Tag Archives: Ethiopia

Wandering Soul

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Sulaiman: Danau Tarusan Kamang, Agam, Sumatera, Indonesia

New places always excite me.

I could spend hours just wandering and observing my surrounding for something to learn from or just something to look at. Sharing 5 of my favorite portraits that whenever I look at it … I felt like packing my bag and start wandering on the street again.

Pic above: Sulaiman, our local talent posing for me with his fish cages. Danau Tarusan Kamang is a natural pond that seemed to have a mind of its own mind. It dried up and swelled up with water according to God knows whatever rules … I think it has something to do with its underground geographical structure.

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Mr Freedom: Bukit Tinggi, Sumatera, Indonesia

Pic above: Mr Freedom showing off his ‘freedom’ … tattooed hard on his chest. What a coincident since freedom is my all time favorite words lol.

Meeting strangers from all part of life while wandering around is an eye opening. I learned to listen well too. Stories about their day-to-day life which is most of the time would be an opposite story from mine.

Engaging a simple and sincere chat with strangers on the street came naturally to me too… I like it. And, I think that it would be rude for you to just showed up from nowhere and suddenly just click on your camera on somebody’s face.

Have some respect … kot.

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A woman from Karo Tribe: Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Pic above: My lady from Karo tribe of Omo Valley, Ethiopia posed with my colorful shawl. We were curious about each other lol.

I smiled whenever I saw this photo. She probably has never seen a shawl as colorful as mine in her life (Malaysian women wear colorful clothing at every chance that we have and we have a whole bundle of choices to choose from hu hu hu).  And, I envied her beads collection.

So, she wanted my colorful shawl for an exchange with her photos and I ended up having a series of her photos looking satisfied with our deal ;-P .

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Omak/ Mother: Bukit Tinggi, Sumatera, Indonesia

And, I personally think that it would be more satisfying to have some sort of connection with your subject. Especially when I am taking portraiture or faces on the street, I want to have meaning to a face that I would probably keep for a very long time in my external HDD.

Pic above: A loving mother that I met while wandering at one of the morning markets at Bukit Tinggi, Sumatera, Indonesia. We had a loving chat together … talking about her children and how lucky she was to be surrounded by her loved ones.

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Chacha: Northern Pakistan

And lastly, the chacha (uncle) that we met at one of our stops on our way to Skardu, Northern Pakistan. Strangers in this part of the world are rare. I never expected that we would be treated warmly.  it is true then … “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met”. (pls ignore the salt bottle on the table … lol)

I am feeling grateful … for the soul that decided to leave me, the soul that wander together hand-in-hand with me and the newly discovered soul that decided to stay … the best word to express my gratitude is alhamdullilah.

Bye for now.

Cheers,

MM

 

 

 

 


Taste of Courage in Danakil Depression

 

27 -29th April 2014: Ethiopian Danakil Depression

“Courage is found in unlikely places.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Ethiopian Danakil Depression – the most challenging place that I have visited so far.

This place challenged the tough me to the core. Not a usual kind of place for your vacation gateway … indeed, this is the place where you go for self-discovery… nope! I am not being sarcastic.  This place is where you will see the TRUE you at your most physically difficult and challenging situation … at least for me. I survived 3 days 2 night stay in this ‘hot sauna heaven’ with an understanding that … anything that doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.

Warning: This is going to be a very long post. Reason being … this post is a ‘keeper’ in my personal digital journal

Entering Danakil Depression from Semera, capital of Afar state

27 – 29th April, 2014: Entering Danakil Depression from Semera, capital of Afar state

Danakil Depression is located at the Northeastern part of Ethiopia. Listed as the hottest and the lowest place on earth (nearly 120m below sea level). This place is used to be part of the sea bed of the Red Sea . And because of its geographical complexity, this place is rich with salt and mineral deposits. If you are into science and nature phenomenal, Ethiopian Danakil Depression is just the place for you. Salt canyons, salt lakes, hot springs, acid lakes, colorful sulfur acid mixed landscape, active volcanoes with bubbly basaltic lava and many more geological fascinating sights that could blow your mind.

