The trip through the Danakil desert
Our adventure into the Danakil depression goes on with the suggestive salt plain and, above all, to one of the most beautiful and incredible places we have ever seen: Dallol. Click here to read the article on days 2 and 3.
- Dallol and the salt plain
Woken up even today at dawn, we arrange the sleeping bags inside the hut and prepare breakfast: hot tea and dry biscuits. We have nothing else. Today is the highlight of every trip to Danakil. We will see Dallol, known as the “hill of spirits”, and the vast salt plain. At 7.30, we meet the Afar guide and military escort that will lead us to Dallol, together with the young policeman. The Salt Plain is located on the border with Eritrea and is a not too safe place, or so it seems, given the “great deployment of forces” at our service. We board our 4 × 4 vehicles driving across the salt plain, stopping from time to time to take some photos. The track to reach Dallol crosses this endless expanse of salt in brown and white colours that stretches as far as the eye can see.
It’s 8 in the morning, and the sun is already strong. The thermometer reads 30 degrees. There is no escape. Danakil is the place with the highest annual average temperature in the world, and when you venture into this land, you have to endure, resist and adapt. The alternative is to stay at home. We quickly cover the stretch of track to Dallol hill, and after parking the vehicles at its base, we follow the guide and the military. Walking through different landscapes of unique beauty formed by volcanic activity that created over time geological conformations resembling mushrooms, flowers, salt cones and small pointed formations, we arrive at the end of the path.
Here we are. Dallol springs are in front of us! The view below us is breathtaking. It is truly one of the most wonderful places we have ever seen. Small geysers, acidic hot springs, salt cones and salt formations with unique shapes, vapours, smoke trails, small fireplaces and above all, thermal pools with incredible colours. What is striking most is its colours ranging from white to yellow, red to brown, and orange and green. Dallol stretches 100 meters below sea level and is one of the deepest and hottest places on the earth. We walk in the middle of the springs for about 1 hour, taking pictures as much as we can, enchanted by this wonder of nature. Unfortunately, the maximum time for this walk is gone. Due to the really high temperature and the exhalations we are breathing, we have to leave this incredible place.
Once back to the vehicles, we head to the nearby “red mountain“, an area made up entirely of magnesium salts which is 116 meters below sea level and from which incredible spikes and small mountains of salt rise from the colour red, grey and white. Walking through these ancient salt formations with bizarre shapes is truly something suggestive and impressive. We have never seen anything like it on many trips so far. We take a short hike among the wonderful salt conformations before the temperature becomes unbearable, then we return to Ahmed Ela to take shelter from the suffocating heat of the central hours of the day.
After the “not to be missed” lunch with bread and canned tuna, around 3 pm, we head to another area of the salt plain where there is a small sulfur spring. Nothing to do with the amazing Dallol, but this area is also fascinating and suggestive. The spring is quite extensive and is filled with bubbling, acidic water. Inside the pool, there is a solidified layer with bright colours and around it an expanse of bizarre geological conformations and small pools of mud and sulphurous waters. The evidence of the unbearable climate and the difficulties of living in this desert land is a small dead bird in the water. We have never meet any animals so far.
We go on with our trip heading to Lake Asale, a vast basin of saltwater dried up, which withdrew over the past centuries and from where the salt is extracted and transported to the Ethiopian plateau with the help of camels. Here, we meet the Afar workers intent on extracting salt under the beating sun. The thing that strikes most is the lack of machinery or other modern technology. The workers only use small tools, ropes and wooden poles. Initially, a rectangular furrow is dug in the ground, and then, with the use of a long wooden stick, the salt workers extract the slab of salt to cut it into several small rectangular blocks and load them onto the camel caravans.
The working conditions are really extreme. The Afar do not have protective gear or goggles to protect themselves from the strong and bright sunlight reflecting on the ground that becomes even more annoying and intense. It is the only source of income for these people, and there is no time to think about working or climatic conditions. Here, they work tirelessly. Intrigued by our visit, some of them approach us, trying to exchange a few words with the help of our Afar guide.
They tell us that the job of the extractor is handed down from father to son. It is extremely tiring but is still the only source of income to support their big families. During the cooler months, they live in Ahmed Ela’s huts and return to their villages in the summer months, when the temperatures get too high and can reach 50 degrees. We take some photos together, happy for this pleasant encounter, then we go back to the vehicles to head back to Ahmed Ela. Our journey to the “land of the devil” is now over, but we are really satisfied to have seen this region still “frozen in time”, where surely one day, camels and old tools will make room for the modernity of trucks and technology.
- Our trip to Danakil – day 1;
Our trip to Danakil – days 2 and 3;
Dallol, the hill of spirits;
The plain of salt.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, and we will earn a percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at absolutely no extra cost to you!