Ethiopian Gastronomic Journey in Belgium I

Flemish Regional Delight 1

Food is a key to open the gate, on a delicious path way into another culture. My Ethiopian wanderlust takes me to a whole new world, yet again to explore and learn. Belgium is the destination and food is the tour guide into this rich culture and history.

To be specific and to take on my food adventure one detail at a time, FLEMISH REGIONAL DELIGHTS and CLASSICS which usually can be found on many local restaurant menus, gave me an exciting direction to start.

Of course for many people including me, the two world’s best treats jump to mind at the mention of Belgium: Chocolate and Beer. Obviously my gastronomic journey in Belgium instantly made me to realize that there is more to it.

Little local eateries where locals hangout is always my first choice to taste authenticity. For certain dishes, I was blessed enough to experience home cooking at typical Flemish household – Belgian food cooked with passion and love by a lovely family. I don’t know if I can get any closer to this rich culture than this.

As much as I believe Traveling expands your horizon, I am also an avid advocate that you don’t really need to actually go anywhere to learn about another culture. As I also love being transported into another world through travel books, cook books and travel shows.

While learning about another culture through food, ironically it seem, but I discover more about myself and the culture I grew up in. Ethiopian dishes are more inclined towards legumes, grains, certain vegetables and spices. Usually the spicier and the hotter the better for many Ethiopian taste palate.

As an Ethiopian, my taste bud is accustomed to earthy, spicy, sourish and very hot rather than very rich and creamy which I am actually experiencing here in Europe and which can be overwhelming at times. Obviously certain dishes I can’t really try like Chicory Ham Roll, because as an Ethiopian Orthodox religion devotee, Pork is not allowed to eat.

Of course when opportunities present themselves like this – actually be in Belgium in this case – I grab it fervently and try to be as present as possible to let the experience pass through me, leaving it’s cherished mark behind so I can always carry it with me and sharing it with the world in honoring my passion.

As a lover of caressing divine details, I couldn’t resist the temptation of visiting the chocolate museum in Brugge. The mesmerizing details and history behind this world’s delicious treat – from cacao beans to chocolate – nourished my soul as much as an extremely good Belgian Chocolate would.

Another museum also dedicated to another gastronomic symbol of Belgium – Frites. Many of us knows this particular treat as French Fries, however the general idea which the name possibly indicates can be changed instantly after an authentic experience in Belgium – a land from where it is claimed to be originated.

After visiting Friet Museum in Brugge, which beautifully caress the details and the origin of Belgian French Fries. After being at one of the local friture, which usually occupied by the locals and of course after savoring twice fried, perfectly crisp, full of flavor, comforting and aromatic friets cut into the size of lady finger and smothered with rich homemade mayonnaise as Belgians would… I couldn’t help to believe that Belgians owns it indeed.

Sea Food is also an important part of Belgian cuisine as Belgium borders the sea. As an Ethiopian Sea Food is a whole new world to discover, it is not only because Ethiopia has been a landlocked country for the past 26 years, but also Ethiopian cuisine doesn’t really incorporate sea food except certain kind of fish usually Telapia from its great rift valley lakes dotted along the southern part of the country, Lake Tana and other lakes scattered around the country.

So on top of indulging my curiosity with Rick Stein’s Seafood Odyssey, I happily seized the opportunity to immerse myself on the sea food culture in Belgium.

Flemish Regional Delight 8

Mussels and prawns are popular and I was fortunate enough to enlighten my taste palate with home cooked hearty mussels by my Belgian husband. It made me feel like, I tasted the sea. The white wine in which the mussels cooked in and the parsley gave it another dimension.

Flemish Regional Delight 9

I learn different kinds of sauces are integral parts of Belgian cuisines. The green sauce that Belgians are known for is on top of my favorite list. What makes it even more interesting is the 12 herbs it is made of and the story behind it.

Paling in ‘t Groen (Eels in Green Sauce) is one of Flemish regional delights. Legend has it, this was one of the favorite dishes of Emperor Charles V. The very devout catholic Emperor insisted that 12 different kind of herbs being used in preparing this dish, 12 herbs representing each apostle.

The combination of different kinds of herbs – Mint, Parsley, springs of tarragon, Basil, Sage, Watercress, Chervil, Lemon balm, Sorrel, Bay leaf, Savory and Nettle (now replaced by Spinach) – gives it deep green color.

