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’.
After asking around, we discovered that there were no direct buses from Lalibela to Mek’ele. In addition, the route was over 400km, on roads of varying quality. We knew it was going to be a bit of an ask to make it to Mek’ele in a day; still, it would be an experience if nothing else, and when some people laughed at our enquiries, and told us that it would be almost impossible to make it in a day, we had no other option but to accept this as a challenge, and commit ourselves to spending several hours crammed into the back of various buses, with no other plan than relying on chronic optimism to get us where we wanted to go.
A cheer bean to ripple through the crowd, and the singing and chanting intensified in volume as a procession of priests all dressed in beautifully elaborate tunics and carrying sparkling umbrellas entered the area. As well as the umbrellas, they were carrying with them that most holy of Orthodox relics: The Ark of the Covenant; the day had just taken a turn for the Indiana Jones.
Just outside town we turned on to the road heading east, and pulled over to the side; there weren’t any obvious passengers waiting to board the already packed bus, and surprisingly based on our experience so far, there weren’t any donkeys, carts, or young children threatening to leap out in front of us, in fact, there appeared to be no reason for us to have stopped at all. I looked at the driver, and he looked back with a cheeky grin, and asked if I was able to drive...