Travel from Erta Ale volcano to Dallol in the Danakil depression
December 30-31, 2010
After the hike onto Erta Ale volcano, we resume our Danakil depression tour through difficult tracks that often fade into clouds of sand and dust. The final destination for today is the village of Ahmed Ela, an ideal base for tours to Dallol and to the salt flats. Along the way, we meet several camps where the Afar people live in extreme poverty, in the harsh environment of the Danakil desert.
The caravan of 4x4 is directed in the small village of Ahmed Ela, a journey time of about 4 hours, on tracks barely visible in the thin sand and dust. Roads and tracks in the Danakil depression are often in terrible conditions, and they require very skilled and experienced drivers.Travling to Danakil desert with just one car is not advised at all, you should really have at least one support car to be used in case the main car gets stuck somewhere or dies.
The soil contains lot of clay which breaks into small plates during the dry season. Lot of dust is raised by even the slightest breeze.
Yet, there is life: Afar adults and children come out of their huts each time they see a tourist, in hopes of getting any thing, like a bisquit, a shirt or even just some coin.
The track passes through some areas burned by drought, where the land rises to clay chips.
The harsh landscape of the Danakil depression.
We finally arrive in the small village of Hamed Ela, more than a village, a winter camp where the Afar come from the mountains to take advantage of the short "fresh" season in Danakil, in order to collect and transport the salt from the desert.We are in fact about 100 meters below sea level, statistically the hottest point of the world, with its average temperature over 34 degrees centigrades. In these days of December, the temperature is always around 38 degrees during the middle of the day, but during the summer, the heat can often exceed 50 degrees, making life impossible.
Excursion on the salt flats. The salt flats cover an area ofapproximately 200 square kilometers and are located at an altitude of 100 meters below sea level, in the heart of the Danakil depression.
We finally reach Dallol, the most unusual of the Earth. Dallol is a collapsed volcano located at an altitude of 80 meters below sea level. It should be really under some sea, but due to a strange game of the nature, it emerges from the mainland in all its glory, showing unique geological features, looking like more Alice in Wonderland than a real place. But you will see more in the next pages.The Danakil depression is a destination that is starting to go "out of fashion", especially in Italy, and the long line of 4x4 parked at the base of the collapsed caldera of Dallol does remember that. But we must not forget that the Danakil is a difficult place, with some risk due to extreme environment and proximity to the Eritrean border, an area of the planet quite hot and not only because of the weather. Therefore, only very motivated people should come here and only who is willing to stay in the dust, without any comfort, under constant surveillance of Kalashnikov armed guards. The Foreign Ministry of many countries, do not recommend to travel to these areas. Also, I strictly advise against all travel to the Danakil during the Christmas holidays: there are just too many tourists, although the local facilities totally inadequate to accommodate more than one 10-15 people per day.
The trek to visit the collapsed crater of Dallol is about 5 kilometers long and takes at least a couple of hours. The site is so strange and fascinating, that we would be happy to spend here an entire day, but unfortunately the Ethiopian guides, drivers and the military force, wants to do it in a hurry, with the excuse of heat and annoying smell of sulfur in air.
Unfortunately, the tourism in this area will cause serious damage to these curious formations: in fact, tourists can walk freely everywhere and touch everything, with no protection.
These curious minerals remind me forests in Patagonia, where the trees are bent by the constant wind.
Giant mushroom-shaped mineral formations.
Strange needles seem to belong to the coat of a hedgehog, they are actually crystals that form inside small gorges.
Other bizarre formations present on the edge of the caldera Dallol.