The smooth texture, greenish and earthy flavor in combination with perfectly cooked Eels, was divinely delicious.

P1040405

Smakelijk! And Dank uwel! – are two words, a traveler in a gastronomic journey in Belgium would quickly pick up.

To Be Continued…

Posted in Ethiopia, Food, Food Travel, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

FILSETA: Ethiopian Feast Of Saint Mary The Virgin

Flseta Ethiopian Assumption Day 1

Ethiopian Orthodox religion devotees, commemorates a day which worldwide known as Assumption day, by fasting for 15 days (August 7 -21) which locally know as Tsome Filseta.

It is on the 16th day (August 22,2017), devotees break the fasting by a traditional feast with family and friends in the morning  after attending a soul nourishing and mesmerizing church service usually held throughout the night revering Saint Mary The Virgin.

 

The day is also celebrated by unique Ethiopian tradition known as Ashenda.

Happy Holidays!

 

Posted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Events, Holidays, Religous Holiday, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Bird Watching In Ethiopia I

Bird Watching In Ethiopia 1

The landscape of Ethiopia is surprisingly diverse as being one of the countries from the horn of Africa.

The land of Ethiopia hosts from lush grass land, savanna, forest to desert. This diversity brings out abundance in bird life and made Ethiopia one of the 10 places for birding from Africa.

Ethiopia supports 850 spices and 37 endemic and near endemic birds which puts Ethiopia in the second place succeeding South Africa.

Bird Watching In Ethiopia 2

The roof top of Africa –Ethiopia – is home to the highest mountain range in the continent. This magnificent creation of nature is not only feast for the eye, but also a convenient arena for the skillful, gracious and bearded vulture (Gypaetus Barbatus), also known as The Lammergeier.

A soul enticing spectacle Ethiopia hosts by The Lammergeier  – hovering above spectacular mountain range, patiently waiting for the scavengers clean out the bone, picking the bone swiftly, flying so high, looking for the sharpest rock, drop the bone, crush into pieces, softly landing and picking out the bone marrow.

Sundering the mountains is the great rift valley cuts through Ethiopia starting from Turkey is dotted with beautiful lakes like lake Hawassa, Zway, Shala and Langano to name the few.

Lakes which most supports different kinds of birds and indeed beautiful spots to witness outstanding spectacle of water birds in Ethiopia and the harmonies co-existence between animals and human.

Bird Watching In Ethiopia 3Bird Watching In Ethiopia 4

The capital city of Africa – Addis Ababa – still hosts quite a bit of birds in spite of the fact slowly turning into concrete jungle. Mingling with ordinary pigeons, The White – collared Pigeon – one of the beautiful endemic birds, which can only be spotted in Ethiopia and Eriteria. Either for an enthusiast birders or nature lovers, this particular bird most probably raise the curtain for the most fascinating bird life show in Ethiopia, on your first arrival in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia is a unique place where you can go back in time – where donkeys are beloved means of transportation, camels are desert ships, salt is being mined traditionally, fields are plowed by oxen, cattle are part of a family, and homes being constructed by plants collected from nearby so does bird’s nest – soul enlightening scene.

Bird Watching In Ethiopia 5Bird Watching In Ethiopia 6

Ethiopia is a warm vacation place for Palearctic migrants coming from all parts of the world – Asia north of Himalayas, Europe, Northern Arabia, and Africa north of Sahara: Old world Holarctic. While boreal winter pervades other parts of the world, the sun keeps shining in Ethiopia to make it the best time of year for birders and nature enthusiast alike.

Bird Watching In Ethiopia 7Bird Watching In Ethiopia 8

Ethiopia is the land of beauty. It is not only the landscape, the diversity, culture, history and the people that screams out beauty, it’s also proud owner of extremely beautiful, the world’s most sought after bird – The Spectacular Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco.

When it comes to birding, Ethiopia is considered one of the most convenient places in the world to easily see many species of birds. The beautiful Arabian Bustard (Jacques Erard), Von der Decken’s Hornbill – one of many northeast African endemics, The Lammergeier and so many more.

Bird Watching In Ethiopia 9

For further information about Bird watching in Ethiopia and horn of Africa, I suggest the following three books.

Birding Ethiopia: I must say this particular book is more than a birding guide book for people who are planning to visit Ethiopia, it is also beautifully and thoughtfully designed to people who just want to be transported into another place from the comfort of their home.

