Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week’s postcard comes from Andy Robbins, a photographer from Southwest England who now lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two teenage sons. Andy loves to travel, and recently, during a two month sabbatical from work, he travelled to Southern Ethiopia to visit several tribes in this very undeveloped part of Africa. As he said, “my goal was to experience a different part of our world and I certainly found a different world!”
This is my first postcard from Africa, and I’m very excited about it as I’ve now had one from every continent. Where abouts did you head?
I visited the Omo Valley in the southern-most part of Ethiopia. This is a very undeveloped part of Africa and the tribes people here are farmers and live simple lives. There is no running water or electricity and only basic medical support outside of the provincial towns which can be several hours walk away. It was a very humbling experience as all the tribes people appear happy and content with what they have in life despite their hardship. Community is very important to them and I sense in this respect they are much more evolved and happy than most people in the western world who have so much more in terms of material wealth. We visited six tribes, the Hamer, the Dassenach, the Abore, the Kara, the Mursi and the Konso tribe. Each are distinct in terms of their culture, dress and style of living. Many tribes are nomadic and as a result they live in simple houses.
The purpose of the trip was to visit and get to know the local tribes and take pictures. They provided a fabulous photography opportunity, but more rewarding were the connections we made with the local people. Getting to understand their culture and lifestyle was very satisfying. It is easy for us to sit in the western world and judge or pity these people but their culture and tribal traditions are very strong. We would consider some practices barbaric but each is done for a reason and any change will only come from within the tribes. The younger generation is becoming more educated and positive change is gradually resulting. On the flip side, many external things are changing in the area with foreign investment, the discovery of oil, the damming of the local river these people rely on. I fear there will be dramatic changes for the peoples in the next few years and mostly not positive.
It sounds like an incredible experience. What was your highlight?
Where were you staying on your travels?
We stayed in a variety of hotels and camps, ranging from the Hilton in Addis Ababa which was very comfortable to an eco-camp in the town of Jinka, where we stayed in tents with a a stone walled bathroom attached; it was also comfortable. In between we stayed in lodges as close to the tribes as possible and these were basic at the worst and comfortable at their best. You have be flexible when travelling in Africa and be prepared for anything, for example showering in cold muddy brown looking water.
How was the weather?
I don’t think I know anything about Ethiopian food, how was it?
The Italian’s had a strong presence in Ethiopia in the 30’s and you will find spaghetti with tomato or meat sauce is a staple on hotel menus. The local food is spicy and is often eaten on Injura, a sour fermented tortilla like bread. I liked the food but found it hard on my mouth.
Travelling in Africa is notoriously tricky, did you have any disasters?
No disasters fortunately. We did experience four punctures and only had four spare tires between the two vehicles and so got very lucky we didn’t experience a fifth. We also had to cross the crocodile infested Omo River which was in flood and in my opinion very dangerous. We had the choice of going by local canoe (I believed the chances of not making in back in one piece were high) or go by motor boat. Sense prevailed and we took the motor boat which had to be bailed out before we started and as soon as we got in water again poured in through two holes. It is amazing how putting your feet over the holes can help and we made it across!
And finally, do you have any advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
It is critical you travel with a very knowledgeable, experienced guide who has been to the region before. Being able to speak the local language is a must. Be prepared for long days of driving, for example 8-11 hours from Addis to Arba Minch, the southern gateway city.
NB – all photos are owned by Andy Robbins