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Ethiopia


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#1 sundowner

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 07:39 PM

The trip started with 5 days in the Mara at Governor's Camp. Sandy (divewop) and I went there together. Our guide on the Ethiopian portion of the trip, Piper, was on a workshop with Andy Biggs at Governors at the same time we were there so we were able to meet before the official trip began. And I finally met Andy after first "talking" to him on the internet almost a decade ago. Very nice guy, as you all know. He was very helpful when Sandy had camera and tripod problems and was able to get her tripod repaired in the machine shop there at Governors. Good on you, Andy. I wouldn't have even thought of that.

The Ethiopian part of the trip started with a 3:30 AM flight from Nairobi to Addis Ababa. Yes, 3:30 AM. Yes, it was a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the reasonable time flight. Yes, I was willing to get up at the time Iím usually going to bed to save a couple hundred dollars. At the Addis airport the first stop after customs was a toilet stop and the first intro to no toilet paper, a common theme in Ethiopia.

At this airport you have to go thru a scanner when you leave the airport. They said they were looking for video equipment. Whatever. I had no video equipment so no worries. We were met by our guide, Robel, who gathered us and our luggage and took us to the vehicles with our drivers for the next week or so. We drove to a hotel where we met our 4th traveling companion, Vaughn, and had breakfast. One more trip to the toilet (with TP) and we were on our way.

I quickly learned that you cannot drive in Ethiopia without your car horn. There were plenty of cars and people everywhere in Addis. But no signal lights (any that I saw were ignored) or stop signs. Vehicles have the right of way over pedestrians so you honk your horn when you approach other cars or people, especially people walking in the direction you were driving that couldnít see you coming. And you honk a lot. This would be for the whole trip.

We made a couple of stops in Addis looking for a place to pick up a bottle of bourbon and amarula. Once we finally found some it was $60-65 US dollars so we decided we would stick to beer and wine. But we did run across a very nice little grocery store and a pastry store. Vaughn indulged in a pastry and I got chastised in the grocery store for taking photos (it was such a neat, cute store!). We didnít pick up beer or wine in Addis because ďit will be available anywhere on the tripĒ. Mistake. It wasnít. Beer became a little treat because it wasnít easy to find. Note to self: Next time you go to Ethiopia buy any alcohol in the duty free shop in the prior airport and buy beer in Addis.

The first 3 days are driving days. You might think we went a long way since we drove for 3 days but you would be mistaken. The roads are dirt/gravel and the cows and goats have the right of way. If the map I looked at was correct we travelled about 400 miles over the 3 days and we went from early morning to late afternoon/dusk every day. We honked our way along and made a few quick stops for photos but it was just slow driving. We stayed in hotels on the travel days but we were on the non-tourist west side of the Omo River (I think). The first hotel was on the nicer side (for a developing country) but the second left a bit (lot!) to be desired. The shower didnít work at all in 2 of the rooms, 1 room didnít have hot water and the 4th room did but it ran out when the first person was half finished showering. They did have flush toilets, dirty sheets, doors that barely locked, windows that didnít shut and they did have mosquito netting for the bed. The beer was cold and the food was good.

Shots made on the road.
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This man saw us stopped and ran into his house to grab a stool so we could take his picture. He was very happy.
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His wife.
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A cute little girl.
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#2 twaffle

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 09:51 PM

Excellent start, I'm looking forward to this very much,

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#3 sundowner

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 11:17 PM

Thanks, Twaffle.

The 3rd night we arrived at our first village where we camped. We were quickly surrounded by children as we would be everywhere we went. Robel was pretty good about making sure we werenít too mobbed and shooed the kids away after the initial meet and greet.

We met with the chief of the tribe and our trip leader, Piper, made financial arrangements to photo some of the people. Iím told that regular tourists pay 1 or 2 birr per click of the camera. We arenít as good a photographers as they are and it takes us many clicks to get an image we are happy with :) so we made an arrangement for group rates. Usually it was 10 birr per photographer per subject (Iíll refer to them as models to make it easier). So if all 4 of us photographed one model, that model received 40 birr. This arrangement worked well for the first couple of tribes but towards the end of the trip the same arrangements were made but the models wanted more money. Each of us would choose our model and take photos and pay. Sometimes the model would then want to argue. Sometimes I would keep the money and just walk away and later the model would approach me with their hand out and accept the same amount I offered in the first place. Sometimes the model would follow me around (cussing me out, probably) and then I would call for our guide, Robel, or the translator. We picked up a translator/guide before we went into any village so any problems could be worked out. Sometimes some of us would leave in one vehicle and leave the guides there still arguing with the tribes people.

Our camp. Ours are the green tents and the guys were in the yellow tents.
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Included in the trip price was some birr to pay for the photos. Hereís my pile. (17 birr to the US $1)
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Painting themselves for photos. Notice the arms bulging above and below some of the bracelets. Those are one piece of wire wound round and round and cannot be removed easily. They also wear bracelets that are singles and they wear several of them. Those can be adjusted for size and growth.
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Herding cattle through the river where they drink, bathe, wash clothes etc. The guy tried to get us to pay him for taking photos of his cattle.
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#4 twaffle

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 01:45 AM

I'd say those photos are worth every Birr!