 

Where to Watch Birds in Ethiopia: Another detailed guide book to the best birding sites in Ethiopia. One of the authors being an Ethiopian – Merid Gabremichael – is a definite plus as it gives an interesting feeling of being guided by a local.

 

Birds of the Horn of Africa: This book is for birders and ornithologists alike and covers not only Ethiopia but the horn of Africa.

 

 

As the first installment, this particular post is only a welcoming entry into The Bird Paradise – Ethiopia – which leads to a closer look at the Endemics and near endemics which I am blessed to witness, coming up on the next installment of Bird Watching in Ethiopia II.

Bird Watching In Ethiopia 10

For the love of Birds!

Posted in Addis Ababa, Africa, Birds, Book, Ethiopia, Photo Essay, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Ethiopian Coffee: Little piece of Home

As an Ethiopian, to experience a little piece of home, making Ethiopian traditional coffee and roasted sweet corn for finding more comfort from home while living abroad is the best way to go.

While having coffee in Luxembourg, I couldn’t help to contemplate a profound saying which resonates with my soul like it has never been before. The author of The Man Within My Head, Pico Iyer says, “…home lies in the things you carry with you everywhere and not the ones that tie you down.”

Ethiopian Coffee and sweet corn

Being Ethiopian is finding home in Coffee!

Posted in Coffee, Culture and Tradition, Ethiopia, Food Travel, Quote, Quote of the day, snack, Travel, Travel and Tourism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Difo Dabo: Ethiopian Holiday Staple

It is that time of year again to be carried away by the smell of warming, earthy and fresh baking bread coming out from almost every Ethiopian house hold … waking up our sense of smell, spurring memories and filling us with Holiday spirit.

difo-dabo-ethiopian-christmas-1

Although, the creamy, sweet, rich and vibrant Christmas cake I had almost two weeks ago in Bruges, Belgium on Christmas day is the opposite of Ethiopian holiday bread, but strangely enough lead me down to memory lane…

christmas-cake

Walking through my neighborhood where I could see smoke coming out from households which are built next to each other, people rushing from local market back to home holding either Ketema (grass), Koba (false banana leafs) or Chicken.

I smell burning wood, false banana leafs, roasting coffee beans, baking Injera and bread while passing through the narrow lane – that is what I call Holiday Spirit as an Ethiopian.

difo-dabo-ethiopian-christmas-2

One section on shopping list for many Ethiopian holiday celebration usually would be all natural, healthy and simple ingredients for baking Difo Daba.

Picking up whole wheat grain from the market for family who enjoys traditional way of baking Difo Dabo – which is my favorite and I must say worth the long processes of making Ye Sinde Difo Dabo (whole wheat bread) as the end result is originally delicious and healthy.

difo-dabo-ethiopian-christmas-3

Because of the fascinating Ethiopian calendar, it is on Tahesas 29, 2009 (January 7, 2017) that Ethiopia celebrate Christmas.  While I am experiencing my first winter here in Europe, my heart keeps going back home to celebrate Warm Ethiopian Christmas Holiday – Leddet (Genna).

difo-dabo-ethiopian-christmas-4

Happy Ethiopian Christmas!

Posted in Addis Ababa, Christmas, Ethiopia, Food, Food Travel, Holidays, Photo Essay, Travel and Tourism | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Dallol: The Danakil Desert Adventure III

 

A highlight of Danakil Desert Adventure. Uninhabited region, roughly 130 meters  below sea level. Holds the official record for high average annual temperature of 35C . Dreamlike colorful wonderland of delicate masterpieces of sulfur that situates in the center of the explosion crater – Dallol – Kaleidoscopic, Whimsical and Transcendental

Dallol Danakil Desert 2

After witnessing spectacular sunset over Salt Lake – Lake Assale, we head back to Hamed Ela military camp to spend a night out in Danakil Desert. The military camp settled closer to Ethiopia and Eritrea border which seem like the edge of the world.

Small shelters built by assembled dry sticks and finished with straw mat as a roof top. The huts built closer to each other in the middle of the camp area. Wooden, woven beds set up outside around the huts in a circular form to keep us from possible windstorm in the evening while sleeping outside. An interesting detail of resourcefulness I noticed by being in a desert – putting things in circular form.

