BootsnAll Travel Network

Omorate, the end of the line.

Juan and I got an early truck so we had time to check all three of the hotels in Omorate. All the hotels were pretty much identical with the same poor to terrible standards. One was full and one looked like the party place with the big sound system facing the hotel rooms, we so ended up staying at the Park Hotel. The rooms were dirty, the floors the same, they had holey mosquito nets, and the kitchen was right next to the nasty toilet so that was a big plus. We were at the end of the road so to speak, so we just figured a night or two roughing wouldn’t kill us, boy how I regretted that later.

Our main purpose for coming to Omorate was swimming and eating fish. The town of Omorate was named I am guessing as it is nestled against the mighty Omo river that runs through Ethiopia and dumps into Lake Tana which is bordered with Kenya. There is no bridge which is why I say it was the end of the road, but at the other side of the river, besides the Dasanech tribe, there was a road that led to Kenya and the Sudan. I guess there are a few people who choose that route to enter and leave Kenya, but it is definitely off the beaten path. I met a Belgium couple who was stranded there because they couldn’t find a truck that would take them for a reasonable price. It’s a pretty long stretch of nothing, about 400kms, before you hit a main town in Kenya that you can arrange transport south. Okay, back to our dreams. Swimming was a big part as riding in the back of dusty trucks, down dusty roads, and staying in dusty towns, makes you hanker for a bit of H20. The second was the fish as a big river usually means some big fish. Injeera and meat remember. Throw out some bbq fish and watch out, back to happiness. Well, I’ll end the dream now as neither seemed to work out. The river was big, fast, and it was muddy. The fish also didn’t work because although there were fishermen, it was not an integral part of the village. When someone caught a fish, they were the huge Nile Perch 20-100 kilos, a local person would buy it and that was the end of it. The restaurants did not have enough demand so they didn’t buy or offer it. It was kind of a bummer as we saw a couple of the big fish being bought off the street.

We ended up staying five days in Omorate, which most likely is a record as it is pretty rugged living. Sure they had sodas, beer, and as much meat and injeera you could consume, but the killers were that it was constantly hot, your accommodations rough and pitiful, and the most serious issue, no clean water. It was amazing, they had no source for clean water. The only water that was available was straight out of the river. Taking a shower involved muddy water that looked like it was taken out of a dumpster (been there done that), it was pretty scary to look at, and it made your skin slimy, egads. When they offered you water to drink, it was from barrels where they let the water stand and the hard parts sink and they skim the clean water off the top. Tea, coffee, same thing, just a little bit of added grittiness. We went on a full 100% soda diet as bottled water ended up costing more than soda. In the beginning, we didn’t know about the above as every evening people lined up at the police station and at the dock area where they both had two large cisterns and a water station with eight spouts. People lined up with their water jugs while young kids hauled them away on make shift wheel barrows. After the first slimy shower, we started asking if they could arrange for us to buy one of those just so that we could use that to shower with, but the guy said no. Okay, whatever. Well, one day while we were taking photos of the tribal people coming and going from the dock area we witnessed up close and personal the water ritual. All that was going on was that some guys carried over a portable gas pump and generator. They unrolled a hose and tossed it into the river and then another hose was thrown into the cisterns. They fired it up and water started coming out of the water stations. People then filled their water jugs. It wasn’t fresh water that they were pumping, it was the same old river water, but this way the people did not have to traverse the steep banks with the heavy water bottles. Right then we knew that we had been sucking down the good old Omo. Later I was to find out that this was also a part in my soon down fall.

On the plus side, the town wasn’t so bad to hang around in. It was big enough as it was a border town and there was a great mixture of tribal people and locals. They meshed really well, better than the other towns where more often than not they were teased and treated like second class people. I guess when you are so far out, everybody just accepts everybody else as you are all in the same boat, much like it was like living in Key West. We had a great time just walking around and playing with the people and kids. It was like a huge carnival when we did our routines of chasing the kids, stealing stuff from people, talking it up with the tribal men and hitting on the women. We would easily have 30-50 kids following us laughing and yelling as we walked around causing havoc. It was like a great off set, the kids no longer cared about asking for stuff because they were just having a hellatious time. It was so intense though that we could only make it for runs of about two hours before we had to seek shelter in one of the local bars that had a great enclosed tree covered patio. We would come in all sweaty and kid stained and use their water to clean and cool off. Then we would order a few sodas and some mineral water (very Ethiopian mixing water with soda.) We would just hang out there for a few hours just relaxing and flirting with the house hookers. Good times.

