The Geologists’ Nirvana of the Danakil Depression – PART 2

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Blog 51 by Tan: The Geologists’ Nirvana of the Danakil Depression – PART 2

After next to no sleep the previous night we crashed out in anticipation of another early start for our visit the Erta Ale volcano (pronounced like Air-ta Ah-leh). In the morning I woke up feeling good… too good even. Yep, we had slept through our planned wake up and departure time. We were confused as to why no one had roused us and indeed why the others were also still in bed. Turns out we’d slept through the nights dramas.

 

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Warning: This is another geology heavy blog.

 

In the middle of the night one of the Spaniards woke up physically ill and with a 40 degree fever. Having recently recovered from a case of malaria the guy was understandably worried about having relapsed. Luckily for him we were only 3 hours from Mekele where he was taken to a hospital for testing and treatment.

We hung around during the morning waiting to hear back about the tests and wondering what it meant for the trip. We expected that either way he would stay in in Mekele recovering, either in hospital or just a hotel, until the following day when the tour ended. After a number of tests he was declared malaria free but he was found to be suffering from giardia. As we had been eating carefully prepared communal food and only drinking bottled water it was hard to imagine that it came from anything but local sickly kids they were playing with… giardia has similarly objectionable origins as conjunctivitis after all.

 

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Erta Ale location map

 

However we were surprised to learn that even though he was still being physically ill, he was on his way back to join the tour. And while a part of me did recognise it was a particularly brave man that left ready access to a toilet in the throws of a giardia spell, on the whole I thought it was an unnecessarily risky move. This next stage of the trip would have us far away from medical help on difficult terrain and in extreme temperatures all while this guy suffered ongoing vomiting, diarrhea and inevitable dehydration.

At a mine site I once worked at a delivery driver almost died from extreme dehydration brought on from heat exposure combined with food poisoning, and that was in lower temperatures than what we could expect at Erta Ale. When the delivery guy was found, delirious and passing in and out of consciousness, it was almost impossible to administer a drip as his veins were so collapsed, his urine was black and if he hadn’t been found he would have been dead within a couple of hours it was believed.

The last thing you want to be when going somewhere as hot and as far from medical help as Erta Ale is sick and dehydrated. This guy was still vomiting and feverish and would soon be in 40-50 degree heat 6 hours or more from a hospital, and we thought this maybe wasn’t such a great idea. We communicated this to his mates but it was obviously not up to us.

 

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Views on the way – basalt fields and sand

 

By the time they returned and we hit the road we were 4 hours behind schedule. But while the day started out on quality tar roads, our progress was regularly interrupted for the poor sick fellow to stop and vomit and ‘the like’. Once we left the tar for bush tracks, things started to go pear shaped within the first few minutes. The area we were heading into is prone to flash flooding at this time of year when the rains in the highlands (much like we had the previous night) wash down into the depression. Here it doesn’t take much water at all to render large areas of fine silt a veritable quagmire, an example of which our rather inept drivers managed to find and immediately get bogged in.

 

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The erratic driver of the Spaniards vehicle said right before getting stuck ‘we will get stuck if we go this way’ begging the question… why did he go that way then?

 

We watched as the drivers set about unbogging the vehicle and that was… well… you can see in the video below it was not an encouraging display. Mick has had enough practice with such things and his head almost exploded at the scene.

 


You have to put it into 4WD before it will act like a 4WD, see.

 

First they tried to pull the stricken 4WD out with our vehicle but lazily had both vehicles and the rope severely out of alignment. While hooking up the rope Mick offered some advice that the towing vehicle and rope should be pulling in line with the bogged vehicle, but they persisted anyway to Mick’s warning “this will never ever work”. The pulling vehicle with hubs unlocked and still in 2WD lurched hard as the driver dropped the clutch and spun the rear wheels, both vehicles then pulled sideways violently as the rope took tension and then promptly snapped. Not a great start, and sadly, easily predicted.

