Lies at -116 m below sea level. It is one of the SALT LAKES in the northern end of the Danakil Depression. Lake Assale (Asale) is an ex harbor of the Red Sea, also known as Lake Karum – CATHARTIC, ALTRUISTIC AND ILLUMINATING.
Our stirring transition – from witnessing the flaming LAVA LAKE – Erta’ Ale –, to the snow – white SALT LAKE – Lake Assale – within the Danakil Desert, went through a convalescent overnight stay in Abala village.
After a challenging day and an overwhelming night out in a desert. On our second day Journeyed to Abala village to soak in the desert life via mingling with the locals in one of the Afar regions. The road trip from Dodom – entry way to visit Erta’ Ale – to Abala was mostly about processing our Erta’ Ale experience. Reflecting. Going through pictures from last night.
After a while the desert heated up devastatingly. It hinted us that the last time we had cold drink either water or soft drink was the day before in Mekele – getaway to Danakil Desert. Once in a desert, the water we kept drinking was literally lukewarm and tasteless. Realized even room temperature kept water tastes like heaven and sounded priceless at that very moment.
By mid-day the scorching sun already started baking the desert. Stopped at one of the villages for lunch. As if by some kind of magic, the little coffee shop in the desert had an actual godsend – one of human creations out of necessity. Guess What? Fridge-freezer! A cue formed instantly to get cold soft drinks as if we have never had it before. Maybe all you need is a Fridge freezer in a desert to thrive, I thought.
The cold drinks were double the price of the city but was all worth it. I could not wait for the shop keeper to hand me the cold drink. I was just embracing the bottle with both of my hands to soak in the priceless cold feeling from the bottle. The thick soft drink bottle was caressed with little drippings of melting iced water. I kept it towards my face so it gives my sweltering skin a moment of relief from the fire – waft which I became friend with in order to survive in this callous environment.
That lukewarm water we have been drinking in spite of it all, did not quench a thirst and obviously won’t be able to give that cooling effect from inside out. I felt every tiny bit of the cold drink’s taste, texture and movement passing through till it’s very last drop as if for the very first time – another divine moment to be present in the midst of Danakil Desert.
Our stay at Abala village was affectionately pleasant. Took bucket shower with naturally warm water – no need of a heater here. Walked through the village which suddenly overflown by Abala’s charming children who were excited to see strangers. We had delightful Ethiopian traditional coffee even in a desert. Divinely scrumptious regional delight – stir fried goat meat. Deliciously succulent orange were among the many we indulged ourselves in Abala village.
We stayed overnight at the village in one of the cement built local houses which seem turned into an oven by the heat of the desert. We slept on the foamy little mattresses laid on the cement ground. Even in the evening and with the windows open the room was too warm to sleep, but it was good enough for our recovery from our first day challenging adventure in the desert.
On the third day with in the Danakil desert, the intriguing road trip from south – west to the northern end of the Danakil Desert, to witness the live spectacle of sunset over Lake Assale, started around 8:30 a.m. After half an hour drive, we stopped at the view point to relish in amazing landscape which truly dreamlike.
Spectacular road trip at the edge of the Danakil Depression as it was driving through Berhale –fascinating town at the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment of the Danakil Depression.
A large town located in the administrative zone 2 of the Afar Region in north – eastern Ethiopia. A town lies at an attitude of 639 meters above sea level. A town made up of two interesting combinations – the characteristically Tigray stone houses and the plain Afar huts. A stopover town for the camel caravans that bring salt from Lake Assale before proceeding to the market of Mekele in the highland.
Berhale is an interesting town which exist in between two different worlds which gives it a unique charisma – not so much of a highland and not so much of a desert either – hence a treat of enthralling landscape in the valley.
The asphalted road in the desert lead us smoothly through the stripped and brownish twin mountains. It seemed like going through spellbinding transition between two natural kingdoms – highland and desert.
After a while, I started to realize why it is said that this is where the Danakil Depression actually starts. Hardly see people along the side of the road but be able to witness the movable Afar house of the nomads constructed somewhere in this barren environment.
Leaving the mountains way behind, headed to the other village of zone 2 of the Afar region – Hamed Ela. Another Off – road ride following the rough caravan track but this time on the other part of the Danakil Desert where all sand in some expanses, and rocky in others. Passing sand and rock dunes thrown here and there by the universe for beautiful details in a desert.
Hamed Ela is another small Afar village which exist in the ascetically beautiful desert. It is a village which lies 48 km east of Berhale. An overnight stopover for camel caravans coming from Berhale before proceeding to the salt mine in the morning. Hamed Ela is where we will spend the night sleeping out in the desert in a military camp as it is a springboard village for visit to Lake Assale.
