Dusting pointless… On the go through Danakil Desert

The debate about the hottest place on Earth is presumably as old as humanity itself. People believing their bedroom among the top 10 of those places will be disappointed when hearing about places like Ethiopia’s Danakil desert, where the sun begins to singe everything having a heartbeat while at 9:30 in the morning West Europeans get ready to enjoy their second breakfast. April is actually one of the worst months to travel the Danakil, as with small nasty gusts and unbelievable top temperatures of up to ~65 degrees Celsius in the African sun the desert unmistakably makes clear who’s the king of the hill here.

The Danakil is nothing for hygiene fundamentalist, who are subjecting their home to an immediate Stalinist cleansing as soon as the morning bread roll is crumbling one time. Such people won’t surely die of the heat, but rather of being faced with a mental overload regarding tons of ultra-fine sand, salt and rock meal.

The Jeep racing through the desert whirls up everything. The white powder-like dust penetrates any of the vehicle’s gaps and instantly gets married to the sweat that is constantly fighting against the immense heat. The desert can be oddest, emptiest and most hostile, however, when the Jeep is stuck or shortly stopping it doesn’t take much time and children are showing up out of the sandy blue. Their dozens of “hiland, hiland!” calls are aiming to get empty plastic bottles (Highland = Ethiopian water company).

So that’s how a floured veal cutlet is feeling… And our oven is already preheated as well. The only difference between the chunk of meat and us: we decided ourselves to put us on the grill.

My companions are all originating from Addis Ababa. Compared to the local Afar tribe they are good tempered and communicative. It’s apparent that heat is even niggling on them, in particular when the Jeep has to be dragged out of the sand again, but cook Heimanut doesn’t lose his humour and throws in: “You see; now I am a white man too…!”

Undoubtedly the human is a highly adaptable animal, but the Afar tribe living, or better to say surviving in this hell of dust can only be marvelled at. Of course this climate has a major influence on the people’s crusty character. Blond and blue eyes, this automatically means to become milked financially in every nook and corner. First the “entrance fee” for the Danakil, then the pay and expenses of the armed guards escorting us, plus the one or other catalysing bribe en-route.

With a temperature of only 55°C we caught one of the cooler days. Well, at a humidness of 0% such a furnace-like temperature is no big deal at all. In the South things are getting much worse, as temperature only measures some 40°C, but combined with a humidness of 20-30% mugginess gets unbearable. On time at 5:00 p.m. the desert wind is coming, being up to 6-7 wind forces strong. It is dragging on your sleeping bag the whole night long, while you’re counting the stars to fall asleep easier.

At daytime it doesn’t take much time and our H2O is making friends with the outside temperature. The only helpful thing is evaporative cooling. Being able-bodied and able to explore is actually only possible in the morning or evening hours as the planet is whacking yet the last liquid drops out of your body. Unshaven and like a zombie you’re walking with a slightly displaced perception through the desert hunting for motifs and perspectives that are being worth to be photographed. Even the dust whirls up and runs away from you…

For geologists and people interested in nature Danakil might be something like cloud nine. In the North the imploded crater of Dallol is located, while further south enthusiasts can enjoy the unique volcanic spectacle of Erta Ale’s lake of lava. At the southern end of the Afar Triangle, close to the city of Logya, another geothermally interesting area can be found: the ponds, springs and Geysir of Alo Lobed (Google Maps). Amidst the desert boiling hot water is bubbling out of the ground, animals are meeting for a drink and bacteria are turning warm water holes into Caribbean looking swimming pools.

Before reaching Logya you have to pass Afdera and its salt lake, that so called Dead Sea of the Danakil. While the salt mining Afar sell their salt for industry and process purposes, the water of Lake Afdera is used to obtain cooking salt on a grand scale. You can even put your swim suit on and have a bath. The way into the lake seems to be endlessly, as its very shallow. To boot the downside of your feet gets badgered by countless spiky lava rocks. But once you are inside, attempts of breast stroking become real fun, or you lean back and have a seat :-)

But, as soon as the brine gets in contact with mucosa or your eyes, then fun is immediately over as it’s even more burning then a spoon full of chilli powder. The fresh water of the nearby thermal springs appears to be toxic green (algae), but is a perfect balm.

Cook Heimanut was lucky again and could get us a got from the nearby village. Freshly butchered, he whipped up an awesome dinner in the middle of nowhere, with goat meet cooked to perfection. Bold people can even try the raw liver with some Awaze, a red spice paste.

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