Down South

Trip Start Dec 25, 2008
Trip End Mar 28, 2009

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On March 6, we started our trip to the South w/ our trusty 4 x 4, and Endale and Demeke, our guide and driver, respectively. (We realized it's impossible to get down South any other way, unless you want to self-drive (if you're crazy). There's a flight that heads to one town two times per week (saving a day's driving), in which case the car (having driven from Addis) can meet you at the airport, but it didn't fit into our schedule.) Though we'd basically ended up with Endale because his was the only tour company we could actually locate in Addis, it didn't diminish our excitement for the trip - we'd had good vibes from him and his truly easygoing manner when we'd met him a week before.

When we arrived in Addis from Lalibela in the afternoon, our first order of business was to get to a cash machine, since we wouldn't see one again until we returned. Second order of business was stopping by Kaldi's Coffee to grab something quick to eat. Kaldi's is a chain in Addis with a striking resemblance to our own coffee mega-chain - apparently, after realizing that she couldn't open a franchise in Ethiopia, the Starbucks-lover opened her own store, using similar logo, decor, ordering options, aprons, etc. (There are also very familiar-looking "Gobil" gas stations in Ethiopia, and a "7-11" store, also unrelated to the chain.)

We then started our 4-hour trip down to Shashamane, where we would spend the night in order to split up our driving time to Arba Minch, our final destination and base for the next few days. Shashamane is a small town with a high population of Jamaicans: After donating some of his private land to members of the Ethiopian World Federation, Jamaicans, and others to return to their homeland in Africa, Emperor Haile Selassie encouraged Rastafari leaders to repatriate to Shashamane in the 60s. (The Rastafari movement is named for Haile Selassie, believed to be the incarnation of god and a part of the holy trinity, originally known as Ras Tafari - or Prince Tafari - before his coronation.) On our way there, we noticed how much the landscape had changed from the North, to the "classic" African expanse - acacia trees, laced with tukol huts, shepherds and donkeys all along the roads (and on the roads - we needed to dodge them often) . . . What was also interesting was that electricity seemed to be available throughout much of the country - making it into even the most remote areas - it might not work all the time, but the lines were up.

After spending the night in Shashamane, we made our way to Arba Minch, visiting the Dorze people on the way - they are known for their farming skills, as well as their weaving and huge "beehive" huts. Though we were on the "good road", it's easy to see why many visitors don't make it down South, as we bumped along often between the smoother stretches - why the direct trip from Addis is one full day. We also became much more familiar with "faranji frenzy" - a somewhat constant occurrence of kids screaming as we passed by - "Faranji! Faranji!" (foreigner), "You!!, You!!", or "Highland!!" (our water bottles), mobbing us whenever we stopped somewhere, making it a bit difficult to get out of the car in certain places, etc. - we realized we were often a spectacle for folks, as people were just as curious about us as we were of them.

Visiting the Dorze in the village of Chencha was fascinating - we first stopped at the market, which was huge and initially a bit overwhelming, as many people followed us around, some wanting to touch us - not in an aggressive way, but again, more out of curiosity (not an uncommon experience for us in Ethiopia). People were selling everything there (though not livestock at the time, since we were in the middle of fasting season), set up in an organized way - spices here, cotton there, used clothes here, shoe shine there, etc. (Lots of shoe shining going on in Ethiopia - in all of the smallest towns - I guess it's the dust.) Many folks were selling USAID products or re-using the containers - grain, cooking oil, etc. It was there that we learned Ethiopia Lesson #5: When Visiting a Market, Hang with the Drinkers/Stoners (they're by far the most laid back and welcome picture-taking). After the market, we stopped by one of the Dorze "beehive" houses - looks much more sturdy from the inside, with a living area and place for the livestock - apparently, the homes, made of woven bamboo, can last about 60 years. Here we had some kocho (a tasty bread-like food made from the enset or "false banana" tree) and some home-made alcohol called "arke". . .
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