The driver tied up the snapped rope and straightened the vehicles, which had the benefit that the rope didn’t snap a second time, however as it was still in 2WD so all this attempt produced was lots of dust. Mick suggested they might like to try the magical powers of 4WD, but they chose to hookup the second vehicle instead. With this attached at a sharp angle it added little pulling power and with the first vehicle still in 2WD, all they managed this time around was yet more dust (as per the video). Mick stuck his head in the cab pointing at the transfer-case lever and proposing 4WD, but when both drivers got out of the vehicles scratching their heads Mick’s frustration got the better of him and he locked in the hubs and engaged 4WD himself.

Maybe it was just a weird coincidence, or maybe all that head scratching had more of an effect than we gave it credit for, but this time the bogged vehicle was miraculously pulled from the mud. It was hardly a reassuring performance… and a bit of an exhibition of what was still to come.

 

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Bogged again….

 

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And again……

 

After the initial totally avoidable bogging event, it was our Landcruiser with its narrow and thoroughly bald front tyres getting bogged all the time. A pattern started to emerge. We’d get bogged, the drivers would immediately hitch up the crappy nylon rope and do no digging or any other preparation work, Mick and myself would get out and push, the rope would snap, we would grab the shovel and dig while the rope would be tied again, push again, the rope would snap again, and so on and so forth until the vehicle would be freed… only to do it again 20 minutes later. That is US$450 worth of guided tour right there.

We eventually made it to the small Afar hamlet Araboro where we would have lunch, pay the local community their dues and pick up our police escort. It was 4pm and we were hungry, hot and tired, not to mention aware we hadn’t even started the hard part of the drive yet… and then there was the small matter of the volcano climb.

 

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At Araboro where the local cook had prepared a generous and excellent cold pasta dish before hitting the road again.

 

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The first contact with the basalt. Tough place… even for a goat.

 

After our late lunch and what were some heated arguments regarding money between the guide and villagers, we were hustled into the vehicles and were on our way. Due to the rain from the previous night we learned we would have to take the difficult alternate route to the volcano, bypassing the wet silt and driving over basalt lava flow. We soon understood why it was that most tour agencies would rather cancel the trip in the event of flooding than use the bypass; the vehicles get absolutely brutalised. We only made it though the first small section of basalt field before the third vehicle (a 76 series troop carrier) broke a tie rod. With one of the front wheels disconnected from the steering wheel, it was not going anywhere. The sun on the other hand was still on its way down, making it painfully clear we’d be navigating an infrequently used route over hellish basalt lava flow in the dark. This was most definitely ‘one of those’ trips.

 

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Boy do these Afar live a hard life. This is one of the more extravagnet dwellings. I am not being facetious.

 

With one car out of action, the Afar policeman were squeezed into our ‘cruiser with the cook and our guide overflowing onto the roof rack. We continued on our way alternating between rough as guts basalt field and sandy gravel beds. And then we got well and truly stuck on a rise on the track that ruled out the go-to extrication method of mindlessly pulling the vehicle out of trouble.

 

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Mick after a less than impressive vehicle extrication. This is Mick’s ‘I am seriously not impressed’ face – familiar to and feared by all those that have dated, worked with or reverse parallel parked in front of Mick.

 

Mick and I had been frustrated by an interesting cultural quirk we had observed in our guide and drivers. They refused to get their hands dirty… more specifically it seemed they could not possibly bring themselves to do manual work. For us, you prepare a vehicle for extraction first by digging out bogged wheels and placing rocks for traction before towing. But no matter what, they would go straight to the tow rope, a sure fire way to bog the second vehicle or snap the tow rope. It seemed they thought it wasn’t for them to get their hands dirty in this manner, that was for people on a lower rung of the social ladder than them… or shitted off foreign tourists like us with no such qualms.

