2016 – A Retrospective

2016 was a year full of surprises for many people.  Looking back on it, few people – myself included – were sad to see the year end.

But then I began going through my photographs of 2016.  I realised that, beyond the year’s horrible headlines, I can look back on some great moments and trips to fascinating places – and be thankful for having had the opportunity to do so.     

I began the year on top of Erta Ale, a live volcano in Ethiopia.  Erta Ale is one of only six volcanoes in the world with a lava lake in its crater.  It was amazing to watch the lava bubble and flow, sometimes crashing against the sides of the crater as oceans waves would against a cliff.  Standing on the crater’s edge, you really get a feel for the power of nature and the forces bubbling away beneath our planet’s crust.

If you think you missed my posting about Erta Ale, you didn’t.  A year on, I still haven’t put together the little movie about this amazing place, but it’s high on my ‘to-do’ list for 2017.

Click on the photographs to enlarge and see the captions:


As part of the same trip to the Horn of Africa, I also visited the Danakil Depression – one of the hottest inhabited places on earth.  For centuries, people have toiled away in the heat to mine salt there and then carried it on camels to trading towns in Ethiopia.  With the construction of new roads, though, the iconic camel caravans could soon be replaced by fleets of lorries.  Getting to see them was a special experience.

Somaliland is not internationally recognised as a country, despite having declared independence from Somalia back in the 1990s.  Tourism is in its infancy, but this little visited part of Africa is nevertheless worth a trip.  War damage is still visible in the old port of Berbera, yet the town retains a very particular charm.  Somaliland is rightly proud of the cave paintings at Las Geel, dating from 9-10,000 BC, but only discovered in the early years in this century.

In Tajikistan I got to see a game of Buzkashi, a sport played in Central Asia.  It’s rather like polo, except instead of a ball the players use a (dead) headless goat.  The other difference is that where polo is played with two teams of four, Buzkashi involves hundreds of riders on horseback – and it’s every man for himself. Nestling in the Pamir mountains, Tajikistan is Central Asia’s smallest country.  Yet it has much to offer, including the ruins of ancient Penjikent, dubbed the Pompeii of Central Asia.

For many years, I had wanted to visit Iran.  In 2016 I finally got to do so.  The country is extremely diverse, with forested mountains in the north and scorching deserts in the south, and the Persian architecture of ancient cities like Esfehan and Shiraz contrasting with the bustle of the sprawling capital Tehran.  One thing that was the same throughout Iran, though, was the hospitality and friendliness of the people.

Of course, you don’t always have to travel far to find places of interest.  Europe has many worthwhile sights within just a couple of hours by train or plane from Brussels.  Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the distant and forget the near.  

A quick trip to Paris (it’s only 1h20 away by train) provided the opportunity to combine pottering round the city with a chance to see Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s funky art installations at the Palace of Versailles.

In Stockholm I discovered there were still many interesting museums I hadn’t yet visited and a short flight away from the Swedish capital I finally found myself on the Finnish archipelago of Åland, a place I’d been wanting to visit for a long time.  

Nearby can be good too – even if it’s not always as warm and sunny as elsewhere!

And so starts 2017.  I hope it brings you many nice things!