On very short notice we booked a four day trip through our travel agency in Addis Abeba to the active volcano Erta Ale, located in the Danakil desert and to the colorful salt flat Dallol. You will find unique and breathtaking natural spectacles by renouncing of European matters like water, a toilet and a bed. We are accompanied by soldiers, given that the situation in the borderland to Eritrea is very tense and deadly attacks and abductions happened in the past. After a 22 hour journey we stand at the foot of the vulcano and try to cope with missing sleep and a temperature difference of 37 degrees celsius. In Germany it is winter time and the Danakil belongs to one of the hottest places on earth. Only nine kilometers uphill and we reached our destination. The Erta Ale is one of our most important highlights on the trip, because it belongs to the three volcanos worldwide that is accessible to “normal people” like us and has an active lava lake. At nightfall we head out and after four hours of hurry we are exhausted, but reach the edge of the main crater. Normally we would take a small break now, but thoughts of the lava lake push us forward. We ascend to the steep inner crater. Cooled down bubbles of lave let us cave in up to our knees. The wind blows the acrid stench in our direction. Our eyes burn, breathing only works reluctantly. Taking a breath leaves pain in our airways. Then we stand at the gate of the earth’s heart. The boiling magma rockets in fountains, over 1,000 degrees hot. The heat melts the plastic bags in our photo backpack, the stench only hindering us more from breathtaking and burning in our exes. A walk in the park certainly looks different. But our fascination with earth letss us forget the exertions. We are wide awake. The level of the lava lake varies widely. Only a week ago the lava surged down the edge of the lake and down the slopes, right where we are standing now. Such an event happens without notice, but should we think about that only three meters away from the lava lake? We persuade ourselves that in case of an emergency we could run faster than the lave, but we don’t want to test it. Only the next day we get a feeling of the harsh nature that surrounds us, no tree or bush population in sight.
Everywhere we look you can see black lava, our travel group and a few camels carrying our scarce household.
The meals and nights in the open air are enjoyed in small villages made out of simple huts. Sticks, corrugated iron and plastic covers being used for the construction. There is no infrastructure and certainly no sewage water system. The little valuable water comes out of canisters or metal barrels. Again we notice in what kind of luxury we live at home.
Again and again we are fascinated by the seemingly endless camel caravans that cross our path. Usually they transport heavy salt plates, which are minded from the salt desert by hand.
Ethiopia is the world’s biggest salt exporter. The dismantling and transport is a huge strain for both human and animal. Workers slave for 12 hours daily, five days a week in the scorching heat of up to 60 degrees, being paid a pittance. Camels are often marked by bad housing conditions. Human and animal are mutually dependent. This chastens us more from minute to minute. We will use the salt in our kitchen with more appreciation from now on.
Salt in very different shapes and colors enthrall us in Dallol, only fifteen kilometers away from the border to Eritrea. Being so near to the border, we are in presence of two friendly soldiers, sitting on the roof of our Landcruiser, armed with machine guns and hand grenades. Their presence turns out to be only a side issue as we are in rapture of colors of the salt crystals of Dallol. The sulfur dioxide vapor makes breathing here difficult too. The area is also from volcanic origin and it is bubbling all around us. We better not put our fingers on the fuming, intensely colored sulfur ponds, not being sure about the temperature and acidity. Tired but happy we are back in Germany after 105 hours. The first shower after return seems like a gift to us. Only three hours after the flight we are back in the office and every day life has us back.