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#5 sundowner

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 02:35 AM

Twaffle, we had to keep reminding ourselves that 1 birr was like 6 cents so when we paid 10 birr it wasn't 10 US dollars. :)

Thatís pretty much how the trip went. We stayed in each spot 2 or 3 nights and photographed people in local villages. On the first side (west side) of the Omo, once we were about a day out of Addis, it seemed that most people only wore the traditional clothes and no western clothes. No one spoke English on the west side (that we knew of). The Ethiopian government does provide school for the children and we saw schools in quite a few of the larger villages and small towns (and some health clinics). Once we crossed the river there were some kids that could speak English.

We would usually leave our camp between 5:30 and 6:30 am, depending on how close we were, and would stop on the side of the road somewhere and honk (of course we honked!) and a sleepy guide/translator would come out and hop in the car to ride with us to the tribe. We would take photos while the light was good and then head back to camp for lunch, downloading etc. Mid afternoon we would head back to the village to be ready for the good afternoon light.


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Oh yeah, remember the beer we could buy all along the way? There isnít any to buy. REALLY? And who planned this trip without verifying the beer situation? I have probably had maybe 10 beers in my life at home but on trips it just seems like beer tastes better so it was a real disappointment to not have any. I guess I shouldnít say we didnít have any because we were able to buy some in one village. But the seller didnít want us taking them with us. He said we had to drink them there because he had to have the bottles. If he didnít return the bottles to his supplier then he couldnít buy more beer to sell. He made a big concession and let Robel take the beer to our camp with a promise to return the bottles in a day or two. So we did have warm beer in that camp.

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Notice the condensation on the bottles in the next picture. That meant we were at a restaurant.

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Something I havenít mentioned yet is we had no refrigeration (hence, hot beer). Solomon only cooked food that didnít require any refrigeration. Almost every meal included a fresh tomato/onion/garlic/hot pepper salad. (It was good every time.) We were served a soup first course for nearly every dinner. Several lunches were pasta, the tomato salad and canned tuna. Or sardines. It was totally fine. Another dish he made was a potato and beet salad. He would cook them separately and then stir together with onions, etc. Any meat was freshly killed (chicken, goat). For breakfast he usually made scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions and hot peppers. And fresh bread. There was fresh bread with every meal that they picked up from a store somewhere or a village. Not sure. Oh, on the mornings we left camp early in the morning Solomon made us egg sandwiches and thermoses of hot water for coffee and tea. What a great guy. He cooked everything on 2 propane burners. Oh, and he made pizza! We were staying in a hotel and the guys were staying in a camp site a few minutes away. We went over there for lunch under the dozens of shade trees. It was so nice and cool and he served pizza! It was so good. The next day Robel told Solomon to make pizza again. Solomon said he couldnít make pizza two days in a row and Robel said he thought we would really like it and we did. Pizza with tomato sauce and tuna. Yum!

Here are more pics from the first place we camped.

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#6 madaboutcheetah

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 06:19 AM

When I saw your FB photos, Cindy ....... I knew this was a truly unique experience!!! Thanks for posting this report .........

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#7 Sverker

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 06:45 AM

Great photos, great models!

Some development since 1984 when I was in Ethiopia. I never paid for portraits, but, they never put on makeup like your models ...
Slower is better!

#8 Game Warden

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 11:19 AM

What a tremendous series of images - thankyou Sundowner. Echoing everyone else's sentiments above, keep this series coming please. Certainly I'd also like to know more about the logistics of such a trip. Matt

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#9 Tim Neary

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 11:30 AM

This is super to read and brings back great memories of visiting the Wolves in the Bale Mountains. Best coffee!

#10 Ayesha Cantor

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 11:32 AM

Ayesha, I've edited this post as it was just quoting the series of images from Sundowner. Matt.
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#11 twaffle

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 11:33 AM

I love the decorations on the head dresses, little melons and flowers. What a lot of effort they went to and what a priceless collection of photos and memories you have.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#12 Anita

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 12:17 PM

Absolutely fantastic pics Cindy! Have been waiting for this one since the thread mentioning this trip with Pippa on Fodors, infact was following it a bit on her fb page! Look forward to more!

#13 pault

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 02:56 PM

Great models - the last picture in the first set (of models) is extra special, but that set is all fabulous. I saw this on TV once with a couple of photographers - different people though and found it fascinating. I'm not sure I'd like to go through it all, but the results are extraordinary.

Some of the headgear looks so incongruous that you have to wonder if they actually ever wore it before the photographers came along, or they make it up as they go along now - most likely that's what they always did, I guess - they are certainly "dressers". Great stuff and I'm really looking forward to more of the trip.

