The Gateway to Hell
A prodigious score in the earths crust, born of elemental violence
A primordial world of immense volcanoes, barren wastelands, & vast bottomless lakes.
It was an ancient upheaval; 3500 miles long, 35 million years ago & 2,000 miles deep, down below what is now Ethiopia. Extreme heat and pressure forced a bubble of molten rock towards the earths surface, swelling up like a blister & tearing the landscape apart. This violent disruption left behind a monumental geological depression in the northern part of the Afar Triangle.
The Danakil depression is a sunken volcanic wasteland in Northeast Africa that overlaps Ethiopia, Eritrea, & Djibouti. There are parts of it sitting 500ft below sea level and out of reach from any cool winds - making it the hottest place on earth.
This vast empty bowl was once filled with seawater 3,000 years ago. The rift threw up a chain of volcanoes that cut it off from the rest of the ocean. In the unrelenting heat, the water evaporated away leaving a thick blanket of salt. This salt was once used as a currency and still holds its name, white gold, given by the Afar people. It has been mined by the desert Afar men for over 2,000 years. It doesn’t need any refining and can be used as a preservative and even table salt, because of its purity.
It can take a week to get it to market. A seven day journey in hostile conditions through a place referred to as ‘The Gateway to Hell’ by the Afar salt miners. The salt is collected, loaded onto camels and trekked to a town over 100 miles away. These camels are perfectly suited to the severe conditions of the rift. They can tolerate a body temperature of 106 degrees, something that would kill most other animals. Including humans.
The constant volcanic activity has created a lattice work of subterranean fissures in the volcanic rock, meaning that water seeps through the earths crust. Aquifers and hot springs are hidden throughout The Danakil Depression. The location of these have been passed on for centuries from fathers to sons.
It is the high content of fluoride in these waters that have given birth to a decorative tradition adopted by the afar men. In small amounts fluoride strengthens teeth, but in large amounts it will actually soften them. This allows them to to carve their teeth into crocodile points. It is considered a sign of both resilience and a stoic indifference to pain. In a harsh world, where you need both to survive.