by David Lewis
In early August, after 10 months of planning, myself, Goobo Mohammed, an Urban Planning student from Addis Ababa University and Anthon Jackson, a freelance photographer from Utah met in the Ethiopian capital. After stocking up on last-minute essential supplies in Addis – bamboo poles and anti-biotics – we bumbled along about 900km north to Assaita, the former capital of the Afar region. It was in this dusty town that we picked up two new team members, our ships of the desert; Big Tony and Bolbirry. The temperatures were already trying by this point, breaking 50°C every day but this was only to be the beginning as we journeyed to the hottest place in the world.
From Assaita, we pushed on out into the bush and got an increasing sense of the wilderness into which we were entering, as heavily-armed, stern-looking Afar warriors would approach our camel train, lean back on their crooks and quiz our interpreter, Goobo, as to what exactly we were doing there. After a couple of days on the road we met two amicable Afar, Tur and Mohammed, who would later become the final two members of our fellowship with which we’d head on out of the bush and into the unrelenting desert of the Danakil Country.
For the next 3 weeks, hyenas, crocodiles, ‘demon governments’, imprisonment and a couple of raids from the nearby warring Somali tribes ensured the expedition was fraught with much excitement and unpredictable adventure. At the same time, we could also count on the Danakil to provide steady, blazing heat tickling 60°C most days. Our route took us loosely along the course of the Awash River, to its terminus at Lake Abhebad, through a volcanic wasteland interspersed with ominous, looming mountains. With the aim of the expedition to retrace a route undertaken by Oxford explorer, Sir Wilfred Thesiger and to get under the skin of the Afar tribe inhabiting the region, we spent the time amassing a great deal of footage of the Afar and their practices as one of the most traditional tribes left in Africa. Having learnt a tremendous deal about their way of life and, most importantly, their remarkable resilience in such a challenging environment, we journeyed back towards Assaita, towards refrigeration, two or three skin tones darker and almost 12kg lighter!
All of the film and photography are the foundations of a short film we’re beginning to produce called ‘Among the Afar’. Within a few months we hope to be entering it into a number of film festivals, as well as use clips to feature in a couple of talks here and there in London, Bristol and Oxford.
The pack bags you ever so kindly designed for us, Jack, were just top-notch and we couldn’t have been any more satisfied with them. I knew we were going to need something tough and hardy for the Danakil and your bags certainly delivered. The construction felt sturdy and strong and survived being dumped on rocks, dumped in rivers, sat on by camels, pulled through acacia bushes and baked under a sun beating down on the hottest place in the world! We felt we could really count on the bags to see it through to the end of the journey and they did, so thank you very, very much!
The handles held bound and the daisy chains were very useful, too, when lashing the bags to the camels or simply snapping on a water bottle with a carabiner. The roll down seals were also tight, secured taught by that black band you put on the inside of the ends of each bag. Overall, these bags were the business! Thank you!
Notes from Jack: David Contacted me from Oxford University in England last winter with the need for some dry bag storage. He picked out the design he liked the best, and modified it to fit his needs. He and Anthon Jackson are currently in the production stages is the ‘Among the Afar’ video documentary about this extrordinary trip, into one of the harshest climates (and governments) on earth.
The photo you like is of a river crossing, yes. All the peoples’ wares are bundled into that boat including food sacks and livestock to cross the Boha river. Men often swim across and almost all children do, too – often metres away from cruising crocs. Camels and donkeys swim across, the former with empty jerry cans as floats. The cow in the photo is dead and mysteriously didn’t make it over the river…not exactly sure why!! Once we’d crossed this river it was off into the desert! This day was exceptionally hot and was between 57 and 60 celsius!!!
Anthon Jacksonis a traveling freelance photographer and writer. Born in Ogden, Utah, Jackson has since spent over 19 years abroad, visiting more than 50 countries. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies. His photo work has been featured by GEO, Adventure Journey, Gulf Life, Lonely Planet and National Geographic Traveler. Available for contract assignments and commissions worldwide. Please make inquiries to: janthonjackson[at]gmail.com.