The Danakil Depression - Ethiopia





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  1. #1
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    Default The Danakil Depression - Ethiopia

    I am a paramedic, and was tasked to look after some mining exploration guys doing a recce in the Danakil Depression, in the very north of Ethiopia. The Danakil Depression borders on Eritrea, down to Djibouti, and depending on which website you visit, it is THE HOTTEST place in the WORLD!!! The Danakil Depression is also below sea level, as much as 155 meters at its lowest point.

    I have finally gotten around to writing a report on the trip for the forum, but it is going to be pretty detailed and will thus be posted in several posts. Please be patient, I’ll get it all done, here is the first instalment.

    Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this trip report are entirely my own, based on my personal experiences.

    I arrived in Addis Ababa late in the evening, as my flight had been delayed at OR Tambo, and then it was also diverted via Dar es Salaam to pick up a few stranded passengers. I flew on Ethiopian Airlines, and was pleasantly surprised by the good service and quality of the food. Addis airport is massive by African standards, and I learned that it was the hub for Africa to the rest of the world. I had to pay $20 on arrival for my visa, but this was handled quickly and efficiently. After collecting my baggage I reported to the office in the airport for the Addis Hilton, and for $5 was efficiently transported to the Addis Hilton. The Addis Hilton is a massive hotel, and comparable to any City Lodge or Holiday Inn in South Africa. The check in there was also quick and painless. My room was big, and unfortunately in the old wing, so I had no aircon.

    The next morning after a good breakfast buffet in the restaurant I arranged a local taxi to take me to a few of the better hospitals in Addis. The taxi was an experience! It was a really old, about 45 years or so, and at any speed above 20 km/h the rear axle felt like it was about shake itself loose. But I got back to the hotel safely, if not somewhat shaken up...


    A note to travellers to Ethiopia; DON’T get sick or injured here, the medical facilities are not what we are used to in South Africa, even at our state hospitals...

    The Next morning I took a flight up to Mekele, again with Ethiopian Airlines. The flight is just on an hour, where the drive will take you 2.5 days. Mekele is up north, and almost on the edge of the highlands. I was booked in at a local hotel, I can’t remember the name of it, but it was comfortable. Next door to the hotel was a construction site, where the locals are building a multi-storey building. Not sure what it will be, but it was already about 12 stories high. The scary bit was the scaffolding that they were using. Gumpoles about 50mm thick were nailed together, and they extended up to the top of the construction. The workers were up and down the “scaffolding” like ants, and I just prayed that it would hold.


    The next day our journey began in earnest. Our convoy consisted of 4 vehicles, all Toyotas. I really wished I could have been in a Landy, but decided that second best would do ;-) The vehicles were supplied by a tour company called “Image Ethiopia” and the service we got was outstanding. The leader of our group was Asrat, the owner of the company, and he is incredibly knowledgeable and very well connected in all the areas we visited. I can honestly recommend them to anyone wishing to visit this part of the world. The vehicles were in great condition, and the drivers were well trained and most competent and safe. We left Mekele and drove north, first ascending a very steep and winding road up the escarpment.


    We passed through some villages and towns, with some really colourful houses along the road.


    We stopped the town of Wukra, which means “rock-hewn” in the local language. Here we visited a rock-hewn church that dated back to about 400AD. It was carved out of the solid sandstone hilltop. It was destroyed by fire by the Muslim invaders in the 1500’s, and the signs of the fire are still evident inside. Most of the paintings on the walls are just black smudges now. The church was renovated, but the precious artwork is lost forever. There are 3 sanctuaries in the church, and we only allowed to enter the first 2. The third sanctuary is only for the priests. We were shown a Bible that dated back about 500 years, hand written just after the destruction. The hand painted pictures were beautiful, the covers were wooden, and the pages were made of goatskin.



    We left Wukra and backtracked a couple of k’s, then turned off towards Berhale. The dirt road quickly worsened, but was still quite passable. We started to descend down the escarpment, and the road deteriorated in places where it had been badly washed away by recent flooding. The military is apparently busy working on the road, but work had come to a halt as there were elections coming up just 3 weeks away. We eventually hit the bottom of the valleys, and stopped for lunch under some scrawny thorn trees. Lovely cold meats, potato salad, fruit juices, fresh pawpaw, ice cold soft drinks!


