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July 23, 2017: Salt Lake, Salt Mines & Salt Caravans, Ethiopia

The two expeditions I made to the Danakil Depression, the hottest place on earth, in the Northeast of Ethiopia, both rank among the most challenging and most expensive ones I have ever undertaken. But nothing, nothing will ever take away these memories: each day brought a new highlight, each minute something unseen, unique and spectacular!

Young Afars and Tigrians slave away in these salt fields from dusk to dawn, an hour’s walk from the village, in temperatures beyond imagination. The tools could not be simpler: long sticks to catapult large chunks off the ground and axes to break them into smaller pieces and finally into blocks of 30 by 40 cm. Each block is loaded and unloaded countless times onto camels during the 5-day trip to Mekele.

The work in the salt field runs like a Swiss clock: soon after the wake up call by the muezzin at around 05:00 am, the men leave the village, an hour later the first caravan follows. Also the elaborate system of organizing hundreds and hundreds of camels, unloading and then loading them follows a similar impressive precision. The camels not only carry the salt but also their own food as well as the provision for the guides and the workers. Water is mainly transported in bags made from goatskin.



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It is almost impossible to describe the debilitating heat in this location. We would instantly scurry to any shade possible, however inadequate.

I have been on the southern fringe and broiled in hot springs about 30km off the road to Harar. Afars looked through me, knowing I was irrelevant in their world.

In years gone by, my testicles would have been their chief interest in me, for decorating their waistband !

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