Lake Assal: nothing cool, but still cool (2/3)

Journey photo album

First day in Djibouti: befriending the local climate

Mosque in the center area

On the way to Arhiba square to see from where are the Tadjoura minibuses depart. The air is hot and humid with very high heat index

It seems that Menelik hotel, the iconic building of the old colonial center was recently renovated

My hotel room at “City Guest by Citylife” with the mandatory air conditioning in this climate

Palace Kempinski, the most luxurious hotel in Djibouti seen from Heron Beach

The coastal breeze is great for kiteboarding

In the early morning of June 21st (which btw is my 44th birthday) we started the journey to Lake Assal. Here we are on the Ethiopian main road with heavy truck traffic near We’a settlement

Hard life on the side of the road

We left the main road and continued on the Tadjoura way

Canyon d’Adaile, known to the local afar people as Dimbia is one of the places along the road where all tourists stop

The other is less well defined, but can happen at any time while crossing the barren plateau: hamadryas baboons

They are used with people and represent no danger, just curious and looking for food

Wind turbines near Ghoubbet bay with Ile du Diable (Devil’s Island) on the background. It’s heavy haze today, which means the hot and dry Khamsin wind is active

Near Karta village

Descending the plateau towards Lake Assal

We are lucky to see a “salt caravan”, which is carrying the manually collected salt from the lake. Afars do this even in the relentless summer, hard to belive!

Now we are well below sea level, the bottom of Africa (-155 m) is close. I can see the salt factory on the shore

The hot spring near the lake is another touristic attraction where every driver stops. It’s only around 8 AM and already very hot outside, hard to tell how much is caused by the air and how much because of the water

The classical view of Lac Assal shortly before the end of the asphalt road

My driver asking the local guy if there is a chance for me to found a truck tomorrow from here to the Tadjoura road. The answer is not very positive, it seems that now the traffic is restrained (could be seasonal), also tourists are much less in the off-season. We’ll see

With a 20 kg backpack from which half is water, around 8:15 AM I started the hike towards my target. There are a few tracks on the salt pan used mostly by the salt worker trucks, one even appear (!) on some maps as a “national highway” ๐Ÿ™‚

The surface is pretty solid in the first part

As I am approaching the foothills became a little grainier…

…then changes to the characteristic polygonal crusty aspect

Even farther there was dark mud, fortunately enough solid for walking. Certainly not the same thing for cars…

Yeah, definitely more moisture in the ground, the small pond must have similar composition as the big lake

