Danakil Desert, Ethiopia - 1973

Return to my mountaineering-trekking webpage

 

See also:

- Highlands of Tigray

- Semien mountains

 

dana38dana153

 

I 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.

 

 old-map-danaki-smallldanakil-map

 

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.

 

With 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.

 

The 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.

 

I 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.

 

dana3

 

dana5

 

dana7

 

dana16

 

 

Berahle

 

 

dana144

 

 

dana4

 

dana117

 

dana15

 

dana32

 

dana143 - Copy

 

Women at the village well

dana22

 

A caravan heading toward lake Asele.

dana12

 

 

Danakil men might be fierce, but women are extraordinarily beautiful.

 

women-small

 

 

Food and drink

 

Bread is made by forming a dough ball with a very hot rock inside and cooking the ball near hot ashes.

dana14

 

Milk and cerals

dana10

 

dana72

 

Local alcohol obtained from palm trees.
dana47

 

dana94

 

 

Leaving Berahle

 

dana142

 

dana49

 

dana43

 

 

In the summer torrential rain in the highlands cause flashfloods in the desert.

 

dana60

 

The water eventually reaches the foot of the Ertale volcano to create a muddy terrain through which it is very unpleasant to hike.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

dana67

 

dana68

 

 

Ertale crater

 

dana81

 

dana115

 

 

Between Ertale and lake Asele we passed by a few small oasis.

 

dana95

 

dana92

 

dana61

 

 

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.

 

dana109

 

dana2

 

dana101

 

dana103

 

dana8

 

dana105

 

Housing on lake Asele

dana11

 

dana108