Trip Start Apr 09, 2008
Trip End Aug 30, 2008

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Where I stayed
Bush Camp near Omorate

Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Friday, May 30, 2008

Leaving the campsite this morning was a rather difficult affair. Just as we started our engines, the self-appointed manager of the campsite raced up to us and demanded we pay him $50 US dollars. We told him we had already paid our $15 per person camping fee yesterday at the Park Gate, which was already a steep fee, and there was no way we would pay another extra 'fee'.

He then went on to say we must pay because we visited the Sibiloi Museum (where there are artifacts of human and animal bones, etc). This got us really angry because we did not visit any museum of any sort and he was obviously trying to make some money out of us for his own sake.

After a few heated words and realizing he was not going to back down, we got in our respective cars and sped off, spewing black exhaust smoke all over him.

When we got to Illeret, the next biggest town just before the Ethiopian border, we made a wrong turn and we all ended up at the police compound unintentionally. The big police chief honcho swaggers out of his office and demands to see our passports. The gate is closed, there are armed guards everywhere and we are at his mercy so we reluctantly hand over our documents.

He has been waiting for our arrival, he tells us slyly. Apparently the manager at the Sibiloi campsite radioed him after our hasty departure telling him of the "unpaid museum fees." The next few hours were spent trying to explain our situation to the police chief. Holding five foreigners in police custody without an appropriate charge was obviously the biggest event he's had in a while and he was living it up.

He said the only way we could leave was if we paid the fee. And if we really wanted to sort it out with the Park manager, just wait a little bit while because he was coming by speedboat "right this minute." But it was getting late in the day and we had barely covered the distance we wanted to.

We waited and waited in the baking heat as the Police Chief was shouting on the radio with one of the Museum staff members. We all wished we could understand Swahili.

At this point, we decided amongst ourselves that this was an obvious ploy to try and squeeze as much money out of us muzungus and this was all a struggle of power, and the one who backs down first is weaker. We didn't care much about our pride, but the principle of the whole matter was hanging in the air. If he can swindle money illegally out of us foreigners, then he'll try again with the next batch. It sets a bad precedent, and already, this Police Chief of Illeret was just using his authority to flex his muscles and I highly doubt he was respected in this village.

Finally, he saunters out again of his office after hanging up on the radio and what he said next totally surprised us. He said he would let us go without any problem as long as he can copy down our passport details and the booking receipt numbers for the campsite. And when the Camp Manager arrives by speedboat, he can take it up with Park HQ at the gate (where we had paid initially). Great that was easy, we thought.

His demeanour did a 180 turn and suddenly he was this jovial man acting like we were old friends. Very strange. He even ended up signing our car "Karibu Kenya" (Welcome to Kenya) and "Mutimba - Illerate Police Station. Nice time guys."

Passports back in our possession, handshakes all around, gates opened, we were off again. Big sigh of relief.

At exactly 15:13, we crossed over into Ethiopia. No border police controls, no immigration, no customs, nothing. Just sand and bare trees and some goats and a few tin huts dotted around.

We stopped at the Omo River at Omorate at dusk, got our passports stamped at the customs 'office' (bare room with one desk) and decided to carry on a few more kilometres out of town before setting up bush camp. The grass was like huge needles sticking out of the ground and we had to clear a large area with axes before walking around.

We camped at an elevation of 390 metres, so needless to say (again), it was hot.

Start: Sibiloi National Park Campsite, KENYA. 09:58
End: Bush Camp near Omorate, ETH. 17:30
Distance Traveled: 162 km
Road Conditions: dirt
Temperature: HOT, DRY, DUSTY all day and all night.

* Dankeschoen to Thomas for providing some of the pics in this Omo Valley section!
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