I was a little surprised to see them here, it’s no more than 1 km to the target

The last part is on sandy-gravel surface, I am approaching the gorge

And here we are: the place looks good for my purpose also in reality. The heat is oppressive after carrying the heavy luggage for two hours, but I dont’s waste the time, only drink some water and start the preparations
The mini weather station is soon rised on the wadi’s floor and after leaving the sensor under the Barani shield at least 15 minutes to accomodate to the ambience, at 10:43 AM the logger started its operation
First reading: 42.4 degrees, a decent start
General view of the measuring spot on the lower “course” of Kadda Galeita
The legs of the tripod were secured with rocks to can handle the wind
I found a shelter under an overhang of the gorge’s southern wall, which seems to be the single proper one in the surroundings. Divine providence, definitely
Even in the shade it’s insanely hot
“The Black Midget”, my shadow around noon on the tropics
1 PM: the temperature is rising
At this period the ground must be the hottest. I check it on the sandy surface, which is the best for the highest readings
2 PM: went over 46 degrees, I am content
Around 3 PM have reached 47 degrees, the atmosphere is hellish
Good to have this shelter, the sun is extremely punishing
I used the umbrella as an auxiliary to block the heavy afternoon rays
It’s almost unbelievable how in complete shadow the hot wind can burn your feet. I measured even above 50 degrees near the ground, where I was laying on my mattress as the sun-heated air from the outside was carried inside the shelter
Resting…almost
During the afternoon the shadowy area under the overhang lessened, fortunately my head and upperbody remained protected
4 PM: Peak Heat. I managed to catch live the highest air temperature recorded by the data logger
Yeah, this selfie is more than necessary ๐Ÿ™‚
Shelter or… prison?
A little after 5 PM the sun disappeared behind the rocky slopes and while the temperature was still very high, it started to slowly descend. I decided to leave the gorge and spend the night in a more open place to have a little advantage with the nocturnal radiation
Not my best decision: outside the conditions were even worse as the hot wind was blowing from the south-east. It was the hottest feeling I ever experienced regarding weather conditions. Out of curiosity I measured the temperature while the wind velocity was rising and saw that actually it was slightly decreasing, while the subjective feeling was of an abrupt heating. The 46 degrees felt like it was at least 60! This is the same thing but reversed as it happens during cold weather, when the moving air feels much colder (windchill). At higher temperatures than your body’s if no evaporation can happen to cool you off (sweating or wetting) your body temperature will be “attacked” stronger, you will fight harder to keep it at normal level. With an air so dry as it is here, your sweat is disappearing sooner as it can cool you, especially with wind.
And then came the “birthday-bonus”: a violent sandstorm hit my camp and took my mattress and pillow. For a few minutes I was laying on my luggage trying to keep everything on the ground, while also protecting my nose with the arms. Fortunately the gorge’s walls stopped the “flying carpet” between the boulders and I could recover it later
I was glad to see that the tripod survived the Khamsin’s blow (certainly the gorge was also protecting it), this was a solid proof for me that its stability is really good
After a difficult evening spent outside, I decided that the best strategy to finish this excursion is to start moving back to the asphalt road much sooner and not wait for the dawn when it will be “cooler”. It is so hot that you can’t even rest, sleeping is completely out of question. I need to drink almost constantly, the water (which was also hot until now) is decreasing. So I walked back around 8 km and stopped near the lake around midnight, some 1.5 km from the parking lot. Now came another big question: should I enter the lake to cool off? I knew the salt will be another risk factor. Fortunately it was again a good decision. The 33 degrees saline solution was enough to keep my body temperature controlled and while it was quite unpleasant feeling the salt crystals thickening on my skin (especially hair) after drying, the heat was the bigger threat.
After almost four hours spent inside the brine (mostly partially, regularly sprinkling it on my body) I even managed to sleep half an hour on the mattress when the temperature “dropped” to 38 degrees. The heat was trapped under the dust filled cloudy sky, the “venusian” ambience was absolutely surreal
Good morning Lac Assal…or something like that ๐Ÿ™‚
Okay, the Garmin watch is still working…
With the local guys near the parking lot: I became “the biggest souvenir”, covered in salt like the goat skulls which they sell for tourists ๐Ÿ™‚
I called my driver already in the evening to come after me this morning as the return to the Tadjoura road was too risky because of the difficult weather conditions combined with the uncertainty of the traffic in the off-season. He was very prompt and picked me up before 7 AM. After a well needed bath in the balmy waters of the Ghoubbet bay we were on the way back to Djibouti Ville
