Djibouti - Part 2, Lac Assal

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January 26th 2020
Published: February 3rd 2020
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So, after our lunch stop during our road trip to Lac Assal, my friends and I really enjoyed our time on the road. So, I don't remember a whole bunch about the ride. We made a couple of stops, including me apparently purchasing some obsidian and geodes on a roadside stand from some kids (who I do remember). We ended up in a wide wadi area where we were to stay for the night. While our guides unpacked and set up for dinner with some local guides, we stretched our legs and explored a bit. We sat at the dinner table and waited a long, long time for dinner. By then, I really was not hungry and it was a fish stew which was not very appetizing to me, so I had a granola bar. But the sky was absolutely gorgeous. Nice and clear, and we were going to sleep on cots right beneath it all! I got out my tripod and got some photos of the stars and we all enjoyed seeing the shooting stars, including one that seemed to travel more slowly and more brilliantly than the others. It was amazing.

The next morning, we had our usual breakfast of bread and coffee. Then we set off on our first hike. We were told it would take about 4-5 hours to the lake. So we followed our local guide, who was singing for much of the hike, walking along in flip flops. Three camels were loaded up to bring our supplies, such as things for lunch and our coolers of drinks. The geology was simply amazing, and walking through the giant boulders with all the different types of rocks made me so happy. I really should have grabbed a few small pieces, but I knew my bag would soon get heavy. We briefly stopped twice to pee and have an orange.

After about 4 hours, we set up in the only shaded area of note for lunch. While we lounged on the side of the slope, the locals settled the camels in and went to the other side of the wadi to make lunch. We just relaxed for a bit, and watched the camels, marveling at how well behaved they were. We also thought there was some kind of hierarchy as one seemed to be the lead and one seemed to be the grunt. And sure enough, soon after our comments, one of the camels seemed to get aggravated and went straight after the grunt, chasing him down the wadi and biting its tail! It was interesting... and a little sad. Poor camel. They were all grumpy after that encounter.

We had a good lunch with delicious rice and chicken that they must have made the night before. While we were relaxing over the next hour, our team leader told us it was another 3 hours to the lake. Whaaaaa? She said that their rule of thumb was to half the time so people would be more willing to hike. I'm the opposite; I'd rather know how far to do it so I can get excited when we are nearing the end. For this trek, since we had reached 4 hours on our '4-5 hour hike', I had been constantly looking for the end of the wadi, thinking it was the never-ending wadi. Our local guide said that we had been 'strolling' along.

So, despite our fatigue, we picked up the pace and it was indeed another 2 hours or so. After we finally got through the wadi, we climbed a couple of hills and had incredible views of the turquoise blue lake in the distance. It really was incredible. Soon, we started walking on hills of salt and then the salt flat toward our camp. We walked about 45 minutes along the flat salt plain, where you could see the defined structure of the old lake bed with salt beneath and in the cracks. It was pretty amazing. Soon, we arrived at the souvenir stands and the paved road - yay! Only, I stepped funny on the pavement (I had a tender ankle from soccer) and felt a very acute pain. Crap.

Lake Assal is 153m below sea level and the lowest point in Africa. The salt comes from the evaporated water in the cut-off basin that has no inlet, so there is no recharge and is very salty. The area has not been studied geologically in detail, so it is hard to know exactly how all this comes about, but it either have been cut off from the sea due to tectonic activity or there is some kind of a piezometric difference between the sea and inland basin. Either way, the lake is super salty, more so than the Dead Sea.

Our 'camp' was a couple of stone structures with open roofs, but near a construction site. So our team leader requested that we sleep down on the lake shore, about 300m away. They agreed, but dinner was going to be served up here. First, we got ready for a swim, even though just three of us did: me, B, and M. I didn't even put on my swimsuit, just walked in in the clothes I was wearing all day. It was so amazing. I had never been to the Dead Sea, so I had not experienced swimming in a salt lake, but it was awesome. Definitely a different experience. On the way back to camp, I was thinking about how the salt flats were pretty hollow sounding and could probably collapse....when it did. My foot slid right through, the one with my tender ankle, and scraped the top of my foot. Yay. Salt feels great in fresh cuts, by the way.

We had set up a little outdoor shower with a portable water jug so were able to wash off a lot of salt. Though my hair was super stiff through the next day. We also saw quite a few tourists, including a bus escorted by the local police, and it seemed like all were just there for the day, not staying the night. I also think we were the only ones who swam.

Our dinner here was by far the best we had. We had rice, and a delicious tomato sauce (probably canned, but a good spice), and some beef burger things. Then we again slept on cots beneath the open sky, though it was overcast and became super windy throughout the night. Still an incredible experience. Sleeping in the open, under the sky, on a salt lake shore, in Djibouti? Does it really get any better than that???

Additional photos below
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5th February 2020

Views are uphill
The hike sounds like a bait and switch so I'm glad the views were good. Hope your ankle is doing better.

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