 

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Behold the unforgiving terrain we got stuck in! If we got stuck in this small pile of gravel you can imagine how we fared in the actual tough stuff.

 

However in this instance, with no way to get a second vehicle in front to tow, the driver reverted to pushing harder on the accelerator pedal achieving nothing but spinning wheels further bogging the vehicle before he was yelled at to stop (by us). Mick and I started piling rocks under the tyres while the driver and guide did pretty much nothing but watch. This time a couple of the Spaniards even chipped in. Mick could see the right hand side of the vehicle needed to be weighted to get traction, so he arranged himself and a couple of the Spaniards on the rear and side of the car and jumped up and down while the driver gunned it out to freedom. The drivers, guide and cook jumped up and down and clapped as they had never seen something like that done. They excitedly told Mick that he ‘was so good at that, you could do it for a living.’ An unimpressed Mick replied ‘good, because I expect tips at the end of this!’

 

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Mick earning his tips.

 

And on it went, over some of the roughest terrain we’d ever come across in a 4WD. We were thankful these weren’t our vehicles as they were taking an absolute thrashing, bottoming out and bashing the under carriage multiple times on the basalt that went on forever with no reprieve. Having the guide on the roof rack proved to be a necessary action as he was the only person high enough to see the dusty tyre tracks of the trail over the lava flow. Even then we ended up off the ‘trail’ a couple of times, which meant we bashed our way through the basalt following the Afar policemen who led the way on foot. It was slow going.

You can do self-drive Danakil tours, where for half the price you tag along with a tour group. Our friends Karen and Pete (http://blog.tracks4africa.co.za/category/cape-to-the-carmine-c/) took their 4WD Hilux on such a tour and they found the standard Erta Ale route was rough on their very well equipped vehicle and had a rear shock absorber mount shear off. If you were to take your own vehicle it ought to be in full working order. And if it floods and they want you to take your car on the bypass to Erta Ale the smartest thing you could do would be to turn around.

 

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What the terrain was like. These aren’t our pictures but that of one George Kourounis it appears.

 

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It is only relatively recently that people could ‘easily’ visit Erta Ale volcano. Up until 2002 you could only access the site by helicopter. Now you can get within 10km by car. The rest of the distance is covered on foot or on the back of a camel.

 

We arrived battered by the drive at the Dodom military camp that also serves as the base camp for the Erta Ale climb. Security as I mentioned earlier is a real issue in these parts with the Eritrean border just a stone’s throw away. In 2012 a group of 27 tourists hiked up the volcano leaving the military guards at the base of the climb. On the way down they were attacked by approximately 40 armed men. Five Europeans were killed in the process, a couple more seriously injured and another man kidnapped and taken into Eritrea and released a couple of months later.

Ethiopia claimed the Eritrean military were responsible, while the Eritreans say it is the Ethiopian Afar separatists, which is an easy blame game indeed as both groups have in the past kidnapped and killed tourists in the region. Suffice as to say it is not the safest of places to visit, though these days there has been a major boost to security, with all tourists escorted by armed Afar Policemen and regular army patrols near the Eritrean Border.

 

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A photo of the Dodom military camp taken by our overlanding friends Pete and Karin who did a Danakil tour about a couple weeks before us. You can (and should) find their fantastic blog here (http://blog.tracks4africa.co.za/category/ethiopia/).

 

After arriving at what must be the most miserable military postings on the planet, we laid down our beds for a spell while the cook prepared dinner. Tours usually arrive in the base camp in the afternoon which allows for a rest before the 3 to 3 ½ hour climb which generally departs around 7pm with a couple camels lugging sleeping gear. Having arrived exhausted after 10pm we had just an hour of broken sleep before eating dinner and setting out on the hike at around midnight with no camels and therefore no sleeping gear.

