We clambered into the rugged Toyota, and headed for the park gates along the now familiar bumpy, dusty roads. It took an hour or so to reach the park gates, and as soon as we entered the park we weren’t disappointed. Almost immediately we drove past the endemic Gelada baboons, only found in the Ethiopian highlands. These hilariously fluffy species of Old World monkeys were beautiful, but paled in insignificance to the scene which had appeared before us...
If you were woken up and told that today, was the day you would be heading to the Gateway to Hell, what would your choice of breakfast be? A Full English perhaps? Or maybe a giant stack of pancakes complete with all the toppings? I tell you what it probably wouldn’t be: a packet of banana cream biscuits! Yes, remarkably someone has actually created this monstrosity, and they are, as you can imagine, absolutely terrible! This was the reality we faced as we waited outside a small police check point, deep in the Ethiopian desert, for our paperwork to be signed, before we could continue our journey; fortunately, we had been given some excellent coffee to offset the taste of the biscuits, and we both agreed that this was a journey well worth enduring any number of banana creams for.
The Danakil depression in Northern Ethiopia is one of the most geographically unique places in the world. Remote and truly hostile, the Danakil can lay claim to being one of the hottest and driest places on the planet, with daytime temperatures surpassing 50°C and less than an inch of rain falling in the region each year; it is also one of the lowest parts of Africa, and one of the most tectonically active, with steaming acid lakes, rivers of lava, and clouds of volcanic gases creating an almost extra-terrestrial environment. It is little wonder then, that the Danakil and its features have inspired such enigmatic nicknames as ‘The cruellest place on earth’ or ‘Gateway to Hell’.
Getting to Awra Amba was part of the appeal, given that its location is best described as ‘off the beaten track’. After the usual arguments at the bus station, negotiating prices and reclaiming our luggage from over-eager teenagers, we were able to secure a bus from Bahir Dar heading east. Without hesitation, our bags were tied to the roof, and we folded ourselves into a minibus ready for the mercifully short journey.