WELCOME to the ‘Gateway to Hell’ – where salt miners dig out the ‘white gold’ in one of the hottest inhabited places on Earth[This article was written by KeiKei for Barcroft Media and published in National Geographic, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The New York Post, Global Times]
For centuries Ethiopians have made the long trek to the Danakil Depression to collect salt from the sun-blasted earth before transporting the slabs back by camel.
Parts of the region are more than 300 feet below sea level, forming a cauldron where temperatures reach above 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and active volcanoes roil.
These stunning pictures taken by photographer Massimo Rumi show the harsh working conditions endured by the thousands of camel herders and salt extractors each day.
Rumi said: “The salt miners work under very tough conditions, in which temperatures hardly drop below 50-60 degrees celsius, even early in the morning.
“Their working hours are early, before the sun gets too hot and makes the work impossible.”
The landscape of the Danakil Depression is hauntingly beautiful – studded with active volcanoes, malodorous sulphur-caked hot springs, solidified black lava flows and vast salt-encrusted basins.
Massimo said: “Visiting this place feels like being on the Moon. It is so surreal. It’s a place of genuine, raw adventure.”
The salt blocks, which were once used as a unit of money, are sold across Ethiopia, many of them to farmers to provide their animals with essential minerals – with Ethiopia containing the largest livestock population on the African continent.
The Sydney-based photographer said: “As soon as I got out of the car I realised why this place is called the ‘Gateway to Hell’. It is one of the hottest places on earth and I could feel the heat on my skin.
“Still for centuries the Afar return to this extremely harsh and inhospitable place to carry out an important job.
“I came here to meet the hard-working salt diggers, who spend a good part of the day in this cruel environment cutting and shaping the salt into books and loading the camels.”
The salt miners break plates of salt out of the ground – then use an axe to chop the crust of salt into large slabs, before workers fit a set of sticks in the grooves made by the axe.
Working life is harsh for the thousands of camel herders and salt extractors, who use traditional hoes and axes to carve the ‘white gold’ out of the ground.
Massimo said: “Working with the sticks, the workers lift the big slab of salt which is cut into tiles of standard sizes.
“They earn around four Birr for each salt tile they cut, around twenty cents, and on a good day they can make up to 200 tiles.
“The camels and their keeper then walk for three days from the mines to a salt trading town called Berhale where the salt is traded.
“From Berhale the salt is transported to the Ethiopian highlands and on to Sudan. The salt fields supply nearly 100 percent of Ethiopia’s salt.
“Because of safety issues this place does not see many visitors in the year. It is a real adventure that will put you out of your comfort zone and reward you for visiting one of the world’s wildest places.
“The workers may look skinny but they’re very strong. It looks like one of the worst jobs on earth but these people stay very humble and proud of their work.”
To view the images, visit: http://www.barcroft.tv/gateway-to-hell-danakil-depression-salt-mines-harsh-conditions-ethiopia