Danakil Desert, Ethiopia - 1973
Return to my
was 26 in 1973 when I went to Ethiopia,
specifically to hike through the Danakil
desert. I had seen aerial pictures of the Danakil
depression a few months earlier, and I felt immediately attracted toward this
place. I had also read in books by Henry de Montfried that the Danakil people
(the Afars) were feared across North-East Africa
as fierce fighters. I was young, and this made this place even more attractive
In 1973, King Haile Selassie was still ruling Ethiopia and Erythrea was part of Ethiopia.
I flew to Asmara (now the capital of Erythrea)
and took a bus to Mekele, the capital of the province
of Tigray, which was the natural point
of entry into the Danakil desert. After a week
in Mekele, I had secured permission from the Ras (Prince) of Mekele to travel
in the Danakil desert and I had also met a Danakil
chief, who offered his nephew to guide me.
my guide we first hiked down from the Ethiopan plateau to the village of Berahle
on the fringe of the desert, where we recruited two other locals for the
expedition. I also bought a camel, a donkey, and two goats. For the next month,
I was the proud owner of these animals. We ate the two goats along the way and
at the end of the trip I sold back the camel and the donkey.
Overall, I spent a month hiking through the Danakil
desert, first to Berahle, then to the Ertale volcano, and finally to the salt
lake depression (lake
Asele) and the Dalol area further north. My initial
plan was to reach the Red Sea. Unfortunately,
despite the permit I had obtained in Mekele, an army post in Dalol forbade me
to go further (probably due to the civil war in Erytrea) and a small military
plane took me back to Mekele (where I was questioned by the secret police for 2
days). Later, I lost all the photos I had taken around Dalol.
Danakil desert is one of the warmest places on
Earth, and I did this hike during the warmest months of July and August. When I
reached Berahle, I initially thought I could not survive the heat. I eventually
got used to it, but I lost quite a few pounds.
spent the entire summer of 1973 in Northern Ethopia.
After returning from the Danakil desert, I
went hiking in the Tigrayan highlands
and later to the Semien mountains.
A market between the highlands of Tigray and the
Danakil desert. This is a meeting place between Tigrayans and Danakils where I
saw the first salt blocks brought back by caravans from the Danakil
at the village well
caravan heading toward lake Asele.
Danakil men might be fierce, but women are
is made by forming a dough ball with a very hot rock inside and cooking the
ball near hot ashes.
alcohol obtained from palm trees.
the summer torrential rain in the highlands cause flashfloods in the desert.
water eventually reaches the foot of the Ertale volcano to create a muddy
terrain through which it is very unpleasant to hike.
Ertale and lake
passed by a few small oasis.
Lake Asele lies below sea level and
is mostly dry. It is reminiscent of Death Valley in California. The salt is mined and carried
away by camel caravans to the high plateau of Tigray.
on lake Asele