Today Ann's awesome office set up a trip to Lac Assal. I think it means lake of honey. It is around 155 meters below sea level, pretty low. Its in the same crack between the African and Arabian plate that the Dead Sea resides in, and includes the Red Sea. According to tectonic drift theory (PanGaea), the Arabian plate has been moving away slowly but keeps colliding with the European and/or Asian plates.
It's moving away at about 1cm per year, and places like the Dead Sea and Lac Assal are getting lower as a result. Old religious books explain that god got mad at sodomy and an angel turned the land upside down. Religion is always explaining things by making statements that require further explanation. When you stop asking questions you are born again.
I'm very interested in cracks in general, cause that's where all the action is, but this one has some distinctions. It isn't the same crack as the great rift valley, but it may be the drift of the Arabian plate and its associated drift are related to the great rift's creation. Thing I love about that crack, at the southern end, the earliest evidence of human kind was discovered, 3 million year old footprints. At the northern end, the first evidence of an agricultural permanent settlement resides,the former tigris euphrates valley. Talkin bout civilization. In the rift is a lot of life. Eveytime I wander into these realms of historically rich natural creativity I wonder what it's got brewing right now.
We looked at Lac Assal and I took a swim, it seemed a little more salty and bouyant than the dead sea, I could get all four limbs and my head out of the water almost up to the first joint.
Feet almost to the knees, arms to the elbow, head and my chest was out of the water, too. But it burned. And unlike the Dead Sea there were veins of salt covering the bottom, you had to be careful because there were some crystal formations that rose out of the veins. I reached down to touch the veins and they felt sharp with geometric surfaces like what you see in crystal formations or basaltic rock.
Then I scampered out of the water and doused myself with fresh water from a bottle that we brought. In the air, as the my skin was drying and before I doused it off, I could feel the grit and burning sensations in various orifices. What was being created in my cracks, I wondered, as I floated in this salty, desolate and beautiful lake...
The whole beach was whitish salt for about 400 meters, with huge chunks of dirty brown salt, peninsulas of salt that must have weighed about 200,000 tons on top of the whiter salt. I took a closer look and I couldn't tell if they were salt or dead coral, the shape of the smallest parts looked like something between crystal and coral's (life's) fractal shape.
The local vendors find skulls of antelope and camels and put them in the water for a few days and they come out glazed. We bought one for six bucks because they looked so cool.
I found this out from one of Ann's coworkers, Serge. He had seen the glazed skulls as we were walking towards the lake and didn't understand how animals could be so stupid as to go into it and die so he asked around. I was talking to him after I went for my swim. He said "I didn't think these animals would be that stupid!" And I said, "You mean you didn't think they would be as stupid as me?"
He laughed. I didn't have much interaction with the people in Ann's office because I don't speak French, but it was nice to make one guy laugh. I think you could throw a toothpick or a piece of meat in the water and the salt would grow on it. Months later, the skull began to smell. Insects crawled out of it. Pieces of salt fell off in transit and more smelly and more mutant bugs. I began to see the skull in a different light one night:
We stopped at one of the hot springs that feed the lake and I was amazed at the colors of the algae or whatever. There was algae, and there was this fine green stuff growing that looked like hair with hair sprouting off of it, very fine, and the color was amazing. Green, but, it was like it was green and beyond the visible spectrum. With my polarizing sunglasses on, it sparkled and was not quite in focus. I felt like it meant something, the color, it seemed profound.
Growing in water that was, I'd guess, about 105 F. Upstream, where the spring was and the water seemed to be above 130 F, there were just these palettes of green black algae growing. It wasn't sulfur smelling, it didn't smell at all. It was below boiling, but I could only put my finger in for 2 seconds before getting mild burn. So maybe around 138F. Ann and I watched a sheet break off and make its way downstream. It was dark green and never broke the surface as it moved, about as big as my hand. I was watching it and thinking that after it got down forty meters or so the temperature of the water would have dropped by 30 degrees. I was wondering if it would survive. I still wonder, because if it did, if it does, that is some bad ass algae, right?
Then we got in the transport and stopped again at the Indian Ocean, at the end of the Bay of Tadjoura, and had lunch while a bird seemed to be dying. What do you do when a bird, looked like a plover, a kind of bird that may cover tens of thousands of miles in a year, is dying on the sand? I should have looked at it, it could have been something in its beak, something simple and obvious. Didn't. I don't think I handled that right, I just did what everyone else was doing, abandoned it to inevitable demise. Ann said "Djibouti is not kind to living things."
It was a fun ride. There is hardly any arable land in Djibouti, about 20 acres in the whole country. Looking at it, its as if some artistic deity got angry and took his divine shovel and blowtorch to it. Somehow, that translates to beautiful desolation.