I am percolating with a certain kind of elation that I have not felt in some time, hit by a wonderful speed ball of energetic happiness. I crest the final hill into Konso village as a new day begins over the glowing emerald green hillside. The tropical southern region of the Omo valley, Ethiopia is where the cotton and banana industry blossoms as I cycle through the humid region.
Smiles at sunrise abound as children wave hands instead of sticks. Adults dressed in traditional rainbow striped skirts, a short hem indicating marriage and log hem indicating single, crowd the curb less roughly paved street. Wow, they must of discovered a pot of gold, I think to myself, as I grin at their colorful attire. Their excited welcoming smiles radiate like a contagious fever as I begin smiling so hard that I crack my sun burnt lip.
The barefoot women carry bundles of fresh green chat, the traditional plant used like chewing tobacco on their strong backs and hearty heads. A plethora of beige spotted cows and a kaleidoscope of goats crowd the street as I slowly navigate through the herds of noisy livestock.
It is market day for the smiling beautiful mix of Konso hillside tribal folks. Trucks full of plastic Chinese shoes and western men's clothes have traveled from as far as Somalia and Kenya for the weekly cultural market.
“Good Morning” , a very sweet and way too thin man named Dominican says, his eyes twinkle with sincerity, as I stand straddling Pandemic in the middle of the street amongst the market mayhem. I am looking around for a breakfast restaurant.
Dominican and I spend the day eating traditional Ethiopia foods, such as injura, a thin flat bread made from fermented teft flour and lentil stews. We drink jabana traditional coffee with his many friends, my arm happily tires from shaking hand after hand.
Dominican calls his friend and helps me purchase Kenya shilling on the black market so I can venture through the remote Lake Turkana border crossing into Northwest Kenya. I do believe I have found my slice of utopia while bicycle touring in Ethiopia, happily embracing the Southern Tribal region leaving the mystically bizarre overpopulated Northern area behind.
The mountain road crests upward on a gradient that over powers my thighs, too many mosquito, spider and sand flee bugs have swollen my left eye which only complicates my blurry half vision. I push Pandemic up the crest of the final steep 25 km hill, in the distance the village of Key Afar Village awaits. Hammer and Banna tribal people who live in circular grass huts are dressed in goat skins, they necks are heavily decorated with colorful plastic beads. Topless women wearing animal skins as skirts venture home after their travel to the local village. The men carry their AKA 47’s strapped a crossed their chests. Deep scares endured by lashings as a part of a coming of age ceremony indent their bronzed darkened chests. The heavy metal weaponry adorn their tribal markings. There welcoming smiles glow as their arm bracelet made out of recycled metal shimmer in the heat of the midday heat.
There is a long standing tribal conflict over nomadic territory between the Kenyan tribes and the Ethiopian tribes, a recent lethal mugging of a clan man over his AK-47 and fishing territory on the western side of Lake Turkana is dinner conversation as I camp at the Christian mission after a long day of cycling and pushing Pandemic through the sandy remote border crossing at Omorate, Ethiopia/ Todenyang, Kenya.
However, cycling in the deep sand was surprisingly easy with the help of about 2 dozen village children pushing me. After the sandy sections became cycleable, they took turns riding the magic bicycle. One boy wearing a short tattered cloth wrapped around his waist pushed the pedals backwards instead of forwards as I realized it may have been his maiden voyage by magic bicycle. I then began pushing the children on the bicycle supporting the weight of the bicycle and heavy gear in my arms. The smaller children sat on top of the gear on the back rack as I attempted to push and pedal on the coarse sandy trail.
Killings and tribal clashes are personnel in nature and a bit hard to believe from all these warm people who seem very happy to have a visitor in this sandy arid corner of the planet. Unfortunately, since the influx of cheap guns from Kenyan border countries tribal clashes that used to be resolved through discussion are now resolved through shooting and often death. Personal conflicts that do not involve a solo woman bicycle touring on a magic bicycle or the kind welcome that I have received as I continue south down the western side of Lake Turkana deeper into Kenya.