Having heard about this place, having seen photos, it still didn’t prepare me for the sulphur springs of Dallol. For days now we have traveled through the Danakil Depression, an area without colour (or it must be the glowing lava of the Erta Ela volcano at night). Everything here is bleak, black, grey, sandy coloured. The huts we have seen are light brown, blending in well, and in any case, the little colour that may have existed has long ago been covered in dust, from passing cars, or from the ferocious wind that all too often blows across the desert.
Not so in Dallol. After having crossed the totally flat, dry salt lake, we reach a hillier area, which turns out to be mostly brownish and grayish salt, eroded in the most bizarre forms, it looks. But once we reach the top of the slope, the other side turns out to be a screaming explosion of colour, a landscape of sulphur springs, white mounds, yellow, orange and reddish deposits, with small blue and green ponds in between. Astonishing, really, one cannot imagine a bigger contrast.
Walking around here, initially a little uneasy, on the darker parts of the surface, which somehow seem stronger, is a whole new experience. Everywhere are little, sometimes larger, fountains splashing hot water; when we come closer we can hear the water boiling underneath the surface; steam is coming off the more violent springs. Many of the vents that have formed on the surface have a white cone of fibrous sulphur around them. It is almost a crime to walk here, and to destroy this delicate process of creation (but then I remember the salt miners, and I don’t feel so bad anymore, about my own destructive influence). I could spend the whole day here, in awe – but it is actually pretty hot from the combined forces of earth and sun.
A little further north salt occurs in yet another form, as enormous salt mountains in which steep valleys have been eroded by rain water. In detail, many of the salt surfaces have eroded further, and sharp spines have been formed along them. Under normal circumstances this would be a phenomenal natural feature, but after the sulphur springs, well, just nice.
Equally entertaining, perhaps, is that we have to be preceded by the soldiers that have been specially added to our entourage today. We are quite close, perhaps 10 km, from the border with Eritrea. Since a group of British tourists were abducted here in 2007, allegedly by Eritreans, every tourist must have a military escort of two soldiers – at its usual costs, of course. But it must be said, they are taking their job seriously, and every time we get out of the car, the soldiers survey the terrain, walk ahead to clear any potential obstacles, and “secure the perimeter”. What they would do against anything more than an accidentally lost Eritrean soldier, I don’t know, though.
next: the way back