    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  2. #2
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    Gary, this is very interesting and I would love to read more. Thanks for the report.
    "If you don't care where you are, you ain't lost"

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    This is great, thank you very much! Waiting (impatiently!) for chapter 2 ...

    Agree with you on Addis' airport and Ethiopian Airlines. Exceeded my expectations too.

    Louis


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    Default Chapter 2

    I'm really glad you guys are enjoying it, please just be patient though, I'm writing it inbetween work etc...

    After lunch we continued on our way, and arrived at the town of Berhale. According to T4A and Garmin, this is the end of the road. Even on Google Earth it’s difficult to try and follow the track! The town of Berhale is bustling and vibrant, it is not very big, but this is where a lot of the nomadic Afari tribesman come to escape the summer heat down in the depression. The Afari are the local people, and this province of Ethiopia is known as the Afar Province. (It’s really far!) It was relatively cool here, just a balmy 33°C. I realised that it was going to get a LOT warmer in the Depression, and I gave the driver of the vehicle I was in some money to buy a traditional Afari headscarf for me. He found me a very nice black and white one, for the equivalent of about R30. Later in the trip it was to become a real life-saver!

    Just inside the black plastic sheeting is a cafe, where I managed to get a really cold Coke for about R3. If I had known that it was going to be the last cold thing over my lips for several days I would have had 2! From Berhale we continued along the valley floor, along some pretty rough tracks, until the Danakil Depression opened up in front of us. There was nothing, just flat and heat haze. We got a flat tyre on one of the vehicles, and had to stop to replace the tyre. As you can see from the following pic, I was already sucking the water down, the temp was hovering around the 43°C mark, and it was after 4pm.




    After the tyre was speedily changed, and much water consumed, we continued. Just before Hamadella village we saw a camel train approaching. Of course we had to do the tourist thing and stop for pictures. Just some information about these camel trains; the locals mine the salt from the salt flats in the middle of the Depression, and transport the salt back to Mekele by camel. The trip takes them about 6 days, climbing up the escarpment mainly following the river beds, and a local Afari boy is not considered a man until he has completed at least one of these trips! The camel train we came across was about 3 – 4km long!






    Just past the camel train we arrived at the village of Hamadella. There is another company doing some work here, and we had been invited to sleep in their camp. This was a wonderful surprise, as they had some really nice “flatpack” mobile homes, that were air conditioned! We had a good cooked dinner, and went off to bed early to enjoy the A/C and some sleep after a long hot day.




    Day two: An early start was the right thing to do to try and avoid some of the heat, however it was already 32°C at 6am, so no luck there. We departed the camp and went to visit a drill site on the salt flats. We had to park about a kilometre from the rig as the ground was just too soft and we would have got really stuck in the sticky mud. The drill rig and its support truck were both tracked vehicles, running on rubber tracks, so they were able to operate on the mud. From there we stopped off and visited the local military base. The Ethiopian Government is very supportive of the international companies doing exploration in the area. They know that if the international companies do find what they are looking for and decide to mine it, then the Ethiopian Government will benefit financially, and the locals will get employment. So the Ethiopian army has been tasked to ensure the safety of all foreigners in the area. We arrived back at the camp at about 11am, drenched in sweat, and retreat to the cool cabins to recover. After a light lunch we headed out again for Dollol Mountain. It’s not really a mountain, just an outcrop in the desert, but it has some of the most incredible geological features. We parked at the base of Dollol, at an altitude of -111 meters (below sea level!) and hiked up to the top.




    At the top of Dollol there are salt and sulphur springs, bubbling up from the ground. The heat, and the stench from the sulphur, made it really difficult going. There are salt ponds, and the water is so contaminated with naturally occurring chemicals that it feels like caustic soda when I dipped my hand into it. It burned so much that I had to rinse my hand with bottled water, and the water temperature up there was really, really hot. The ground is a really hard and brittle volcanic type of rock, it was cracking and snapping underfoot, and it was so hot that the glue on the soles of my shoes started melting, causing the shoes to start coming apart. The colours up there were very vivid, it was like something out of a science fiction movie! I almost felt like I had landed on a strange planet. And the temperature recorded was 50°C!!!






