Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Troop of baboons emerge on the road in Mago National park in the Omo Valley of southern Ethiopia

In the early morning hours, this troop of baboons strolled onto the road in Mago National Park in the Omo Valley of southern Ethiopia. Established in 1979, Mago is the country’s newest national park. Not only can a stunning diversity of wildlife be seen in the park, it is also home to a number of indigenous tribes, including the Aari, Banna, Bongoso, Hamer, Karo, Kwegu, Ngagatom, and Male peoples. However the park is perhaps best known as being home to the Mursi tribe, where women stretch their lower lips by inserting a series of ever-larger wooden plates into slits that have been cut into their lips. Read More

Sun sets over the salt flats in the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia, one of the lowest and hottest places on Earth

I eased into the low canvas deck chair my driver had set up next to our jeep. Waving off the glass of wine he proffered, I focused on the enormous lemon-colored sun descending through the salt haze. Earlier, I had walked across the salt flats in Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression to Lake Karum. As I approached the turquoise shoreline, the hard-pan salt became soggy underfoot. Before long, I was carefully placing my feet on ridges in the characteristic polygonal desiccation cracks to avoid walking in the inch or more of water that flooded the salt. Read More

Dallol, officially one of the remotest places on earth, is located in the Danakil Depression in northeast Ethiopia. It is known for its otherworldly hydro-geothermal features that include acidic sulfur lakes, geysers, and bizarrely colored mineral deposits.

Dallol, officially one of the remotest places on earth, is located in the Danakil Depression in northeast Ethiopia. The area is known for its otherworldly hydro-geothermal features that include acidic sulfur lakes, geysers, and bizarrely colored mineral deposits. Though technically listed as a settlement by the government, Dallol is no longer inhabited. Other than nomadic peoples who mine salt and run camel caravans in the area, the only residents in this nearly uninhabitable landscape live in the nearby community of Hamedela, which serves as a base for tourists visiting the country’s volcanic regions. Read More

Camel caravan plods across salt flats in Ethiopia's Danakil Depression

Initially, I thought the line of brown bumps were cliffs on the distant horizon. But as our jeep sped across Ethiopia’s infinite salt flats in the Danakil Depression, I realized the bumps were moving. Moments later our driver pulled over and invited us to step out into 115 degree temperatures to watch the first camel caravan of the day. Searing heat seeped through my thick rubber soles and burned my feet. Sunshine bounced off the bleached white salt, nearly blinding me. With each breath, waves of heat burned my throat. Yet dozens of camels in the caravan, burdened down with heavy blocks of salt, plodded slowly by unconcernedly. Read More

The urgent need to pee woke me at 5:30 a.m. I swung my legs over the side of my bamboo cot and gingerly tested my right ankle, which I’d twisted the previous day on a loose rock. It was much better, but I wasn’t taking any chances in the rock-strewn landscape. Carefully, I picked my way to a spot away from any cots, lowered my pants, and squatted, praying that I was far enough away that no one could see my white moon butt or hear my explosive pent-up gas. There are no toilets at the Danakil Depression.

Otherworldly landscape in the Dallol hydro-geothermal sulfur fields. Note the people atop the cliff to get a feeling for the immensity of the place.

Otherworldly landscape in the Dallol hydro-geothermal sulfur fields. Note the people atop the cliff to get a feeling for the immensity of the place.

The camp sprung to life as the rising sun scrubbed away the last wisps of pre-dawn dinginess. Our cook emerged from his hut and began to rattle pots and pans. People stretched and yawned, fighting the urge to go back to sleep. A worker began digging a trench, taking advantage of the relative coolness of the early morning hours (temps had fallen to a tolerable 97 degrees overnight). In the fresh light of day, I looked down at my clothes and realized that I was filthy. Between falling down the day before and sleeping in the open air, my pants and t-shirt were covered with dirt.

Fortunately, I’d brought along a second set of clothes, but the challenge was finding a place to change. The only place that afforded any privacy was our jeep, so I climbed inside, slunk down in the front seat, and peeled my t-shirt over my head. I looked up to grab my clean shirt and, too late, realized my mistake. I was not the first woman in this camp to seek privacy in a vehicle and the local boys were savvy. Six sets of eyes peered through the windows as I sat there in my bra. I laughed and just got on with it, but changing trousers was out of the question; it’s the price I had to pay for not wearing any underwear. Read More

This stunning landscape in the foothills above Arba Minch, Ethiopia, is home to the Dorze Tribe

Many of the indigenous peoples that inhabit southern Ethiopia have settled in the lowlands, but members of the Dorze Tribe prefer to live in the mountains that surround the Great Rift Valley. Twelve Dorze villages are scattered across these mountains, each nestled in a green glade like the one shown in the above photo. The Dorze live in extended family compounds, with huts being added each time a male member of the family takes a bride. Cooler mountain temperatures allow cultivation of a wider variety of crops than those grown in the brutally hot lowland. This abundance provides for a higher quality of health and a more advanced culture. Read More