Amazing Mursi tribes in South Omo
Updated: Aug 18
On Tuesday 12th January, after our very pleasant pitstop in Addis, we were back at the airport for the 10.25 flight to Jinka. I'd booked a two bedroom cottage in Jinka via Airbnb owned by Joerg who lived in Jinka for ten years, but now lives with his wife in Germany. Despite the country and time differences we managed to communicate without any problems and the price was £57 for two nights. Again, similar to other homestays the cottage was great for Tiger as it was set in a family compound. Arriving on the flight was quite amusing though as Jinka airport is really just a shack! Plus my Ethiopian mobile phone had a smashed screen so I couldn't make or receive any calls. Thankfully, our upcoming guide, Toffu, met us at the airport and we travelled the short journey to the cottage in a Red Cross 4x4.
As we arrived, I asked the family if they could do laundry which they promptly did right in front of me in the garden!
After Tiger's nap, Toffu came and we had a walk around the town heading to the market to buy eggs, tomato, onions, oil (for our breakfast!), bananas, biscuits and wine for me. If I thought that the experience in Harar with the kids following us, this was something else. Tiger was in the baby carrier and we were surrounded by people! Really quite fun though. After the market we walked around the town a bit more, and then ate in a restaurant before heading back to bed. I have to say I was shattered and could barely hold a conversation with Toffu and went to bed shortly after Tiger.
The next day, 13th January, we had the whole day free. We were made breakfast of scrambled eggs with onion and tomato, bread and nijera and lovely tea then at 8am Toffu came to pick us up and we headed out on a dusty road to see the Mursi tribe.
The costs were 4000 for the car (£74) so quite expensive for that part but when are you in South Omo visiting tribes. Apart from that costs were minimal e.g. 400 Birr (£7) to the village elders to enter the village (200) and take photos (200), entrance to Mago National Park (400), 300 for our obligatory bodyguard/gunman and a few hundred here and there for tuk tuks (bajaj). I told Toffu that I was usually paying $40 a day for a guide, and in the end he did one whole day and two half days so we paid him $100 (rounded up to 4000 Birr) including a tip.
Now, how to put into words what it was like to visit the Mursi tribe. It really was special as we went inside their tiny round houses with doors about Tiger's height (apparently to keep away mosquitoes). Most of the women wore nothing on their top half, and had huge stretched ears and lips. They showed us how to grind grain but were clearly used to tourists as they tried to sell us lip plates and clay toys for Tiger (in the end we bought one lip plate and 2 little toys for 200 Birr). They also were completely unfazed by my iPhone and liked me scrolling through my photos so they could see them. Although they are farmers, I do wonder exactly how much they depend on tourism, and therefore how much they would have been impacted by the covid-related drop in tourism.
On the way out of the village, along the road, there were groups of boys and young men, completely naked apart from white tribal markings. Toffu explained this was "small business" for them as we stopped to have photographs taken and paid them 50 Birr for the privilege. Just as we approached Jinka we also had a car wash in the river!
After Tiger's nap, we headed out to the Ethnological Museum back in Jinka which was just brilliant, probably thanks to the guide who showed me around and explained all the tribes of South Omo, Addisalem Habtamu. He had written the book "The Amazing South Omo Valley - Ethiopia's land of warriors, hunters and nomads" which is available to download from Amazon here. At the museum we saw an incredible video of the Hamer tribe and cow jumping with Bruce Parry which you can see here.
Most people spend 5-6 days in the South Omo valley and we only spent two nights and one full day so plenty to come back for! On 14th January before the flight, Toffu took us to a souvenir shop and the restaurant for lunch before we flew back to Addis.