After saying goodbye to Patricia and Loes I am alone again with Myrthe and Chris, but not for long: I go on a trip to the south to sleep on the edge of a volcano, according to many a must-see in Ethiopia, so that’s why I book a trip to Mekelle a city in the north.
My first evening in Mekelle
I haven’t booked my trip yet, so the first thing I do when I arrive on Monday is to book and pay for my trip to the volcano. You can do this at the office. They pick me up at my hotel by car. A driver arrives, I get in and not much later I booked and paid for my trip for the next three days.
My driver asks if he wants to take me back to my hotel at three o’clock in the afternoon. Not really,’ I say truthfully and he suggests having lunch together. Since I have nothing better to do than hang out in my hotel room, I go with him.
He brings me to a very nice lunch tent and we eat Shiro and Injera, the traditional food of Ethiopia. After that he brings me back to my hotel, but he wants to pick me up again in the evening for a drink in the nice streets with bars that I have already spotted on the way.
I’m not going out on my own in the evening, but it’s fine with him as he’s also a driver on ETT tours, where I booked, so he can’t make me that much. I feel safe. We meet at half past seven, because ‘then we can take a shower,’ he says. With emphasis on showering what he repeats several times.
I get the feeling that he understands that many ‘ferenji’ as the Ethiopians call foreigners, have told him that not every Ethiopian smells equally good and he makes it clear that he is different. He also asks if I can come out at the hotel, because of course he can’t come in – but he doesn’t say the latter.
When I get into his car at half past seven it smells completely of his perfume. It is clear: he has had a shower and put on perfume.
Bars of Mekelle
That evening we explore the bars of Mekelle, which is great fun. I even see young Ethiopian girls walking in jeans. Mekelle feels safer, younger and freer than Addis somehow. Eventually I end up in a bar where I teach a number of Ethiopians the macarena, half a pizza, lots of beer and a few shots with tequila. And he tells me at a dance where everyone lets go that it’s a song from the army, which makes dancing to it feel strange to me, but that may be nonsense, but well, in short, to make a long story short, it’s a nice evening.
Kiss at the hotel
On the way back in the car to my hotel he stops and tries to kiss me. I saw this coming, of course, but I’m a little too old for this kind of thing – we haven’t discussed our ages at all, but I guess I’m at least a few years older than him – and I reject him. Which makes him angry. He demands money. I don’t even know exactly why, but with six euros – especially since I haven’t paid all evening – I let him go. Then – fortunately – I never see him again.
Trip to the volcano
The next day I am picked up at nine o’clock to start my three-day trip in a car. We are in a 4×4 car and we go out with three cars. I have two (older) French people and an Argentinian boy in a car. A nice group.
We arrive in a base camp at the bottom of the volcano after hours of driving through the desert. Here we see dozens of adults and children living. The guide tells us that many of them are nomads who can survive thanks to food aid from the government, but that there is no school for them. We are not far from the Eritrean border.
The children on the way beg or wave to us. More than a few tourists don’t come here. The Chinese do build a road, but according to the guide it can take at least four years before the road is finished. So it takes us more than seven hours to get to the volcano.
Arriving there – in the base camp – which is very dirty, we eat and then we walk to the edge of the volcano. It is a three hour walk which I like to do, but then we smell a rotten egg smell a few hundred meters from the volcano. Not to do. And here we go to sleep. The camels have brought our mattresses to the sleeping place and we are given a sleeping bag. Luckily I have my own sleeping bag and I crawl into it, but not after fifteen minutes at the edge of the volcano.
It’s disappointing or actually, as many people said: there’s only smog to be seen. In 2017 lava was still visible, but it hasn’t been active for the last few years. If you’re lucky you can just see a bit of lava, but we’re not lucky tonight and I’m going to sleep, because we get up at five to see the sunrise.
Personally I’m a bit fed up with the sunrises, I’ve seen a lot of them already, many of them ‘failed’, so I think so, but I get up at five o’clock. We sit at the edge of the volcano for two hours and see the sun rise, but still there is a large part behind the clouds again. Again we only see smog.
