6 – Ash, rock and lava

6 – Ash, rock and lava

We were driving along the paved road when suddenly we were thrown into the air with a loud bang. Our tyre had burst – probably from the heat. It was quickly changed (thanks to our brilliant driver).

Spectating the tyre being changed

Along the roadside we often saw large metal cannisters. The polygamous Muslim communities that live in this isolated region depend on deliveries from the government to survive (water, grain and oil). Can you imagine having to wait for the passing of a government truck to stay alive?

Our 4×4 transitioned from tarmac to dirt track. The government is in the midst of building a new road to link Ethiopia’s tourist attractions. Though it will be a good few years before it is ready. A Chinese company oversees this particular project. We saw work camps nearby. Our driver told us that the Ethiopian government tries to avoid a Chinese monopoly by obliging the Chinese to take on local Ethiopian workers. The Chinese have developed a strong presence in Ethiopia. They manage and finance a lot of major infrastructure projects here.

After the dirt track, we moved onto vast expanses of sandy desert. The drivers clearly had great fun racing through miles and miles of open desert. They made the most of it as they knew what was coming next: very bumpy volcano rock (which definitely can’t be considered a road). We tightened our seatbelts as far as they could go just to remain in our seats. Funny anecdote: the rock was so bumpy that Heather’s Fitbit watch counted several million steps just for this part of the journey! FYI: A sports bra does not suffice, one needs to cling onto one’s boobs at the same time as trying to cling on for dear life.

Racing through the sandy desert

The views out of the car window were extraordinary. Volcanic rock and desert stretched for miles and miles, testifying to the strength of the volcano. The form of the lava had not changed for over half a century. You could still see how it had oozed onto the desert, swallowing everything up in its path. Dotted about were large mounds of rock, cracked and rigid at the top. We could imagine how the bubbles of magma had once exploded brutally. Even in this apocalyptic setting, life was sprouting again. Surprisingly, some bushes had managed to bury their roots between lava rocks. Sometimes they even had pretty little yellow or purple flowers.

We saw tribes living here, despite us having driven for miles without seeing any form of life. Man can even settle at the base of a volcano. It’s incredible!

Stretching her legs after a bumpy ride!

Night had already fallen by the time we arrived at our campsite. We filled our bellies with sugary snacks and began our hike up the volcano. Luckily, we had brought our headtorch, others were simply relying on the moonlight to guide them. Having seen the immense destruction this volcano had caused along the route and knowing it would be impossible to get anywhere quickly, suddenly filled us with fear. Was it really a good idea to be approaching this volcanic beast? As we got closer to the crater, the smoke made it impossible to breathe. Some turned back, others dared not go further. We continued. We covered our faces with damp scarves, but the smoke violently attacked our eyes and lungs. We’d come so far, we couldn’t go back now. These sudden moments without oxygen were like little panic attacks, reminding us that we were trying to approach the heart of one of nature’s most powerful phenomena.

The guide steered us towards the edge of the crater, against the wind to avoid the thick column of black smoke billowing out. It was a sight to behold. Like you would see in a National Geographic documentary, but better, right before our eyes. Within tens of metres, fiery molten lava lit up the dark night sky. At three different points the volcano was spewing out lava – it was like a natural fireworks display. Each explosion had its own voice, a different crackle from the last. Each burst was unique, forming its own pattern. When the lava hit the ground, it was silenced. It then disappeared, turning into the grey rock we knew so well now.

The photos don’t do it justice!

The scene was made even more dramatic by a nearby thunderstorm.  Each boom of thunder was followed by an explosion of lava. It was as if the volcano and the sky were calling out to each other, asking each other what these crazy people were doing here.

Part of us wanted to stay for hours to marvel at the scene, part of us was keen to get as far away as possible.

Our guide shared a few facts with us. Erta Ale is one of the only volcanos in the world to have a permanent lava flow. It has been in eruption since 1967. Two years ago, the lava overflowed from the crater due to increased gases. Since then, the lava flow has reduced and is at roughly seventy metres from the crater edge. It is now rare to see the lava explosions. The guide told us we had been especially lucky. Another group went the next day and didn’t see anything.

We headed back down the volcano and spent the night under the stars only a few hundred metres away from the furnace.

The next day, the last day of our tour, one of the cars got stuck in the mud on our way out of the desert.

That day we visited another salt-lake and a hot spring. They were pretty but nowhere near as impressive as the things we had seen over the past few days.

Lake Afrera

After lunch we returned to Mekele. Our adventure to Danakil Depression had come to an end. We were in need of a few days rest to recover from all the emotions and fatigue, as well as to catch up on the blog! (oh and we needed a good shower too!)

Our last lunch with the rest of the group (and some goats!)

5 Replies to “6 – Ash, rock and lava”

  1. This is definitely one huge adventure for you guys. Makes our days seem rather dull. Keep the updates coming 😁👍

  2. Glad you took a few days to rest from all the emotions and fatigue – what an incredible experience. Amazing:) xxxx

  3. Volcano looks like the scene in Star Wars ep. 3 where Anakin is confronted by Obiwan Kenobe and they have a lightsaber battle.

  4. Man oh man… I bet you needef a few days for your brain to just process all you’d seen!! So alien, but totally amazing.

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