I remember while watching the sunset over Lake Assale, the drivers park the cars in circular form again for wind protection. They put portable little chairs within the circle. The chairs placed against the cars so that we sit inside a cocoon and enjoy little plastic cups of local red wine while they were entertaining us by cracking local tunes and dancing in the middle as a dance floor – enjoying present moment somewhere in Danakil Desert.

Before dinner at the camp, we provided with container of water to wash up our salty legs from waded in salt lake. Meron (Merry) was our amazing cook, who has been with the group cooking delicious local and western fares. Her energy and resourcefulness for cooking amazing dishes in this harsh environment was truly inspiring and definitely an affirmation that WOMEN ARE CAPABLE OF DOING ANYTHING .

A buffet set up outside and we enjoyed eating dinner out in a desert. Our guide gave us brief description for our next day adventure in Danakil Desert. Obviously after dinner, we were craving something cold to drink, so fortunately there was a military joint within the camp compound.

A fridge freezer cornered at the side of the first room which is built by an evenly assembled dry sticks. Long and thick wooden set up at every corner of the room as a bench. There were few chairs were  military members were sitting on and around small tables having local beer and relaxing. Within the next room there was big pool table were other military members playing around it.

We got ourselves slightly cold local beer and start interacting within a military bar somewhere in Danakil Desert. The group I was in for this adventure was a compilation of people who came from different parts of the country that one common interest brought us together at Danakil Desert.

WANDERLUST brought Israelis friends, Polish couples, Swiss women wanderer  amusing English guy, flexible Japanese guy, core hard traveler Japanese women, Belgian, Russian and American … all at the cradle of humanity: a region where 3.2 million – year – old hominid known as Dinknesh (Lucy) unearthed in 1974 – Afar, Ethiopia. The distance between countries seemed to lessen. A defining moment to rise way above ego (the false self) and to actually be able to see citizens of the universe gather at their great great great… grandmother’s home where it all begins – Ethiopia.

There was no toilet facilities at the military camp for the group to use. Bit further away from the military compound behind little stone hills was where we allowed to take care of nature’s call. Once again comfort in a desert is a state of mind. Another day had to come to an end without taking shower in Danakil Desert at Hamed Ela military camp. Feeling the wet wipe on my skin felt like heaven and actuated me to be present enough to appreciate a sacred experience of feeling all clean and fresh.

It was time to sleep. Thin, colorful and foamy mattresses laid up on the woven bed and sleeping bag. The evening was even warmer than the night we spent at a slope next to the volcano – Erta’ Ale. The sleeping bag did not come to be useful until the wind started to kick off after midnight. Letting go the illusion of sense of security, putting trust on strangers and the universe … was another profound life lesson I obtained while sleeping out in Danakil Desert under pitch black sky with sparking stars.

After a short night, we were awoken by a flashlight and a wake up call coming from our guide 5 in the morning. Sunrise above silvery horizon over Hamed Ela. The camel caravans were already started their journey back to the salt mine looking all energized and this time without loads of salt cubes as it is the double backing journey from Berhale to harvest salt. We had amazing breakfast at the same spot we had dinner. After breakfast we immediately started our last day Danakil Adventure.

Dallol Danakil Desert 3Dallol Danakil Desert 4Dallol Danakil Desert 5

Heading to our first stop Dallol was witnessing sand gives way to salt flats. While contemplating the fascinating flatness of the desert, the cars parked under a huge brown mound which seem to be appear by some kind of magic within the endlessness of nothingness and it is the only vertical figure in sight. Dallol is a broad flat –slopped maar formed in 1926, protrudes from the eastern side of a 1,200 km area of windswept salt encrusted flats.

Dallol Danakil Desert 6

We had to ascend the slope in order to reach our destination – Dallol.  Our guides advised to take a litter of bottled water with us. After climbing the hill for a little while we were greeted by jaw dropping rock formations and salt structures which sprout like mushroom with smooth marble like table top. These mineral formations has orange, brown, white and pinkish colors and stopped us cold. Half way up and looking back to witness an orange colored desert and the cars parked under the slope now little toys in the vanishing salt and sand horizon.

Dallol Danakil Desert 7

After 15 minutes walk, we reached at the top of the hill. Being able to see behind the hill was unimaginable vista. Strange earth formation lead us to another world. Before we knew it while still being mesmerized by the salt structure we walked up on … a live, huge and colorful canvas unfold before us. It seem like stepping into a painting where different kinds of forms, bright and happy colors all over the place.

