Travel with camel caravans to the salt flats in the Danakil desert
January 1, 2011
The trip to Danakil desert ends with an exciting excursion to the salt flats, following an endless caravan of camels. These animals, also accompanied by donkeys and mules, are used for transporting the salt extracted from the Danakil miners by Afar people using just very primitive tools that make their work very hard.
In the northern Danakil, during the dry season, every day except Friday, hundreds, maybe thousands of camels and donkeys, march towards the salt flats to load tiles of salt extracted by miners from a huge open pit mine.
Photo of camels passing near Ahmed Ela, about to continue their journey toward the nearby salt flats, called in local language " Assale' ".
Meanwhile, a child plays and watch the tourists from his poor hut.
Those who can not afford the camel, reach the salt flats using donkeys.
The long line of camels along the rocky desert, before the salt flats in the heart of the Danakil depression.
Caravans of camels. The row of camels seem to be endless.
As a faint mirage on the horizon, hundreds of camels sorted in a single row, create the fusion line between earth and sky.
After several miles, the stone desert is transformed into a vast expanse of salt. The Plains of Salt (or salt flats) in the Danakil depression, along the border line between Ethiopia and Eritrea, occupies about 200 square kilometers and is located at a negative altitude of 120 meters below sea level. This huge salt crust, often up to 3 km thick, goes deep in the earth's crust.
Waiting the arrival of camels, crews are working to extract precious tiles of salt from the ground. Once on the camels, the salt will be sent sent to various markets in Ethiopia.
Finally, working with sticks, the workers lift the big slab of salt.
The slab of salt just ripped the ground, is cut into tiles of standard sizes called, according to their weight, ganfur (about 4kg) or ghelao (about 8kg).
While work continues incessantly, an army of camels slowly materializes from the horizon.
Salt flats picture, with workers extracting the salt and camels ready to be loaded.
Picture of camel.
The tiles of salt are stacked, tied and prepared for transport.
The salt is then loaded on the camels, before being transported to the highlands, where the tiles will be cut into smaller blocks called " amole' ". The latter will be sold to markets in Macallè or Axum, from where they will reach the rest of Ethiopia.
During the next rainy season between June and September, the salt flats will be completely flooded by water coming from the plateau, erasing the hard work done by miners. A new salt crust will reform, so that each year the workers will find a land virtually "virgin" that can be used again.
We leave the Danakil desert to continue our journey to the highlands of Ethiopia. The dirt road runs along the Saba canyon, a picturesque location also run by caravans of camels.
We start to climb the mountains, through small villages populated by Afar or Danakil, who live in very poor huts.
We cross the village of Bere Ale, where, after so many days, we meet again some kind of "civilization. ". Eventually we got some well deserved cold drink.
The group stops for lunch in a place where a woman in the kitchen prepares the injera, a typical Ethiopian and etritreo dish, consisting of a sort of big pancake where you put over meat or vegetables.