Day 1: Arrival in Addis Ababa
Today is set aside as an arrival day in the wonderous land of Abyssinia. After arrival in Bole International Airport and having taken care of passport control and luggage formalities, you will be met by an ORYX representative as you exit the arrivals hall and driven to your hotel nearby where your ORYX tour leader will meet you.
Day 2: Fly to Jinka, drive to Turmi and visit Hamar tribe
You depart Addis Ababa this morning by way of flight for Jinka, before continuing your journey as you head for Turmi. The Turmi area is home to the Hamar Tribe, one of the most well-known tribes in Southern Ethiopia.
They inhabit the territory east of the Omo River and have villages in both Turmi and Dimeka. They are especially well known for their unique rituals, including a cattle-leaping ceremony that the young men have to undergo in order to reach adulthood and to marry. They are a highly superstitious people, and to this day they consider twins to be babies born outside of wedlock, while children whose upper milk teeth develop before their lower teeth are deemed to be ‘evil’ or ‘unclean’.
For this reason, such children are discarded in the bush and simply left to die, as they would rather lose a single child than inflict any disaster upon their community.
The Hamar people are also known for one of the most bizarre rituals on Earth. This is when the women allow themselves to be whipped by the male members of their family as a symbol of their love! The scars of such encounters are conspicuously evident on the bodies of all Hamar women. These women take great pride in their appearance and wear traditional dresses consisting of a brown goatskin skirt adorned with dense vertical rows of red and yellow beads. Their hair is characteristically fixed in dense ringlets with butterfat mixed with red ochre. They also wear many bracelets and necklaces fashioned of beads or metal, depending on their age, wealth and marital status.
The men wear woven cloth wrapped around the waist and many elders wear delicately coloured clay head caps that are fashioned into their hair and adorned with an ostrich feather.
As mentioned, the young Hamar men are famous for their “Evangadi dance” and “Bull jumping” ceremony (it is as part of this ceremony that the afore-mentioned whipping occurs). This ritual entails young men who wish to marry jumping over a line of bulls, thereby proving their worth to their intended bride’s family. It also signifies their advent into adulthood.
This is a rarely seen event, however with luck, your local guide may hear of, and you may even be invited to attend this landmark event.
Day 3: Turmi area: Morning excursion to Karo tribe, afternoon to Arbore tribe
The Lower Omo Valley is situated within Africa’s famous and, geologically speaking, rapidly expanding Great Rift Valley (which will eventually split the continent into two landmasses). Here, in south-west Ethiopia’s awkwardly named “Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region”, bordering Kenya and Sudan, the great Omo River dominates this dry savanna valley, resulting in some of Africa’s most well developed and best preserved arid-zone riverine forests.
The Omo River rises from the Shewan highlands to the north (much of Ethiopia consists of high-lying mountains and fertile plateaus, despite the impression created by some international media bodies that Ethiopia is predominately desert!). It flows 470 miles (750km), mostly southwards, before entering Lake Turkana (previously Lake Rudolf – named in honour of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria by Teleki and Von Höhnel, the first European explorers to lay eyes on the lake) near the Kenyan border. Lake Turkana, the world’s largest permanent desert lake and also the planet’s largest
alkaline lake, has no water outflow and so in effect it’s a dead-end for the Omo River. The importance of the Lower Omo Valley has been recognized by UNESCO, which has declared it a cultural World Heritage site. It also contains two massive national parks and several important bird areas.
This morning, we head to the Omo River and our tribe of interest is the Karo, another tribe known for its elaborate body and facial paintings. These people live along the east bank of the Omo River and practice flood retreat cultivation, their main crops being maize, sorghum and beans.
Unlike the other tribes, they keep only a small number of cattle due to the prevalence of tsetse flies. Like many of the tribes in the Omo, they paint their bodies and faces with white chalk to prepare for any ceremonies. The chalk is mixed with yellow rock, red iron ore and charcoal to make its requisite colour. Facemasks are worn at times and they have clay hair buns adorned with feathers. Scarification is also an important part in the Karo people’s lives. This includes the complete scarification of a man’s chest with which to indicate that he has killed an enemy or dangerous animal (amongst the Karo, killing one’s enemies isn’t viewed as an act of murder, but as an act of honour!).