Khamsin is no joke: at a certain time we couldn’t see anything in front of us. Hard work, great experience
Birthday dinner at one of the best restaurants is the city: Signatures. The indian food (lobster on the right) is served professionally, it’s very tasty, strongly condimented. The mojito cocktail with ice was also impecable. However, will not tell you the price ๐Ÿ˜‰
Next day I used public transport (the Tadjoura minibus) to visit the Ghoubbet bay area. Much cheaper this time as my plan is less difficult to carry out, I have smaller luggage and there is no need for precise timing. I started the hike at the “touristic beach”, well…not so touristic in the off-season (nobody, outside the two supervisors)
Not a norwegians dream, but still cooler than the air
Nobody also here. I could have waited at Lake Assal for “my lucky truck”…
This small volcanic cone near the road invited me to a visit
Definitely worth it, the view from the rim is spectacular. I decided to cross the rugged lava field to reach the other cone near the beach
Magical land, Godzilla is watching me
On the afar highway (lava flow)
Some parts are smoother…
…but most parts not really. This must be very new lava, probably from the 1978 November eruption of the nearby Ardoukoba volcano
The cool, turquoise color of the sea is very tempting as the temperature rises over the barren landscape. Of course, a refreshing bath is in the plan too
That’s precipitated salt. There is seawater inside the rocks below, just enough to wash my face
This structure is a double cone, the two craters form an “8” shape. I am standing now between them
View of the other crater with the bay were I planned to have the bath
After seeing some rubbish on the shore I decided to change to the other side, closer to the road
I hope the ground will not swallow me before ๐Ÿ™‚
I know it’s 32 degrees, but still very nice to approach
Looks great, I even have the diving mask with me
No stress, even if I want
And again: a perfect shelter from the midday sun under the rocky ledge
The Zobject on the solidified lava
Paradise…for me
After about two hours of hedonism it’s time to leave and continue the hike. In just a few minutes the owerwhelming presence of the heat is back, the otherworldly, rugged surface only enhances the experience
As it is windy this must be close to reality. And it really was: at Lake Assal the logger recorded the second highest temperature (47.2 C) on this afternoon
Lunar or martian?
While approaching the road the terrain became even more irregular and fragmented
I can see some nice souvenirs for home ๐Ÿ™‚
You need to be patient here, both for the terrain and the climate
The double-cone seen from the road
Beside acacia, this plant is one of the very few which can survive in the volcanic wasteland. I heard that it’s toxic, camels and goats avoid to eat them
Acacia was mentioned, here it is: the tough small tree with the distinctive umbrella shape is also known as “parachute tree” and, contrary to the one in the previous picture, it is very nutriend for the animals
Not too many cars on the road. No problem, I have enough water to reach the nearest settlement if nobody will pick me up.
Ardoukoba is somewhere there behind
Devil’s Island, the iconic landmark of Ghoubet bay
Around 4:30 PM I reached the small village, part of Lac Assal district. It was a very hot day, a need a cold Coke, maybe two
My wish was fulfilled and more than that: I was very pleased to talk in almost fluent english with a local youngster who even mentioned the “austro-ungarn” term what he learned in history class, when I told him about my hungarian roots. I wish him to continue the learning and use the knowledge for the development of his country
Finally, the Tadjoura minibus came and until dark we reached the outskirts of the capital. No AC on these cars, but they are moving fast with natural ventilation (windows down), thus except the parts inside the city when it waits or moves slowly the ambience is not oppressive
Next day in the more quiet part of the old center, I exchanged some dollars
These buildings retained the french, colonial aspect more than the newly renovated Menelik hotel
At the market. Here and generally in the center area, on the beaches, around buildings (well, almost everywhere) locals don’t really like to see visitors taking photos. The police will go a step farther: they will fine you. That’s right: basically it is forbidden to take photos in the city
One of the minibus terminals. The actual fares are very cheap (even more for the otherwise expensive Djibouti), but the drivers and their helpers often will try to overcharge the tourists. I’ve seen both during my stay, there were also honest ones. Local people are typically communicative and helpful
Taxis are constantly honking and the drivers sometimes can be a bit pushy in trying to take you inside even if you told them multiple times that you are okay or already have another way of transport. Not this guy ๐Ÿ™‚
Another trip on the penultimate day: the starting point was the “the memorial of two japanese” (they died in a road accident) on the Ghoubbet plateau. I’ve chosen this exact place as I could show to the driver a picture taken from the Internet. First he was a little evasive, but later agreed to drop me here (maybe nobody does it before)