    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

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    Great report Gary, keep it up (when you get time)

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    This brings back memories!!
    I maintain that Ethiopian Airlines is now the best in Africa, superb service etc.
    BUT I flew them in the early 90's and it was SCARY
    Also Ethiopia is the most interesting country in Africa, the history will amaze you and the people are very friendly.
    Also agree about the Addis taxis, luckily the roads are crowded and they dont get much chance to speed( if they could)

    Have not been back for a few years and would like to spend a few weeks visiting the historic sites and churches and to taste Injera again.

    Looking forward to next episode

    Cheers
    Rob

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    Hi Rob

    I dont know how can you eat the Enjera I enjoy their spicy tibbs . Currently busy with a project in Ambo for the last 6 months and I can only agree with Gary it is quite a remarkble country.

    I will add a few fotos sometime and some experiences I had in this country.

    Frik
    Toyota Under Construction

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    Rob,
    The Injira was lovely, and the Tibbs was really great. Wait for the last installment, I have some pics of a traditional meal we had.

    Frik,
    The Injira is an acquired taste, and I can't wait to see some of your pics and hear about your experiences. Start a thread here and do it man!
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

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    Default Chapter 3

    After viewing all the sights and smells of Dollol we descended back down to the vehicles, and sucked several water bottles dry. We then drove a short distance to Black Rock. Black Rock is just a volcanic hill, pushed up through the earth’s crust several million years ago. Its pitch black and as hard as iron, but extremely brittle and it has millions of very sharp edges everywhere. Not easy to climb. Right alongside Black Rock is Black Pool. It’s a water pool in most general of terms, but the water is constantly bubbling, and is very poisonous. I saw a spoonbill that had obviously tried to drink from the water and had died almost instantly, as it was only a couple of inches from the edge. All i can think is that the poor bird was flying over on a migration and needed a drink. When it saw the water pool it landed and drank the water which killed it. The spoonbill has decayed, but there has been no real decomposition as we are used to, probably because there is nothing that can survive here, not even flies or bacteria. Near the pool was the wreck of an old pick-up truck or something similar. It had obviously become bogged down, and was abandoned by its owners. It’s quietly but quickly rusting away in its final resting place. (Reminds me of Toyotas in Africa;-))We were accompanied on this leg of the journey by a soldier, as we were only a couple of kilometres from the Eritrean border, and the local military commander was wanting to play it safe with our security. Our guide for the Depression was Hussein, a local Afari tribesman who is pretty good with the English, and was a really great guy. It’s incredible how he would just point in a direction, across the endless salt flats, and would be spot on with the destination we would be seeking.

    The back of Dollol Mountain


    Black Rock with "Toyota" in foreground


    Black Pool


    Spoonbill


    Soldier and Hussein

    We left the spoonbill and the “Toyota” in peace, and headed out across the salt flats again. In the distance we started making out a small black speck on the horizon. As we approached I could see it was a rocky outcrop. I was told by one of the geologists that it is also a volcanic uprising, but apparently the bottom of the depression here is some 1000 meters deep, and this is all that has remained. As the rains in the highlands continue to flood the depression every year, and deposit silt, the outcrop will eventually be covered by the Depression floor. It boggles the mind to think that so many gazillions of tons of silt have already been deposited here, slowly raising the Depression floor to the present day level. As with Black Rock, the outcrop is very hard and brittle and with sharp edges everywhere.

    Outcrop


    Sharp edges

    Not far from the outcrop we came across one of the Brine Holes that litter this area. It would probably be fatal to drive into one of these, as they are deep and hot, too hot to touch. A person would in all likelihood drown really quickly in here. Our guide, Hussein, was very careful about getting too close to the edge, as the edge is undercut by the brine and is very thin and brittle salt.



    Further along, near the edge of the salt flats we found some people that had been excavating holes. From the picture you can see what the water table here is, about 1 meter!