Waiting again... for the next time again


#14 sundowner

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 11:30 PM

Thank you all for the kind comments! It was definitely a special experience. I met a guy from France a couple of years ago at a photography workshop, Sylvan, and he showed me photos on his harddrive. He had quite a few from this area of Ethiopia and they were just jaw-dropping beautiful. When Sandy sent me the itinerary of this trip I just HAD to go. I'm very glad I did.

One pleasant surprise was the Hamer tribe was having a celebration the day we visited. We went in the early morning and stopped at several villages and they were mostly empty. We were told the people were practicing for the dancing that afternoon and we found where they were and watched and visited with them for awhile. We went back in the afternoon for the celebration and there were dozens and dozens of other tourists there also.

The celebration was for a coming of age ceremony for one of the men. We nicknamed him Birthday Boy. After this ceremony he can marry, own cattle and have children. The more well know bull jumping ceremony takes place 21 days after this day and Birthday Boy gave Robel (our guide) a piece of long grass with the 21 knots in it to signify each day until the bull jumping takes place. Robel is supposed to break off a knot per day so he knows when to be there.

One part of the ceremony that was strange to me was whipping the female relatives of the Birthday Boy. The whipper is a friend of Birthday Boy and the women gather around the whipper and try to attract his attention so he will whip them on their back. I read that this whipping is to create a strong debt between the Birthday boy and his sisters and that if they need help in the future he will help them because of the pain they went through during the ceremony. There were a few bloody backs that afternoon. You could also see many healed scars from prior whippings. I forgot to mention that the women are blowing horns during this whipping ceremony and it's pretty loud with that and the jingling of the bells.

There was also lots of dancing by the men in a large circle. And part of the time young women went inside the circle and danced, too. I donít know the significance of that. I never saw any of the tribe eating but the women were making beer and the men were drinking beer. They started getting a little tipsy in the late afternoon.

Here are some photos of the Hamer tribe and the celebration for "Birthday Boy". They don't keep track of birthdays like we do and if you asked someone how old they were they didn't know.

Most of the women had the ochre mixed with butter fat in their hair. You can see in some of the images that it gets on their necklaces and clothing, too.

This woman's top necklace (if you call it a necklace) signifies that she is the first wife and she is higher in society. I also read somewhere that the additional necklaces signify the other wives of her husband and that the second and third wives are treated like slaves.

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Here is a younger girl, probably 12 or 13.

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And an older woman, still wearing the hair the same way.

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A couple of girls and you can see where the hair color rubbed off/melted (?) down onto their clothes. It was pretty hot there.

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Here are a couple of the men dancing.

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The next two are of the women dancing. They are wearing the traditional clothes that they wear every day. They did have bells around their calves for the dancing that they don't normally wear.

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The next one shows new and old scars from the whipping ceremony and below that is a video of it.

P.S. I'm a still photographer, not a videographer so don't expect a lot!

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#15 Sangeeta

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 01:42 AM

Wow!
Ditto on all the previous comments. Some the body painting and headgear decorations have an other- worldly quality about them.
I also liked the tailor photo with the billowing white cloth very much.
Did you get to the wolves at all?

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#16 Atravelynn

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 01:48 AM

These are absolutely fantastic photos. What an amazing experience, despite the warm beer. Who knew Little Gov's had a machine shop and I'd never think to repair my tripod there. Way to go Andy.

That's a brutal ceremony. Did you learn the purpose of it?
When you think of a rhino, think of a tree (African proverb)

#17 twaffle

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 03:15 AM

Lynn, I think this quote from Cindy is probably much of the reason?

I read that this whipping is to create a strong debt between the Birthday boy and his sisters and that if they need help in the future he will help them because of the pain they went through during the ceremony.


Brutal is right.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#18 sundowner

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 03:53 AM

Here are a couple more from that day.

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Making the beer.

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Pouring the beer. They drink it out of the gourds.

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Cute baby boy.

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Some of the girls/women + tourist

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The front of the daily clothing. They use these shells a lot in their decorations.

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One of the girls blowing a horn.

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Birthday Boy. He has taken off all of his jewelry and adornments for the celebration.

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#19 matnikstym

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 04:02 AM

sundowner, I can't even put into words how incredible your photos are, and how memorable your trip must have been. WOW!

#20 sundowner

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 12:12 PM

Thanks, Sangeeta, Lynn and Dennis!

Sangeeta, we did not see the wolves. This trip was all about the people and it was plenty long enough. :) I love the sewing photo, too.

Lynn, Twaffle found the answer. :) With what Robel told us and what I could find googling, I believe that is the reason they do it. To build a bond.

Mat, the kids are so amazing. You tell them you want to take pictures and they head off into the bush for a few minutes (5-15) and come back out and look like they've been to the Nature Beauty Salon. They helped each other do the painting (they also use plants they dip into the paint to stamp on their faces and body) and only one person used a mirror. Every time we pulled into a village the kids used every opportunity to look at themselves in the car mirror. :) And they loved to see the images on the back of the camera.





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