We ended up getting some great pictures as there were some beautiful villages across the river and also some more just outside the town. The people were much less tourist accustomed so we could take our time and get good shots. I take that back, on the side of the river with the town that happened. On the other side of the river where there was nothing except the villages it was not so easy. One evening we took a dug out across the river and started off towards a village that was about three villages in. They had these amazing looking huts that were built on huts. Since they were out on these flat plains, you could just see these pointed huts in the distance almost like they were floating. What we didn’t realize was that it was a trap. You had to walk by the two other villages and once the kids saw us, we were mobbed. There was no way that we could take pictures of any of the individual people because we were quickly surrounded by about fifty kids with more streaming in as the word farenji spread. Juan and I quickly went into defensive mode and started our chasing games. We got the kids into a playing mood so the begging for candy and birr stopped, but we were 100% maxed out on playing. We ended up doing a kind of plan where one of us would provide cover for the other so he could sneak away with maybe twenty kids and take a few pictures. That would mean I would really have to kick it up a notch to get and hold the attention of the now 100 or so kids and adults. I used a lot of yelling, chasing, pushing, face making, cootie threatening, goat snatching, and whatever else I could think of to keep them entertained. Once Juan got his shot he did his thing while I sneaked away and took a few photos. One thing he did was to play hop scotch. He was surrounded with kids as they were mesmerized that he knew how to play. I got a couple of good shots of that. Finally, the sun started going down and we were whipped. I got a few good sunset shots with the huts in the foreground and we hopped on a dugout back to town. Of course we spent about an hour recovering at our special oasis before heading back to the hotel.

One of the not so smart things we did was to go off in search of a tribe that was supposedly pretty dangerous. Smart huh. The local and tribal people would describe them by raising their arms like they were holding a rifle and start “pow, pow, powing.” Apparently this tribe didn’t like visitors. Of course, we had to see that. So we hired a dug out guy to take us a bit up river and then to drop us off on the other side. We then hacked through the foliage along the river until we came upon some game trails. That set us off deep into it for a few hours as we just followed any path we could find to its end and then searched for another. It got really hot, but I was prepared as I brought about a litre and a half of water. Juan however did not bring any except some water purification tablets should we need to drink from the river. It wasn’t such a crazy thought after all as we were drinking it anyways, we just didn’t know it. Well after a few hours of aimlessly wandering, we stumbled on three older women out collecting firewood. It was a pretty weird encounter stumbling onto a group of old women wearing animal skins and colorful jewelry. One of the ladies took one look at us and started pointing in one direction. We assumed that she was telling us what direction the village was. I also took it as being an invitation, so when a bunch of AK-47 carrying tribal guys grabbed us, we would be set free when the women came back to the village and explained to them that they had invited us there. After that there would be a great ceremony where they served big cheese burgers with an identical secret sauce as McDonalds, and then we were given our own huts with three beautiful princesses each… Okay, that didn’t happen. What did happen was pretty close though. Being pretty pleased that we ran into other humans, and even more pleased that we must have been close to a village for them to be there, and even more pleased to have some sort of invitation, I offered one of the ladies my bottle of water. Well, it was more like I offered a drink from MY bottle of water. The lady happily obliged and sucked down half of it. Whoa, little bit worried but we still had half the bottle left. She handed it to her friend who sucked down half of that. Okay, no problem. The third lady was on the other side of some bushes so she couldn’t see what was going on. I would get my third of a bottle of water back throw it in my bag and sorry for you third lady. Well, the second lady called the third lady over who took a couple of big swallows. I could see that there was about an inch or so of water left so I was still okay. It was probably a bunch of tribal back wash, but out in that sun, not knowing where we were at and definitely no water source, I would drink it down in a second. I was already preparing to tell Juan “sorry for you, the rivers over there,” when the lady started walking over to me. I put my hand out as she turned the bottle upside down and shook out the rest of the water and handed me back the empty bottle. I have rarely been stunned to the point where my mind goes blank, but blank it went. It was kind of like I got stuck in a rewind of having water, giving water to some people, and then the last one dumping out the last of it. We were going to die. I think that was the little blip in the back of my mind. But still, I was stunned, for a long time. Why? Why would you do that? Water is like gold out in the desert bush, why would you pour out some distilled/purified/bottled water. Why? I mean the lady was old and she had probably never had fresh water before that point, and she didn’t do the second worst thing which was to drink it all, but she poured out the last of it when she was done. Why? Do you see the loop now, with all the,”Why?” It was like that for about an hour afterwards. We kept walking and every ten minutes or so it would overwhelm me and I would say to Juan “Why?” Why would she do that. He would just shake his head and laugh. Okay, one last one, “Why?” We continued on for a couple more hours before we just couldn’t go any further. We had only found game trails the whole time and never could find a well worn path that people would have made. We eventually realized that we were getting to the point where we might get too far away, and without water, it could become a problem quickly. The other issue was that because the game trails went here and there and we would back track and take some other off shoot when the original stopped, we were actually a bit turned around. Okay, we were lost. We ended up back tracking the best we could, but we realized everything looked the same. I put on my hunting hat and started scouting around until I found our tracks we slowly worked our way back in the right direction. We got lazy and started getting lost again. One scary thing that did happen was that as we were walking along a bird in front of us was freaking out. It was such a commotion that we stopped and looked at it. Just as we noticed the bird we saw a huge grey snake slithering along right across the path where we would have been if the bird had not warned us. I don’t have a clue what it was but it was big and I don’t think there are a lot of nice snakes in that type of environment. From then on we were both using “walking” sticks. We were lost again until we ran into some fires that were burning in the distance. We thought that it was a village but it turned out that they were just fires left burning to either clear out the area or possibly to make charcoal. What it did help us with was that we ran into the river and then were able to figure out which direction we had to go. So after a forced three hour march where the brain had been so cooked that the only thing you could do was look down in front of you and just take one step at a time. We didn’t talk a work and we just plodded along. We made it back to the main landing zone and begged a ride on one of the locals boat that was already half way across. We were so wiped out that we just stood on the bank yelling at the guy “Farenji’s, Farenji’s”. It’s basically the same thing as yelling free money, free money. The guy of course came back and took us across. We didn’t speak a word but we both knew where we were going, to the Oasis. We split a big bottle of the last cold water, two sodas and two mineral waters each. It took a good fifteen minutes before we could talk. My first words of course were “Why? Why would she do that?” Oh yea, you can add this little section to the downfall of Steve.

