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 to me.
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
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
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 depression.
at the village well
caravan heading toward lake
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.
In 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 Asele we passed by a few
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