Once we are at Hamed Ela the temperature already soared up to 42 c. The 8 km drive to Lake Assale from Hamed Ela, mostly seem like entering into a wide open space, making your own path leads to nowhere and entranced by the endless horizon.
We stopped in the middle of nowhere and get out of the car into the baking desert and walked through the thick heat towards a spring water. It was about three minute walk and we were already melting. The wide open space actuates you to realize the tiniest place you occupy in this vast universe as the edless desert has the power to make everything looks small.
An oasis in a desert. The spring water proclaims a miracle somewhere in the Danakil desert where existence seem impossible. The naturally created small pool, with interesting salt pattern at the age, contains warm salty water which provides a marvelous opportunity to feel the pacifying energy of water in the Danakil Desert.
Almost all deserts hosts some kind of camel caravan. Here at the Danakil desert,camel caravan is the harmonious bridge between the highland and the desert through a livelihood commodity – SALT. The caravan was coming out of the salt mine with skillfully hand cubed salt from the ground, loaded up on the camels and mules. The caravan was moving toward Berhale in late afternoon when the sun was not at its strongest but for me I was not able to see the difference as it was still hot.
“I can learn something from the desert too. It seems old and wise.” – A profound verse that reveled itself in my mind at the Danakil Desert while being captivated by the caravan from one of my favorite books of all time – THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho. I saw determination, stillness and presence on the faces of the nomads – Afar camel drivers. I felt the enlightening energy coming out of the Danakil desert crossers which was too strong to expand my horizon.
Could not help to be transported to another era and being lead to the source of the livelihood commodity of the Danakil Desert caravan traders. The still existing traditional salt mining. The historical journey of the caravans following the footsteps of their ancestors who brought wealth to the Axum Empire way back then via the once major trading commodity SALT.
It was the sound of the wind, the hoof beat of the animals, and the groan of the camels that were breaking the utter silence of the desert. My eyes followed the camel caravan until which seems at the edge of the horizon and its silhouette upon the abstractedly seen silvery mountain ranges. Suddenly, the captivating image covered by the sand dust that the cars were producing. It was about time to head to Lake Assale.
Unlike the other salt lake in the Danakil Depression – the emerald green lake Afrera. Lake Assale produce different kinds of hypnotic colors. One part is blindly snow white. The other part gives an illusion of golden hues on sparkling salt due to the brown sand.
In remote times, this part of the Danakil Depression was intermittently submerged by the Red Sea which eventually left behind larger amount of aquatic salt accumulated to layers of several hundreds of meters deep and turned into the now salt Lake. Lake Assale is part lake and part salt deposit.
Most of its places covered by thick salt crust that even support vehicles. Our car had to stop at some point in order to avoid sinking in. We waded into the lake feeling the salt crust beneath. Heading further in, then felt the warm salty water on my feet. I tried to imagine Lake Asale overflown with water when it rains in highlands as it hardly rain in the Danakil Desert.
The brightness of it all was soul ILLUMINATING. It was powerful enough to make you step out of the limited physical realm into the blissfully unlimited spiritual realm for a brief moment. Stepping on the sparkling salt crust suddenly became intimidating out of a sense of respect, which stirred by the camel caravans I witnessed.
Being at its source, I could not help to contemplate salt as I was surrounded by it. A sense of appreciation for this particular element invaded me. A moment of realization that Salt is more than a flavor enhancer of my food which confined within a tiny salt shaker placed at the kitchen cabinet or dining table. Rather, salt is a livelihood of the desert people.
Obviously Lake Assale is ALTRUISTIC as it has been mined for many years and still is. Conversely, the life changing experience emanated from witnessing the materializing process that comes with a price – the sweat of the salt miners and camel drivers in this harsh desert. The still existing salt mining activity moves seasonally and we were scheduled to witness it on the next day – the last day of our Danakil Desert Adventure.
CATHARTIC indeed. The anticipation of standing on a salt lake that once flooded by the Red Sea was a grand moment as it seem like it was not only salt but an everlasting energy that it left behind. Seeing my reflection on the clear salt lake was priceless as it was a moment of clarity that my adventure of discovering my own country was actually discovering MYSELF!
Looking up. From a distance part of the lake embellished by the dreamily seen mountains. Part of it provides a fascinating scene of an endless sparkling horizon. Part of it dashed with brown sand which seemed like a painting.
The sunset over the sparkling Salt Lake – Lake Assale. The sky slowly turned into a huge canvas revealing collection of colors being portrayed before us in the desert by the universe.
The glowing sun slowly moves behind the luminous clouds and swallowed by the silhouette of mountain ranges from a distance. The snow white salt lake turned into pink for an ephemeral moment.
Another honored day ended at the Danakil Desert.
To be continued…