My main target is a viewpoint situated above the sea, which is at the end of the plateau about 5 km away, where it abruptly drops more than 600 meters. I found it on GoogleEarth, randomly checking the topography and concluded that it must be spectacular
There were a few steep slopes with unstable rocks, but generally the terrain is without serious elevation differences
Of course, you again
A last steeper portion
Nothing but a few goats
Oh yeah, that’s something! Today the haze is less, so I can see to the other side of the bay
Massive drop for sure. There could be a lot of fossils inside the exposed layers
The vivid turquoise sea is contrasting with the beige nuances of the barren land
Let’s have even more contrast ๐Ÿ™‚
In the beginning I only saw two smaller birds (swallows I think) and then came the local boss
Devil’s Island is barely visible on the other side
I tried to identify some wild animals on the slopes, but couldn’t
Before 1 PM I started the way back, not exactly on the same path as the road is closer if I turn a little to the left. No need for the GPS now, the electric pilons are showing the direction
Gotcha! They (dorcas gazelle) were 4-5 under a big, lonely acacia tree, hiding from the strong midday sun when suddenly the stranger with the backpack disturbed their picnic
Yes, I like yours ears both from the front and the backside
Crazy: I think that I saw this exact tree on GoogleEarth!
I must disagree with Pierre Loti who stated in his writing “Obock for a day” regarding the acacia tree: “…is of no use, does not even cast a shade”. Well, it does cast a shade and a very nice one
Curious to see if the gazelles are hiding now in this valley. No, they were moving farther
These tracks in the sand could be theirs. Meanwhile the heat became oppressive, even if here we are above 600 meters elevation
Some afar nomads were here, but who knows when. In the summer the life is very hard
Just look at these plants and you will understand
Saw only a few, maybe they live more at higher elevations
The topography is less fragmented on the return way, after a single and smaller steep slope I am on a flat, dusty plain, from the other side of which the road is very close
Pure sand is not very common here, the terrain is mostly rocky
From the ground temperature I conclude that the air is probably not above 40 degrees Celsius now, but also not far
More dust devils were visible on this plain
Takรฎr in the turkic language, playa in the spanish, this terrain is composed of clay and is intermittently flooded. The cracks appear after drying
One steep climb and the asphalt road is near
Same thing as at Ghoubbet bay: only a few cars are passing and I have both time and resources. Tomorrow it’s my last day in Djibouti, let’s feel the african heat now!
Beside camels, goats are the single domestic desert survivors. I also saw some donkeys, but I think they are not wandering alone in the wasteland as the other two do
Close-up of the “toxic plant”. Meanwhile the “gendarmerie” situated at the meeting of the Tadjoura and the Ethiopian road is approaching. From there (after some cold Coke) I took a cheap minibus to the city
At Heron Beach: Last day in Djibouti. I’ve checked out from the hotel, also my local SIM expired today. Nothing left but recovering the equipment from Lake Assal. My driver will take me there in the afternoon, then we go directly to the airport
City Guest, I’ve spent a great week here. Many thanks for the manager, Leila and the staff!
Soon we are on the way to the hottest place of Djibouti. Haze again, that’s poetical
Karta village, the baboons were in the surroundings
More trucks now on this road, but I think they are coming from Tadjoura
The most important road sign in Djibouti
As we descend below the sea level the temperature rises
We can’t waste the time and continue on the salt pan. None of my two drivers were farther from the parking lot as no tourists were going farther
That means the adventure is mutual. Soon we are driving completely off-road on the sharp salt crust
Time is starting to press us a little as we are not sure how close can go with the car, the terrain becaming more insecure. I am prepared to do a 8-10 km walk if necessary, but that would take some time. Finally we managed to go sufficiently close (around 1.5 km), only the black mud is separating us from the gorge
Ready for the last trip, a short one
Sunset is close, I must be fast
Success: the tripod is still standing on the wadi floor, the device functional, everything intact
All data was correctly recorded. The 47.4 degrees from 21st was not exceeded later, while the minimum was 33.3 degrees Celsius
That’s all folks, it’s time to stop the logger
View of the sensor after dismounting the Barani helical shield
With its afar friend
Bye George, I mean Gorge!
Labyrinth inside the gypsum layer
Still daylight, the car is close
Houmed, a reliable driver and a nice person. It was a great collaboration, many thanks for the help!
We left Lake Assal in the dusk, Ambouli airport is waiting for us
Bye Djibouti. It was a hot journey for sure…

To be continued…

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