Harsh and unforgiving brutal landscape indeed. When I was there, it felt like I was not on our earth …  the gruesome heat was unbearable and my mind went totally disoriented, I was confused on my whereabouts … was I in planet Mars or was I at the gate of hell.

Children playing soccer under the heat. Estimated temperature was around 34 degree

Semera, Ethiopia: Children playing soccer under the heat. Estimated temperature at this time was around 34-38 degree

We were there at the end of its summer season, talking about being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Just imagine … the average temperature during daytime is around 35 degree and during summer it soars as high as 40s and low 50s. In summary … I was looking for trouble when I signed up for this daredevil trip. The downside of being a follower … oh well.

The curious cat got a ‘lesson learned’ experience here .. after all, they said ‘a cat has nine lives’ … alhamdullilah.

We were heading towards the extremely salty Lake Alfera.

We were heading towards the extremely salty Lake Alfera

Lake Alfera, 120m below sea level. The temperature at this time was at 49 degree

Salt Lake Alfera, 120m below sea level. The temperature at this time was at 49 degree

We entered Danakil Depression from Semera, the capital city of Afar state and exited through Mekelle.

Danakil is the homeland of the Afar people … famously known for being proud and independent warrior like character. They are predominately Muslim. These people are the unbelievable great survivor as they could survive the harsh and extreme living environment that surrounded them. There are lots of documented stories about these nomadic, courageous and unpredictable heroes of Afar that you can read over the web.

A typical look of an Afar man with his sword

A typical look of an Afar man with his sword

The killing part about this place is its extreme heat combined with its high humidity air. I had experience dry and hot season before in Saudi Arabia … but with low humidity. Here in Danakil Depression, the heat made breathing difficult … I choked from the dust, the heated wind (it felt like being blown by a hair dryer at full heat … on your face)  and my own heavy sweat.

Gobbling on warm drinking water did not help at all. Too much of plain water made my stomach nauseatic. Isotonic drinks or water added with a packed oral rehydration salts would be a great help during a humid extreme hot day … at least for a start until your body get fully adjusted to its surrounding environment. Science vs logic rant … hmmmm

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Crossing the hot desert with our 4WDs heading to Mt Erta’ Ale Basecamp

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The challenging and piping hot route to Mt Erta’ Ale. I was in car no. 2 ( three 4WDs team) and I  shoot this using my 70-200mm f/4 from a very bumpy ride

Our tough and reliable transportation

Our tough and reliable 4WDs

A parking spot at nowhere while waiting for jeep no.3. Noticed the landscape? it is just totally bald and empty

A parking spot at nowhere while waiting for car no.3. Noticed the landscape? it is  totally bald and empty

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Don’t be blinded by our smile. The heat was unbearable here … I was wearing my sandal but the ground was so hot, I can’t even put my feet down on the ground. Wow … looking back at this picture, make me miss my moment with both Tameru (orange shirt) and Barakat (red shirt)

Jeep no. 3 and the bald landscape

Car no. 3 and the bald landscape

Erta Ale based camp. This where we hide for the sun and the heat until the temperature dropped before we start our 3 hours trek to Erta Ale volcano

Mt Erta’ Ale Basecamp … and that is my shadow 😉

We were heading to Mt Erta’ Ale, known by the Afar people as the “smoking mountain” and the “gateway to hell”.  A continuously active basaltic lava with two lava lakes. Sitting at 600m from below sea level … this place is not for a faint heart. We planned to stay overnight near the crater, shoot milky-way, enjoy sunrise at the crater overseeing the active bubbly lava as our background, head down right after dawn and reached Basecamp before the sun start to release its intense heat.