    By now we were back at the edge of the salt flats, it was getting late (about 5:30 pm) and we needed to get back to the camp before dark. I took a picture of the GPS, which showed our altitude and the temperature, as we still way below sea level, and it was still really hot.


    We got back to the camp just as it was getting dark, and I really felt like a nice cool shower. However the water that is pumped out of the ground here is at about 60°C and needs to cool before it can be used. There is no cooling facility here, and with daytime temperatures in the mid to late 40’s, the water just does not cool down. I resigned myself to going to bed sweaty and smelly after a really interesting dinner prepared in the mess-hall. The chef is local, and the ingredients were western, but the preparation and spicing was Afari. The chicken we had was delicious, but I cannot describe the taste, as it was something that I had never tasted or experienced before. The best I can do is say that it smelled a bit like tripe, but didn’t taste like tripe...
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  10. #10
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    Default Some background to the Danakil Depression

    I have omitted to start this thread with some proper background to the Danakil Depression, so rather late than never... here goes...

    The Danakil Depression runs along the Ethiopian border with Eritrea, all the way down to the border with Djibouti. I apparently forms the top end of the Great Rift Valley, which extends all the way down to Tanzania. According to the geologists on our trip, the top part of the rift is slowly opening, at the rate of about 10cm per year, so in a couple of million years the Red Sea will suddenly come rushing in and flood the entire area again. (now is the time to buy up property there at sea level! )

    At the bottom of the Depression, below all the silt and salt, there are remnants of the mighty ocean that once was there, before a mountain range was pushed up at its northern most tip, blocking it off from the rest of the oceans. Slowly the ocean dried up, leaving behind all the salt, and millions of fossils and bits of coral. We found some coral, wait for a following chapter!

    The Afari tribesmen that inhabit the area are nomadic, and leave the low-lying areas of the Depression for the highlands each summer as it gets too hot even for them. The Afari also do not recognise the border with Eritrea, as they have travelled up into these mountains for thousands of years, and a line drawn on a piece of paper does not bother them. A lot of them carry AK47's, and use them to protect their flocks of goats and camels from predators. I don't think that there is much danger of that in the Depression, but apparently up in the highlands there are still leopards and hyenas.

    The Afari are very friendly, and welcomed us at each village we came to, showing hospitality way beyond anything I have experienced before. The traditional dress for the Afari men consists of a "skirt" held up by a belt with a wicked knife with a curved double edged blade attached to it. The women wear a veil and colourful cloths draped around them, and cover their faces when they see us.

    The Danakil Depression has got to be one of the most inhospitable places on earth, with summer daytime temperatures above 50 and nighttime lows around the late 30's. There is a wind that usually picks up around sunset that the locals call the "fire wind". It is a hot, hot wind, it feels like you are standing just way too close to a bonfire, and it actually feels like your skin is on fire. I admire the Afari for being able to live here, they have got to be one of the toughest nations in the world.
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  11. #11
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    Very interesting thread, looking forward to the rest.

    This place reminds me of the Dead Sea area in Israel, which is 400m below sea level and was formed by the Jordan Rift Valley 12000 years ago when it was cut off from the Meditteranean Sea and slowly dried up, leaving the Dead Sea at about 30% salinity. The Dead Sea level drops about 400mm per year due to minerals mining and the dam that was built at the outlet of the Sea of Galilea which restricts water inflow into the river Jordan.
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    Thank you very much Gary. This only shows what a wonderful and, more of than not, strange continent we find ourselves on!

    Louis


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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Shirt View Post
    Very interesting thread, looking forward to the rest.

    This place reminds me of the Dead Sea area in Israel, which is 400m below sea level and was formed by the Jordan Rift Valley 12000 years ago when it was cut off from the Meditteranean Sea and slowly dried up
    Just a correction..

