Amongst the tribes in the Omo Valley, the most interesting ones to visit are the Mursi, the Karo, and the Hamar. About 2-3 hours drive from Jinka is Turmi which is the base for tourists wanting to visit the Karo and Hamar tribes. Most of the roads are in subpar conditions with many potholes and many are unpaved to begin with. Our driver loved to say “Get ready for the African massage!” everyday. In Turmi, we stayed at Buska Lodge which is considered to be the best in the area. They have individual stone huts as well as rooms with shared bathrooms. Visiting these underdeveloped places is always a challenge and one should come with low expectations in terms of food and accommodations. At least at Buska Lodge, everyone was friendly, the mosquito nets did not have holes in them, and the toilet was not too horrible. I slept inside my sleeping bag liner on top of the bedding and it was ok. It gets quite hot during the day and forget about air-conditioning, we were ecstatic to see a fan in the room. However, there is no electricity during the day until about 5pm to 11pm, then again for a few hours in the morning. As soon as the electricity comes on, it is a mad scramble to charge all my camera equipment, powerbanks, mobile phone, etc. and of course to sit in front of the fan. The room came with an extension cord with multiple outlets which was a nice touch but regardless I always bring my own extension cord. As for food, I resorted to eating spaghetti with tomato sauce or fried rice with egg everyday. The reward each day after the long drives and visits to the tribes under the beating sun was a cold local beer with my favorite being the Habesha brand mainly because I like the logo on the bottle. 😛
Early in the morning we drove about 2 hours to Murulle to visit the Karo people. The Karo Tribe lives along the eastern bank of the Omo River and is one of the smallest tribes in the Omo Valley consisting of only about 1,000-2,000 members. Unlike the other Omo Valley tribes, they are more farmers than cattle rearers. They grow maize, sorghum, and beans. They are famous for their body painting. They often paint their bodies and faces with white chalk, ochre, charcoal, and mineralized rock. They draw beautiful patterns on their skin from simple dotted motifs to guinea fowl plummage to handprints covering their entire bodies. Like with the Mursi, the going rate here for photos is also Birr 5 or US$0.18 per person in each photo. The easiest way to deal with this is to have your guide/driver exchange a stack of Birr 5 notes and then let him be the accountant and pay the locals after each photo. Some of the tribes people will ask for more money because I changed cameras and I always leave it to my guide to deal with the bargaining. Also the tribes folk like to “walk into” your photos and stand next to the subject you are photographing and then insisting on getting paid as well. Again your guide will help ask them to step aside and sometimes very assertively just shy of escalating into an argument. I have learned to just focus on my photography and let my guide deal with the rest. It is definitely a less than authentic experience and you rarely can get any candid shots. But it is what it is and I still enjoyed meeting and photographing these people tremendously.
My next post will be on the Hamar Tribe and their famous bull-jumping ceremony. Stay tuned!
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