At first glance, Djibouti’s Lac Assal appears as a glorious expanse of aquamarine water ringed by blinding white sand. It could easily be mistaken for a Caribbean beach. However, it is all a façade, a mere simulacrum of paradise. The vast plain is not sand at all, but salt.
Walking barefoot towards the water across the crystallised salt field is uncomfortable at best. As you near the lake’s edge, the fierce wind whips across the plain and slings salt particles against your skin. Entering the water offers no respite. The warm, shallow lake has a strange, viscous quality; an oily texture that leaves a film on the skin. It stings the eyes and bites on every contact. A tiny paper cut becomes utter torment.
The film of salt, tolerable in the water, becomes itchy when scorched dry in the sun. The debris bristles on the skin and leaves you itching like a flea-ridden dog. This is no Caribbean beach. (Credit: Peter Watson)