    The Jordan Valley was cut off froom the Mediterranean about 2 million years ago forming Lake Gomorrah. What is now known as the Dead Sea is somewhere around 70000 years old.
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    I got to enjoy Injera after a while. In the rural areas you also get injera made from red teff seed which is more sour and yeasty, I loved it. The urbanized Ethiopians tend to consider this "low class" but I loved it.
    The thing that I did not like was the fermented honey drink, cant think of the name now but is as sweet as hell and with a kick like a donkey.
    There is even Ethiopian Wine See pic

    Cheers Rob

    PS thats me on the right

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    The "Honey Wine" is as strong as any "mampoer", but almost sickly sweet! I also really enjoyed the red injira.
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

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    Seem to think now that the honey wine is called "tej"
    1st pic of typical meal, 2nd the dreaded "tej" and the 3rd, part of the 50() landrovers donated by the EU to the project.
    Unfortunately this was three months before the project( 3 years) closed.
    Was tempted to borrow one and drive home, nobody would have noticed.
    Pic 4 is confirmation of the scaffolding techniques
    Man I have to get back there again.

    Cheers

    Rob
    PS For those that do not know, injera is the "cloth" that the meal is served on, it is broken off and used to pick up the spicy meat, ONLY with the right hand. It is made from teff seed which is ground up, fermented for 2-3 days and then cooked on a hot plate, looks like a facecloth
    and then there is the Ethiopian coffee ceremony Man o Man what an experience, even when invited to a private home this is performed after every meal

    I want to go back NOW
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    Default Chapter 4

    After a hot shower the next morning we said our goodbyes and thanks to the friendly guys at the mining camp, and headed out again. We stopped off in the village of Hamadella, and checked out the local “guest house”. I was even more grateful for the accommodation given to us by the mining guys! The “Hamadella Hilton” was a stick and (some) tin shack! It was nothing more than an abandoned nomadic dwelling. The “bathroom” was just a circle of sticks, and I’m really glad we didn’t have to stay over here!



    Hamadella Hilton


    The Bathroom

    From Hamadella we headed towards the village of Kusrewal. This was supposed to take us about 6 hours. We drove South and then West, and came across a cruiser that was stuck in the thick sand. We all stopped and tried to assist the driver to get out, but when we tried to start the vehicle we discovered that not only was he stuck, he was also broken down. The driver told us that he had already sent for assistance, so we left him with several bottles of water, and advised him to dig some of the sand away so that when his help arrived they would be able to get him out a bit more easily.


    We continued on our way, but about half an hour later the second vehicle became seriously bogged down in some very sticky mud. The mud was as a result of the same flooding that had destroyed parts of the road down the escarpment a few days previously, but we were able to pull the Cruiser out without too much effort.


    Because of all the mud that lay ahead we had to try and find a detour around the area. We headed East to try and find a drier route. The terrain was constantly changing, from rocks and boulders, to sand and mud, to desert dunes, to scrub and oasis and everything in between. In the wet areas it was a constant struggle not to get bogged down, and in the dry areas the dust was a major problem. It was as fine as talcum powder, and reminded me a lot of the dust in the Makgadikgadi pans in Botswana. We even found a couple of places where the water was still flowing down the wadi’s but the crossings were made without incident. I must say that it was strange to see water flowing through a desert.




    Around lunch time we came across a small nomadic village and decided to stop to eat. The village chief insisted that we use his hut to shield us from the sun. We were happy to oblige him, and we all sat inside his hut, which we shared with a goat that was tied to the inside wall! The village children were most interested in us, but also very shy. I think that we may have been the first foreigners that they had ever seen.

    The village children


    The lunch hut


    The lunch guest

    Lunch consisted of cold meats (spam), pilchards, tuna, cheese, mixed tinned veg, dry bread, coke and fruit juice. After our lunch we continued trying to get to Kusrewad, but eventually at around 18h00 it was getting dark and we were still about 20km from our destination. We decided to play it safe by not attempting to try and negotiate the desert in the dark, and stopped at a small village called Adaro. Here we found a school building under construction and obtained permission to sleep on the veranda. Asrat and his guys cooked us a lovely supper of spaghetti and soya mince (Toppers!), and tinned fruit salad. Our beds were thin sponge mattresses on the floor, with a sheet to cover us. Sleep that night was difficult, the last time I checked the temperature was at midnight, and it was still 35°C. I just lay there in my shorts, the sweat pouring off me. I eventually fell asleep around 1am.

