The incredible Erta Ale lava lake
Erta Ale is something else entirely. I seriously doubt there’s a more primeval, raw permanent example of the Earth’s volcanic forces than this utterly awe-inspiring place, anywhere in the world. Erta Ale is one of only a couple of permanent lava lakes in the world, and probably the only accessible one at present (the other, at Virunga National Park in eastern Congo (formerly Zaire) is affected by civil war and out-of-bounds to tourists at present, while tourists can’t walk up to the edge of the two on Kilauea volcano in Hawaii for a look inside. although of course the point where the lava flows into the ocean is a famous tourist draw).
The fact that Erta Ale lies in an extremely remote and inhospitable place (statistically the hottest place on earth) makes visiting it an even more unforgettable experience. There are no handrails, no marked footpaths to be kept to, and no park rangers blowing whistles if anyone gets too close to the edge. You’re free to stand right on the lip of the crater and goggle at the ovoid lake of molten lava just 20 meters below, its congealing surface constantly cracking as the liquid rock beneath forces its way through, while sprays of molten rock burst out of a cave on the far side of the crater like a geyser.
The crater and lake at dawn
Outside Abuma Yemata Geh rock-hewn Church
Climbing up to the church
Abuma Yehmata Geh church is cut into the pillar on the right
The final approach to the church
It’s less than an hour from the end of the 4-wheel-drive track to the fabulous rock-hewn church of Abuma Yemata Geh in Ethiopia, but what an hour! This incredibly perched place, carved into the side of a huge, vertical pillar of rock, would be a wonder in any country (although tourists would never be allowed to make the dodgy climb up there in many), but in Ethiopia, where the jaw-dropping physical location is complemented by a fairly remote and utterly spectacular setting, fascinating people, and a way of life (and worship) that feels as though it belongs to a time in the far distant past, the trip to Abuma Yemata Geh is probably one of the most extraordinary, fascinating, and occasionally terrifying couple of hours I’ve spent in my life! Continue reading
Gelada baboon at Chennek
Final descent to Chennek, day 3
Walia ibex at Chennek
The summit of Inatye (4,070 meters), the highest point of our four-day hike
Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, the Otter Trail, Toubkal: Africa has some incredible hiking; sad to say I’ve done none of them yet (although I did make it half way up Toubkal many years ago). Add to that list the Simian Mountains in Ethiopia. Ethiopia doesn’t immediately spring to mind as prime hiking country, yet although well-known these days for the incredible rock-hewn churches of Lalibela (a popular candidate for the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’) and as the alleged site of the Arc of the Covenant (said to contain the Ten Commandments: remember it from the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc?), it has two world-class trekking destinations. Continue reading