As the wind whipped through the dusty campground somewhere just outside of Jinka, deep in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, I knew my calm disposition was only a result of the Ambien numbing my mind as I slowly woke up. Had I not been deep in a drug-induced slumber, I would likely have been screaming as loudly as my fellow travelers in the next tent over as the driving wind and rain howled through our campsite. My Ethiopia travel experience was an adventure to say the least.
At that moment, listening to camping gear, brush and debris swirl around my tent; I was as far “off the grid” as I’d ever been in my entire life. We’d traveled for days over hundreds of miles of pot-holed roads to reach this point, and still had several hours of driving in the morning to reach out final destination; Ethiopia’s iconic Mursi tribe.
And our journey the next morning was anti-climactic. After a few more hours of driving, we’d reached the Mursi village. As we drove up we could see the slow-moving families adorning themselves with jewelry and hastily “putting in” (I guess that’s what you’d call it??) their lip plates. As we parked and got out of the vehicle, our guide mumbled a few words of caution but it was too little, too late. We were immediately swarmed by everyone from children, to women wanting to sell us lip plates, to the men, machine guns slung carelessly over their bare shoulders.
Everyone was relentlessly repeating requests to pay them 20 Birr in exchange for a photograph. It was one Mursi man’s responsibility to count camera shutter clicks; tallying up our total “bill.”
As seasoned adventure and African travelers, it didn’t take my group long to realize that that the sooner the cameras went away the better. Once that happened we did have one memorable experience, playing a game with the children consisting of stones and circles in the dirt. But we decided as a group to end this experience which took us days of travel to reach after only about 45 minutes.
While this cultural experience was disappointing, Ethiopia travel was truly transformative. Ethiopia is unrivaled when it comes to unique historical sites, immersive cultural opportunities (especially in the Northern part of the country) and a look at a very different Africa from what most travelers experience.
Raiders of the Lost Ark, in real life!
This history is – to put it mildly – amazing. Read The Sign and the Seal for the most well-written, historically accurate account of Ethiopia’s long and detailed history. Everything from Ethiopia’s religion, from their calendar, to their holidays and festivals are related to the fact that they believe the Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia. For hundreds and hundreds of years, Ethiopians have lived and died to keep it safe. It’s moved from churches to remote islands and back again. Today it’s in Axum. No, you can’t actually see it, but you might be able to catch a glimpse of the guard whose sole purpose in life is to protect it.
Across the street from the Ark’s current resting place is a museum. In this museum are priceless artifacts, thoughtfully presented and organized under glass counters, similar to what you’d find displaying watches in a Target store. On one side was a metal cross, articulately carved and dated at least 600 years old. This priceless artifact sat there in a Philadelphia Cream Cheese container.
The churches, including the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and the island churches in Bahir Dar, are all active, working churches. These are not museums, but actual places of worship. People coming and going as they have for literally, hundreds of years.
You are not stopped behind a red line or send through on group tours. Travel in Ethiopia gives you a unique opportunity to explore these culturally important structures and learn by observing.
Have you traveled in Ethiopia? Why would you go back?