visiting Afar nomads, volcanoes, whale sharks, and war memorials
THE AFRICAN HORN
With 4x4-jeep across one of the world's most extreme environments
> 3 full weeks across Djibouti & Somaliland: <
The African Horn is not a typical tourist destination. Compared to some of our other travels in East Africa – e.g. Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – Djibouti and Somaliland is unlike the rest. They're wild and totally alien and they offers something rather precious nowadays: the chance for raw adventure as yet untainted by multiple tour operators. It is a superb new frontier for the intrepid traveler. Actually, the entire Afar Triangle is a fantastic travel destination. This triangle counts parts of north-east Ethiopia, all of Djibouti as well as areas of Eritrea and Somalia, and it is a meeting point for three of the Earth’s tectonic plates – a triple junction – which are pulling slowly away from one another creating sections lying from 40 to 150m below sea level.
The result: as if two great chunks of the Moon and Mars has been carved out and jigsawed on to the Horn of Africa. The landscape is surreal and out-of-this-world. Merciless deserts, mountains of black volcanic rock, azure salt lakes, boiling sulfur hot springs, flat plains haunted by dust devils, smoking volcanic cones, and a brilliant-blue coastline bulging out into the Gulf of Aden. One of the most forbidding places on Earth where the temperature may reach 65 degrees and water is rare enough for nomadic tribesmen to fight and kill each other over it. Yet, it is a place where many scientist of any calling would gladly give an arm and a leg to be able to go for an extended research project to visit the “cradle of mankind”. Here, in this slice of Earth, our species has evolved and diversified in the last millions of years. The Earth’s history is written right now as continents move apart and an ocean is about to be born, with the new ocean floor already being created in front of our eyes.
The infrastructure for adventure travel is very little developed which is part of the charm. There is no public transport and there aren’t any hostels to speak of. So, we arranged a 4x4 jeep and drove it across the region. Our primary aim was to experience the life of the Afar nomads, a group of tribesmen of Hamatic origin who have lived here for thousands of years. An estimated 250.000 dwell in the western desert of Djibouti of which 50.000 are Danakil nomads. We decided to follow their trails and to stay with them in their desert camps, while also exploring the fantastic scenery along the way. This gave us the opportunity to cover much ground and really get into the depths of Djibouti, both culturally and geographically. We had read a great deal about the Afar back home - much of the reading contained frightful stories about their customs. The Afar are known mostly for one gruesome custom. To gain the heart of a woman, a young warrior must first prove his valor by presenting to her at least one pair of testicles taken from an enemy, dead or alive. Hostile as the environment is, it is only natural that a woman should consider toughness a desirable manly virtue. This was not a land of tourism, and it is fortunate, but those who will, one day, follow the routes of the Afar will probably experience the same hospitality as we did: tribesmen sharing their huts and performing songs to celebrate the arrival of four Danish strangers.
For another impression of East Africa check our climb of the wild Mount Kenya Mountain at 5.000m height.