Rachel - Danikil Depression: Dallol
31/01/2011 - 01/02/2011
We were allowed a warm breezy lie in while the car was rescued from the desert but we still had another packed day ahead to visit the very lowest point of the depression.
The depression used to be covered by sea water but now gets about 15cms of rain a year. Where the depression is lowest there is still a few centimetres of highly concentrated salt water and this coupled with sulphur gas escaping from beneath the surface and other mineral deposits makes for the strangest landscape.
We drove out to the Dalol lake across miles and miles of salt flats - i've never stood in anything so flat and empty, if it werent for some distant mountains on one side the world would have been divided impossibly neatly into two halves - one dome of sky above our heads and the other a map of small, white rimmed, hegagonal crusted salt pools decreasing in size to the horizon in every direction. It reminded me a little of that scene in The Matrix in the training program before they build the world.
We eventually stop the cars at what seemed more like a big rocky pile of earth which we climbed for it to flatten out to what must have been an abandoned star trek set! Clusters of gypsum mushrooms/lilly-pads/felled tree trunks and enormous "termite mounds" of mineral deposits; I was expecting a painted monster to appear any minute from behind one of these towers to throw a polystyrene rock at me
While Dave, Aida and I examined all the weird sights, devising and posing for pictures, we were hurried on by our driver to climb the next hill. Almost in mid sentence reminding him that for us this was all new and we wanted to make the most o.... Oh! That's what you wanted us to see. Imagine someone had played around with the colours of your TV - what we saw was a bright green lake, a yellow and white shore as if someone had draped the place in giant fried eggs and an unnatural orangey red earth beyond. As the sulphur bubbles through the earth into the salty pools and dries it changes colour from egg yolk yellow, to orange to red (someone explain this to me) and the salts pools stay white. It's seriously mental. Although surprisingly quickly your mind adapts to the new environment, I had cycles of "hmm, okay, a green lake and pools of bubbling orange crusted hot springs, fine...NO, woooooah, wait, that's mental!" We walked around the green lake and found more and more bizzare mineral formations at every turn.
After we were dragged away from this place and back in the cars we drove back across the salt flats to find the place where the Afar people "mine" salt by chipping away slabs from the crusty sandy surface. The slabs are loaded onto camels and they walk for a week back to Mekele, surviving on dry biscuits. In the middle of all the expanse of flats we drove up to a 100 or so strong group of men at various stages of crouching on the ground slicing and tidying slab after slab of salty sand, bundling the slabs with rope and loading them on none to happy camels. All you could hear was groaning animals and chip chip chip chip. I wonder about the state of their hands given all that salt. And what do they think of these occasional cars who turn up to unload a few amazed white people in funny clothes to stare at them for 15 minutes before being whisked away?
And whisked away we were, back onto the flat and to Lake Asale which isnt really a lake but an ocean of "ice". dried salt has turned the surface into a perfectly flat white sheet that looks just like ice. Except for a growing spot on the horizon gets larger and larger and two islands appear as a focus. There's nothing really to see, just to *be* there is the point, and strangely the islands make the starkness and white of the salt sheet all the more imposing. I left everyone on one side and walked around and on the other side of the rock was almost total silence apart from the strange crystaline high ringing sound of the surface being broken as i walked on it, also just like ice. Someone had chipped a hole in the surface sand/salt and revealed perfectly clear water beneath. Later we were given the okay to taste it and it was saturated salt water. Bleugh
I could have stayed there for hours just to enjoy the experience of being in the middle of something so empty but back in the cars we went and made the journey back to camp and then the looooong journey back to Mekele to reflect on the trip.
There aren't enough exclamation marks in the world to explain how those 4 days felt.