Ethiopia Part 2

Sorry but as we have found some half decent net connection you get the lot so far.

camels

From Mekelle we joined a small group to go out to the Danakil Desert. This famous depression is, I think the start, or finish of the Great Rift Valley that runs a long way through Africa. We were hoping to do this in our own car, but we were told this is not possible, I did not fully believe them but with language problems it is easier to go with the flow. So we joined a small group. After a hard drive we got to our first camp, the next day we had an even harder drive, at this point I thought it was a good job we are in someone else’s car.

Along the way we had to pick up a guide and an armed scout from each of two tribes, as we passed through their area, and also we acquired an armed policeman somewhere along the way. It seems that where ever you go in this country you need an armed escort. We have seen that even the road making gangs have armed guards, all shabbily dressed with holes in their shoes but carrying automatic weapons. I have never seen so many gun toting ragamuffins in my life.

There were five clients, we had two cars, two drivers and a cook, each area we went to it seemed we needed at least five other people, local guides, scouts, and of course gunmen. I do not think they were all necessary, I think it is just a way of creating employment for some of the locals. But I do know they would not have all fitted in our car.

After dinner, and one hour before nightfall we set off for a two hour dangerous trek up a mountain, this is only ankle twisting dangerous, after the best part of two hours it became obvious that the time quoted from an Ethiopian, a country famous for long distance runners, was not the same for someone from Europe which is famous for old age pensioners. It took us three and a half hours including a rest break.

On arrival most of the clients went to sleep, but after a long rest we carried on for the last leg, and heading for the glow in the distance, stumbling across a black lava field at night was not too easy, but when we got to stand on the rim of an active volcano it all became worthwhile. Wow, fantastic, awesome, standing there watching the cauldron of boiling magma was an unbelievable sight. Apart from the occasional whiff of acid laden steam as the wind gusted round.

volcano

We retreated a couple of hundred metres to get away from the noxious gases coming out of the volcano and we went to bed under the stars looking at the red glow, a bit like a giant nightlight.

The next day it was back to base camp, and along the way we dispensed with our tribal escorts, and the uniformed policeman. Day four we went deeper into the depression, for this we required the assistance of a guide, and four armed soldiers, I am still at a bit loss as to the need of all this protection we are in a vast, harsh, barren wilderness, who is going to trek all the way out here to try and start a war on some camera toting pensioners.

desert driving

This area is considered the hottest place on earth, and we got to one hundred and eighteen metres below sea level, and an awful lot of heat. The area we visited was from another world, a vast lake with a crust on top with amazing formations and vivid yellows, browns and whites, under the crust, bubbling away there was thermally heated sulphuric acid. Around the outside of this acid bath there are unbelievable rock formations (look at the photos) I have difficulty describing all this. It is like nowhere else on earth.

lake

Then on to see some rock salt, something more mundane, but unexpectedly not mundane, great castles of salt, columns and mountains all rock salt, here I go again, unbelievable, amazing.

rock salt

The salt pans. Here men work day after day in the hot sun digging up salt. This trade has been going on for centuries, the top layer of salt forms a crust some 35mm/1.5ins thick this is prized up, cut into oblongs, and loaded on to camels that with their camel herders walk for up to two weeks to the edge of the Danakil to sell their wares. Knowing the average price of a block of the salt and the load that each camel carries I guestimate for this four week round trip each camel herder earns about twenty eight pounds. That also is amazing.

salt pans

Now we go back up the awful track from our one hundred metres below sea level to two thousand metres above. Ultimately I was glad I did not take our car, some of the driving was hard, some of the sightseeing we did was hard, I could not have done both, plus our 4runner is small compared to the Land cruisers, we could not have coped with the extra payload. Guides, gunmen etc.

National Geographic describes the Danakil as the harshest environment on earth. I think they could be right. But what an amazing experience.

After that we took a meandering route down to Addis Ababa. A few days regrouping and then heading South and out of range of the internet again.

None of the photos we have taken, of the scenery in Ethiopia or the Danakil does the country justice.

But there are some more photos on http://picasaweb.google.com/mickhelen99

And some route markers on http://www.zeemaps.com/map?group=468852.

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