This scarification process involves lightly slicing the skin with knives or razor blades and then rubbing ash into the open wounds to produce a permanently raised effect. The Karo women have decoratively-scarred abdomens, which are considered sensual and very desirable.
In the afternoon, you visit the Arbore tribe (alternatively Erbore), who are a small tribe (less than 9,000 people) that live in the flat country near Lake Chew Bahir which is east of Turmi and are pastoralists with a preference for cattle (indeed, their name is said to translate to “land of the bulls”). Lake Chew Bahir (previously known as Lake Stephanie, named for Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, the wife of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and also “discovered” by Teleki just stretches into northern Kenya when full. The Arbore are also known for their sorghum cultivation and are regarded as the “sorghum specialists of the Omo Valley, growing the crop in the region surrounding the lakes inflow rivers. The Arbore have a form of trade with the other Omo Valley tribes using the sorghum, and interestingly used to be the chief ivory traders in the area. The women are renowned for the preponderance of colourful beads that adorn their clothes and bodies, and you should have an interesting time photographing the Arbore this afternoon.
Day 4: Drive Turmi to Jinka, afternoon visit to Mursi tribe
A little more time will be spent with the Hamar this morning before heading north to Jinka, where you will stay for one night. This afternoon will be spent visiting the Mursi tribe. Most famous for the clay lip plates that the women insert in their lower lips, the Mursi are probably one of the last tribes in Africa amongst whom it is still the norm for women to wear these large pottery or wooden discs or plates.
The lip plate (dhebi a tugoin) has become the chief visible distinguishing characteristic of the fascinating Mursi people. A girl’s lower lip is cut, typically by her mother or another woman of her settlement, when she reaches the age of 15 or 16. The cut is then held open by a wooden plug until the wound heals. It appears to be up to the individual girl to decide how far to stretch the lip, which she does by inserting progressively larger plugs over several months. Some girls even persevere until their lips can take plates of 5 inches (12 cm) or more in diameter!
The Mursi and their neighbours became part of the Ethiopian State in the final years of the 19th century, when Emperor Menelik II established control over the southwestern lowlands bordering Kenya and Sudan.
This was an area inhabited by several small tribes with fluid identities, highly adaptable to environmental conditions and capable of easily absorbing outsiders into their communities. The Mursi as we know them today are the product of a large-scale migratory movement of cattle herding peoples in the general direction of the Ethiopian highlands. Three separate movements may be distinguished in the recent history of the Mursi, each the result of growing environmental pressure associated with the drying out of the Omo basin over the last 150 – 200 years.
The Mursi attribute overwhelming cultural importance to cattle. Almost every significant social relationship – particularly marriage – is marked and authenticated by exchanging cattle. The “Bride wealth” (ideally consisting of 38 head of cattle) is handed over by the groom’s family to the bride’s father, who must meet the demands of a wide range of relatives from different clans. This ensures that cattle are continually redistributed around the community, thereby helping to provide for the long-term economic security of individuals as well as their families.
Day 5: Fly to Addis Ababa
This morning your incredible time in the Omo comes to an end as you drive to the airport in time for your flight back to Addis Ababa.
Founded in 1886 by Emp. Menelik II, Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia and the seat of the African Union (AU). Addis Ababa is the third highest capital in the world and one of the largest cities in Africa with a population well over 5 million. It is located at 2,500 m above sea level at the foot of the highest peak of the Entoto Mountain chain (3,200m above sea level), and enjoys an excellent climate all year round with an average temperature of 16 degrees C. Addis Ababa is a pleasant city with wide avenues of Jacarandas, interesting museums and one of the largest open-air markets in Africa, known as Merkato.
Some of the highlights in Addis Ababa, which depending on time available may include the following (depending on flight arrival into Addis – not all of the below are possible to be explored properly in a half day, and your ORYX Photo Tour leader will discuss with you which to visit):
- National Museum: It comprises of many archaeological and historical findings including the famous complete hominid fossil remain of ‘Lucy’ locally known as ‘Dinknesh’ meaning wonderful.