Dallol Danakil Desert 8Dallol Danakil Desert 9

Obviously with the limited conscious mind, we would be able to see the scientific facts – colored plain of sulfur deposits, iron oxide crust, sulfur geysers and acid lakes – and all the peculiar colors, shapes and forms all over. Drops, bubbles and smoke. Rock, water, sand and oil.  Yellow, brown, orange, white, green, red and so on.

Dallol Danakil Desert 10Dallol Danakil Desert 11

Besides being visually stunning, actually being at Dallol is so surreal. We felt the heat not only from the early morning sun of the desert above us but also from the delicate ground of Dallol, and from the bubbling sulfur springs. To make it even more alive the overwhelming smell of sulfur actuated us to be present through our sense of smell.

Dallol Danakil Desert 12

Our silent reverie loudly complemented by soft throbbing of water boiling underground, bubble up steaming water of the tiny geysers and from crunching over crystal like formations of the brittle earth with our every mindful but adventurous steps we took within Dallol.

Dallol Danakil Desert 13Dallol Danakil Desert 14

Dallol had to be visited early in the morning before the desert start baking. It was around 7:30 we arrived there. Though it sounds too early for the desert to heat up we were already sweating. We had to wear hat obviously to protect our skin from the already scorching sun even in the morning.

Dallol Danakil Desert 15

No jewelries and it is not because of the adventure but rather to protect your jewelry from discoloration just being at Dallol. Some kind of mask as walking through this whole new world challenges a sense of smell with its intensified sulfuric smell. Trekking shoes as walking within Dallo was a delicate one that one false move leads into bubbling sulfur so being mindful was essential.

Dallol Danakil Desert 16

Talking about mindfulness, if you let yourself to see Dallol way beyond the scientific label it putted up on it by scientific facts /logical mind, you can definitely stunned by the inexplicable energy of the universe adorned with breathtaking colors and fascinating details. After an hour wandering around within Dallol, we head back to the cars. Dallol equally impressed us all regardless of our travel histories.

Dallol Danakil Desert 17

Danakil Desert is full of strange and stunning earth formation features. Salt hill and canyon was our second stop. We had to literally crawl for two minutes under salt hill to end up in the middle of the salt canyon which was dark so had to use headlight. It was bit challenging but all worth it as we end up being stunned by what we saw at the end.

Dallol Danakil Desert 18

Either created by wind and erosion or by the in-explainable universe energy. I choose to be enlightened by the beauty of the details carved on the wall of the salt hill and God lies in details indeed. To get out of the canyon we had to climb up the hill which required a big step, holding on a grip and obviously trusting your own true nature.

Dallol Danakil Desert 19

Another magical earth formation of Danakil Desert was our third stop which is named as Yellow Lake. A strange little lake with different colors and yellow potash bubbling. According to the locals it has a healing property for skin aliments. I saw our driver taking the water into plastic bottles and he said it is strong remedies but heals any kind of skin problems.  A miracle in a desert.

Dallol Danakil Desert 20

Saving the best for last. Besides being blown by earth formation my Danakil Desert Adventure lead me straight in to a HEART OPENER experience. Our last stop for our last day in Danakil desert was vising the salt mine.

Salt flats in the Danakil Depression, along the borderline between Ethiopia and Eritrea, are located 100 meters below sea level. This huge salt crust often up to 1000 meters thick, goes deep in the earth’s crust. It is where the salt mine is.

Dallol Danakil Desert 21

It was 10:00 am when we reached at the salt mine not even mid-day but I clearly recall checking the odometer to make sure as the heat start becoming unbearable and it was already 44 C. The highlander’s Tigray and the lowlander’s Afar salt miners was working harmoniously and with enthusiasm in spite of the inhospitable nature of the Desert.

The salt miners were breaking plates of salt out of the ground using  ax. Fitting a set of sticks in the indentations made by the ax.  Lifting the big salt slab using the sticks. Cutting the slab into tiles of standard sizes which weight 4kg. Stacking, tying and loading it on the mules and camels for transport.

Dallol Danakil Desert 22

Carving one piece of cube salt fetch salt miners 3 Ethiopian Birr so they try to make as many as possible before the day ends. I learn they can make from 100 – 200 salt cubes a day and that would be an estimation of earning from 14 – 25 $ a day.