The next day was it. We wanted out so the plan was to get up early and take some photos since we weren’t able to take any of the people when we crossed the river. Afterwards we would grab the first truck out and head back to the beautiful kingdom of Turmi. We ended up running into a bunch of girls we met on the other side of the river so we got some photos of them. We decided to walk to some of the villages on the outskirts of town and we had a great time as it was just the kids and older folks in the villages as the others were on their way into town. We got some more great photos and were able to hang around without having to be clowns. It was a good experience.

Back in town we realized something was going on. The streets and bars were packed. We decided on one last stop at the Oasis before we left. When we asked the owner why it was so busy he told us that it was Market Day. Great. We couldn’t leave on market day, so we grudgingly agreed to stay one more day. We ended up spending the day at the market, again chasing the kids and messing with the vendors, but overall it was worth it. Still, that night we agreed, hell or high water we were out of there the next day.

The next morning we had our bags in hand and we went directly to the entry/exit point of town and just sat there with a group of other people who were also looking to escape. We ended up waiting for three hours but finally an Isuzu truck showed up and we ended up getting our ride without even having to bargain. We were stoked. Omorate was fun, but we had overstayed our welcome. It was back to clean water, good food, clean sheets, friendly people and relax time in beautiful Turmi.

For historical note, Omorate was once going to be a focal point for Ethiopian agriculture. North Korea had come up with a deal where they would invest in the area and try and make it a major cotton producing area. They brought in Millions of dollars worth of equipment, started setting up an intricate irrigation system that would turn the barren Omo Valley into a farmable land, and began building modern structures to support the new economy. Well, their economy went to crap and they ended up pulling out. It basically turned Omorate from a ghost town to a gold mine and back to a ghost town within a couple of years. Even now when you go you see the more modern buildings just partially built, 38 unused tractors/loaders, a huge bore hole drilling machine, a water pumping station with generators, and other heavy duty equipment just sitting there in an dirt lot. It’s pretty sad if you think about it. Pretty interesting history though.

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