Here she writes about her recent group walking trip to Ethiopia:
This trip to Ethiopia is rather different to what most people would expect. Rather than visiting the historical sites of the north, we travelled south and spent a week in the tribal area of the Omo Valley, home to various tribes, each with their own very specific customs and rituals. The highlight of this trip was the “bull-jumping” ceremony where a young man from the Hamer tribe is initiated into adulthood and can then leave the parental home and choose a wife.
The build-up to this is quite breathtaking – his female relatives provoke previous initiates to whip them, thereby showing their devotion to the bull-jumper and securing their future support from him, should they remain unmarried or become widowed. Amid a cacophony of jingling bells worn on their ankles and fuelled by local beer, they dance and taunt the men by beating them with their dreadlocks, until the sense of excitement reaches an intensity that is tangible. Then the initiate strips naked and has to jump over the backs of up to 8 bulls lined up together, back and forth 4 or 5 times, without falling… We were concerned that we would be intruding, but on the contrary the welcome we received was genuine and relaxed, almost to the point of us feeling a part of their tribal festivity.
We also visited the Mursi tribe, who are famous for the huge clay lip plates worn by the women. I had always been given to believe that they were hostile to visitors, but in fact we experienced quite the opposite – to the point that one girl removed her lip plate and gave it to me when we left – a simple but moving gesture.
Leaving the hot Omo Valley for the cool Bale Mountains further east, we discovered a wilderness quite untouched by tourism. With our little party of horses laden with food for 6 days, we walked steadily higher up to the Senatti Plateau, home to the indigenous Ethiopian Wolf and Mountain Nyala, which is dotted with the triffid-like Giant Lobelia and carpets of Red Hot Pokers. As an escape from everyday life, this is the place to come and commune with the gods! It was cold and hard, but we all came down with a feeling of exhilaration and achievement that would be hard to match.
However, the enduring impression of Ethiopia remains in the everyday interaction we had with the people themselves. Rather than the poverty and hardship that we expected to be confronted with, we met generosity, warmth and humour at every turn. Some of my group had been before, and the new visitors have already expressed a desire to come back next year to see more! As one client, who has travelled with me on many occasions said, this trip was “off the scale”.