- Ethnological Museum: Found on the main campus of the Addis Ababa University with the aim to preserve the country's historical and cultural heritages. It has complete collections that describe almost all the tribal groups in Ethiopia. Here you will have an overview about the history, culture and traditions of the people of Ethiopia. The collections include the nomadic tribal groups.
- Trinity Cathedral: A beautiful church with a baroque style of European architecture which is unique to both Ethiopia and Africa and is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Here you will find scripts of the imperial families, statues done by a Greek sculptor, stained glass window paintings from the Old and New Testament in the Bible and coffins of Emperor Haile Selassie I, as well as the founder of the church and his wife.
- Merkato: This is the largest open-air market in Africa. Here you will be presented with a confusing but fascinating glimpse of the vast range of goods and artifacts available from all parts of the country, and you will enjoy the Ethiopian trade exchange tradition in the open air. You can purchase almost anything you desire here!
- St. George Cathedral: The church of St. George is a very traditionally structured building.
- Menelik II, following his victory over the Italians at the Battle of Adwa, built the octagonal church in 1896. St. George the dragon killer was the patron saint of soldiers, and it is to him that the church is dedicated. Of interest in St. George Church is that the artwork spans both modern and traditional church painting styles.
Day 6: Fly Addis Ababa to Lalibela
Today you depart Addis and fly from Bole International Airport to Lalibela, located in northern Ethiopia. Lalibela is home to the 12th century hand-carved rock churches of King Lalibela (1181 - 1221), after whom the town is named.
Lalibela is truly an ancient world and includes 11 magnificent, medieval, rock-hewn churches, dimly lit passageways, and hidden crypts and grottoes carved into the red volcanic rock underlying this remote Ethiopian town, constructed almost a millennia ago by the Zagwe dynasty. Today that world still remains, frozen in stone, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These brilliant feats of engineering and architecture are often referred to as the "Eighth wonder of the World". You will begin your exploration at the first group of churches of Lalibela, which are found northeast of a stream named ‘River Jordan’, which represent the earthly Jerusalem.
The first group of churches are:
The twin churches of Bete Debre Sina and Golgotha with Selassie Chapel Bete Medhane Alem (the house of the Redeemer of the World) Bete Mariam (the house of St. Mary) Bete Meskel (the house of Cross) Bete Danagil (the house of Virgins)
Standing 38 feet tall with seventy-two pillars, Medhane Alem is not only the largest in Lalibela, but it is the largest monolithic rock-hewn church in the world. Bet Golgotha houses remarkable reliefs of figures, early Christian art rarely seen in other parts of Ethiopia.
At the end of the day, you will retire to your hotel, which has expansive views of the countryside and makes for a pleasant place to relax and soak up the atmosphere.
Day 7: Full day Lalibela
Today will be a full day of exploring this ancient town, focusing on the churches that represent the heavenly Jerusalem.
After breakfast, your first stop will be at the church of Asheten Mariam or ‘Nakutola’ab’, which sits atop a mountain overlooking Lalibela. The vantage point from the mountain offers stunning and panoramic views, making it easy to understand why the priests at this church believe they are the “closest to God” at this height. There is an optional mule ride to and from the road to the church.
Your afternoon commences as you visit the second group of Group Rock-Hewn Churches, which represent the heavenly Jerusalem. The second group of churches are:
Bete Gabriel & Raphael
Bete Abba Libanos
Perhaps the most interesting church here is the cross-shaped church of Bete Giorgis (Church of St. George), which is said to be the symbolization of Noah’s Ark. Carved out of the ground, and shaped from the inside out, it is one, unbroken piece of stone. Bete Giyorgis is connected to the other sunken stone churches through a series of elaborate tunnels. We will spend time photographing it as the sun sinks lower in the sky, and it is bathed in warm afternoon light.
Day 8: Fly Lalibela to Addis Ababa and depart
At a time to be advised, you will head back to the airport to check in for your flight from Lalibela back to Addis Ababa, where this tour sadly comes to an end.