National Geographic

Trail Notes: The Italian Road

Near Asaita, Ethiopia, 11°51'9" N, 41°24'20" E

The Afar say Mussolini’s army built it during World War II. It was hard to imagine ebullient Neapolitans out in this aloof landscape. There wasn’t much left. Some washed out bridges. And enigmatic piles of dark stones every 50 yards across salt playas, presumably to guide convoys during sandstorms. The most Italian thing about it was natural: the cracked surfaces of the dry lake beds it crossed. They were polished to a gloss by the desert winds—nature’s finest Roman mosaic, beautiful to look at, pure joy to walk on.

Sometimes,  it is the land that imitates art.

There are 12 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Denise
    March 6, 2013

    This is a great photo. I love the Dali-esque shadow of the camel and the clarity of the baked clay. I love how the camel’s head is out of frame, which leads the eye through to the men walking ahead.

  2. Nathan
    March 7, 2013


  3. desiree
    March 7, 2013

    is it really hot n how many people go wit u?

    • Paul Salopek
      March 18, 2013

      It is hot, but it will be getting much hotter—upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, I have three Afar friends with me, two camel herders and a guide.

  4. Natalia
    March 7, 2013

    why did you decide to go on this travel?

  5. santiago rivera
    March 7, 2013


  6. Linda Hoernke
    March 19, 2013

    Excellent photo!

  7. Nicole
    March 23, 2013

    Love to read your posts, and this is a marvelous photo. Thank you for allowing us to share your journey.

  8. Anthony
    March 27, 2013

    this guy is cool

  9. Molly Obryant
    March 27, 2013

    is it hot over there?

  10. Dave Silva
    March 27, 2013

    I never comment or write to strangers but you have recently passed very close to where my son was born West of Mekele. That part of the world is very important to me. I am so glad you are doing this.

    Thanks You

    Dave Silva

  11. Ralph Gandy
    July 30, 2015

    Love the angle of the photo.

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