By: Matt and Heather
Our 4-day tour with Ethio Travel and Tours (ETT) ended in one of the most inhospitable regions of the world. We had thought trekking Erta Ale Volcano was hot and uncomfortable – we had no idea that was the easy part of the four days. The description of day 3 and 4 seemed too light with lots of car time and only 60 minutes of walking between the two days.
Once we reached our lunch area in Berhale, we quickly understood why car time was such a considerable part of the itinerary. I believe the temp was 45℃. Most of us were miserably hot and uncomfortable and could not fathom how the Afar people survive in the harsh conditions.
To put the conditions and local life in perspective – On the way to lunch, we had passed three camel caravans, each led by two men. The caravans travel around 160 km’s ***one way*** to collect salt from the salt mines located in the Danakil Depression. Think about it! These men with their camels, and frequently donkeys, are walking in 40-50℃ (104-122℉) weather every day to collect salt blocks worth 4 Bir each (about $0.25 USD). Limitations are assessed for each camel and donkey. Our sorry asses could barely handle sitting 30 minutes for lunch; that was made and served to us, certainly puts things into perspective.
After lunch, we continued our scheduled route, deeper into the Afar region, and passed a few more camel caravans. The plan was to watch the sun set over Lake Karum, but dense cloud cover turned it into more of an exploration of our surroundings. Lake Karum is extremely salty and the area we explored was barely covered by a thin sheet of water, no more than an inch deep in most places. While it wasn’t the experience we were expecting, it made for some pretty snazzy photos. Afterward, the drivers circled the vehicles and we all danced and sampled the local spirits. Next they trucked us back to our camp for the night that we shared with a small army outpost. This could qualify as the worst place we have ever slept. A wood cot frame with cord woven and knotted into a standard square pattern, a crisp 48℃ breeze, and a group of drunken soldiers playing pool until all hours of the night a hundred yards away.
Morning broke, and it was finally time to visit Dallol. Both of us were ecstatic, as this was the part of the trip we were most anticipating. Dallol is a continually active geothermal area in the Afar region, and it did not disappoint. The experience was that of exploring an alien world, and the colors were mesmerizing. Yellows, oranges, burnt reds and neon greens were spread out in front of us in every direction, and to heighten the experience a hint of rotten eggs drifting through the air. Truly one of the most unique places we have ever been. Our guide helped us navigate through the area, and limit our impact on this sensitive place.
After that incredible sight, it became difficult not to want to be done with the trip. We were longing for a shower to cool off, and I was anxious to look at our photos, to see if we were able to capture even a piece of what Dallol had to offer. We took a short walk through a cave in the area, followed by a visit to the salt mine. The mine was fascinating to see, but as it was a day of rest and no one was working so it was a fleeting moment. Our fabulous cook Mary made us our last lunch, and before you knew it, we were back in Mek’ele, and the trip was over.
We took our tour of the Danakil Depression through Ethio Travel and Tours (ETT as known by most locals). We did a four-day tour that took us to the Erta Ale Volcano as well as, the Dallol volcanic crater and the salt mines. You do not have to do all four days; you can just visit the Dallol volcanic crater and salt mines as a two-day excursion. ETT did not always feel the most organized, but the got the job done. Price varies for tour duration, be sure to negotiate; many various prices were paid amongst the travelers for the same trip.
While ETT is based out of Addis Ababa, they have many satellite locations. We got ourselves to Mekelle, via Ethiopian Airlines, so that had an effect on our tour price. Buses are also available to take you from Addis Ababa to Mekelle, try Sky Bus or Selam Bus Line.
*TIP: If you fly into or out of Ethiopia via Ethiopian Airlines, it qualifies you for a special discounted rate when booking your internal flights in Ethiopia. To take advantage of this 50% discount, you must book at an Ethiopian Airlines branch and tell them that you have an International flight with the company, and you would like the discounted rate for your internal flight.
My recommendations on this leg of the journey: Wide angle lenses to capture the whole scene, as you are walking around an ever-changing volcanic area you might not always have the option of creating a lot of distance between you and the subject. Also, a macro can be pretty neat as I said you are navigating this area on foot and will have opportunities to connect with some of the intricate details.
5 out of 5 Travelationship High Fives. If you like adventure, partier, historical, bucket lister type travel, you will love Dallol volcanic crater. Plus this is your chance view an alien planet first hand.