One does not simply walk into Mordor

About two years ago I wrote a post with almost the same title. I wanted to use it again because this time there really WAS a volcano.

After another early breakfast, we hung around while the local hires broke camp. I took a bunch of pictures.


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This was the day of our long journey on what the tour company bills as the “worst road in the world” to the base camp at Erta Ale volcano. I think there are worse roads on this earth, but this one was pretty bad, and that meant we were on it for a very long time.

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In the early afternoon we stopped at a small village where locals provided us with two rooms. We sat on the floor on mats and pillows to eat the pasta lunch our cook had prepared for us. We were all pretty hot and exhausted, but things really livened up when one of our party noticed a huge spider crawling on her face.

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The drivers bought a baby goat at the lunch stop. When they started to tie it to the roof of a car, one of the passengers objected and begged to hold it on her lap instead. No doubt the drivers thought this highly eccentric.


We stopped again just outside the village at a water pump built by a foreign NGO. We have seen these in other villages. This one was designed so the runoff fills a trough for the camels. I cannot imagine where the Afar people used get water for themselves and their animals before they had these. I have never seen terrain as dry as this. Once in a rare while there is a small patch of plants – I suppose this must indicate some moisture in the ground. But this truly is a hostile environment. At the pump our drivers filled all the empty water bottles they’d been saving; “for washing,” they said.


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As we traveled onward, the landscape became even more barren. Lots of mini-tornado dust devils appeared; we drove through some of them. Eventually the dust turned to black volcanic rock.

We stopped at another small village where the local chief gave permission for us to continue. There the guards bought two more baby goats, and this time they did get strapped to the roof. Not a very noble sentiment on my part, but I was relieved that it was other people’s cars rather than ours– the sad bleating would not have been a positive addition to the experience.

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At last we arrived at what looked like a small village, actually an army camp. We weren’t going anywhere until after dark, so we spent the afternoon trying to stay cool. Some people read, or played cards, or watched the goat slaughter, or visited the camels that were going to carry our water and sleeping mats up to the volcano tonight.

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Finally, after the sun went down, after the camels were loaded, after we all ate dinner, after water bottles were handed out, we began the long walk up the mountain in single file. It was very dark and it was a challenge to stay together. There was a visible trail at the start, but as we got further up we just had to try to follow the headlamps of the people in front. Almost four hours later we were there, at the edge of a caldera of boiling, spitting, spurting, rolling lava. It was stunningly spectacular.

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We spent the night at a small camp just away from the rim of the volcano, then were up at 4 am to make our way back down the mountain.


About lornaofarabia

I am a teacher from Medford, Oregon. I currently live and work in Bangkok, Thailand.
This entry was posted in Around Ethiopia, Ethiopia and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to One does not simply walk into Mordor

  1. Alberto says:

    Everybody’s seen Andreas happy––but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him SO happy. He looks like a kid with HIS volcano. 😉

  2. Alice says:

    In the night because it’s more spectacular to approach it that way, or because of the heat?

    • The heat. It’s way over 100 degrees until the sun sets, and the terrain is black hardened lava so the ground itself is hot in the daytime. Plus when you finally get up there it’s even hotter on the rim of the volcano. There was an option to stay at the volcano until dawn, and actually a couple of people did that and said the colors were really wonderful in the light. But almost everyone (including us) opted to get back down to camp as early as possible.

  3. Pingback: The Devil’s Pool | Lorna of Arabia

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