(Written by Karen)
12.29.2018 - 12.29.2018 100 °F
After filling up on another tasty breakfast at our guesthouse, the tour company picked us up and we set off for our four-day tour. We shared a car with a kind German medical student and her mother. After some chitchat in the car, we realized they had signed up for the three-day tour. Hmm. How is it that we're sharing a car but they're supposed to travel for three days and us for four? Our driver, Daniel, said he'd call the main office and sort it out. He never did, to my knowledge. Long story short, everyone else in our group had signed up for the three-day tour, so we think the company just put us on that tour also, without telling us. Oh well. Go with the flow, I guess!
The drive took us through many different landscapes in the Afar region of Ethiopia, a part of the country that is mostly made up of Muslims. If you cut down a tree here, you could face a jail sentence. We drove through flatlands and over large hills, sometimes on long straightaways and sometimes constantly curving and having to hold yourself in position so that you didn't smash the person sitting next to you. But one thing was constant on the road — the donkeys.
We stopped in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. "Lunchtime!" our driver said. Really? Where is the restaurant? All that surrounded us were some small structures made out of sticks and tin and a collection of other found objects. Turned out one of these structures was our restaurant. We were served rice and vegetables (cabbage, carrots and green beans). Then our host walked around and plopped a scoop of canned tuna on the top of our meals. We tried to scarf it down as fast as possible due to the mass amount of flies that wanted to share our meals.
A short drive after lunch the landscape changed again, this time to salt.
The donkeys we had seen along the road, they were carrying salt. The salt miners and their donkeys walk for five days from the salt flats to the city, where they sell the salt at the market. We stopped and saw the miners in action. They work all day chopping chunks of salt from the earth and carving them into square blocks to load onto the donkeys. We brought them eyedrops to ease the sting of the salt in their eyes. They make about $4000 a year, though, which is a generous salary for Ethiopia. Our guide said that the salt miners like their jobs. But goodness gracious do they work hard. Can you imagine swinging an axe all day long in the hottest place on Earth?
Yep, you read that right - the hottest place on Earth. We had officially arrived in the Danakil Depression, a 124 by 31-mile plain near the border of Eritrea. It's the hottest place on Earth based on year-round average temperatures. This is the coolest time of year, though, so it was only hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It gets up to around 130 degrees in the hot season. In addition to being the hottest place on Earth, it's also one of the lowest (410 feet below sea level) and one of the driest (100-200 mm of annual rainfall), which makes for some unusual scenery.
After about 10 minutes of driving the salt changed to dirt and we had arrived in Dallol, a piece of land with no signs of life in view.
We grabbed 1.5-liter bottles of water and followed our guide for about a 15-minute walk to the best views of this other-worldly place.
It looked like another planet. Or maybe a little bit like the geysers at Yellowstone National Park. There were mounds of vibrant colored earth spewing out 280-degree gases. This place used to be underwater, and one day, millions of years from now, it will be underwater again.
Next we stopped at a small lake where the water was hot and oily. The water bubbled not from heat, but from gases rising from below. Locals consider this lake to be sacred. They believe it is good for the skin and can heal stomach issues. One of the drivers collected some water in a bag to take home. Dead birds who had sipped the sacred liquid sprinkled the water's edge.
When we thought the day couldn't get anymore interesting, we stopped for a dip in this natural bath. The water is 40% salt, so you float. As hard as we tried, we couldn't put our heads underwater.
Following the mini salt bath, we drove out to a large, shallow salt lake for a little fun.
On the road to our lodging for that night, we had the pleasure of seeing beautiful views and plenty of camels.
After a couple beers and one minute standing under a weak hose that they called a shower, we settled in for the night ... with what we didn't know at the time was a room full of snorers in need of a sleep apnea diagnosis.