The road is packed with hundreds of trucks as we leave the Djibouti Palace Kempinski for a two-day drive to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Our driver and guide Daniel explains that as Ethiopia is landlocked, Djibouti’s port is Ethiopia’s main access to the sea. Every day dozens of ships dock at the port and unload their freight onto trucks that immediately set off on the 900-kilometre journey to Addis.
Before leaving Djibouti, we would like to visit one of its highlights, Lac Assal, a salt lake that lies 155 metres below sea level, the lowest point in Africa. As we skirt the Djibouti coastline, we pass a huge canyon that is known as the Afar Triangle, a ‘triple junction’ where three tectonic plates meet: the African, the Arabian and the Somali. The plates are drifting apart at a rate of several centimetres a year, so that the earth’s crust in this area has been reduced from the usual 100-kilometre thickness to just 15 kilometres. The result is that there is a lot of tectonic activity in the Afar Triangle including earthquakes and volcanic eruptions – though hopefully not today!
We continue our route east to Lac Assal, one of the hottest places on earth. Looking down on the lake from the road above, the salt looks like snow on the edge of the blue water. It is surreal!
Lac Assal is surrounded by a huge ‘ice field’ of salt known as la Banquise de Sel. The 62-square-kilometre, 80-metre-thick mass is the largest salt reserve on earth. In the past, salt was used as a currency and the Afar people who lived around the lake were so rich that they could even buy gold with their salt. Today, all that has changed though: the value of salt has dropped dramatically and the Afar people work hard to make a living.
Daniel asks Ali, an Afar guy who is harvesting salt at the lake, to show us the tricks of the trade. He shows us where they get the salt and how they process it. He also offers us a salted buck skull as a souvenir. Gad degue – thank you, Ali!