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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > July-September 2017 (79) > Hot as hell

Hot as hell

The Danakil Depression is a region of harsh beauty and ancient cultures — where volcanoes and crystals create a searing landscape like no other. Words and photographs by Dale R Morris

An armed soldier, attired in military fatigues and carrying an AK47, totters cautiously over a bed of yellow sulphur crystals, paying attention not to trip into one of the many bright-green acid pools in this otherworldly landscape. If he were to slip, he would either boil to death or slowly dissolve.

Well, that’s what Hammed, my Afar tribal guide, tells me.

“See that guy over there?” he says, pointing to the soldier standing atop a mushroom-shaped geyser. “He fell through a deceptively thin crust of minerals a few years back and lost all the skin on one of his legs. That’s why he walks with a limp.”

Here among the sulphur lakes, crystal shelves and hissing vents of Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression, you had better watch where you step. This weird and wonderful, multi-hued place is known locally as the Dallol — a thermally active saline mound, alive with gaudy, coral-like structures and strange, alienesque growths. Sulphurous steam infuses the air with the smell of rotten eggs, and chimneys of lumpy minerals spit furious jets of magma-heated brine into the air. It’s a volcano (of sorts), and even though it rises high above the bone-dry salt plain from which it has emerged, it’s still (at 50m below sea level) the ‘lowest’ active volcano on Earth.

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