Erta Ale

The Salt of Africa

The Salt of Africa
Ahmedela, Lake Asale. Young Afar Fathyma invites you to join caravans which have brought salt to all Ethiopia since millennia.
The Salt of Africa
Hundreds of caravans have come together at Ahmedela, and during the night have been assigned a slot by "Shumbahri" (the Chief).
The Salt of Africa
At dawn, literally thousands of camels leave Ahmedela, all in their assigned order, and head towards the center of Lake Asale.
The Salt of Africa
Let's follow the caravans in this alien, hot and desolate desert of salt, seemingly endless Lake Asale, precious property of Afar warriors.
The Salt of Africa
On the bottom of the local social scale are the "Focolo", the "salt lifters": they are poor immigrants from Tigray and have left Ahmedela as early as 3am.
The Salt of Africa
After having cut into the salt crust using axes, large salt blocks are taken from the ground and prepared for shaping by "Hadali Mera" workers.
The Salt of Africa
Only the "Hadali Mera", who are always Afar people, can prepare salt blocks weighing precisely 7 kilograms. They are at work since dawn.
The Salt of Africa
One block of salt is the unit of currency in the salt businnes: each camel will carry 20 blocks to Mekele, trading centre of the highland.
The Salt of Africa
In the midddle of the morning the caravans reach the centre of Lake Asale. The camels are exhausted and, remarkably, recover some energy by chewing on salt.
The Salt of Africa
"Arho" workers, the cameliers, start to load each camels with the exact same amount of salt, later to be charged a tax.
The Salt of Africa
At noon, in temperatures well above 40 degrees Celsius, the caravans start the long trip back to Ahmedela, disappearing into a distant mirage.
The Salt of Africa
But even in such a hellish environment, "Arho" workers seem happy: "Now I'm rich: count my camels, you will know what a treasure I am bringing home!"
The Salt of Africa
Sunset at Ahmedela - but the salt caravans move on and will travel all night from 100m below sea level up to Mekele, at 2300 metres above.
The Salt of Africa
But curiosity to talk with visitors wins for "Arho": this Afar will lead his caravan only to the limit of the Afar country, at Berahile.
The Salt of Africa
While our caravans are leaving in the sun's direction (left), others are coming towards us, repeating the work night and day, year after year.
The Salt of Africa
We bid a last farewell to Mohammed, the Afar with his great green eyes.
Photos by Marco Fulle, taken with 10.5mm and 16mm fisheye lenses and digital single lens reflex camera.