Editor's Note
January 2012
Hot Spot
Lake Assal Djibouti
As George Steinmetz soars over Lake Assal in Africa's Afar region, the shadow of his paraglider appears as a dark crescent on the sands below.
PHOTO: GEORGE STEINMETZ

The "hell-hole of creation" was how Ludovico Mariano Nesbitt described northern Ethiopia's Afar depression in 1928. Nesbitt was the first European to explore this forbidding landscape and return alive. Three previous expeditions had ended in failure, and it is no mystery why. The Afar is one of the hottest places on Earth, a raw terrain of erupting volcanoes, a boiling lake of lava, and scalding springs. The Afar people who inhabit it are not known for their hospitality. Inviting, it is not—unless you are photographer George Steinmetz. Despite the hardships, he was drawn to the Afar because, as you'll see in this month's issue, extraordinary photos can be made there.

Another draw was the edgy, you're-on-your-own potential for adventure. "One of the wonderful things about Africa," George says, "is that there usually are no rules or people to enforce them. When we arrived at an erupting caldera, there was nobody to tell us if the lava was going up or down or prone to collapse. Going to the lava-lake rim for a wide-angle photo was like walking the plank, surrounded by noxious volcanic gases that turn the moisture in your nose into sulfuric acid. I wanted to shoot the lake from my paraglider but realized there was no place to land without getting shredded on the sharp, unstable terrain. I have a firm rule to never fly over something without a safe place to glide to in case the motor quits.

"The next flight I made, at Lake Afrera, my motor did just that when my fuel hose broke. There may be no rules in Africa," says George, "but it made me glad to live by my own."
Chris Johns

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