Omo Valley - Experiences and lessons learnt
Replies: 2 - Last Post: Apr 23, 2013 10:37 AM Last Post By: civili
Apr 18, 2013 1:14 PM
Omo Valley - Experiences and lessons learntI want to share some of my experiences about traveling in the Omo Valley in the hope that some people might consider the manner in which they travel.
When we arrived in Addis, we reviewed all of our options of tours and personal guides. I am use to traveling independently and it didn't seem right to take a guide from the city to tour in the country, so we went down to Arba Minch to arrange our tour.
When we started speaking to people in Arba Minch, they told us how there are a lot of tour groups (particularly those booked overseas) that give nothing back to the community. The money is paid in Addis (or overseas) and then they stay at a 'chain' of hotels that are owned by a small group of people (or tour groups) who are not from the community. All of the money is then taken away from the community and not reinvested in any way. This seems both sad and unfair on Ethiopians.
As I traveled around the Omo Valley, I was reminded on an hourly basis of the importance of responsible tourism. The levels of tourism that Ethiopia is now experiencing is having a positive impact on their economy but in many cases, a negative long term impact on their people.
The children are absolutely beautiful and every time you see them, you want to give money to them. However, the impact is that this keeps them away from school, as they now provide an income to their families. Then they grow up and are not 'so cute', they haven't got an education, so they now resort to begging from tourists (or worse). In the long run, you are robbing them of an education and a future by giving them 'a few harmless birr' to make them smile. The children who are in the tribal villages are there because they are not as school. I don't think this is something that should be encouraged. They are often on the sides of the roads, dancing and yelling 'highlander'. Would you like someone to encourage your child to play beside the road and chase after cars?
I love children and I understand how difficult it is to resist giving things to them. Our solution was to go to a local school and buy them some pens and a soccer ball. I didn't get the immediate 'warm buzz' feeling that you might get when you give them a couple of birr but I know I did the right thing in the long run by encouraging them to attend school. Seeing them playing with the soccer ball was priceless. So much more valuable than a few photos.
We also saw a lot of evidence of the 'photograph and run' tours through the villages. We spoke to village people who said how much they hate it. I would hate it as well if people did that to me. The day before we arrived at a village, two tourists had been there and they threw 100, one birr notes into the air. There was also a group of tourists that arrived to the village with masks and gloves. It makes me both sad and angry that people can treat other people in this manner. When I heard these stories, I felt ashamed to be a 'faranji'.
When we paid the entrance fees to the villages, we also questioned where our money was going. If you are paying 400 birr per car and they can get 20 cars a day but children hassle you for money as you get out of the car, there is no running water, school or medical facilities, then something is going wrong. I don't know if questioning it will change but we thought it was worth a try!
We were extremely fortunate to find a guide who was fully supportive of this responsible tourism philosophy. We spent a couple of hours at each village, we sat down and talked to the local people and interacted with them, rather than just take photos. It was such a unique and valuable travel experience. His name was Tsehai (firstname.lastname@example.org or 0916825205) and he owns and runs Dorze Lodge in Arba Minch. He had been doing tours and guiding for over 20 years and he is absolutely exceptional. His knowledge of the people and their culture is fantastic! He understands both western and Ethiopian needs and balances both of them perfectly. He is interested in the culture and the people, not just photos. His guiding made a tour to South Omo an absolute highlight of Africa!!
We also had experience with another guide that I would not recommend as highly. His name is Wes (Wasagne Gedebo). Initially Wes seems fantastic. His English is very good, he has worked overseas and has a degree in Tourism and Sustainability. On a positive note, he organised a good itinerary, the car was reliable, honest he had good history and technical knowledge and made sure we were safe and secure at all times. He was also very supportive of doing a non 'human zoo' tour. However, he has very fixed ideas on what your tour should be and if you try and change anything, he is not happy. (Even if you do it in a very nice manner.) For example, after spending several days eating Injera, we had really upset stomaches and needed some 'western food' or wanting to choose some nicer accommodation after spending several days in very basic accommodation. The consequence is that he 'sulks', completely disengages and spends more time on his mobile phone than with his guests.
I have now been in Ethiopia for a month, two weeks in the south and two weeks in the north. While the north was amazing, the south was unforgettable!!
Apr 19, 2013 12:23 AM
Apr 23, 2013 10:37 AM
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