It´s for a very special reason that after 12 years I´ve decided to return to an off-the-beaten-path country on the horn of North-eastern Africa for a second visit. Even though my memory was still full with unforgettable impressions from my first trip, it was a place I hadn’t been able to visit during that first trip, the Danakil Depression, that was calling me back.
This area, located in the Northwest region of Ethiopia claims a number of superlatives for itself. It is the hottest place on the planet year round and the third lowest depression, after the Dead Sea and Turpan in Xinjiang province, both of which I’ve been to. Being interested in geographical extremes, I booked myself on a 4-day 4×4 SUV adventure through one of the most hazardous and inhospitable environments on earth with Ethiopian Travel Tours to the Danakil Depression. In the 12 years that had passed, access has become easier to this remote location. Flying into Addis Ababa, the country´s capital, then another hour flight to Makele, I arrived in the village where the majority of tours to the Afar region start.
The tour program takes us for a night on the salt lakes on day one, then entering deeper into the region to visit sulphur lakes on day two, followed by a transfer to where we start a climb to Erta Ale, the Amharic term for smoking mountain – the volcano. By only describing the tour to the volcano would be a mistake, since the other destinations are by no means less interesting.
Starting off with the salt lake, the sulphur mounds with their shapes and colors resemble most closely what you probably have in mind when thinking about the surface of the planet Venus. Harsh smelling orange brownish springs in shapes impossible to describe are located on a small hill in the middle of the salt lakes. Geologists visit here regularly to measure the sulphuric acid levels in the springs because it indicates the thickness of the underlying earth crust which is steadily decreasing. This area is located in a region called the Rift Valley which is being pulled apart by the very strong forces of two continents – Africa and Asia – with this movement being responsible for the breath-taking natural wonders.
Driving through fields of lava stones mixed with white sand and grass we come to a small village from where the journey to the summit starts after sunset. A daytime ascent would be futile due to the region’s extreme temperatures. Reaching the summit, we come within meters of boiling lava. Listening to the volcano´s sounds and feeling its vibrations can best be described as the very climax of the tour. After this incredible experience, we hike back down 200 meters to spend the night under the stars with a view of the fire theatre happening in Erta Ale caldera.
The continued descent starts in the wee hours of the following morning, as hiking after sunrise is difficult due to ambient temperatures ranging up to 50 degrees centigrade.
On my flights home, I’m loaded with powerful impressions. It would be hard to decide between Ethiopia’s nature and its people as to which is more beautiful. Fortunately there is no need to. For me, the two create a perfect symbiosis, merging some of the most beautiful locations on Earth with a no less beautiful people.
All Photographs Are © Emanuel Luttersdorfer
Emanuel Luttersdorfer Photographer Bio
Austrian-born Emanuel Luttersdorfer is a medical doctor based in Beijing working with the international community. His interest in foreign cultures and places led him to study Tropical Medicine in Thailand which was the starting point for a life as an expat in Asia. After studying photography with internationally acclaimed travel-photographer Mark Edward Harris, the camera became an essential tool for his life abroad, always on the lookout for special places and moments to record.
Blog / Website: Emanuel´s Homepage