To our wonder the sick Spaniard was determined to do the hike and despite having to vomit periodically along the way he managed the climb better than I did. In my defense I was pushing bogged vehicles all afternoon… plus I’m not fit sooo… It was a tough hike due to intense heat and the difficult terrain of pure basalt, which was tricky to negotiate under a narrow beam of a head touch. In a little under 3 hours we found ourselves within sight of the glow of Erta Ale’s crater.

 

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Ther’ she glows

 

This volcano is indeed a special one. Far from the commanding presence of your average stratovolcano (think Mt Fuji, Etna, St Helens etc), Erta Ale is a shield volcano with long gentle slopes – though my spasming glutes and calves on the ascent suggested otherwise. Shield volcanoes (think Kilauea) typically form through non-explosive eruptions and are not steep due to their highly fluid (low viscosity) basalt lava flows, as you obviously cannot pile up something that easily flows downhill. It is also for this reason that shield volcanoes tend to have a very large size (sometimes 20 times wider than high) and have a low profile resembling a flat lying warriors shield, hence the name. They are a result of high magma supply rates such that occur over hot spots, magma plumes or divergent plate boundaries for example; the last of which is the reason why they exist in the Danakil area.

What makes Erta Ale particularly awesome is that it is one of the few volcanoes in the world with a lava lake. Usually when you are see magma in a volcano crater you are looking into the magma chamber itself and when you are seeing lava it is what has been extruded from that chamber be it through eruptions of the volcano of from its dykes and sills. Lava lakes are altogether different as they are a reservoir of lava connected to but distinct from the magma chamber. Lava lakes are exceedingly rare and oft short-lived geological phenomena. At this point in time there are but 7 lava lakes in 5 places on Earth, which are;

  • Kilauea, Hawaii (where there are two lava lakes in two different craters)
  • Erta Ale, Ethiopia (the oldest and sometimes has 2 lava lakes though only one at the moment)
  • Ambrym, Vanuatu (like Kilauea there are two lava lakes in two different craters of the volcano)
  • Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of Congo (the largest and if things go to plan it will be the second lava lake we get to see)
  • Erebus, Ross Island, Antarctica (so Buckley’s chance any of us will see it)

 

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The lava lake at Erta Ale is the oldest lava lake on Earth having first been observed in 1906.

 

The reason why lava lakes are so rare, and short-lived when they do occur, is due to the unique set of requirements for their existence. Lava lakes need constant magma circulation through the entire system (from chamber to column to lake surface). If convection is interrupted heat loss occurs which causes lava to solidify on the surface of the lake to the point the lake ceases to exist. For Erta Ale to have avoided this heat loss and solidification issue for a hundred years, it is believed the lake must have an unusually shallow magma chamber (less than 1km below the volcano). And this magma chamber likely benefits from higher than ‘normal’ rates of magma due to its proximity to the rift where plates moving apart leading to an upwelling of magma at the boundary.

 

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The view at the top was certainly worth the hike.

 

By far the coolest thing about the lava lake is that it serves as a hyper accelerated, real-life analogue for the mechanics of plate tectonics. The enormous source of active magma beneath Erta Ale in this analogue represents the convecting medium of the Earth’s upper mantle. Note however that the upper mantle of the Earth is not actually liquid magma, it is just convecting in the same way the lava of the lake does; stuff down low gets heated, hot stuff rises, stuff up top cools, cool stuff goes down, gets heated, rises and over and over we go. The cooling lava on the lake surface is the equivalent of the lithosphere or Earth’s crust. As you can see in the photos the surface of the lava lake invariably cools to the point that a ‘skin’ of black solidifying almost basalt appears forming a number of slabs, the margins of which creates the appearance of a jigsaw puzzle pieces separated by a strip of glowing lava.

 

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There were a couple of occastions when lava fountain spurted on our side of the crater and had us scurrring away…only to inch closer as our bravery returned.

