Waking up in the morning we were still uncertain where we would go, what we would do. The night before it had not been fully determined if the Eritrean military had a hand in coordinating the attack. Had we had entered into a new chapter of the Ethio-Eritrean perched on the tip of Africa’s Horn.

Utilizing impeccable logic we determined that it would be relatively safe to visit an active lava lake experiencing recent volatility.

After 6 punishing hours driving we arrived to “corruption corner.” The Afar, interested in obtaining a portion of the significant tourist proceeds flowing to their lava strewn desert had devised an elaborate social etiquette system for bribery. We had been informed that we would need to pay 350 ETB before arriving and had budgeted accordingly. However, the process was not as simple as handing over a plain manilla envelope with nonconsecutive small denomination bills. Instead it was necessary to spend hours in pointless conversation tentatively broaching the subject, until the chief and his assistant had convinced themselves that they were justified in accepting our money as in the best interest of bureaucratic order.

A crisis of conscience for a tribe that has famously been described as one of the most violent and aggressive in Africa did not seem to fit. But hey, maybe they’re just misunderstand.

As dusk rolled through the black lands and burnt grasses, we arrived at the foot of the volcano. Eating dinner and waiting for night we sat watching the full moon sitting heavy on the horizon, looming large and jaundiced. The skies were muddied with massive clouds stranded listlessly above.

And under the yellow cast we walked. No flashlights, no noise. Passing camels and Afar we meandered across the sharpened landscape. Finally, nearing the base we looked up and began our ascent. Hours after setting out we crested the flat-topped mountain. A kilometer in the descent an eerie red glow spewed from the earth, mixed with smoke and gas.

Descending to the edge of the caldera required a 20 minutes scramble over hollow and shifting rocks. Reaching the edge and looking down was like peering into the primordial furnace of life. Animated and ever-changing, the lava bubbled and hissed and spat like a petulant child. It was beautiful beyond reckoning. The rest of the night time blended as we wandered around the lake’s rim, dazed and beholden to its miraculous nature. Near dawn we found a flat spot and settled down amongst shards of volcanic glass. Considering the blinding full moon, a post-apocalyptic landscape, and hell boiling over not more than 100 meters away I consider that I slept quite well.

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