    I awoke at dawn, at about 5am, and had a shower from a canvas shower bucket. The water was tepid, but felt really good. We decided to just have coffee and biscuits and hit the road. We passed through Kusrewad after about an hour of travelling, and set course for the town of Afderra. We stopped for a quick brunch, and then continued. The terrain was now becoming more dry and sandy, but with scrub and small salt bushes. The dust remained a problem. And the heat.

    More Dust


    Still Hot
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

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    Default Chapter 5

    Quite suddenly the terrain changed, and we entered an area of black volcanic rock called Basalt. It looks as if it’s just been dumped there by some enormous giant tipper truck, and it’s hard and brittle and sharp! We stick very carefully to the trail that winds its way between the heaps to avoid puncturing the tyres. Slowly the heaps flatten out and the Basalt becomes a flat surface, stretching as far as the eye can see.

    Miles of Nothing




    We came across a Chinese road crew who were busy building a road towards Kusrewad, they must really be struggling with the basalt, we did see one giant plume of dust in the distance as they detonated dynamite to create a path for the earthmoving equipment. Just before lunch we eventually started approaching Afdera, and noticed some traditional graves alongside the road. The locals bury their dead by piling rocks on top of the corpses, some piles up to about 2 meters high. This is probably to prevent scavengers getting to the bodies.

    Approaching Afdera

    Traditional Graves

    In Afdera we suddenly came to a tar road! The road from Semera had been completed! We stopped briefly in the town to buy cold drinks and fresh bread, and headed down to the lake for lunch. Lake Afera is a salt water lake, and is fed by hot salty springs that come out of the ground right alongside the lake. The locals pump the water out of the lake into very large shallow, black plastic lined dams, where the water evaporates and the salt is left behind. The salt is then gathered and sold. Huge piles of salt could be seen everywhere. Afdera lies at the foot of the Afdera volcano, which is apparently now dormant.

    Lake Afera

    Salt spring flowing into Lake Afera

    Water pump feeding evaporation dams

    After a quick and delicious lunch we hit the road again, heading for Semera along the good tar road. The “African Massage” of the rough tracks was over at last! We travelled south out of Afdera, eventually getting to a T-junction at Route 18, the main arterial between Ethiopia and Djibouti. We turned right towards Semera, and immediately found the road to be very busy with many large trucks carrying freight into Ethiopia. We passed the town of Dubti, and not far after this we came across a compulsory check point. We all produced our visas, and were allowed to proceed without further ado. Apparently the border controls are relatively slack at Djibouti, and there is also a customs check for the big trucks. They are not checked at the border, and as there is nowhere else for them to go, they are only processed some distance from the actual border post. After crossing over the bridge across the Awash River we continue into the town of Awash, where we had another stop for a cold drink and body break.



    Awash Hotel

    It was still very hot, and the scenery was also still very similar to the volcanic type formations that we had being seeing since before Afdera. There were more graves alongside the road, but now they were almost spire shaped, with chimney like structures up to over 3 meters tall. The locals also used the rocks to build their shelters, with some sticks across the tops for the roofs. Why anyone would actually live out here escapes me. There is virtually nothing growing out there, and the heat is just oppressive.

    Graves

    Stone Shelters

    Just out of Awash we hit our first sandstorm, the visibility was reduced to just 20 meters, and the wind was as strong as it gets in Namibia around Walvis Bay! Suddenly the sandstorm stopped, and then it started to rain, great big drops, and lots of them, coming in sideways from the left. It was like any Gauteng thunderstorm, without the lightning. The desert floor was suddenly a massive lake! The standing water had transformed it. The most incredible sight to behold!

    Sandstorm Approaching

    Sandstorm

    The Wet Desert!

    Just as quickly as it has started the rain stopped but the wind continued, unabated. Just a few kilometres further we could see another sandstorm rolling in, and it hit within seconds. Again the visibility was reduced to about 20 meters but after about 10 minutes it had cleared and the skies were blue again. The most unreal experience!

