Our trip to the salt plain at the edge of the Danakil depression
After the incredible lunar landscape of Dallol, where smoke trails and sulphurous springs of a thousand colours left us speechless, another truly unmissable place in the Danakil desert is the salt plain. It is a huge basin of saltwater that is now dried up and withdrew over the past centuries and from where the salt is extracted to be carried towards the Ethiopian plateau.
The salt plain stretches at 116 meters below sea level and appears to be an endless expanse of white, where the average annual temperatures are among the highest, if not the highest, on earth. Here, the climate is really unbearable. Despite that, the strong Afar workers, the only ones able to live in this arid and inhospitable land, struggle incessantly under the sun until the evening when they return to the small village of Ahmed Ela, on the edge of the plain.
There are no trucks or industrial machinery in this remote place, but only small tools, ropes and wooden poles. The workers dig rectangular furrows until they reach the deepest layer of the ground from which they lift the salt blocks with long wooden poles and then work on them to reduce the size. The small blocks of salt are then transported with camels’ help, which after passing through Ahmed Ela, head towards the Ethiopian plateau. Our guide explains that all the people living in this area depend on the salt caravans, and this lucrative trade has been going on for centuries and has been passed down from generation to generation.
Unfortunately, this ancient tradition is changing with the construction of some paved roads that will make it easier to access this remote region. The riches of the salt plain is attracting large mining companies. In a few years, the camels will give way to trucks and industrial machinery, which, together with the salt, will take away the charm and the ancient tradition of this incredible place, leaving a beautiful memory only.