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Jimma

Jimma is located 275 kilometers southwest of Addis Ababa, the largest city in southwestern Ethiopia owes its origin to the establish­ment  an early Oromo monarchy. Famed for the home of Ethiopian coffee and, indeed, the first home of all the coffee in the world (See 'The World's Favourite Drink', Part Four), fertile Kaffa has as its capital the town of Jimma, which lies at the southern end of the Ethiopian plateau on the west of the Rift in rolling hilly country where temperatures are never higher than 29°C (85°F). This frost-free environment, which gets a substantial 1600 mm (62 inches) of rain each year, is perfect for growing a huge variety of foodstuffs, including grains, legumes, and root crops. 

Metu 

Twenty-five kilometres (15.5 miles) from Gore is the regional capital of Metu, surrounded by singing forests filled with brightly plumed birds. The mood here is that of a frontier settlement - the frontier being not a political one but rather the intangible borderline between raw nature and the endeavours of man.

Ethiopia's Oromo people, who have com­mitted themselves to pushing this frontier back in their steady westwards expansion, crowd into Metu on holidays and week­ends, drinking and listening to music in its many small bars, or offering their produce for sale in its open market - produce that includes berries and wild honey as well as the more familiar grains and vegetables of established agriculture. At night a small generator chugs and puffs bravely for an hour or two before it is closed down and darkness and silence fall over the town.

A thirteen-kilometre (eight-mile) detour off the main road at Metu leads the traveller to the village of Bechu, which occupies an irregular clearing in the midst of a dense thicket of trees. From here, an hour's downhill walk through green glades on a narrow and at times barely discernible path is rewarded with a view of one of Ethiopia's many splendid waterfalls where the Sor River pours over the lip of a broad chasm 100 metres (328 feet) deep. A natural amphitheatre, heavily overgrown with weird tree ferns and tall grasses, this is a delightful spot in which to savour the primal atmosphere of Ilubabor and to catch a glimpse of nature as it must once have been throughout much of Africa before the coming of humanity.

The road continues through Bedele, 115 kilometres (71 miles) east of Metu. A turn left on the road that runs north here will take you back to Nekemte and the main east-west road. Bedele's claim to fame is the newest and largest beer factory in Ethiopia, making, of course, 'Bedele' beer. The road to Jimma takes a sharp bend south after Bedele, and continues in a southerly direction until it crosses into Kaffa region.

Coffee country

Jimma Coffee

The modern town of Agaro, 93 kilometres (58 miles) south of Bedele, is the first town you come to in this region. It is set in the heart of the coffee-growing country and, though not evident to the traveller, is reputedly one of the richest towns in the whole of Ethiopia.

Kaffa provides almost perfect conditions for the coffee plant, which still grows wild in parts of the region. Its rolling hillsides and valleys, at altitudes from 2,100 metres (6,900 feet) down to 1,300 metres (4,300 feet), receive just the right amount of rain­fall - 1,500 to 2,500 mm (58.5 to 97.5 inches) a year - and have slightly acidic topsoils with pH values between 4.5 and 5.5. The people, too, have an established tradition of coffee cultivation, today harnessed to numerous cooperatives and to highly pro­ductive farms that make Ethiopia one of the world's leading exporters of highest quality arabica.

Places of particular tourist interest include the two-storey palace of Abba Jifar II (1878­1932), one of the most important local rulers of the past, the principal mosque, and the oc­tagonal church of Medhane Alem, or Sav­iour of the World. The large Thursday mar­ket is also colourful and interesting. It is a good place from which to buy the famous three-legged Jimma stools and locally made baskets, as well as a wide range of local sup­plies, including coffee, which grows wild in the area.

The museum with its collection of Kaffa's traditional wooden handicraft masterpiece is also worth a visit, as are the many coffee-cleaning units in the town. A park by the river is the perfect place to sit and relax - perhaps with a cool drink, such as the delicious fruit juices available in the area or the famous local drink called besso, a non-alcoholic beverage made of ground barley. Besso can also refer to the common foodstuff made by mixing ground barley with water into a paste.

From Jimma, your journey back to Addis now heads north-east on a good asphalt road that runs through a highland zone of great scenic beauty.

First travelling through plains and val­leys, usually spotted with large herds of fat cattle quietly grazing on the lush grass, you will follow the Little Gibe River gorge on the left as you climb up a mountainside before reaching the town of Abelti, recognizable by the huge box-­shaped stone that juts up to the east. The 142-kilometre (88-mile) stretch of road be­tween Jimma and the town of Abelti is also a good place to bargain for handicrafts made in the area, which are sold along the roadside by the local people.

The road then descends into the valley of the Omo River, which here, near its headwaters, is known as the Gibe. It then rises again to the edge of the great plateau, which - between Welkite on the main road and Indibir and Hosaina to the south offers dramatic views of the surrounding countryside.

 

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