Crater Expectations
Condé Nast Traveller India|June - July 2018
Crater Expectations

On holiday in Ethiopia, writer and anthropologist Sonia Nazareth finds that you really get to know yourself outside of your comfort zone

Sonia Nazareth

Even as we make our way to the gurgling volcanoes and psychedelic wilderness of Danakil Depression in Ethiopia, we know we won’t get the most sanguine welcome. This geological depression, part of the East African Rift Valley, is a fierce, inhospitable host. Here, in one of the hottest places on Earth, temperatures can reach 50°C. Then, the road to get here from Mekele generates the feeling of being shaken vigorously in a large container—in this case, our 4WD. A condition not improved by the dust swirling about us.

Grubby and sore, we arrive at the campsite in Hamedala. There’s no running water for a bath, no toilet at all. Flies make every effort to annoy us into leaving. There’s barely a bush thick enough in this flat, arid landscape to shield our modesty. After some persuasion, the camp manager proffers a tiny tin bucket bearing brackish water for a wash under the stars.

Despite our initial qualms, I revere the Danakil desert. Light years away from mass tourism, it is honest to the core. Nothing morphs to appease you. There’s no hotel or mall vying for your attention, no restaurant or gastro-pub begging for a post on Instagram. Rather the place pushes you to adjust.

The beloved and I made the journey here for Erta Ale. Lovingly referred to as the Smoking Mountain, this active volcano has been continuously erupting since 1968, and is home to one of the world’s few permanent lava lakes. Climb during the day and you’ll be fried to a crisp. So, to witness this fiery cauldron, we undertake the Sisyphean challenge of the night trek, 15km uphill.

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June - July 2018