After 10 months travelling in Africa, I can say that this is one of the most amazing trips I’ve done.
With much effort to find transport and negotiating with drivers I traveled from Lalibela to Mekelle. I was lucky to stay here with couchsurfer Oded and to meet Isaac, a manager from a tour operator, who gave me the best tips and helped me organize the trip to the Danakil Depression.
The Danakil Depression is one of the hottest places in the world and one of the lowest too, about 100 m below sea level; part of it is in Djibouti and Eritrea and the area is inhabited by the tough Afar people. Here is where the fossil of the Australopithecus Lucy was found.
The trip consists of three pars; we went to see a volcano, then the salt dessert with colorful sulfur and iron oxide hot springs, and last we saw the salt miners and camel caravans. Without more, I will introduce you to the Danakil Depression with this video.
Nadia from Kenya was my travel companion for this trip. The first morning we joined another two tourists from Chile and Canada and we traveled for many hours witnessing the heat only from the thermometer of the car and an occasional bathroom break.
We arrived to the “car camp” in the afternoon where we would get ready to start the long walk to the Erta Ale volcano.
We begun walking before sunset with about 40 degrees Celsius, accompanied by a tour guide, a guard and two scouts. Due to political issues with Eritrea in the past, it was required that we were escorted this way. After 4 hours walking on slow on a rocky dark ground under full moonlight we reached the first sight of a volcano. We couldn’t get closer than a few hundred meters because the lava was flowing out.
Then it took us another two hours to walk to the camp where we would sleep. The place was not far but the ground was covered on volcanic rock from an eruption a few years before. That rock breaks easily and is sharp so we had to follow the guide to the dot.
Once we arrived to the camp we had dinner and at midnight we walked the last 100 meters to the crater of the volcano Erta Ale. It took us 40 minutes, placing every step exactly where the guide showed us, who walked in front breaking the fragile volcanic rock with a staff to find firm ground.
This day was so tiring, but it was all worth it once we leaned from the edge of the crater and saw the bright lava splashing and flowing inside Erta Ale. This was one of the most amazing views in my life.
We walked back and we went to sleep outdoors on a mattress on the floor, the weather was so perfect you barely needed a sheet. We slept for a couple of hours and then walked another 4 hours back to the car camp for breakfast.
We left the car camp after breakfast and went to see the salt Lake Afrera; this lake tasted more salty than salt itself. We also enjoyed relaxing at the hot springs by the lake, where the water was almost too hot to stay inside. Close to the lake there were big deposits of water extracted from the lake from which they get salt.
Then we drove to the Hamadalla village, where we would spend the next two nights, sleeping of course outdoors in wooden beds, looking at the stars, covered in a warm breeze.
When we drove around the area of the village we saw just hundreds of kilometers of salt on each direction; some times plain, some times rocky formations. To show some contrast, we went the opposite direction to a site of a small refreshing waterfall with lots of green.
One of the most incredible things we’ve seen was Dallol.
This place looks like it’s another planet. In this area the underwater magma created hot springs on the salt deposit dissolving minerals like sulfur, iron and potash that display the colorful sight that you see.
This place looks like another planet. There are different crystal formations with different colors and hot springs. On another site there was water mixed with potash, that was very oily and apparently has beneficial qualities for the skin.
The astonishment doesn’t cease as the whole time we were at the village or close by we would often see camel caravans passing by at any time of the day or night.
This merchants transport salt from this location to a small city on a trip that takes them 7 days. The salt is mined from the ground with basic tools and cut into rectangles before it’s sold to the merchant that transports the salt on the camel and donkey caravans. This whole work is very tough, specially when the weather is over 40 or even over 50 degrees Celsius, and it doesn’t pay well. Salt used to be a currency centuries ago, but nowadays it’s cheap. The Afar people however, continue this profession in order to keep their tradition alive.
To end the trip, we crossed the salt desert with the cars and stopped on the other side to see the camel caravans starting their journey by sunset.
This was one of the best experiences of culture and nature I’ve ever had.