After a quick breakfast of bread and tantalizing coffee, we headed out in the 4x4 to the town center to pick up our compulsory guide. Even though the local guides are supposed to be assigned randomly, when Yosef went into the offices, he saw his favorite guide and asked him to come with us. We are so, so, so thankful that Yosef is our guide! He handpicked a 22 year old student named Awonde who turned out to be friendly (with everyone- he seemed to know the whole town), knowledgeable, respected (even among the Musi), interesting and very fun. If you ever go to Jinka, look for Awonde (pronounced ah-when-day) in the local guides- he is amazing.
We left Jinka, and headed towards the Mago National Park. Driving through the green mountains, I felt like I was in the Costa Rican rain forest. The vegetation is only slightly different, but humidity and intense shades of green are the same. The Mago National Park was created to protect the lions, elephants, leopards, giraffes, buffalos, etc that lived there in the past. However, because of poaching (and just regular hunting), most of the animals are long gone. What abounds are the little dik-diks, and we saw plenty! Yosef said that if you go down into the forest by the water you can see buffalo and zebras. We did see several “lesser kudu” (which reminded me of deer), lots of jigra pairs with their babies (a black and blue bird that reminded me of quail), and on the way home we saw a whole troop of Colobus monkeys- black and white monkeys that leapt from tree to tree. Of course most of the wildlife were impossible to capture in pictures.
The Mursi tribe is the most demanding of payment for photos because they are seen by Westerners to be one of the most “primitive” tribes in the world. Half-naked, painted and scarred bodies, and huge clay disks in the lips and ears of the married women are evidently so unique, they attract tourists who obviously want to take pictures. At first the environment was tense and I felt very stressed- the entire village surrounded us and was begging for photos, grabbing us and demanding “3 birr photo,” trying to vie for our attention. I smiled at a little baby, and so all of the women with babies approached me asking for photos.
The Mursi people are mainly cattle herders, and have hundreds of cows that they keep up in the lush mountains. They check on them every couple of days because it takes hours to reach them. To mark their cows, they might scar them on their sides, or cut notches into their ears. To earn money, they sell their cattle at the market in Jinka, which takes 2 days walking in one direction. We were told that this is when the gun comes in handy- for protection from large animals. I tried to ask what type of “large animal” would attack them in Mago Park, but he just smiled and showed me with his arms an ambiguous “large animal.” They also earn a lot of money from the tourists, and use this to buy sorghum, alcohol, and soap at the market (not necessarily in that order). The huts were quite bare, and you could see that the Mursi didn’t really have possessions other than their livestock and their guns.
Finally it was time to go. We drove back through the Mago Park, admiring the colorful butterflies fluttering above the puddles. The clay road was a red ribbon curling through the velvet green forest. We saw a troop of black and white colobus monkeys leaping through the trees and screeching at us- as if demanding some birr for our photos! Another troop of monkeys ignored our attempts to photograph them. The picture on the right is a local "greenhouse"-- filled with coffee plants! If you remember from your trips to Starbucks, Ethiopian coffee is quite delicious! It is also a great way for families to supplement their income because a small coffee plant does not take up much room, and must be picked by hand anyway. So do like Vivi says- buy Ethiopian coffee, not Madagascaran coffee (where they are cutting down trees- ie lemur homes- to plant huge tracts of coffee for export).