National Geographic : 1970 Feb
The Danakil: Nomads of Ethiopia's Wasteland must reach Lake Karum, load their mules and camels with the salt mined there, and leave the same day, if possible. Salt beds do not make for comfortable sleeping, and mules cannot stay long without drinking. The cam els, of course, can go several days without drinking, even in this searing desolation. We are on the move again by three o'clock in the morning. Dawn finds us wading through Lake Karum, which is no more than six inches deep where water still exists. Else where, the lake has vanished, leaving the dry, hard-packed salt. The early light unveils an extraordinary spectacle-a red sky to the east, a blue sky to the west, a flat, glittering white lake floor in between. Across this floor, stretching from one end of the horizon to the other, wind long strands of camels, mules, and men. We reach dry ground as the sun rises. The scene could be the Arctic wastes. As far as one can see, the land is flat and of the purest white. Houses with walls of salt blocks, stacked much as Eskimos pile snow blocks for igloos, add to the illusion. Although Ethiopians who live on the more heavily populated plateau sometimes come down to the lowlands to mine salt, most of this work is done by Danakil, who over the centuries have grown used to the fearful heat. Resting camels park behind them. Handsome in youth, Danakil women age rapidly under the stress of hard work and harsh climate. Caucasian features, in some cases blended with Negro, characterize the 250,000 Danakil of northeastern Africa, a Hamitic people linked by legend to the Biblical sons of Ham. KODACHROMES (E N...