I left for Ethiopia not really knowing why I had chosen this country rather than the more well-known neighbouring ones, or those less near, but in any case, more famous
In truth all I needed was a picture , a member of the Hamar tribe in the Omo Valley , found on google images by simply typing the word “Africa ” that made the answer to my doubts suddenly become clear .
I knew nothing of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, nor of the bewitching Harar , nor the impressive Blue Nile or of the stele of Axum , even less about Danakil .
The place to which I landed on as something of a bet .
“I’m going to Ethiopia!”
Walter whom I met in 2012 in Fiji and traveler not exactly novice, simply wrote ” If you can go to Erte Ale you will become my hero . “In short, let’s put it this way, as a matter of pride , but I would have reached this Erte Ale without even knowing what it was, it was enough just to type into google again , just to become his myth.
But what I did not know was that I would be entering into the notoriously most inhospitable area of the world , trampling on depression and suffering from the heat that can reach 50 degrees . It all begins with my arrival in Makale , Nure, in Addis I had found a group for the departure two days later.
I was in the mountains and in the evening was wearing a sweatshirt and a windbreaker , it is strange how difficult it is to imagine the scorching heat when you’re living in a cool and breezy climatic situation. The heat and the cold are always difficult to imagine until you experience them.
4 days of group travel, a lake of boiling lava, 45 degrees (probably the more perceived ), a huge salaer, camels used as a means of transport of salt blocks for the Makale market that takes place once a week, at -116 sea level .
I could sum up like this the 4 days in the company of Japanese friends, Australians and Americans with whom I have shared long moments of silence, the scorching heat does not invite you to talk and even to think, long night walks on lava rock while the heat , despite being already midnight , does not seem to want to diminish, the nights on cots under the same near military base changes, the armed guards with heavy guns and rubber shoes.
Day 1 – Mekele – Dodom Erte Ale
The meeting with my traveling companions was at 8 am at the agency . We left the backpacks taking with us the essentials , bought some snacks and then we were instructed on what would happen to us in a few hours time .
But it is well known that even if we had been informed of the intense heat , it still did prove to be a surprise later after only 6 hours of driving.
The journey began some time after.
4 per auto, and with us, the chef who delighted us for 4 days feeding us breakfast / lunch / dinner, cooking from nothing (or at least it seemed so to me).
The descent starts from the mountains and the open windows begin to replace the air conditioning. We make a few stops in the few villages on the road , 4 huts and make do restaurants that sell coca colas and cold beers to passing by groups, the first day of driving has brought us up to Dodom.
The heat is stifling , there are no toilets , the 45 degree hot soup has the effect of making me feel less hot but, to say the least, totally drenched in sweat.
The Japanese seem to be the most active. We others instead use the water that, once out of the car warms up in 10 minutes, some to drink some to throw over ourselves and, speaking very little, with eyes asking if we could complete this feat.
Arrived at the base camp, crossing the world’s worst road , one that from Dodom leads us to the base of Erte Ale, 80 km which can also take 5 hours passing through solidified lava, rock, sand and a few solitary palm trees here and there, we throw ourselves on mats and divide those crackers that we had brought while those who had ventured out for a stroll, came back four minutes later because of the unbearable heat.
We were told that after a little while we would dine and then leave for the trek to the volcano, we waited for the arrival of the darkness and after preparing the backpacks, with a sleeping bag and gallons of water, the three-hour hike to get to one of the most wonderful and amazing places of the earth began .
3 hours of silent walking and from afar we see a red glow that we know is where we have to arrive but the walk seems to never end and the ipod abandons me exactly at the best moment.
3 hours later we are here, sitting at the edge of the volcano where the lava bubbles, having got used to the strong smell of sulfur ( the scarf is important to avoid full breathing ) we go to sleep in sleeping bags in an abandoned military camp .
I think it’s midnight, maybe a little later, I do not remember but I remember that the last words of the guide have been were “The wake up call tomorrow will be at 4 am to watch the sunrise and return to camp”.
Day 2 – Dodom – Hamad Ela
Wake up at 4 am to see the sun rise and the lava lake continue to boil and the long walk, with the sun that is quickly rising, begins and the heat begins to be felt .
