woke up and our day got started.
Our one tribe for the day was the Dassenech and this one was much further out than the others we had explored so far. While the trip itself was quite long, the good news was a that a majority of that road to the Southeasterly town of Omarate was newly paved. Feeling particularly wild that day, we asked if we could sit on the roof of the 4×4 for part of the way there and so we did!
Once we got to Omarate, I didn’t realize we would have to go through some sort of customs process. We had to get our passports and go into an office to get it checked and our details written in a big fat ledger book. I guess things a little bit more dicey in this area since you realize that we were REALLY close to the border of Kenya and South Sudan. There wasn’t any sense of danger at all but you definitely get a little bit more paranoid.
From there we pulled up near the Omo River which passes through the town and meet our local guide. We were originally planning on crossing the river to the Dassenech tribe village but apparently they had gotten increasingly aggressive against tourists so to punish them, they were taking visitors to a different village. So he ended up hopping into our car and we drove a little further down to another river crossing where there were already a number of other empty 4×4’s from another large tour company.
As soon as we got there, we were already being bugged for “Highland highland!”. I didn’t mention this earlier but this was happening to us throughout the trip and the reason tribes asked for “Highland” was because that was the first water bottle brand they were introduced to and so every time they shouted for it, they really wanted empty water bottles for them to use as containers.
Not wanting to deal with the pressures of photography, I decided to forego my camera and only use my GoPro and smartphone.
The river crossing was quite interesting because we were transported in these authentic canoes made out of a single tree trunk. To cross the muddy waters of Omo River, our navigator used a long wooden branch to dig into the riverbed to propel us forward.
Once on the other side, we were in Dassenech territory and we were quickly surrounded by a large hoard of children that automatically attached to us as entourage.
Crossing a small forested area, we then open into a flat and desolate plain where I feel like I was transported into some sort of dystopian world post-apocalypse with corrugated metal lining the dome-shaped huts of the Dassenech.
Nomadic like many of the other tribes, there was still a semblance of community here and hierarchy but this may have been the most spartan out of all tribes we visited.
We didn’t last too long here though. We were asked if we wanted to continue further along a longer route but after walking around randomly filming with my GoPro and trying hard to avoid the “photo photo!” yelling, it was just too hot to handle there without any shade.
The one interesting fact we did learn about the Dassenech is that they do have a practice of male circumcision and that there’s a special shaman that does the procedure and helps with healing. While it was hard at times to understand what our guide was saying, I was able to get that much out of him.
We end up getting back to Turmi at around 3PM for a late lunch. I at this point could barely stomach anything and the “pasta” they served at the Tourist Hotel wasn’t doing me any favours.
This was also the turning point of the trip. Steve, my travel partner, was quietly working away at something for most of the day but I thought he was just trying to get some work done. At around 4PM, he approaches me about this crazy idea to ditch the rest of our Ethiopia plans and go to Egypt. We discuss about it long and hard and I was inclined to agree with the rationale behind the change. Ultimately we felt that the romanticized view of what we had of Omo Valley was over and that if we were to continue onwards with more tribes, it would be more or less the same flavour and the same experience of going there, walking around, meeting a few tribe members, and being bugged for photos.
We don’t let our guides know right away which gives us the opportunity to walk around the local Turmi market. Contrasted to the Dimeka market a few days earlier, this one was quite a bit smaller although that may have had to do with the fact that all of the Hamar were gone and all that was left were the locals getting ready to pack up shop. We picked up a few last minute souvenirs.
We break the news to our guides at 5:40PM. They of course were caught by surprise but with my quickly deteriorating stomach issues coupled with our last minute change in itinerary, they were obliged to follow considering we were still going to pay the promised amount.
Our driver Billy started flying down the dirt roads out of Turmi towards Arba Minch but we knew we weren’t going to make it because unfortunately both headlights weren’t working. With the sun going down at this point, we could only make it so far and that ended up being Key Afer at 7PM.
That evening was a bit of a nightmare because it was a scramble to try to get all of our gear in order (hand-washing clothes in a place with no running water), get things charged, and I still couldn’t stomach anything and felt quite ill.
None of my existing medication was working at this point which included Pepto Bismol and Gravol. Luckily Steve had Cipro on hand and so I switched to this antibiotic over the over-the-counter medication I brought from Canada. It’s hard to say if that’s what helped me heal in the long run but I was willing to do whatever it took to get better. There certainly wasn’t any medicine to buy there so I’m glad Steve had packed the Cipro from the US.
Day 9 – Rushing Back to Arba Minch
The next morning, the race was on to get back to Arba Minch. The good news was that our flight was departing at 3PM so it wasn’t a ridiculous rush. That being said, that morning, Billy, drove as aggressive as ever.
Along the way we stopped in Konso to pick up some breakfast and that’s where Melak helped me buy some a kilo of raw coffee beans to bring home.
We get back to Arba Minch where we hang out with our guides at the same restaurant we ate at when we first started the journey.
At the airport, we said goodbye to our driver but Melak and Solomon were actually going to go back to Addis Ababa as well since that is usually where they base themselves out of.
We landed in Addis Ababa around 4PM and just like that our Omo Valley adventures were over. It was definitely an odd feeling to be almost yanked out in such an unexpected fashion but part of me was glad that things would get much more comfortable on the second leg of the trip and that I’d be able to heal up.
Since our flight out to Cairo wasn’t until 10PM that night, we ended up going to the Hilton Addis Ababa to get organized and use their free wifi. We also made arrangements to meet up with Melak and Solomon at Yod Abbisinya which is a cultural restaurant mainly for tourists but a great place to watch traditional Ethiopian singing and dancing. I didn’t have the stomach to eat anything but it was great to see our guides one last time and officially say goodbye.
More on Ethiopia
If you’re looking for a more traditional guide, make sure to pick up a Lonely Planet guide here:
So there you have our entire itinerary in Ethiopia from start to end. I know there’s a lot to take in so if you have any questions for me about planning your own trip to the Omo Valley, don’t hesitate to drop a comment below.