Ethiopia Day 12 & 13 Turmi
Arrived at the Buska Lodge in Turmi after our bull-jumping adventure, a place that is in the middle of the desert that characterizes the southern part of the country. TripAdvisor had said of our hotel that one should bring their own food but we discovered when we were checked in that we should have brought our own room as well. We arrived at the hotel at about 8:30 to find that it was full and the room that we were given after 12 hours driving over broken tracks was a reject from a BBC production of Oliver Twist, tiny, dirty, with space only for a bed, a mosquito net and a fluorescent light. The lodge consists of about 6 0r 8 huts constructed like tukuls and a couple of rooms for overflow guests one of which we were given. We had been advised in advance to book a hut but by the time we arrived these had all been given out to a party of about a dozen French people in a minibus who had also cleaned out the buffet, the only food on offer. We asked for some pasta and a sticky, gummy bowl was produced but the beer was cold so we took our nourishment that way and stumbled to bed.
Off next morning for a visit to Omorate, a town on the Omo River about 25k north of the Kenyan border and a 90 minute drive away from our hotel. Omorate has nothing to recommend it, a shabby riverside settlement out of a Joseph Conrad novel with no apparent reason for its existence. We reached it driving along on a track beside a massive highway being constructed by the Chinese to carry tanker trucks of oil away from newly-opened Ethiopian oil fields to Kenya for trans=shipment. Since Ethiopia does not have a sea-port it is severely limited in its ability to export and the Chinese are building massive amounts of infrastructure to allow the country to turn itself into a more developed economy. This does not come without a price, as the Ethiopians will soon discover.
Once arrived in Omarate we crossed the Omo in a dugout canoe carved from a single log, kneeling on the damp muddy bottom and trying not to move too much. The village on the other side was depressing, Hamar people in an enclosure about a 20 minute walk away from the river in high 30's heat. Tukuls were made of scrap metal and wood and there was a definite feel of trailer park about it, not at all like the other more prosperous Hamar villages that we have visited. Left as soon as it was decently possible. The highway being built by the Chinese will cut the region in half and totally disrupt local tribal culture and economy as the small towns and villages that support it are bypassed by these massive direct links between cities and the local tribal lands are leased to Chinese and other foreign agricultural multi-nationals. This is the primary reason that we chose to visit Ethiopia now as the country is undergoing enormous change and this is a last chance to see some of these cultures before they are gone forever.
I certainly have problems with some the tribal traditions and these continued to be reinforced over the next two days of tribal visits, the Dasenach people, the Bona people and some more Hamar people, but its hard to think of the way of life of whole cultures being wiped out with little trace.
Left Turmi for the Murelle Lodge in the middle of another vast tract of the desert and we descended from the floor of the desert down a 10 metre high river bank into a treed flood plain next to the Omo River. We had been looking forward to this since a description that we had read, (heed the warning, the ONLY description that we could find!) described a camp where people flew in specifically to stay, a high-end destination, where we though that we'd relax before our run back to Addis.
It came as a surprise therefore to discover that the camp was composed a series of small, originally white but now very dingy, stone huts with A-frame thatched roofs scattered among the trees. No electricity, a bathroom that we have not seen since Asia with the shower head in the middle of the room making the whole bathroom into the shower stall, and with the temperature in the 30's and no fan. We were told that they had not had guests for some time so there was no food but that they could make us pasta for dinner and that there was a small cooler on a generator so that there was some cold beer. Things suddenly looked right up!
There was not a soul around, quiet and dark under the trees, extremely hot and with a down-at-heels sense of resignation at the state that it was reduced to, but with a certain underlying malevolence. I could almost sense Marlon Brando in his own heart of darkness, watching us out of the fire-lit dark of one of the huts, implacable and evil incarnate, cooking heroin and plotting our demise. Shook myself and went for a beer.
A surprisingly good bowl of pasta, possibly the result of the beer and since it was very hot, we sat on chairs by the river, had another beer and waiting for the air to cool a little before bed. We were joined by our guide and we had a rambling, relaxed chat although he was very curious about my occupation. When I told him that I was retired but was involved in publishing during my working life he jumped on this and wanted to know if I was a journalist. When I asked him if this had anything with the cameras he said yes. Customs believed that I was a journalist traveling undercover since normal tourists don't need 4 cameras and 6 lenses. They didn't believe for a minute that I was innocently touring the countryside. Had V and I arrived together it would have been ok but on my own with all the cameras it was never going to sell.
Our travel agent had had to provide a surety that guaranteed my behaviour and he was on the limb if I was not what I said. The guide was very interested because the travel agency owner was concerned, and rightly so, since his tail was in the wringer if he was wrong. While it may be a democratic republic I gather from the camera situation and a few other incidents in the last few days, that you still have to be very careful about what you say and who you say it to. Infinitely glad that the puzzle has finally been solved.
Leaving tomorrow for Paradise Lodge on our return trip to Addis.