They were so focused on what they were doing to the point it seem they were not aware of being invaded by tourists walking around and taking picture of the action of the moment. Evidently the salt miners  get used to the fact being visited by tourists but the very fact they were present enough for the task at hand even surpass the suffering of physical body from the merciless sun and heat of the desert.

Dallol Danakil Desert 23

As locally know as Amole Chew – is salt block which once was an exchanging commodity worthy as gold here in Ethiopia. Although money notes has replaced Amole, Salt is still “White Gold” for the legendary Ethiopian Afar people who pay price–from taking off burned flab of skin to precious life.

Seeing an Ethiopian within the group who came to visit the salt mine seem flabbergasted many salt miners a bit as it is not an everyday occurrence. I saw a sense of joy on their face in seeing their own person as a tourist and it made me even happier when they took a moment to look at me in the eye and said “HABESHA” – a recognition of souls in a sense of oneness.

Dallol Danakil Desert 24

By some kind cosmic force I was being able to detach from the part of me who was being a tourist in my own country and start to see the actual native and tourist connection. Starting with the natives, it’s obvious that not every native is happy with the fact a lenses put up on their face while going through their everyday life especially without their permission and in spite of what the local tour guide say. And being a tourist should be more than seeing places and taking picture rather it should come with compassion and respect for the land and the people being visited.

Arrogance comes when a tourist ask camel drivers while they are crossing the desert to hop on a camel that already carry enough load just to take pictures and saying I have been there. Arrogance comes when not honoring etiquette of the place being visited. Arrogance comes when a tourist thinks the money paid for the itinerary entitled them to do whatever they like – step on culture, tradition, dignity and needs of the natives of the land being visited. Arrogance comes when getting pleasure out of somebody’s misery for the sake of telling a story.

Everywhere in the world, people want the same thing – shelter, food, family, happiness, love, comfort and most importantly we all want to know that we matter that our being here meant something. Seeing people beyond the cover or beyond given conceptual identity. Emitting that sense of oneness by saluting the same soul that abides within all of us can be a heart opener to all of us native or tourist and then we welcome each other with open heart in our own home wherever it may be.

Dallol Danakil Desert 25

I packed all the priceless memories and lessons within my heart as my Danakil Adventure has come to an end. Once we reached the city of Mekele which is around 100 km away from the Danakil Depression, the first thing we all wanted to do is dump our smelly and dirty clothes, take real shower, put on clean cloth, have cold drink and sleeping inside and on a bed.

Our car pulled over in front of Ethio Travel and Tours office where it all begins four days ago. At the office we were so welcomed with smile and appreciation. The staff presented us white polo t-shirt – on which JUST DONE IT DANAKIL  words sewed on it with green, yellow and red thread– as a trophy which made us feel a hero. Last but not least, I must say I really had great experience with skilled, experienced, and caring team –from sweet drivers, strong Ethiopian woman cook to thoughtful tour guides of Ethio Travel and Tours (ETT)–whom all made this Danakil Adventure possible.

The End

Posted in Adventure, Afar, Africa, Danakil Depression, Danakil Desert, Erta' Ale Volcano, Ethiopia, Landscape, Photo Essay, Travel, Travel and Tourism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Lake Assale: The Danakil Desert Adventure II

Lies at -116 m  below sea level. It is one of the SALT LAKES in the northern end of the Danakil Depression. Lake Assale (Asale) is an ex harbor of the Red Sea, also known as Lake Karum – CATHARTIC, ALTRUISTIC AND ILLUMINATING.

Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 2
Our stirring transition – from witnessing the flaming LAVA LAKE – Erta’ Ale –, to the snow – white SALT LAKE – Lake Assale – within the Danakil Desert, went through a convalescent overnight stay in Abala village.

After a challenging day and an overwhelming night out in a desert. On our second day Journeyed to Abala village to soak in the desert life via mingling with the locals in one of the Afar regions. The road trip from Dodom – entry way to visit Erta’ Ale – to Abala was mostly about processing our Erta’ Ale experience. Reflecting. Going through pictures from last night.

After a while the desert heated up devastatingly. It hinted us that the last time we had cold drink either water or soft drink was the day before in Mekele – getaway to Danakil Desert. Once in a desert, the water we kept drinking was literally lukewarm and tasteless. Realized even room temperature kept water tastes like heaven and sounded priceless at that very moment.

