Danakil, Ethiopia, is the most inhospitable place on earth. Temperatures exceed 50 centigrade and the heat does not give respite even at night, when they only decrease to 35 degrees.
I visited this region a couple of years ago: it was such a shocking experience that I started a travel blog to remember as much as possible. Danakil really puts your mental health to the test and will definitely strengthen your character, especially if you decide to visit it in the warmest period of the year.
No wonder mother Earth decided Africa would be a great place to put such a deep a rift it could split Africa in two. Will the continent as you know it today disappear under the waters of a new ocean?
Ethiopia is a place that can push the boundaries of each traveler to the extreme. And it is about to upset the geography of the entire planet.
Since 2005, scientists have noticed a strange crack in the Afar area of Ethiopia. It opened suddenly, in less than 10 days, accelerating a process that would normally take centuries.
Since then, researchers at Leeds University have monitored the phenomenon with satellite surveys. Today the crack has reached the length of 60 km and the width of 8 km.
The rift is along the Rift Valley, where the Arabian and African plates drift apart. It is close to Dallol, an ancient volcanic crater whose surface constantly liquefies and gives rise to unthinkable psychedelic scenarios. I visited it under a scorching sun, risking to faint. Every move I made was full of effort, every picture I took I consider a medal on my photographer’s uniform.
La voragine si è creata poco più a nord, nella regione Afar, al confine con l’Eritrea. Qui, grazie a condizioni climatiche uniche, si possono ammirare alcuni dei panorami più onirici del pianeta. Penso al lago Karum, o lago Assale, che si trova 120 metri al di sotto del livello del mare. Tutto intorno, una accecante distesa di sale marino brucia lo sguardo del viaggiatore. La sera, al tramonto, l’acqua salmastra del lago, profondo appena pochi centimetri, dà vita a riflessi dai colori incredibili. Si resta ammutoliti, dimentichi del caldo estremo, e si contempla l’infinito.
Scientists no longer doubt what the phenomenon is. It is not a telluric movement, nor the simple removal between the plates. Evidence shows that we are facing the birth of a new ocean, which will split the African continent in two and forever change the geographical shape of the planet.
One can not miss a certain irony, if we consider that the remains of Lucy, the oldest hominid we know, were found right here, in the Afar region. Africa is the homeland of all human beings and will also be the origin of the end of the planet, at least as we know it.
The African plate moves at a rate of one-half centimetre per year; the Arabic plate exceeds two centimetres. Their combined movement will give rise to an oceanic ridge. The crack we are observing is taking that process a step further: a ball of magma is pushing it underneath the surface, and tension is reaching levels that can burst at any moment.
Recent observations of the Erta Ale lava crater offer further confirmation of this theory. Also known as “the gate to hell”, Erta Ale is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Few travelers go to the rim of the crater, but the view of the lava bubbling inside is priceless. When I decided to trek to the top of the volcano, the area was still militarized. A tourist had been shot by mistake a few months before, yet the prospect of seeing the lava bubbling under my feet overcame all fears.
Going to Danakil means taking a trip to the outer reaches of the world. This implies overcoming fears, physical discomfort, mental limitations. Danakil takes the traveller to another dimension.
I imagine the chasm that holds the world in suspense. It will gradually expand, turning into a lake, then a sea, and finally a boundless ocean. It will split Africa in two. It will literally swallow it. Scientists estimate that it will take 5 to 10 million years, but one thing is certain. Danakil will upset the geography of the planet as it stuns every traveller who has set foot on it.
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