After breakfast we set off to reach Hamad Ela , a village of about 500 inhabitants , where the temperatures become more human and, given that, the first day to say the least was very heavy, this day was mostly as a guide and a shower in nature in the cool waters of the small waterfall 10 minutes walk from the house where we slept (always on mattresses on the ground and in a sleeping bag).
The choice was between sleeping outside or in the lounge.
The Japanese daredevils chose outside and we others (USA , Australia and I) in the lounge. A beer in the only bar in the country and after a hearty dinner and the enthusiasm of all, I imagine, we collapsed no later than 22.
Day 3 – Asebo – Lago Assal al tramonto
A quick breakfast and the journey continues, and so the heat, and will take us to the sunset at Lake Assal in which the sun has slowly begun to fall behind this huge expanse of salt with an inch of water that I had discovered, arrives from the Red Sea .
So far away and yet so near . No?
Among deserts , boiling lakes the day is cooled down inside the car and becomes an oven as soon as we stop for even a second, but the idea of having faced the trekking of the first day lifted me up , the hard part had been done and now the only thing to have to endure was the heat, easy to avoid during the hours of driving.
Arrived at the base camp and put down the backpacks , the autos lined as a kind of caravan , exactly like those of camels that, instead, for that hour were returning home after a long day , we wait for the sunset playing on the huge lake of salt in general disbelief about being in that place where each and every corner around was amazing to us.
Day 4 – Asebo – Mekele
Abbiamo dormito sotto le stelle e al sorgere del sole tutti desti abbiamo salutato la nuova giornata lavandoci la faccia con l’acqua della bottiglia We slept under the stars and at sunrise all awake we greeted the new day by washing our faces and teeth with bottled water .
After breakfast we left for Ragad ( Asebo ) , a salt desert where every day , under the burning sun dozens and dozens of people extract blocks of salt that will be transported by camels to local markets.
A walk to reach Dallol and the colored sulfur lakes , acidic hot springs , sulfur mountains, salt cones, small gaseous geysers, pools of acids isolated from frames of salt crystals and concretions, of evaporites, sulfur, magnesium chloride or solidified soda laid out on a white, yellow, green or red ocher background, colors due to the strong presence of sulfur and minerals.
Tips for a trip to the Danakil
Here are some tips for leaving prepared for the adventure in Danakil that will try you to the extreme , but that will make you touch the most difficult, and, in some way, also the most fascinating place of the earth.
What to bring in Danakil
Just very little is better, but the following are important gadgets for the best success of the trip and , in my experience have proved providential.
- Sleeping bag
- Trekking shoes
- Snacks and supplements
- Sunscreen cream
- Sportive and comfortable clothing
- Salviette wipes
- Scarf or foulard
- Batteries for charging electronics ( cell phones and cameras ) – In the camps there is no electricity
Where to start and how to travel in the Danakil
A trip to the Danakil is not possible to do independently nor in self drive . Following the killing of French tourists , finding themselves at the border with Eritrea , armed guides are obligatory, but especially since there are no roads it would be impossible for a person who does not know the area to be able to arrive there .
The starting point is Makale , but the trip would be better organized in advance to secure a place in the car and to know the date of departure.
What you must know before you leave for the Danakil
You must know that it is a very hard and tiring journey, that you’ll sleep in cots and that there are no toilets nor showers, you’ll be in a desert area and you cannot expect high-quality services because there is nothing. That you will suffer the heat and the fatigue, that you will walk on lava rock for 6 hours and you will do so in pitch darkness until reaching the steep erte ale, that you’ll be exhausted and tired as perhaps you’ve never been before.
Well, maybe nothing new for those who travel in ethiopia and knows how tiring this journey in general is.
The Danakil is usually considered as an extension travel to the Northern Ethiopia (religious historian) itinerary. It is not a right holiday for children, given the difficulties and arduous and difficult travel conditions. For those unwilling to walk to get to the Erte Ale, it is possible to hire a camel, it’s still a rough ride too even so.
It ‘important not to become dehydrated.
Since during the journey the food will be cooked by a chef and the food bought in Makale before the trip, in case of allergies or special dietary needs, it is better to inform the company that organizes the trip. There are no kiosks in that area and to find alternative food is very complicated.