By mid-day the scorching sun already started baking the desert. Stopped at one of the villages for lunch. As if by some kind of magic, the little coffee shop in the desert had an actual godsend – one of human creations out of necessity. Guess What? Fridge-freezer! A cue formed instantly to get cold soft drinks as if we have never had it before. Maybe all you need is a Fridge freezer in a desert to thrive, I thought.

The cold drinks were double the price of the city but was all worth it. I could not wait for the shop keeper to hand me the cold drink. I was just embracing the bottle with both of my hands to soak in the priceless cold feeling from the bottle. The thick soft drink bottle was caressed with little drippings of melting iced water. I kept it towards my face so it gives my sweltering skin a moment of relief from the fire – waft which I became friend with in order to survive in this callous environment.

That lukewarm water we have been drinking in spite of it all, did not quench a thirst and obviously won’t be able to give that cooling effect from inside out. I felt every tiny bit of the cold drink’s taste, texture and movement passing through till it’s very last drop as if for the very first time – another divine moment to be present in the midst of Danakil Desert.

Our stay at Abala village was affectionately pleasant. Took bucket shower with naturally warm water – no need of a heater here. Walked through the village which suddenly overflown by Abala’s charming children who were excited to see strangers. We had delightful Ethiopian traditional coffee even in a desert. Divinely scrumptious regional delight – stir fried goat meat. Deliciously succulent orange were among the many we indulged ourselves in Abala village.

We stayed overnight at the village in one of the cement built local houses which seem turned into an oven by the heat of the desert. We slept on the foamy little mattresses laid on the cement ground. Even in the evening and with the windows open the room was too warm to sleep, but it was good enough for our recovery from our first day challenging adventure in the desert.

On the third day with in the Danakil desert, the intriguing road trip from south – west to the northern end of the Danakil Desert, to witness the live spectacle of sunset over Lake Assale, started around 8:30 a.m. After half an hour drive, we stopped at the view point to relish in amazing landscape which truly dreamlike.
Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 4
Spectacular road trip at the edge of the Danakil Depression as it was driving through Berhale –fascinating town at the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment of the Danakil Depression.

A large town located in the administrative zone 2 of the Afar Region in north – eastern Ethiopia. A town lies at an attitude of 639 meters above sea level. A town made up of two interesting combinations – the characteristically Tigray stone houses and the plain Afar huts. A stopover town for the camel caravans that bring salt from Lake Assale before proceeding to the market of Mekele in the highland.

Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 5
Berhale is an interesting town which exist in between two different worlds which gives it a unique charisma – not so much of a highland and not so much of a desert either – hence a treat of enthralling landscape in the valley.

The asphalted road in the desert lead us smoothly through the stripped and brownish twin mountains. It seemed like going through spellbinding transition between two natural kingdoms – highland and desert.

Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 6

Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 7

Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 8After a while, I started to realize why it is said that this is where the Danakil Depression actually starts. Hardly see people along the side of the road but be able to witness the movable Afar house of the nomads constructed somewhere in this barren environment.

Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 9
Leaving the mountains way behind, headed to the other village of zone 2 of the Afar region – Hamed Ela. Another Off – road ride following the rough caravan track but this time on the other part of the Danakil Desert where all sand in some expanses, and rocky in others. Passing sand and rock dunes thrown here and there by the universe for beautiful details in a desert.
Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 10Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 11
Hamed Ela is another small Afar village which exist in the ascetically beautiful desert. It is a village which lies 48 km east of Berhale. An overnight stopover for camel caravans coming from Berhale before proceeding to the salt mine in the morning. Hamed Ela is where we will spend the night sleeping out in the desert in a military camp as it is a springboard village for visit to Lake Assale.

Once we are at Hamed Ela the temperature already soared up to 42 c. The 8 km drive to Lake Assale from Hamed Ela, mostly seem like entering into a wide open space, making your own path leads to nowhere and entranced by the endless horizon.

We stopped in the middle of nowhere and get out of the car into the baking desert and walked through the thick heat towards a spring water. It was about three minute walk and we were already melting. The wide open space actuates you to realize the tiniest place you occupy in this vast universe as the edless desert has the power to make everything looks small.

An oasis in a desert. The spring water proclaims a miracle somewhere in the Danakil desert where existence seem impossible. The naturally created small pool, with interesting salt pattern at the age, contains warm salty water which provides a marvelous opportunity to feel the pacifying energy of water in the Danakil Desert.