 

The convection of the underlying lava moves some slabs towards each other (convergence in plate tectonics lingo) where one slab would inevitably prove more dense than the other and summarily slip under the less dense plate and subduct into the depths of the lake, where it melts and continues the cycle. In other parts the convecting cells of the lava lake move the slabs apart (divergence in plate tectonics lingo) and in much the same way a spreading centre on an ocean floor performs, lava upwells and cools and solidifies.

 

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A rad diagram – the bottom left corner illustrating the the workings of convections cells in the mantle

 

The real life process of plate tectonics occurs on an impossibly large scale, over impossibly long periods of time that we humans can’t even begin to appreciate, with plates moving at little more than 1cm per year on average. Here on the crater rim we stood watching the model equivalent of tens of millions of years worth of movement happening in minutes. To geologists and non-geologists alike, it makes for riveting viewing.

 

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Here you can see the ‘crust’ forming on the lake as it cools on surface. The insulating properties of the lava crust reduces the temperate to 200’C down from 1200’C during high convection/activity. Here you see a section ‘crust’ taking a dive back in to the lake.

 

Another very exciting part of visiting Erta Ale was being able to watch the formation of a not all that common volcanic product called ‘Pele’s Hair’. We had seen Pele’s Hair just once before while visiting the Mt Yasur volcano on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. Pele’s hair is most commonly (though not exclusively) produced in eruptions of basaltic volcanoes such as those often found in Hawaii, and is named after the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. Pele’s Hair is essentially volcanic glass that forms when lava (especially high silica-low viscosity lava) is ejected into the air. As the airborne lava falls it cools and separates with parts drawn out into thin threads which then solidify into a fine, hair like strands that get captured by wind and hot updrafts and scattered around the crater rims. In the video of the lake you can clearly see Pele’s Hair forming after ‘fountaining’ in the lake, where lava spurts several meters into the air.

 


Watch closely and you’ll see whisps of Pele’s hair forming and wafting by in this video.

 

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Pele’s Hair – not that strange a name when you look at it. We had to steal this photo of the internet – we did have photos but no longer…a long story we’ll get another time

 

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Pele’s Tears. There were plenty of these around as well.

 

Pele’s Tears are a similar product as Pele’s Hair in that they are small pieces of solidified drops of lava making them a form of volcanic glass aka obsidian aka dragonglass (for all Game of Thrones fans). Formation of Pele’s Tears or Hair is related to the velocity of the erupting magma/lava; high velocity = hair and low velocity = tears. Both types were prevalent around the volcano and it was rather exciting finding 2-inch thick mats of accumulated Pele’s Hair.

In terms of activity Erta Ale is the most active volcano in Africa. Though thanks to its isolated location and fact it is a basaltic volcano (relatively innocuous, dare I say it), its eruptions in 1897, 1903, 1940, 1960, 1967 and 2005 caused no direct loss of human life but took out several hundred livestock which would have been pretty devastating a loss to the pastoralists of the area. In 2007 during an overflow event, thousands were forced to flee and two people are said to have been killed along with another round of mass livestock deaths. These lava lake overflow events can be huge hazards to those living around such volcanoes. As previously discussed, lava lakes require a massive source of magma to keep the system in constant convection… and therein lies the danger. The Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo has the world’s largest lava lake which is composed of highly siliceous (therefore highly fluid) lava. In 1977 the volcano sent copious amounts of lava down the steep slopes, where it travelled at speeds of 100km per hour. 70 people were killed in the event.

 

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This is obviously not one of our photos but I thought it was so good I’d share it and hope Joel Santos doesn’t mind.

 

Erta Ale is currently in a low energy phase of its life, although it is consistently active which I found far from reassuring. I’m a gutless geologist in that volcanoes make me nervous to the point of fear. I was happy to see it but keen to keep exposure to a minimum. Yet even still I was gutted with the decision to leave the volcano after just an hour.

 

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Erta Ale from above, behold a rift(random net pic).