Why am I doing this? Sleeping in the smog can’t be good and the sunrise is not special. Luckily the group of thirty tourists with Australians, Koreans, Argentines, Indians and French is very sociable.
Special to visit a vulcano
The Indian who is there also tells us how special it is that we are standing near this volcano – which is clearly necessary, because it is a little bit of a disappointment that we don’t see lava. He tells us that there are not many volcanoes in the world that are still active and that this is the only one where you can get so close. If there is a lava gushing then you have to be two kilometers away and you don’t see that much. He also tells us that it is unclear what will happen to this volcano. It is possible that the lava will sink further away and become less active, but you never know for sure.
It would be ironic that when the Chinese road is finished in four years time there will be a road to a volcano that is no longer active. That is a road to ‘nothing’.
After the sun has risen we walk back and say goodbye to four Australians with whom I walked all night and morning. With ‘my car’ and two other cars we continue to the hot spring and a salt lake.
This is wonderful, because we didn’t have a shower and so we can more or less wash ourselves. The salt lake is similar to the dead sea, you float on salt, and the hot spring is a small water where you can rinse off the salt. Delicious!
Then we go on to a guesthouse where we sleep. I fear the worst after the stories of the Australians that they slept outside, but sleep in a cute guesthouse with a courtyard where we eat and drink. And we sleep on mattresses on the floor in dormitories – a luxury compared to the night before.
The Koreans, a Polish girl and the Argentinean are still going to walk, but the other ten – including me – are going to sleep well. The next day the Korean girl tells me that her Protestanian mother never allows her to drink, so this really feels like going loose for her.
In addition, they (the Koreans, the Polish and the Argentineans) also had to chew on khat all day long, which made them (slightly) under the influence. Kath is a drug, it looks like green leaves, on which you chew. If you chew longer it feels like a drug.
I tried it myself, but it feels like chewing leaves – whatever it is. Everyone says I should chew more and longer, but I left it at that.
In Jibouti everyone seems to be even more addicted to cath. In Ethiopia there are only a few cities where it is very popular. In Jibouti, public life is almost over by three o’clock in the afternoon because the majority is on the cath. They don’t eat dinner, because it takes away your hunger. I hear these stories from a Canadian who was there just last week and the French who is in my car and has lived in Jibouti for three years.
Last day, Danakil Depression
Then there is the last day with the highlight: the Danakil Depression. This is a lake of salt combined with an area that mixes silver, salt and other chemicals that make it look like mars. With green lakes, yellow, orange and small spouting holes with water. It is special to see. I have never seen anything like that in my life.
The Canadian who is with me says he has seen it before in New Zealand, but you couldn’t walk on it. There you walked over planks and had to see it from further away. Well, I can’t deny that I did have the feeling to ruin the area because we walked through it. Although there are not many tourists, it can not be good for the preservation of the area.
The guide is good and tells that there are two companies, one of which is German, that use the minerals to make agricultural land more fertile. These companies are two kilometres away, because they drill underground and do not need to be near the lakes.
We still pass salt lakes and salt mountains in the neighbourhood, but it doesn’t fall into the Danakil Depression. Among other things we see how the salt is chopped into pieces and how local people use donkeys to bring the salt to the city. The day before the guide explains that this is to help the local people and donkeys, because it is no longer really necessary to use the local people, but if they don’t do it the local people don’t have an income and the donkeys will die, because they don’t have any use anymore. I don’t think the latter is a strong argument. When I see the donkeys I don’t have the impression that they love life and you could take care of a good life for the donkeys. Now you make sure that young donkeys are used over and over again for something that is no longer efficient, but I leave it at that and say nothing about it.
Back in Mekelle
The last day another driver also took care of me and I get a note from him with his number. Call me tonight,’ it says. With his name (Abi) and number. I leave it there and go with a Canadian in his sixties to the same guesthouse. Together we drink a beer and a bottle of wine. Then I go to bed. Sleeping.