By far one of my most interesting travel adventures has been to the Danakil Depression in the Afar region bordering Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. Within the span of three days, I was able to see a volcano, walk on neon-colored earth, and witness the most amazing salt mining caravans.
In spite of its beautiful sites, it should be noted that the Danakil Depression is one of the hottest, lowest, and most oppressive environments in the world, with temperatures that reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The roads are bumpy, the hike is strenuous, and the heat is just downright disrespectful. But if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with the most memorable sights.
One of the highlights of my trip was learning about salt mining in the Afar region. Every morning, Afar miners lead a caravan of camels through the desert for two days. My guides were gracious enough to stop the SUV and let me just sit and watch the procession as the sun rose. Talk about a jaw-droppingly beautiful moment.
Upon arriving at the Lake Assal, I watched as miners used axes and poles to carve and shave down perfect square slabs of salt in blistering heat. I was blown away at the level of precision using only simple hand tools and no machinery. Afterward, about 30 of the salt slabs are loaded onto the camels and donkeys for transport back to the village, where they are sold. This process has changed very little throughout the centuries.
The salt blocks sell for very little in comparison to the exhausting amount of the work required to extract them. Of course, I had to purchase some of the salt after witnessing the amazing extraction process. The taste is bold and intense. My research later revealed that Lake Assal is amongst the saltiest bodies of water in the world, with more saline than the famous Dead Sea. While it is largely used as a cooking salt throughout the region, I actually preferred it as a finishing salt due to its taste and texture.