The Salty Extreme of Lac Assal Djibouti

Chances are that you’ve not heard of Djibouti, which is located on the Horn of Africa wedged between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. A country that is, unlike its surrounding neighbours, reasonably peaceful. It is certainly small, but it has a fascination which few discover.

Djibouti is the name of both the country and its largest city, and it was largely created by volcanic upheavals. Hark back about five decades ago when to travel by ship was the most popular way to undertake long haul travel, and Djibouti provided a safe port in which ships could re-supply in order cross the Indian Ocean or to pass through the Suez Canal on their way to Europe.

About 120 kilometres west of Djibouti, the city, is Lac (Lake) Assal the lowest point on the African continent. At 156 metres below sea level, it is quite a drop from Djibouti’s shore, but if you have the time, and the inclination, it is a trip that is well worth the effort.

Lac Assal is possibly one of the most spectacular natural landforms in the whole of Africa. It is a crater lake that is encircled by dormant volcanoes. The aqua-hued water is surrounding by a huge salt field that has been mined by the local Afar tribe people for centuries, and then hauled by camel to distant markets to be sold for good profit. However, this is no ordinary salt as it has some amazing properties.

Lac Assal is the second most saline body of water in the world, and it is relatively easy to scoop up this salt to transport to market. The grains of sun-drenched salt are cube-shaped, which is normal. Wade into the water, though, and there you find a very rare type of salt that is spherical in shape, which is almost unheard of. The reason for this salt being shaped in spheres is due to a combination of conditions, which exist practically nowhere else.

Simply combine the continuous action of waves, with currents, heat, and pressure then filter it through a super saturated brine that contains ample amounts of magnesium chloride and other minerals, and crystals form, clump on to other crystals, get glued together with magnesium and other salts, roll around, and after a while you get spheres.

The temperature around the lake is very hot, reaching temperatures of 52 °C (126 °F) from May to September and, unlike much of Africa, so inhospitable hardly any wildlife lives there.

Lac Assal is a place of extremes, which is why it is not so good for those who yearn for a bit of pampering in a luxurious retreat but absolutely perfect for those who love their adventure to be authentic.

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