4 – The hottest place on Earth : Danakil Depression’s Salt Mines

4 – The hottest place on Earth : Danakil Depression’s Salt Mines

N.B : To offer you a total immersion in the adventure that is to follow, this chapter contains an unprecedented 4D experience, never seen before in travel blogs. Before you begin reading this article, preheat your oven to 250°C, on fan-assisted mode if possible.

At nine o’clock on Sunday morning we joined other tourists at the travel agency’s headquarters. We were eleven in total. Two Japanese, three Iranians, one Belgian, one Spaniard, an Italian couple and us. The 4x4s were soon loaded with water, mattresses and luggage. We left behind the city and leafy mountains to delve deep into the desert.  After a few hours driving, we stopped for lunch.

Our lunch spot. Beer caps are often thrown to the floor, creating a unique tiled effect, as you can see here

A few hours later we reached what is known as “Danakil Depression”. The guide stopped the cars and asked us to get out so that we could get a first impression of this incredible place. We opened the doors of our air-conditioned cars.

STOP. Take a pause from reading this article. Your oven should have reached the right temperature now. Put your face twenty centimetres from the door and open it. You should feel the wave of heat that we felt when opening the car doors. Now stay there until you have finished reading this article.

As you may have gathered, it was extremely hot. It was also very windy, though not refreshing in the slightest. The only air to come our way was hot. The heatwave in Paris seemed petty in comparison.

River Thames after global warming of 4°C – IPCC 2018 report
Danakil Depression

Danakil Depression is one of only a handful of land areas in the world to be below sea level. A long time ago, it was covered in water and was part of the Red Sea. When the Arabian and African tectonic plates split, it created the Great Rift Valley and this enormous depression which was separated from the sea by mountains. At its lowest point, it is now one hundred and twenty-five metres below sea level (where we set up camp for the night). This unique trait makes it, on average, the hottest place in the world. As a matter of fact, the whole year round, the temperature ranges between 30°C and 56°C (the latter being the hottest ever temperature measured on planet Earth). Understandably, one must be accompanied by a professional guide when visiting this region.

A few million years ago, water from the adjacent Red Sea managed to overflow into this basin. The water has since evaporated, though tons of sea salt is still there. Back in the cars, we were driven to see the salty desert left behind. Beige in colour, this dry, cracked terrain stretched to the horizon in all directions. Our guide took us to a natural salt-water pool in the middle of this barren land and suggested we swim there. We managed to squish our hot sweaty bodies into our tight, retracted swimming costumes on the back seats of the 4×4 (the aircon had long since been switched off). Our bodies floated in the very salty water. It was surreal, bobbing up and down in the warm water in the middle of no-where. It was like having our own private pool – rather pleasant and almost refreshing! However, back to reality: it wasn’t so fun trying to clean ourselves afterwards. As if we weren’t salty enough (from sweating so much) before we went in! #Instareality.

The saltwater pool
In the middle of no-where

Next, we headed towards a Lake nearby. The natives call it “Lake Asale” meaning “red mountains lake” -referring to the red mountains in the surrounding area. Here, the salt is wetter and is white, as we know it on our plates. We watched the sunset reflect onto the pristine expanses. The colours were stunning, the scenery almost unreal. The photos don’t do it justice. It was probably one of the most beautiful things we have ever seen. We stayed for a while, reflecting on God’s stunning creation. The guide then reunited us to share more of his knowledge.

He’s going to have to work a bit harder if he wants to be a camel caravaner

The Afar people who live in this region have been mining salt using traditional methods since the sixth century AD. A first group extracts large blocks of salt from the ground, earning four birrs per block (eleven pence). A second group then shapes the blocks into rectangular bricks, earning eight birrs per brick. A third group transports the bricks on camels to Berhale town. It takes them two days on foot. They earn twelve birrs per brick. The bricks are then sold at local markets for thirty-five birrs (ninety-seven pence). It’s one of the most difficult jobs in the world. The Afar people are very proud of their cultural heritage. Camel caravaners are seen as heroes. Apparently, when a man asks to marry a lady, her father will ask if he has been a camel caravaner or not. If so, the response is immediately a yes.

The salt blocks before being shaped into rectangular bricks

We set up our beds, made from logs and twine, under the stars and the light of the moon. It wasn’t easy falling asleep, what with the non-stop wind and sweltering heat. When we finally managed to nod off, a goat’s incessant cry woke everybody up. Oh well, we may not have got a lot of rest this time, but we did get the chance to gaze at the magnificent starry sky.

Our beds for the night

5 Replies to “4 – The hottest place on Earth : Danakil Depression’s Salt Mines”

  1. Ok so my senses have all been awakened now as I felt the heat. 🥵🥵what an adventure. Think that salt lake will stay embedded in your hearts. Lxxx

  2. What an amazing place to experience… The photos look amazing, so can only imagine what it is really like, and just how beautiful it is!!

  3. And what makes it so hot? The fact you are that bit closer to the eaths core being so far below sea-level?

    1. So, Arnaud says: yes,it is super hot because it is so far below sea level. However, it is due to air pressure increasing as altitude decreases. When pressure gets higher,temperature rises.
      It’s the same reason why it gets colder as you go higher in altitude (less pressure = cooler temperature).

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