Ethiopia: Find Lava Lakes and Lost Tribes

Ethiopian landscape. Photo by Rod Waddington.
Ethiopian landscape. Photo by Rod Waddington.

Ethiopia Boasts many of the World’s Most Iconic religious and Natural Sites

By Matt Martella

Ethiopia is a country that is deep in traditions, rich and religious significance, and filled with many great natural and man-made sights.

With a culture that is thousands of years old, Ethiopia has become the home of many legendary moments in human history, some of which have deep religious significance in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Erta Ale lake
Erta Ale lake volcano in Ethiopia. Photo by Petr Meissner.

Ethiopia’s modern culture celebrates its past with many festivals that welcome natives and foreigners alike. Ethiopia also has many fantastic natural sights, including an active volcano that you can see up close and personal.

Erta Ale

Erta Ale, also known as Ethiopia’s smoking mountain, is one of the hottest, driest, and lowest places on earth and can only be reached by foot.

Located in the Afar region of northeastern Ethiopia, Erta Ale is the world’s only active volcano that is below sea level.

Inside the volcano is a bubbling sulfur lake which, due to the unlikely nature of the lake’s surface and the magma chambers below being in a constant state of convection, is a rare sight across the entire globe. If not for this incredible occurrence, the entire pool would solidify.

See it for Yourself!

Lucky for you, this exceptional sight can be seen in person. Ethiopian Holidays offers trips to Erta Ale in which travelers can even spend the night at the famous lava lake.

Adventurers will start on foot from the village of Dodom and embark on a 10.5-mile trek to Erta Ale. The group will be accompanied by trusty camels to carry their camping and sleeping gear.

Spending the night at the lava lake will let you see the boiling lava in its most magnificent form. If you are extra lucky, you may also get to see a “lava fountain” shoot out 6-to-13 feet in the air.

The Holy City of Axum

Located in Northern Ethiopia in the Tigray region, Axum has withstood 3,000 years of human history and is the home of the original Ark of the Covenant. Ethiopian tradition dictates that Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Aksum 3,000 years ago and founded the Solomonic dynasty.

Stelae Park in Axum. Photo by A. Davey.
Stelae Park in Axum. A. Davey photo.

Legend has it that the Ark is in the Chapel of the Tablet, but it is not accessible to the public by order of the Ethiopian government. Saint Mary’s church, which is considered to be the most important church in Ethiopia, is only open to men.

The “Stelae Park” is the home of a series of mysterious stone obelisks dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries. These obelisks, also known as stelae, are theorized to have been used for funeral monuments for ancient rulers.

The tallest of the standing expertly crafted stelae is 23 meters tall. The actual tallest obelisk of the group is 33 meters long but has unfortunately collapsed, but if it still stood it would be the tallest obelisk in the world.

Just a short drive out of the city is the Tomb of King Kaleb, which features an impressive foundation, an exquisitely decorated tomb, and scripture inscriptions. You can also visit the Dungar Palace, which is widely rumored to be the ruins of the opulent Palace of Queen Sheba.

Irreechaa Festival

Irreechaa is a thanksgiving celebration in the traditional religion of the Oromos and has been taking place for over 6,000 years. The festivals attract all types of people to celebrate thankfulness, peace between man and nature, and the health of families and countries alike.

Shala Lake. Photo by Ninara.
Shala Lake Ethiopia. Ninara photo.

The Irreechaa festival marks two seasonal shifts. One is celebrated in May on top of the mountains to signify the end of the dry season and the coming of the rainy season.

The second festival comes between the end of September and early October and features a lot of praying for a good harvest as the dry season creeps forward.

The festival is based in the Oromos religion, which believes that the spirit is the power through which Waqaa (God) rules the world. The festival has deep religious significance, as it essentially works as the election season for the Ethiopian people.

The Irreechaa is a crucial part of the Gadaa system, which is a religious and political system in which every male member of the society who is of age can run for an administrative position.

The Dassanech of the Omo Valley

The Dassanech tribe resides in the Southern region of the Omo Delta and is the most southerly ethnic group of the Omo valley tribes. The Dassanech means “people of the Delta,” and their mastery of the land more than lives up to that title.

Omo valley. Rod Waddington photo.
Omo valley. Rod Waddington photo.

The Dassanech practice cultivation of crops, pastoralism, and fishing in order to survive in the arid climate of the Omo Delta. On top of that, the Dassanech tribe are also crocodile and hippopotamus hunters if they are low on food.

With huts made of sticks and branches called miede, the Dassanech can adapt swiftly to whatever the Omo Delta throws at them.

The Importance of The Dimmi

The Dimmi is one of the most important Dassanech ceremonies. The ceremony features a blessing of the first-born daughters when they are nine or ten years old to ensure the girl’s fertility for her future. After the ceremony, the father becomes an elder of the tribe.

The Dassanech is not strictly an ethnicity, meaning any man or woman can potentially join the tribe… as long as they agree to be circumcised. This has allowed the Dassanech tribe to include a wide variety of people throughout the hundreds of years of its existence.

Native Ethiopian Food

Dassanech tribe. Rod Waddington photo.
Dassanech tribe. Rod Waddington photo.

Injera is described by Ethiopian Holidays as “a sourdough tasting flatbread or pancake made from the indigenous and nutritious grains of Teff, which is both gluten-free and high in protein.”

The teff can be light or dark depending on your preference. Making injera takes a few days because the ground teff and water need to ferment.

Eating and Drinking in Ethiopia

Shiro is made from ground chickpeas and berbere, a red pepper unique to Ethiopia. Shiro is a popular fasting food amongst Ethiopians.

Foodies with a love for spicy food should check out Ethiopia, as spicy red peppers and chili pepper mixes are extremely common in their foods.

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