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10

Ethiopia as an independent misfit

While the African continent was being divided into pieces like a birthday cake by colonial

powers and their unquenchable thirst for conquest, Ethiopia managed to remain the only

independent country in Africa. Although Italy has attempted to take the country twice, they

have never really succeeded. The first time they were overwhelmingly defeated by the army

of Emperor Menelik II, and during the second attempt, it was the British that threw a span-

ner in the works. The five years that Mussolini was able to keep the country in his clutches,

are regarded by the Ethiopians as a period of occupation, not of colonisation. Because of

that enduring independence – according to historical sources, Ethiopia as a country dates

back as far as the tenth century BC – the country has been able to develop itself in an

autonomous, liberated way. Consequently, ancient peoples have managed to maintain their

traditions in their authentic form. Primitive tribes like the Ari, the Mursi, the Konso and the

Hamar are living proof.

On our way to the arid North

From Addis, we fly to Mekele, in the very north-eastern part of Ethiopia. Mekele is our starting

point for a three-day expedition to the inhospitable

Afar Triangle

. That morning, we take a

long shower, as it will be the last one we have for the next three days. Our jeeps are ready

to go. One is stuffed with our supplies for the road: from food and drinking water to cooking

utensils and sleeping mats. The other will take us and the guide. From Mekele, we drive to

Dodom, a distance of hardly 80 kilometres, but which takes us over 6 hours. When we start

to drive, the road is well paved and we are gliding through a sweeping landscape with the

occasional olive tree or acacia bush. But as we progress, the road becomes increasingly

rough until there is no longer any road to drive on. Agonisingly slow, the jeeps bounce around

over rocks and pointy lava stones. We are truly getting to know the full potential of our 4x4s.

It is late in the afternoon when we arrive in Dodom, a deserted Afar village that serves as

a base camp for anyone who wishes to go to the Erta Ale volcano, incidentally the goal of

our drive today.

Not for wimps

The soldiers who will escort us are already at their stations. We are thirty kilometres from

Eritrea and here, we are in a dangerous area. For considerable time now, the two arch ene-

mies are at odds again. Eritrea claims this border region and doesn't want Ethiopia to make

money off it through tourism. The Eritrean rebels consider attacks on tourists a completely

legitimate way of getting their point across. In 2007, twelve tourists were kidnapped and

released after ransom was paid. 2012 was much bloodier: five travellers were murdered by

Eritrean rebels. Since then, armed escort is mandatory. When the sun has lost most of its

power, we start the 8.5 km long climb to the top of the volcano. This is also where we will

spend our night

t r a v e l i n g