Our local guard/ ranger with his AK-47

Our local guard/ ranger with his AK-47 guarding us at Erta’ Ale lava crater

Erta Ale Volcano: Ethiopia:

Erta’ Ale lava crater at dawn

It takes 3 ‘normal trekking’ hours to reach Mt Erta’ Ale from Basecamp. And with the extreme heat, we could only start hiking when the sun is down. Everything went wrong that night though … we took 6 hours to reach the crater, we were lost in the middle of nowhere … in the dark desert and we were out of drinking water too. 

hate all sort of trekking or hiking activities … so much that I avoid any Nepal trip … and I never trek at night too. I thought that this one would be as easy as hiking up Mt Bromo in Indonesia …well, I was totally wrong and I was not prepared for this. There were a lot more things happened that night but I am still not comfortable talking about it … lol … life is already interesting as it is and a few breakdowns here and there will never break my spirit.

I am sharing my lesson learned moment here with all of you, so next time when you plan to visit here … you will be well equipped:

  • Avoid summer season, the heat is intense beyond normal
  • Be mentally prepared that you will be trekking (15km) up at night with the heat (35-40 degree) and camel riding is not advisable due to the rugged volcanic terrain landscape
  • Wear proper trekking shoes with socks on and no sandal at all (including trekking sandal) as the landscape here is nearly 100% badlands terrain of volcanic rocks.
  • Carry 2 liters of water as the heat is really extreme
  • Bring along extra packed Oral Rehydration Salt as you will be losing a lot of mineral while sweating and drinking 2 liters of mineral water in 3-6 hours could not help to replenish back our mineral lost.
  • If you have chronic gastric, especially GERD …  bring your medication along. As the heat and extreme tiredness will trigger your GERD.
  • Bring extra energy bars to boast your energy especially on your way down from the crater to Basecamp as you will be racing against time to avoid the escalating heat.
  • Bring your mirrorless camera instead of your heavy DSLR (unless if somebody else is willing to carry your DSLR) and I think super wide lens (16-35mm or 12-24mm) should be good enough ( maybe fish-eye lens would be good too). Don’t bring your whole lens collection as you are racing against time here.

We reached Mt Erta’ Ale at 12:45 am (started at 7pm) … nearly half dead. My mind was so disoriented and it went totally blank … and my focus naturally switched from photo mode to survivor mode. No milky-way or gorgeous sunrise shoot for me as everything that I shoot there were merely just some record shoots, nothing to shout about.

But wow … looking at the fiery red light coming out from the crater for the first time was a very memorable moment for me … out of this world experience, it felt like I was in the movie set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy … lol.

Yeah … witnessing and listening to the bubbling sound of basaltic magma straight from its crater is way cooler than watching it on TV. Smelling the hot stingy sulfur straight from its burning pot is way interesting than hearing the story from some strangers on youtube … lol.

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At 6:00 am: Out of this world kind of experience … walking inside a live and fragile volcano crater to get close to the lava crack. I was totally driven by my curiosity and not so much by my courage

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Seeing the bubbling lava straight from the crater is way cooler than watching it on TV … lol. The sulfur glaring smell and the sudden stingy heat on my eyes and face made this trip worth all the pain that I had been through to get here

Most of my shoots up here are either blurred or pointless as my brain was totally frozen

Most of my shoots up here are either blurred or pointless as my brain was totally frozen … he he he maybe a repeat next time huh?

This is the craziest thing that I have ever done … so far (other than staring 30cm eye to eye with wild hyena … lol). All this introvert, impulsive,  blurriness, ‘lost in transition’ and my easy ‘tidak apa’ (careless) attitude that I have could lead me either towards a new life experience or a life disaster tragedy for me … 😉 . I learned my lesson well … I am just glad that I survived well too.

I have the habit of keeping everything bottled up inside me and I refused to complain or put the blame on others for whatever misfortune that I had experienced. I do open up a little bit for a few selective souls … but nowadays … I prefer to just lay low … as the only person that you can really trust is maybe just yourself <— lol, a bit sidetrack here 😉

Dalol Ghost Town

Dallol Ghost Town: 1 night stay at  ‘hotel’ felt like forever … lol.

