Sof Omar is an extraordinary natural phenomenon of breathtaking beauty, found at 120 kilometres eastward from Gobba, in Bale, Ethiopia in a low valley filled with thorn trees and weird funnels of termite hills. It is the site of an amazing complex of natural caves, cut by the Wab River as it found its way from the nearby mountains.
The nearby settlement, which is a religious site, is named after a local Sheikh, Sof Omar, who sought refuge here many centuries ago. But the cave has a religious history of thousands of years, much older than the arrival of the Muslims in Bale.
Its main entrance lies in a small, pleasant green valley not far from the village of Sof Omar, the actual entrance is called Ayiew Maco after the daughter of Omar. The clear emerald stream that descended from the highlands disappears into the cave.
One can make their way underground, far into the bowels of the earth, beside a subterranean stream, and there can see an extraordinary number of arched portals, high eroded ceilings and deep echoing chambers. The cave has simple trails but no artificial light, so visitors have to take lamps with them.
The trail leads through various chambers until it finally reaches the cave river. The Chamber of Columns is one of the biggest chambers of the cave, named after 20m high stalakmites which can be seen here.
The cave is inhabited by bats, cave fish and crustraceans. The Wab River, in the Bale Region of Ethiopia cascades, from the rocky highland moor, through deep gorges and forested hillsides until slowing to wind more quietly across the Dinchu plateau valley.
One hundred miles later it reaches the limestone hills of the Wabe and Mendayo provinces, where it makes its subterranean way through the Sof Omar Cave.
At more than 10 miles, it is the longest cave of Ethiopia with over 42 separate entrances. Inside, the cave is cool and dry. The Ayiew entrance is dimly lit, however deep in the cave you pass through a maze of passages and rooms, which have been polished by the trickling and dripping green water to a marble-like smoothness. In the darkness the river roars and foams through narrow crevices.
Horseshoe Bats and the African False Vampire Bats roost in moderate-sized groups in some of the passageways.
Sof Omar Cave has always been prominent in the life of the area and the local people have long revered it as a shrine. They believe their gods reside in trees and water, and they are the home of a deity. The cave has always been the object of prayer and sacrifice.
Offerings of thanksgiving in form of small pouches of leather straps decorated with beads hang from rocky projections. To the caver they are more of a challenge than a place of worship.
It takes only an hour to pass through the cave following a map, however it is essential to have proper equipment - or the gods may claim another sacrifice.