On the Nile Route between Nairobi and Cairo travel blog

At the rim of Erta Ale volcano, Danikil Depression

The start of our trek to the volcano

Inside the lava lake, Erta Ale volcano

At the sulphur pools, Danikil Depression

One of the sulphur pools


Well, what an amazing few days we've had!

A few of us decided we wanted to visit the Danakil Depression in north west Ethiopia, the hottest place on earth and home to an active volcano, Erta Ali. As it is on the list of foreign office places not to go to, we had to sign ourselves off the Drago trip for the duration. Our guide, Dasta, made all the arrangements, and at 8am on 8th March we left Lalibela in a minivan for a very long and fast drive to Mekele for our stop for the night. The scenery on the way was increasingly mountainous and at 5.30pm we arrived in Mekele and went to the travel office to confirm arrangements. Early on 9th March we met our new travelling companions from all over the world - Chile, China, Canada, Holland, England, and our group a mixture of American, English and Australian. There were about 16 of us in all and we travelled in Landcruisers, 4 to a car with airconditioning! After a few hours we stopped at the small village of Aripti while we waited for permission from the Afar people to travel into Danakil. It was quite a bleak village, very dry and dusty with a few men with guns wandering around. The local kids wanted their photos taken, and I think I nearly received a marriage proposal - one of the local young men kept asking me if I had a husband and where was he!

We arrived at Ascoma village around 3.30pm (the outside temperature gauge on the car was showing 41 degrees at this stage) and waited in the shade of the huts till 5.45pm to start the 9.5km trek to the volcano. This was an army village with lots of men with guns, even one guard on the hill who watched our every movement, even when we went off to find a boulder for a wee - no bushes here!

The trek was through black sand to begin with, then volcanic rock up to the top. There were enticing views of Erta Ali (which means smoking mountain) in the distance, first smoke and as darkness fell a steady glow with the occasional flare from the lava. We climbed very gradually, using our head torches once it got dark, and after 4 hours we arrived at our sleeping place. We watched the volcano from here, still just a glow and we were a bit disappointed thinking this was all we were going to see. But once we had dropped off our bags our guide took us down a treacherous path in the dark right to the rim of the volcano and we gazed down into a sea of lava sloshing round in the crater and smashing against the walls sending up showers of sparks. No words can adequately describe the sight and we were earea near the rim was covered with a thin film of lava which was very brittle and crunched as we walked. As we left to go back to the sleeping area I followed one of the guards who I thought knew the way and ended up crashing through this layer of lava onto the solid ground just beneath - no harm done, just a few scratches and bruises. At least I can now say I fell into a volcano and survived!

Back at the sleeping area dinner was served, but as it was around 11pm we were all a bit past food and just wanted to crash onto our matresses to sleep beneath the stars. We had a great night's sleep with a light breeze caressing our faces and huge stars above us. At 5am we were woken for another trip to the rim to watch the sunrise, then we headed down the mountain (only took 3 hours going down) and were back in camp by 9.30am for breakfast. Then began the long drive back to Abeala village where we camped for the night. Showers were bucket washes, but it felt so good after our long trek up and down the mountain.

We were up at 3.30am on 11th March so we could get to the sulphur ponds that morning. In Aripti village we had to get permission again, then drove further down the road to the salt flats. Unfortunately, as it was Friday and this is a Muslim area, no one was working on the salt flats so we couldn't see the camel train taking the salt out - apparently up to 350 camels are in these trains so it would have been quite a sight. But the sulphur pools made up for this - they were stunning! Volcanic activity under the ground forces boiling water up through the salt, taking minerals with it - there were blues, greens, yellows, browns and delicate crystal formations some of which were spouting water. Our armed guards were never far away for the whole of the 3 days so we felt very safe.

After the sulphur ponds, we visited an area where there are pillars of salt, quite impressive.

Lunch was at Aripti village, with our cook Mary supplying another delicious meal. Then our driver took us back to Mekele for the night, with another minivan arriving the next morning to take us to Axum to meet up with the Drago trip again.

It has been a fantastic few days and we will remember it for a long time. Dodgy internet so photos to come later.



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