Almost all deserts hosts some kind of camel caravan. Here at the Danakil desert,camel caravan is the harmonious bridge between the highland and the desert through a livelihood commodity – SALT. The caravan was coming out of the salt mine with skillfully hand cubed salt from the ground, loaded up on the camels and mules. The caravan was moving toward Berhale in late afternoon when the sun was not at its strongest but for me I was not able to see the difference as it was still hot.

“I can learn something from the desert too. It seems old and wise.” – A profound verse that reveled itself in my mind at the Danakil Desert while being captivated by the caravan from one of my favorite books of all time – THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho. I saw determination, stillness and presence on the faces of the nomads – Afar camel drivers. I felt the enlightening energy coming out of the Danakil desert crossers which was too strong to expand my horizon.

Could not help to be transported to another era and being lead to the source of the livelihood commodity of the Danakil Desert caravan traders. The still existing traditional salt mining. The historical journey of the caravans following the footsteps of their ancestors who brought wealth to the Axum Empire way back then via the once major trading commodity SALT.

It was the sound of the wind, the hoof beat of the animals, and the groan of the camels that were breaking the utter silence of the desert. My eyes followed the camel caravan until which seems at the edge of the horizon and its silhouette upon the abstractedly seen silvery mountain ranges. Suddenly, the captivating image covered by the sand dust that the cars were producing. It was about time to head to Lake Assale.

Unlike the other salt lake in the Danakil Depression – the emerald green lake Afrera. Lake Assale produce different kinds of hypnotic colors. One part is blindly snow white. The other part gives an illusion of golden hues on sparkling salt due to the brown sand.

In remote times, this part of the Danakil Depression was intermittently submerged by the Red Sea which eventually left behind larger amount of aquatic salt accumulated to layers of several hundreds of meters deep and turned into the now salt Lake. Lake Assale is part lake and part salt deposit.

Most of its places covered by thick salt crust that even support vehicles. Our car had to stop at some point in order to avoid sinking in. We waded into the lake feeling the salt crust beneath. Heading further in, then felt the warm salty water on my feet. I tried to imagine Lake Asale overflown with water when it rains in highlands as it hardly rain in the Danakil Desert.
Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 18
The brightness of it all was soul ILLUMINATING. It was powerful enough to make you step out of the limited physical realm into the blissfully unlimited spiritual realm for a brief moment. Stepping on the sparkling salt crust suddenly became intimidating out of a sense of respect, which stirred by the camel caravans I witnessed.

Being at its source, I could not help to contemplate salt as I was surrounded by it. A sense of appreciation for this particular element invaded me. A moment of realization that Salt is more than a flavor enhancer of my food which confined within a tiny salt shaker placed at the kitchen cabinet or dining table. Rather, salt is a livelihood of the desert people.
Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 19
Obviously Lake Assale is ALTRUISTIC as it has been mined for many years and still is. Conversely, the life changing experience emanated from witnessing the materializing process that comes with a price – the sweat of the salt miners and camel drivers in this harsh desert. The still existing salt mining activity moves seasonally and we were scheduled to witness it on the next day – the last day of our Danakil Desert Adventure.

CATHARTIC indeed. The anticipation of standing on a salt lake that once flooded by the Red Sea was a grand moment as it seem like it was not only salt but an everlasting energy that it left behind. Seeing my reflection on the clear salt lake was priceless as it was a moment of clarity that my adventure of discovering my own country was actually discovering MYSELF!
Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 20
Looking up. From a distance part of the lake embellished by the dreamily seen mountains. Part of it provides a fascinating scene of an endless sparkling horizon. Part of it dashed with brown sand which seemed like a painting.

The sunset over the sparkling Salt Lake – Lake Assale. The sky slowly turned into a huge canvas revealing collection of colors being portrayed before us in the desert by the universe.
Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 21Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 22
The glowing sun slowly moves behind the luminous clouds and swallowed by the silhouette of mountain ranges from a distance. The snow white salt lake turned into pink for an ephemeral moment.
Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 23
Another honored day ended at the Danakil Desert.
Lake Assale Danakil Desert Adventure 24
To be continued…

Posted in Adventure, Africa, Danakil Depression, Danakil Desert, Ethiopia, Travel and Tourism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments