The Danakil – Part 2

Posted: October 2, 2011 in Africa Orbital
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Darren Writes 30/09/11. Pics by Darren

It was just after 5 pm or 11 o’clock, Ethiopian time. An hour and a half before dark and 6km lay between us and a camp from where we could climb Arta Ale, or more importantly a place to get water, shelter and rest. With little more energy than before that which we had before we had stopped to rest beneath our bikes and with the heat radiating from the volcanic rocks, maintaining mid 40 degree winds, it was hard to get up, pack and traverse the final stretch of the former volcanic flow. Out of breath before even sitting atop our bikes, the next 6 km took us an hour of determined battle. But determined we were and our battle bought us to our base camp.

The Afar dont carry mobile phones...

We were greeted by the few locals there and then crashed (not with the motorbike this time) in a stone walled, grass roofed hut. Well water from 25km away, or camel water, as they called it, was gladly received and gulped down but more was needed and more wasn’t available and so we slept. The following morning was spent negotiating the cost for a camel and a guide and as time passed, so did the rising sun. We then made the decision to climb the 12 km in the late afternoon and rested through until then. Unfortuatly, we had food enough, that day, for one meal and so Russ heated a tin of beans which was mixed up with some ‘rock’ bread and back to our rest mats we laid.

Fuming Arta ale

With guide, camel and camel driver, we were set to climb up to the lake of magma. I found myself dizzy after just a few steps and was aware I hadn’t recovered from the heat exhaustion. I was even concerned of something more serious, but with what the goal was before us, no matter the struggle, I had nothing else but determination to achieve the experience of looking down into an active volcano.  With frequent rests, we continued on and then Russ found himself in difficulty as his energy had also depleted. Just 12 Km took us an incredible 5 hours to climb. Nether the less, we made it. We made it to the top and to a place to camp for the night and from there we could see the red vapours of Arta Ale. An hour of further rest and then the last short trek to the crater, we ventured. All of the exhaustion and hard work, our risk of travelling thorough the Danakil without armed escorts and permits were forgotten as we peered down intoa bubbling mass of Lava just meters beneath us. Black crusts of solidifying rock were pierced and stretched by the supper heated molten rock that belonged to the depths of the earth. Bubbling, spitting and swirling of masses of red were certainly a sight like no other and to be so close, feeling the burning heat and smelling the noxious sulphur, was a spectacular assault to our senses and an experience unlikely to be easily equalled. We had made it! And it was worth it!

Inside a volcanoe! wish the pic was as impressive as the experience

A few hours of sleep and then our decent as the sun rose. We packed up and left before we would again become valuable to the heat. Our return across the lava rocks again exhausted us underthe burning sun and by 11am and only 6km travelled, we made shelter between our bikes and rested through till the following morning. The morning was given to finding the well we had heard of and after acquiring 2bottles of life saver; some Afar men came and demanded ridiculous amounts of money for the muddy water. We refused for what we had already got but had to leave without more. We knew, we were in no condition to progress north and so headed, south, towards the town of Lake Afrera where we could find food and water.

It was late morning and the sand plains were reasonably negotiable despite the heat and things were going well. I explained in the first part of this chapter that the Afar people were somewhat a hardened race. They are in fact, in general, a dislikeable, aggressive people and not hospitable towards tourists or even each other. Money, of course, can make persuasion, but cash was now something we had also become short of after our tour toArta Ale and was also going to be an issue with our next encounter.

West out of Danakil.. first village for 0ver 100 KM

Riding through the lonely plains we saw a pick up speeding towards us. It came to a stop and man carrying an Ak47 jumped out and stopped us. Then half a dozen men similarly equipped piled out of the back. Some were uniformed, so we understood it to be the police/ military, but they weren’t there for our support. ‘Permits?!’‘Where’s your escort? The first man barked. ‘Passports. Give me your passports!’ he continued to shout. We showed copies and despite his demands for our originals, we refused knowing how helpless we would be with them in his hands. He demanded that we were to go with them, north, to a military point but to his demands, I refused on the basis of insufficient fuel. It was a very uncomfortable moment as I knew that large sums of cash were the only out and that we had very little. We stood our ground not to go with them despite their aggressive persistence. Then a solution was made for one of the soldiers to escort us, south to Lake Afrera on the back of a truck that was passing. We were to follow. We followed but as it passed through some more difficult sections we would find alternative routes, at the same time allowing some space to lengthen between us. The soldier would at these times show us his gun and the truck would stop for us to catch up. Our plan was to make a break for it but our opportunity would be near to where we knew there to be a dirt road due west out of the Danakil. This break was about 30km away and gave us some time to allow the soldier to relax a little as we played the game of lagging behind and catching up. There were two things we didn’t want. One was to end up being detained by these aggressive Afar and secondly we wanted to avoid being shot at. We came to a rocky section near the point which we were planning to make our great escape.

The truck had stopped on a small hill and we started to creep by. The soldier beckoned us to stop but slowly we continued over the rocks as I illustrated it was difficult for us to stop there but we would at the brow. We slipped over the brow and were now out of sight. This was our chance. We knew the truck wouldn’t be able to match our speed and so we opened up and sped through the rocky section and found our track, west. We rode as fast as we could before we were reported and our worry of road blocks ahead eased as we realised how much of a back water route we were taking. As we rode as hard as we could we knew that weren’t quite ‘out of the woods’ (wish there were some woods though.. anything for some respite in the shade). Low on water and energy, the heat, exasperated by our work rate, continued to make us venerable to lapses in concentration and of course, worsening heat exhaustion. I couldn’t help thinking, though, it was still all worth it and that some of the greatest adventures do require hard work, discomfort and sometimes a risk of danger. Russ agreed Arta Ale was worth it and hard work had been something we had become accustomed to.

Afar wommen

We started to climb a rocky mountain range. Our route took us past a mining camp at which we stopped. We asked for water and were given ice cold bottles of the stuff by the Chinese manager. He also feed us which was defiantly a need met, almost as much as the replenishing liquid. Like a super charge pit stop, we felt fit to continue and though we never made it out of the mountains that night, we did find a beautiful little place to sleep under the stars and awake to stunning views. We also felt out of danger and were able to marvel as we reminisced our journey through Afar.

Wakey wakey Russ

Wakey wakey Russ

I’d like to say, had we haveknown of the difficulty and danger, we wouldn’t have undergone such a challenge unsupported but actually, we think that moment of peering into a breathing volcano was defiantly worth it. However, in respect, maybe if things had of gone wrong then it wouldn’t have been a good idea at all. In the end it was a fantastic adventure and an experience that will forever stay with us and, of course, one to be shared with our grandchildren. (If we ever have any)

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Comments
  1. Catrin T-J says:

    Oh my world guys, your write ups still have me on the edge of my seat!! Your experiences sound so incredible, although quite scary (i am a girl after all!!) and your photographs just awesome portraying your journey…I think you could sell the photos to Lonely Planet and they’d jump at the chance, some of theres Im sure just fall short to the things your seeing!! 🙂
    We also had a bit of sunshine recently, was well lush getting the flip flops out again, back in Coventry again now for year 2 and the winter coats have come out!! Boo!! Hope the heat is not too intense for you and your able to find shelter more often when you need it 🙂
    Really pray that you continue to stay safe and that God will lead and provide for you on every step…or ride!!
    Take care, big hugs to you both
    Curly Cat 🙂 xx

    • You write such nice messages.. Will post another blog when we get the chance. Things are a bit tricky here in Sudan at the mo so when we get thruogh this one i think we may have another aventure to tell. Pray for getting into and being in Saudi with bikes pls.. All the best to you.. Sorry cant write more but hope youre well &GBU.. D

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