'The birth of the Earth': travels in Ethiopia – Everything felt raw, imposing and beautiful, says CNN senior director Brice Laine of his recent trip to Ethiopia. Looking down into the Erta Ale volcanic crater was, he says, "like witnessing the birth of Earth." Located in the Danakil Depression and known as "the gateway to hell" among local Afar people, it's the world's oldest active lava lake.
Danakil Depression – Acidic liquids, basalt and salt formations make up the volcanic landscape of Ethiopia's desert basin.
Acid pools – The desert basin is considered one of the most inhospitable terrains on earth.
Not your ordinary hot spring – At its lowest point, the desert, home to fields of sulphurous hot springs like this petrified example, dips 125 meters below sea level.
A test in vertigo – Carved into the side of a 600-meter-tall rock face, the Abuna Yemata Guh church in Gheralta, Tigrai was built in the 15th century. Getting there requires a challenging hike, a scramble up a cliffside and negotiating rock ledges with 200-meter (656-feet) vertical drops.
From lava lakes to high peaks – The Simien mountains are one of Africa's largest ranges. Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia, reaches an elevation of 4,550 meters (14,928 feet). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mountain is rich in wildlife, including gelada baboons, walia ibex, Ethiopian wolf and birds of prey.
Super-sociable monkeys – Gelada baboons are endemic to Ethiopia, with a population of up to 500,000. They are considered one of the most sociable of African monkeys and their harem-like social structure to be the most complex of all animals.
Mountain people – The central highlands of Ethiopia are home to the Amhara ethnic group.
Coffee ceremony – The Ethiopian coffee tradition involves women first washing the coffee beans, then roasting and grinding them. Guests are served three cups of black coffee that range from strong to weak; the ceremony lasts up to an hour. In this photo, an Amhara woman prepares coffee in the small village of Gich, in the Simien Mountains.
Source of the Nile – Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia (84 by 66 kilometers, or 52 by 41 miles) and the source of the Blue Nile, the longest river in the world.
12th century rock churches – Ancient rock-hewn monolithic churches dot the north of Ethiopia, one of the oldest Christian countries in the world. Often perched above steep cliffs, reaching them requires fitness and determination. "I felt like Indiana Jones raiding the Lost Ark," says Laine about exploring the 12th-century Bet Giyorgis (St. George) monolithic church in Lalibela, pictured here.
St. George's church – Bet Giyorgis is one of 13 monolithic churches in Lalibela, a village in the mountains of Lasta.
Church tunnels – Tunnels link Lalibela's complex of rock-carved churches.