Our journey continues as we drove out from Mt Erta’ Ale Basecamp heading to Dallol, the famous ghost town in Danakil Depression. We spent one night at the ‘million stars’, minimalist and zen Dallol hotel lol.  It was windy that night 😉 … the hot wind (around 40 degrees) kept on blowing dust straight to my face. I woke up every hour either to gobble in more water or to splash more water onto my face and head … it sure felt like a long lonely night for me.

Lake Asele: The salt lake or  salt canyon is 100 meter below sea level. Salt mining activity here is controlled by the Afar people.

Lake Asele: This salt lake or salt canyon  is 100 meter below sea level. Ancient salt mining method is still being used today by the Afar to retrieve the salt here.

The salt miner has to work for 10 months in a year. The temperature here is easily around 35-53 degree.

An Afar salt miner at work: They have to work for 10 months in a year under the intense sun. The temperature here is easily around 35-53 degree. Just unbelievable …

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This is how the salt flats/blocks looked like. Each camel can carry around 30 salt tiles and walk up to 25km a day. The salt tile is transported to Berahile (75km away from Dallol)

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Colorful sulfur hot spring:  A fascinating alien like land of colors … bubbling sulfur acids pools with a strong stinky smell. Out of this world view ….

I have a lot more photos of Dallol Sulfur land and I will upload it all to my Zenfolio photo profile

Printing my mark on my sneaker. I have lot more photos of the colorful land of sulfur acids in my  Zenfolio photo profile … if you are curious to see more lah

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High acid content lake … don’t be fooled by the tranquil look of the water

Checking out from our 'hotel'  in Dallol

Check-out time from our ‘hotel’ in Dallol

A group photo of us ... the Danakil Depression survivors. A truly depressing experience ... lol

A group photo of us … the Danakil Depression survivors. A truly depressing experience … lol

It was a great relieved when we were finally driving out of Danakil Depression. And, when we reached our hotel in Mekelle … I had the best shower in my whole entire life (3 days 2 night without proper shower he he he) … my bed felt like the best bed in the world and the hotel air-condition felt like the luxurious thing that life could offer me … lol.

Daniel and me

Daniel and me jumping in the middle of the road heading to Lake Alfera at 42 degree

This is a picture of me and my local guide aka host aka friend Daniel Million. I was with him and his team during both of my visits to Ethiopia. A very experienced guide and a well verse ornithologist with an angel heart. I highly recommend him as your guide if you decide to visit Ethiopia. You can contact him via his email or Facebook account at danielhummingbird@gmail.com or you can check out his website Traverse Ethiopia Tours.

Uhh … I am signing off now. Sharing another quote here as a reminder to myself … 🙂

 “Why tiptoe through life, to arrive safely at death? If you’re gonna be afraid to live, what’s the point?”

Cheers

MM

 

p/s Wish me luck … 😉

 


Colourful people of Ethiopia: The Hamar Tribe

Wedding ceremony of Hamar people

Wedding celebration back at the village, celebrated by friends and family

I grew up believing that Utopia and Ethiopia is the same place. Had a rough childhood and I like the idea of living in Utopia where the community/ people were heavenly pleasant, even a little-lost child can roam freely without worries. In reality, Utopia and Ethiopia is a completely different opposite in every each way. I discovered that Ethiopia is an African country next to Somalia and famously portrayed as a poor, underdeveloped country and prone to experience famine, just like the rest of its neighboring African country. This country or any other African country has never been listed on my bucket list – of places that I need to visit before I die.

