5 – Life on Mars?

5 – Life on Mars?

To avoid the hottest time of day (most of the day) and basically to stay alive, the guide woke us up at 4:30am. It was still hot, we woke up sweating and our water was like a flavourless tea in our bottles. The first visit of the day was in the same zone we were in yesterday; the salt desert. It’s called Dallol. Underground, volcanic activity heats salty water over seventy degrees Celsius, leading to sulphur and iron oxide oozing to the surface. Dallol was a wonderful whirlwind for the senses: colours, sounds and smells jumped out at us.

Salty water bubbling away

Yellow, green, orange, blue: the flashy colours juxtaposed with the monotonous beige desert. We could hear the constant bubbling of salt-water, the gasps of tourists around us and the crunching of the terracotta ground beneath our feet, which turned yellow as our boots touched it. The rising sulphur fumes gave us flashbacks of our high-school chemistry experiments. When the smells got too strong, we covered our faces with our scarfs.

The ground turned from teracotta to ocre as we touched it
You can see the rising sulfur fumes in the background
The smells were super strong at times

 As the gases rise, they burst thin layers of salt on the surface, leaving a trace of what looks like hundreds of tiny crystalized egg shells. The textures really were astonishing.

A little further along, there were layers of turquoise sulfuric-acid pools in the landscape. We had to refrain from diving in. It was like a fantasy world that had been dreamt-up by a sci-fi author. Everything around us gave us the impression we were no longer on this planet. Our thoughts were not so far off from reality: a sign indicated that this place is being used to research the possibility of life on other planets and to test equipment that will go to Mars in the future.

Mars or Dallol?

Mankind will always exploit nature in all possible ways. We learnt that the Norwegians extract potash from this site. It is then used predominantly to produce fertilizers and soap. The agreement between the two countries is that Norway will give half of its extractions to Ethiopia. A few hundred metres away, we saw an abandoned village where the Italians had extracted potash at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is now a ghost town.

In the background is the old Italian installation for extracting Potash

The guide interrupted our gaping to call us back to the cars. We stopped at a bubbling potash pool. We dipped our fingers in – it felt like warm oil, it was weird! Next, we were driven to some sand mountains. These phallic shapes showed, metres above our heads, where the water in the region used to reach. The area looked just like the circuit of the pod races in Star Wars episode one. It was impressive, but after the spectacular sights we had just seen, we were half expecting the sand to be fluorescent or purple…

The Bubbling Potash Pool

We climbed back into the car. We had six hours of driving ahead of us – all those hours just so that we could see the Erta Ale Volcano – but my, was it worth it!

Here are some extra photos, because it’s impossible to narrow them down any more! …

The landscape is forever changing. A new spurt starts like this apparently

7 Replies to “5 – Life on Mars?”

  1. Absolutely breathtaking. My goodness me, this time last week you were in the countryside outside Paris and all this lay in wait for you still! We all hoped and believed you would have wonderful experiences and see and do amazing things but I don’t know if any of us could have anticipated just how much you have seen and experienced in this your first week! I am so pleased you have a good camera with you, I bet you are too.
    I am sure I speak for many when I say we really, really appreciate your painstaking efforts to write and illustrate such magnificent entries in your blog. Thank you, thank you. May you be rewarded with many happy hours over a great many years in future looking back on this epic adventure and enjoying reliving it together through this incredible record you are creating. Absolutely mesmerising. Well done 🙂

  2. Agree with Mummy Drummond. Surreal – it is hard to believe – my mouth still wide open…. 😲Lxxx

  3. Magnifique !! Ce sont de véritables joyaux de l’humanité pas encore détérioré par l’homme ou pas trop … Profitez bien de ces moments magiques. Votre carnet de voyages bilingue est un plaisir et nous attendons toujours la suite avec impatience !

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