The Danakil Depression is the lowest point in Ethiopia at over 400 feet below sea level and sits at the junction between three tectonic plates. Amid the dry earth are intensely colored thermal pools, bright yellow from sulfur and rich red from copper, as well as beautiful crystal formations that create otherworldly and haunting surroundings. At night we slept out in the open on rope beds next to a thousand camel caravan, adding to this surreal and overwhelming experience.
The Depression is the hottest inhabited place on Earth, and though we visited during the “cool season,” the mid-day temperatures were around 113 F. In the blistering heat, thousands of Afar tribesmen use only pick axes and crowbars to excavate salt blocks from the earth. The salt is the result of water from the Red Sea leaching in and drying out in the harsh desert conditions. These blocks are then loaded onto camels, each shouldering 300 lbs., and carried through the night for 2 or 3 days to the nearest town. No trucks or power equipment are allowed here to preserve ancient traditions and work for the Afar people, however the working conditions raise potential ethical questions: are longtime traditions to be preserved “at all costs” without judgment or should contemporary “western” labor practices be imposed for the good of the workers?