Adventure on Mars: Journey to the hottest place on earth and the lowest place on the African continent.
28.12.2013 - 29.12.2013 40 °C
The highlight of Day 4 of the Danail Depression trip was visiting the amazing hydrothermal salt deposits at the Dallol crater. Dallol is the world's only volcano below sea level (-157ft or -50m). Sulfur and mineral salts from upwelling springs create incredibly vivid colors. It’s located 18 miles north of our camp near the border with the countries of Eritrea and Djibouti. The year-round, average temperature here is 34.4 °C (94 °F). December was the coolest time of year to visit Dallol. We definitely didn’t think that as we staggered over the rocks in the baking hot morning sun towards the Dallol crater.
Described as “great warts of twisted sulphur,” the crater was actually a collapsed volcano formed when basaltic magma penetrated salt deposits resulting hydrothermal activity that created phreatic eruptions. It looked more like the planet Mars to me. It was an amazing end to the best 4-day adventure ever and took us the entire day to drive back to civilization.
We had arranged a detour on our way back so that we could visit the rock-hewn churches in the northern Tigray region. In the evening, our Danikil driver, Dani, dropped us off at a non-descript town of Wukro (which consisted of one dusty street) and instructed us to wait outside a small motel for a different car to pick us up. We sat outside the motel for over 3 hours.
When we had virtually given up hope of ever getting picked up, a blue van appeared out of nowhere. We jumped in and were driven straight to the Gheralta Lodge, the Italian-run lodge we had pre-booked for the night. The hotel was widely regarded as being the best hotel in Ethiopia, so I’m not quite sure what the owner thought of us as we arrived in pitch darkness after hours, ringing the gate bell, looking like two homeless vagrants having not washed for 4 days and carrying what looked like our worldly belongings on our backs.
It wasn’t until the morning that we were able to appreciate the splendor of the hotel. It was more reminiscent of Tuscany than Ethiopia. After an amazing fresh breakfast, our driver took us on a day tour of the rock-strewn churches hidden high up in the hills. These churches were more remote that the one’s in Lalibela. They numbered about 120 in the Tigray region and date back to the 4th century A.D. The churches were built into the mountains and made to blend into the landscape in order to protect them from invading Muslim armies over the centuries.
We climbed up to several churches in the area before our driver drove us back a few hours to Mekele. By the time we arrived at the airport, we had about two minutes remaining to check-in. We grabbed our bags as quickly as we could and threw the driver a generous tip before running to catch our evening flight to Addis Ababa.