Out of curiosity (and my urge to try something different) I decided to join Photosafari Malaysia when they organised a trip to Ethiopia for the first time. Yup, it was an out of the world kind of experience and I ended up exploring Ethiopia twice (first trip covering Southern part and second trip covering Northern part). Ethiopia is geographically adventurous and Ethiopian are amazingly colourful people. A real eye-opener for the ignorant me and I had experienced my ‘advance’ humanity lesson here. Honestly, I need to write a 200-page book to be able to express everything that I had learned there. But, since my blog is about colour and jewellery then let us just stick to that 🙂

I was at Omo River Valley of Southwestern Ethiopia last year visiting a few ethnic people of Ethiopia like Karo, Hamar, Benna, Mursi and Dassecnech. The people of Hamar struck most of my attention probably because of the way they carried out themselves. They seemed to have the air and pride of a warrior. The same feelings that I felt while I was lingering around people of Afar from Danakil Depression, Northern Ethiopia. While hanging around with them at the market and their village, I noticed that male and female of Hamar people are very fashionable and colourful people. The choices of color on their jewelry were strikingly matched their skin colour. Their jewelry and accessories were either made of African seed beads or metal (like brass, copper and silver).

Lucky me, I had the opportunity to attend the famous Hamar Bull Jumping ceremony and a wedding celebration back in their village. Bull jumping or bull leaping ceremony is where a Hamar man has to successfully leap over a line of cattle in order for him to get married. It is an initiation right of passage to qualify him to get married, own cattle and have children. And, I managed to witness and captured a collection of photos of them with their full jewelry on display during both of the ceremonies. Images taken during my visit to the market, the Bull Jumping ceremony and during the wedding celebration are compiled into a gallery below. Detail description for each photo is included, click on each photo for full view and full description of the image.

There are great stories behind the Hamar’s unique fashion statement, you can visit Lars Krutak: Tattoo Anthropologist’s blog for details facts and stories. For a full view of these images in higher resolution, please visit my Zenfolio gallery: Colourful people of Ethiopia: The Hamar Tribe

Before the Bull jumping ceremony started, women from the groom’s side need to endure a series of whipping on their flesh to prove their love towards their men. Honestly, it was not a very pleasant scene to witness. I was uncomfortable by the whipping sounds and seeing blood oozing out from a dangling flesh was not something that I want to share here. But you always can google for further information about the ceremony. The Hamer women are as fashionable as their men. If men can show off their brave accomplishment through their body scars and mud cap, women of Hamar have the same way to display their braveness and status to the public.

Other than body scarification, their fashion statement generally is based on their marital status (depending on whether they are married, engaged or single). Married women wear their hair with that muddy hairstyle called goscha, some kind of fat and special mud (ochre imported from African neighboring country like Kenya) blended together to create a wet-looking hair that they believed can attract their men. Married and engaged women of Hamer need to wear 2 neck rings around their neck, and an additional heavy neck ring called esente for the first wife of a Hamar man. Like their men, the jewelry and accessories for Hamar women are mostly made of  African seed beads and metals (either brass, copper or silver) too. Below are some images of the Hamar women with their jewelry. For a full view of these images in higher resolution, please visit my Zenfolio gallery: Colorful people of Ethiopia: The Hamar Tribe

I bought myself a bracelet during my second trip there, a simple metal bracelet just to remind myself that I survived the Danakil Depression (the hottest place on earth). We were at the Dalol of  Danakil Depression campsite when I saw Muhammad, a local Afar boy, wearing a bracelet that I kind of like and I ended up buying it from him for 300 bir.

Well, I know it was kind of expensive but I was desperately in need to reward myself for being able to endure the agony that I had to experience during my visit. A sweat agony indeed … love every moment I spent here in Ethiopia … alhamdullilah.

Thanks for reading.

A metal bracelet that I bought from Muhammad, an Afar boy from Dalol, Danakil Depression

The metal bracelet that I bought from Muhammad, an Afar boy from Dalol, Danakil Depression

 

Cheers

MM

ps: If you are interested to visit Ethiopia, I recommend you to contact my Ethiopian friend aka my local guide, Daniel Million and seek his advice to plan your trip. Please check him out at Traverse Ethiopia Tours