 

Most tours take camels carrying mattresses and supplies to the top of the volcano where people rest until the night and early hours of the morning and in so doing witness the volcano by night and day. Due to us being far behind schedule and the fact we were running on 1 hours sleep, had no sleeping mats and would need more driving time than normal to return, the decision was made to head down after just a short time. I was content enough to leave the actual crater rim for a while, however I was utterly devastated to miss seeing the place in the light of day.

Everyone else had seen the exciting, colourful lava lake stuff and now just wanted to sleep and the guides just wanted to get back to Mekele. Mick and I were outnumbered in wanting to stay so I was in epic sulk mode while walking over vast fields of basalt structures I had been eager to see. I’d read about and seen pictures of piles of ropey pohoehoe basalt that dwarf a person and was excited to see them first hand. Imagine my frustration knowing I was walking over many of the things I wanted to see but couldn’t due to the inadequate narrow light of my head torch. I was highly disappointed and my field book was depressingly empty.

 

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Here is another photo from the net that shows the crater edge where tourists traditionally get some rest before walking once again to the edge of the lava lake for a day time viewing.

 

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This random internet pic shows some of the basalt texture we walked over but missed seeing.

 

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This is an example of the ropy pahoehoe basalt I was hoping to see. It forms as the surface of a lava flow cools and becomes less fluid and more viscous. The surface of the lava wrinkles and bunches up to form what looks like ropes as the lava beneath continues to flow.

 

The walk down was completed in a little over 3 hours, which had us rolling into the military camp just after sunrise. We were hot, filthy and utterly sleep deprived. While the cook was getting our morning meal together we broke out the wet wipes and cleaned as best we could, changed clothes and crashed out for an hour of sleep.

 

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And here you can see more of the same textures in the solid basalt.

 

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Sunrise and almost back to the camp and the same texture again.

 

After another stellar breakfast we were back in the cars negotiating the hellish route back to the main road. The return drive over the basalt field was brutal, hot, slow and neck ache inducing. But this time the drivers were driving sensibly and could see where they were going so it was nowhere near the ordeal of the previous night. After a while we made it past the basalt fields to the fine silt of the desert where it was amateur hour all over again.

 

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We were feed very well during the tour.

 

The desert is made up more of silt than sand so old vehicle tracks invariably get covered over with the hot desert wind. So the drivers head south to the highway following random tracks where possible and their nose the rest of the time until they eventually hit the tar. The desert winds kicked up and we found ourselves driving through a sand storm with very little visibility and we were worried about the cars getting separated.

We had a few minor boggings that we had managed to pretty swiftly extricate ourselves from with some quick digging and pushing, with even the guide chipping in from time to time. I think the heat and lack of sleep had increased his drive to get back to Mekele, although it had the opposite effect on the Spaniards who slept in the air-conditioned car as we toiled. Just when Mick and I were near stuffed our 4WD got bogged again. It was a significant bulldust hole that even a car with decent tyres could easily get stuck in. Mick who’d assumed the bulk of the vehicle extrication work was utterly destroyed and could scarcely bring himself to get out of the car. I went and checked out the extent of it and was finally worried.

We were bogged in deep rutted bulldust up to the chassis. The stakes were higher today than the day previous as everyone was hot and fatigued, we had lost the third 4WD with the broken tie rod, we were down to about six 1.5 litre bottles of water for 10 people (one of them very sick and a few of us working hard), and to top things off the two crappy nylon tow ropes had been snapped and retied so many times they more resembled a multi coloured frayed mess of knots that one finds washed up on a beach. While it was only mid morning, it was already sweltering and things were only going to get hotter. We couldn’t afford to be stuck here for long.

So while we were waiting for the lead driver to realise we were no longer following and come back to assist with the recovery, we figured we best start digging. ‘Where is the shovel?’ I asked the guide. Turns out our primary vehicle extrication tool, the humble shovel, was still in the broken vehicle that was left abandoned on the basalt. Mick wanted to throttle him… incidentally that is where the last of the water stores were as well.