    Another Sandstorm Approaches

    In the Teeth of another Sandstorm
    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  19. #19
    Join Date
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    Default The Final Chapter

    Finally the sandstorms clear, and eventually we arrive at Semera at about 17:30. Arrangements had been made for us to stay in the recently completed hotel, but to our surprise we learned that our reservation had been cancelled by the local district commissioner. He had decided that we were invited to stay at the local government guest house. Well, we made our way there, and were very disappointed. The place was a mess, filthy, electrical wires hanging everywhere, no running water, we may as well have stayed in the desert! Anyway, we finally managed to get our reservations back and refused the offer of accommodation at the guest house without the district commissioner losing face or being insulted.
    The hotel had just recently been completed, and was in good shape, apart from the fact that my room door would not lock. But that was quickly remedied with the aid of my trusty Leatherman! I had a lovely shower, and let me state that there is only one tap in the shower. There is no water heating here, it’s not necessary! After cleaning up we went down to the district commissioners place where we had dinner and coffee. Dinner was tibs (goats meat) and injira (local flat bread). The coffee was the highlight, and I have to explain the procedure.
    Coffee is very important in the traditions of the Ethiopian people. The whole coffee beans were crushed. This was done using a piece of re-bar in an old shell casing! The crushed beans were then poured into a calabash like coffee pot. The coffee pot is made of clay and baked, so it can be placed on a fire. The coffee pot was then placed directly onto some charcoal, and left to roast for about an hour and a half. The lady roasting the coffee also put inscence on the charcoal which smelled wonderful! The smell of the roasting coffee was amazing, and I really wished that she would just get on with it! Eventually she decided that the coffee had roasted enough, and added hot water. The coffee pot was then put back on the fire, and as the water level dropped due to the boiling evaporation she added a bit more hot water. Eventually after about an hour and a half of boiling she decided that the coffee was done. It was poured into tiny little cups, and served with some sugar. No milk. MAN!!! That was the best coffee I had EVER tasted! I could kick myself for forgetting my camera in my hotel room!
    After dinner and the magnificent coffee, we headed off to bed, in an air-conditioned room, with a real bed! I slept like a baby!

    The next morning we said our goodbyes to Hussein, our guide, and Mohammed, our interpreter, and headed off for the last leg to Addis Ababa. Hussein and Mohammed would return to Mekele by bus, a trip that would apparently take them 4 days!

    We passed through several small towns and villages, and the scenery gradually but steadily became greener and more lush as we headed up the escarpment. There were plenty of “El Keida” trucks, 3 ton lorries, similar to the South African Canter, loaded to the hilt, and going as fast as they could. Apparently they have been nick-named “El Keida” because they are so dangerous...

    The midday temperature is still hot, around 43°C, but at least we can see the end is in sight. One of the bridges we passed over had really nice Lion statues at each end, guarding it. There was also a pretty impressive train bridge running alongside the vehicle bridge.




    We stopped in a town called Nazret at about 2pm, but decided against eating anything, we were all just dreaming of a giant steak and chips at the Addis Hilton. I had a cold Coke, and a small coffee. It was nothing like the coffee from the previous evening, but still good. We continued, and passed by the Ethiopian Air Force base just south of Addis, it had a Mig on a plinth as its gate-guard.


    We finally arrived back in Addis at the Hilton around 18:00, and booked back in. This time I was lucky to get a room in the new block with an air-con.

    The next evening we were taken by our guide, Asrat, to a local traditional restaurant called “Yod Abyssinia”. We ate a traditional meal consisting of Tibs and Injira, with “fasting sauces”. They are apparently made without dairy products for the fasting period of their religion. The meal was really superb, and we also had some of the very sweet but almost deadly “honey wine”. There was live music and dancing provided, much to our entertainment, and it was quite obvious that this was the “place to be” in Addis. The place was packed, with many influential and rich businessmen and officials. It was an excellent way to wind up a trip of a lifetime through the most inhospitable, hot, and beautiful places that I have ever experienced.


    I am strong, because I've been weak.
    I am fearless, because I've been afraid.
    I am wise, because I've been foolish.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    Default

    Gary, thanks for a very interesting and entertaining report on places I have never heard off.
    "If you don't care where you are, you ain't lost"

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