Part II: “Welcome to the planet Mars”


After an hour of finding enjoyment in Ahmed’s attempts in speaking English, I decided it was time to finally confess that I spoke a bit of French!

His happiness knew no bounds and soon I regretted confessing as Ahmed was tattling on Djibouti, it’s politics and local tribes while energetically overtaking a never ending flow of trucks of different colors, sizes and condition (Ahmed said that around 500 trucks arrive every day from Ethiopia and cross Djibouti on their way to the port of Djibouti city!)

Finally we stopped in a small local restaurant to have lunch — and here I remembered what Moussa instructed me about “eating everything, except salad!” Have to admit that the friendly locals were trying their best to please me — they brought me boiled water to wash the layer of dust from my face and hands, tried to lay the table under a tree away from nosy truck drivers who were having their break by the road.

I was served lunch: fresh salad with tuna (that I slipped), roast chicken breast with fries and a French baguette (mmm, that smelled so inviting!)- I remembered that I had avocados somewhere in my bag that I got at the airport in Nairobi. Roast chicken and avocado sandwich on a French baguette — only then I realized that it was actually my first meal of the day…

No time to rest, as we had had to hurry up if we wanted to catch surest by the lake. So quick coffee, toilet break and on the road again!

Next eighty kilometers felt like eternity — we had to leave the main road and were driving through the dessert that was not always smooth and sometimes was surprising us with unexpected sand storms (oh, nothing too serious but we still have to stop and wait for them to clear). From time to time we met caravans and nomads who disappeared as fast as they appeared leaving in wonder if I wasn’t just dreaming…
Finally I saw them — the chimneys of lake Abbé — the surreal limestone formations that spit steam in all directions. Salt lake Abbé, itself, is the biggest of six connected lakes that are laying on Eritrea — Djibouti border and resting on a Afar Depression basin, where Arabia, Nubian and Somalian plates are slowly, but steadily pulling away from each other.

After admiring the majestic sunset while exploring the chimneys and listening to their steam complaints, we decided to move if we wanted to get to the camp before the night caught us.

Being the only tourist in the camp ran by a local tribe, I had a priority of choosing my hut — a very traditional or a bit “modernized” with stone walls, door and a mosquito net… I went for the second choice and not because I was lacking the sense of adventure…

Part III: “At the lowest point in Africa”

We left the camp early morning for a short hike hoping to find a better spot for sunrise. After wandering for almost an hour between the chimneys and listening to their morning awakening, we got back to the camp for a quick tribal breakfast — amazing local galettes with Nutella (have to admit, I forgot about my diet and had 3!), and soon we were back on the bumpy road: direction — lake Assal

That morning the dessert was extremely busy- here and there old men were grazing sheep and slowly chewing khat (Ahmed assured me it was legal and not considered being a drug, but I had my doubts about it!), while kids were jumping out behind the rocks, running behind our car and waving hello. We passed a small village where women were preparing for a wedding and were building a hut for the bride — I was invited to one of the huts for tea and was even given a present — a small piece of a volcanic rock — black obsidian — to protect me from evil eye during my travels.

We decided not to stay for lunch but to pick up food and have picnic by the lake Assal while enjoying the view. When everything was packed, I saw one of the villagers approaching Ahmed and asking him something while looking at me:

-He asked if we could take his parents with us, — translated Ahmed. — He says that his sister lives in a village that is on our way. She recently had a baby and they would like to go and see her.

Of course I had nothing against it- on the contrary, I was very happy that Ahmed would divert his attention to someone else meanwhile my ears could rest and I could enjoy the scenery.

Oh, looks like Ahmed’s and his new friend’s passionate chatter lulled me to sleep. I woke up to see a new passenger in the front seat — a boy of ten or eleven with a plastic bag in his lap, from which a baguette was sticking out like some sort of French machete.

-I hope you don’t mind, — Ahmed saw in his mirror that I was awake. — His father is working in a salt factory by the lake and he asked me if we could give him a lift as he is bringing him lunch.

-But… where are…
-Oh, no worries, — interrupted Ahmed, — they are safe in their village, we didn’t want to wake you up, so I thought… maybe… is it ok?

What could I say? I was curious, interested and surprised how people from different parts of the country, tribes and age, who just met couple of minutes ago, could easily gossip as they were friends or relatives.

Finally I saw it — Lake Assal, that literally means “honey lake”, to me didn’t look anything like honey but as if it was covered with… snow! Crater lake Assal with in 155m below sea level, is the third lowest salt on Earth, third the saltiest and largest salt reserve. In the morning I was hoping to get a “beauty floating session” (they say floating in salt reserves makes you look younger), but after walking on its virgin white salty surface for a bit, I decided that it was enough — I could feel salt in my hair, ears, lips and eyes!

As it was a windy day and I was not really attracted by the idea of swallowing my hair or extra salt with my already salty enough tuna sandwich, Ahmed volunteered to drive a bit further and have lunch on a parking lot inside the car overlooking a magnificent canyon! One of the most romantic lunches I ever had… well, kind of… almost…

After lunch and some souvenir (bath salt, of course) we hurried to Djibouti City, overtaking Ethiopian trucks while Ahmed was quietly chewing his khat and I was trying to write down about my experience at the Lakes Abbé and Assal and… thinking about that famous camel burger that was waiting for me in Djibouti City for dinner!

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