The Danakil Depression: a myriad of bizarre landscapes (Day 840)

This is the Danakil Depression.  It’s the hottest place on Earth (check!), and also the greatest I have been to since Antarctica.  I spent 5 days visiting the Danakil, which contains a slew of strange sights.

The first was Erta Ale, a volcano that with a bubbling lava lake, one of only 5 in the world!  My group and I hiked through the night and after a few hours, we could see the glow of the lake.  The lure of the glow was unstoppable.  I was going to look inside the crater if it was the last thing I was going to do.  This is how it happened:

I hope you like the video, I almost had my eyebrows singed off trying to get it.  I’m not joking.  Every so often the lava lake would explode sending up a wave of heat that burned my face and a cloud of sulfur that stung my nose and made my eyes water.  (A German on my tour was smarter, he had a remote-operated camera; he set the camera on the edge then shot photos from 2m away)

Staring into the lava lake was hypnotizing.  It was like staring into a bonfire, but next level.  I sat by the lava lake for hours and staring into it, taking useless pictures.  Neither my camera nor my skills were up to the task.

After the video above, I kept getting drawn closer and closer to the edge.  It wasn’t until the next day, in the light, that I noticed the huge crack in the edge of the lava lake.  In fact, the whole edge was a big cornice.  Very, very sketchy.  In our countries, no one would be allowed anywhere near this thing, it is way too dangerous!  But, this is Africa, here you can get as close as you like!

Visiting Erta Ale was an assault on all my sense:  the orange glow, the heat on my face, the wreak of sulfur in the air, the crack of solidified lava underfoot, the sounds of the bubbling of the lava.  It was truly awesome.  (Even as I wrote this I was sitting 10m from the edge and my ass was hot from the churning lava under the ground beneath me).

If we had gone home at that point, I would have left a happy camper.  But the Danakil was just getting started.  Here’s the roll call:

Rust-coloured terrain all the way to the horizon
Salt flat, for as far as the eye can see…
… and salt caravans, obviously
Bubbling pools amongst strange rock formations (I stuck my hand in, luckily nothing happened)

And then I saw the sulfur springs.  I won’t forget my first view of it as I climbed over the crest of the hill:

A bubbling green lake, yellow shores, strange rock formations, suffocating smell of sulfur, wow!!  (I stuck my hand in, luckily nothing happened)
Is this for real?
Mother Nature spouting sulfur
Mother Nature, as usual, just when I think I have seen all the great things you have to offer, you blow me away yet again.  The Danakil was nature raw and uncut, strutting its stuff a little.  It has lots of goodness crammed into one place, making it one of my world favourites.

In addition, I need to mention that my visit to the Danakil Depression was quite the adventure:  dust, sand, mud, lots of breakdowns (the Danakil eats Landcruisers for lunch), getting stuck countless times, lots of pushing, sleeping in the desert under the stars, getting lost in a sandstorm (not cool)… twice, only saved by local Afar guys.  I have lots of good stories from this trip.

An aside:  A long time ago I watched a movie called “Blood Diamond.”  In the movie, whenever something peculiar or unexplainable would happen, the main characters would just shrug their shoulders and say, “T.I.A.”, which stands for “This is Africa.”  At the time, I remember thinking it was overly dramatic, but after now having spent some time in Africa, I think I am beginning to understand.  Nothing is at it should be, nothing can be counted on to work, be on time, or anything else.  Even as I type this, the incredibly slow internet connection in Addis Ababa, the capital, is constantly cutting in and out.  Shrug.  This is Africa.

As a result of this phenomenon, Africa is a gold mine for padding my collection of “How To” videos on the Unique Art of World Travel.  I now have a bunch of them (of varying degrees of quality) up my sleeve.

In installment #23, one of our 4WDs is stuck in the desert of the Danakil.  When you’re in the desert, getting unstuck is key, as it not a place you want to be stranded for very long. Here is the little drama that was getting our 4WD unstuck. Enjoy.

This post has set the record for number of pictures.  I couldn’t stop myself :)  Given the slow internet connections in Ethiopia, writing this blog post was exhausting.  I’m spent.  I’m going for a beer.  And a nap.  Check you later!

This entry was posted in Africa. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Danakil Depression: a myriad of bizarre landscapes (Day 840)

  1. Eve says:


    This is amazing. I want to print your pics and hang them in my house. If I didn’t know you and saw these, I’d think that they were not on this planet.

    So cool!

    Hope you’re well.

  2. Hui ling says:

    Wonderfully written, I’m enjoying this now sitting in a small cafe thousands of km away wishing I could experience it!! Sounds really amazing I’m happy for u!!!

  3. Manja says:

    It´s so amazing!!!! I´ve never heard about Danakil Depression… Now it´s one of the places I want to see before I die! THANK YOU for sharing your experiences!!!

  4. Damien Deschamps says:

    That’s so cool, actually as I expected it would be, as I told in you in Soudan I am sure for me would breath taking. Happy to know you ejoyed it a lot.
    it is hard for me to stay in front of those pictures, without leaving my computer to run in a travel agency to book a such tour.
    enjoy the rest of your trip

  5. Pingback: Summary and Best Of: Europe, the Middle East, and Africa | Shawn Was Here

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hello, Im part of an indepentend rock band. Nobody wants to design our cover so I used one of your photos for doing it. (the lava crack) We loved the final desing and would really like to sell our CDs with this cover. Do you own this photo? Can I use it?

    • smartelo says:

      Hi. Yes, I own the photo. Yes, you are welcome to use it. I think that’s really cool you will use it for your design cover. I think the copy on my blog isn’t very high resolution; the highest-res version of the picture I have is here:
      If possible, send me a link to it, I would be curious to check it out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s