Erta Ale, in the heart of the Danakil desert, is the only volcano in the world with a permanent lava lake. After a five hour hike in the dark, we reach the volcano’s caldera around 11pm, and spend the night there in a small ramshackle hut.
Erta Ale is in a state of permanent eruption. The bright orange magma swirls around like liquid gold. Powerful underground currents create deep waves of slow-moving magma which come crashing against molten rocks. Chasms are made and unmade in the sea of lava. And every few minutes a pillar of fire erupts from the lava lake and shoots up in the sky before dissolving into a thousand drops of liquid fire which fall a few metres from us.
Standing on the edge of the caldera, entranced by the volcano’s pyrotechnics, we feel like Orpheus standing at the Gates of Hades, watching its thousands of fires burning the souls of the unworthy.