They found it on the shore of a swamp, covered by a soft layer of mud, it was almost all whole, it was beautiful.
They called it “Dinqinesh”, which in Amharic means “you are wonderful”; it is known by all as “Lucy”. She had gone through time.
It is the most ancient ancestor of the human species so far found, our ancient and infinite mother; she felt first the desire to know the Earth that had welcomed her, to discover her, going beyond the visible horizon: she began to walk. From that moment, the epic migrations of humanity slowly began.
I wanted to pay tribute to this woman, her courage, her curiosity by realizing a dream: to cross the desert depression of Ethiopian Danakil, the “pure” Dancalia, the Afar region, an immense sea disappeared between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a desert of salt, volcanoes and dust inside the African Rift Valley, all below sea level. Here the chaos of the elements, the geological anarchy that are unleashed in the core of the planet, have never stopped and for millennia the transformation takes place in the light of the sun.
Earth as hard as extraordinary as the Danakil: elected by the Afar people, nomads with legendary origins, “the men of lava”, as the only one in which they can live, borderland, tied to the ancient destiny of all humanity, to the past and to the almost forgotten history of our country, to ambitions too great to own and colonize distant lands.
In Danakil the beauty of the Earth is predominant, the extraordinary strength of its people without comparisons; women and men have always walked, relentlessly, with the pace of tireless marchers, they have adapted their entire existence to this land instead of abandoning it and cursing it because they are not generous and continue to love it, despite everything, with “the love of snakes for the stone “.
In this world it is not the passing man who is the protagonist in the front row of a show … here the man who does not live there disappears!
Only for a few months a year it is possible to complete this journey, when temperatures are not so high as to make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to enjoy its beauty without suffering.
The bicycle has become my home for the time of the crossing; everything, apart from the water, moved with me. In a jeep used for transporting the escort, mandatory and assigned to anyone crossing this territory, I had loaded drinking water in yellow tanks, the same as those seen throughout Ethiopia. In the wells the water was too muddy and even by filtering it I would not have had the security of being able to drink it without consequences.
Come, I’ll take you on a journey with me.
I start from Asayta, the capital of the sultanate of the Aussa, once a glorious oasis along the ancient caravan route that from Tadjoura, on the Red Sea, reached the banks of the Awash river that makes the land that it crosses before going to fertile and generous again to die in the desert depression of the Danakil, where dust and sand and salt have more power than water. In front of an emerald green minaret, like a lighthouse that has never heard the sound of the sea, the Afar women are the beautiful, colorful ladies and fairs of the great weekly market; they sell mats of braided dum palm, bright yellow ghee, cowhides dried by shiny fur, eggs with snow-white shells.
From Asayta the track enters, endlessly, into a motionless ocean of lava, in a sea that was incandescent during a repeated series of shocking geological events that slowly cooled. Sometimes I see the infinite riding on the crest of the wave, sometimes I only see the shades of black and gray of the petrified magma.
In Afrera they knew I was coming, they are waiting for me outside the government office with the tight permit sheets in their hands: with them I can continue and go safely throughout the Afar region.
I pedal following the almost uninterrupted chain of volcanoes that make this area a unique place in the world; I have to go to Krswad, the headquarters of Ghilissa before going up to the crater of Erta Ale, one of the four volcanoes active on Earth to host a lake of permanent lava where the waves of magma make the backwash like the water of the sea. Ghilissa is a leader, he decides the stocks that accompany anyone who gets on the “Mountain that smokes”. Everyone needs him. Getting to Krswad by bicycle is not easy: three large white plastic tanks indicate its position from afar, like a beacon for sailors, in this desert of impalpable dust that covers the hub of the wheels and makes it impossible to move forward in the saddle. I push the bicycle for 30 kilometers, at each step a cloud rises that enters the eyes, the nose, the pores of the skin, the texture of the fabric of the clothes and changes their color.
In the small kingdom of Ghilissa there are only men, like a small army employed