After a lot of pushing and digging with empty water bottles with the ends cut off, we eventually managed to get the car out of its dust trap. In doing so they snapped the shitty nylon ropes a couple more times, the last time after the bogged vehicle had been pulled out of the dust hole but the driver turned left whereas the pulling driver turned right… you don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to know a rope between 2 vehicles travelling in different directions might break. The drivers were so incompetent and the repaired tow ropes so damaged there was now only one usable piece that was so short it was only a matter of time before something really stupid happened like they crashed into each other.

While pushing the car out I lost my shoes in the sand so had to search for them. By the time I found and dug them out, wouldn’t you know it, the second car with its half insane erratic chat addicted buffoon of a driver is GONE. He gathered up the snapped rope and just drove off into the dust storm. WHAT THE F_@K! Until this point we had dealt with considerable patience/disbelief with the level of ineptitude we had never thought possible. But now I was feeling distinctly homicidal.

The Spaniards later informed us that they had yelled at him for leaving and tried to get him to turn around but the nutter was adamant we would find them. The logical thing for us to do would have been to stay put and wait for him to return while hoping like anything he didn’t get bogged in the process. But our driver started driving off into the dust storm in our bald tyred bogging wagon to look for him. We gave the guy an ear full to stop and phone the nutter… This is Africa, there is phone service everywhere after all.

By the time our driver found the right number and they had yelled at each other for a while, they had the inevitably fruitless conversation of how to find each other in the desert without a GPS, vision in the dust storm, landmarks in the desert, compass or common sense. ‘WHERE ARE YOU!!!’ ‘I’m in the desert driving through dust past that pile of sand on the left, right next to the sand on the right, with more sand in front, where are you?’ We had our GPS with us recording our tracks so we could always navigate back to the highway, it was just whether it could be done without getting stuck that was in doubt. Eventually the dust storm cleared enough that we saw the car driving around a couple hundred metres from us, we met up and the guide and the other driver yelled a lot while Mick and I sat SEETHING in the backseat. We again realised that we struggle to travel with people that don’t have a similar risk profile as us.

We were simply not at all accustomed to dealing with such levels of incompetence in such a harsh environment. In Australia and in our former line of work, going out in a desert is a serious business. We are indoctrinated to have a more than healthy respect for heat, water scarcity and remoteness. One does not forget the shovel. One does not forget the water. One doesn’t act like a muppet. This drive to and from Erta Ale, where nothing drastic actually eventuated, was rather frustrating for us as a result. We weren’t upset about unbogging vehicles it is just that it was all so avoidable. Some people might have found it an ‘adventure’ – we saw it as unnecessary bullshit.

 

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Salt works building by the lake

 

After eventually hitting the tar we travelled to Lake Afrera to experience its hypersaline waters. It was interesting to see more modern salt mining practices around the lake. At these operations the briney water is pumped into large artificial plastic lined ponds where it is evaporated leaving the salt to precipitate. After putting away a meal and a bunch of cold cokes we in the cars on our way back to Mekele and the tour was officially over.

 

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We didn’t swim as we weren’t keen to expose our scratched legs from our midnight climb in a lava field to the 37% salt waters of Lake Afrera.

 

Despite our aforementioned frustrations, the tour of Danakil was a huge highlight of all our travels in Africa. It was certainly worth the expense of the trip as there is simply nowhere on Earth like it. I would certainly recommend it to anyone considering doing the tour. Even for those without the slightest interest in geology (you poor miserable souls) the Danakil Depression holds massive appeal in terms of extremes of the environment the unique sights to behold. It is a true wonder of the natural world and should be seen by anyone who can swing it. Avoid doing it in summer.

One Comment on “The Geologists’ Nirvana of the Danakil Depression – PART 2

  1. Thank you for another fantastic report of your journey. Your writing is so vivid, I am quite content to visit this place only vicariously!

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