Babile in Ethiopia: exploring the camel market and more

Welome to Babile, Ethiopia

Babile in Ethiopia is located in the remote east of the country, on the road to Somalia. It’s a small but busy town, packed with locals going about their daily business. Some run small coffee shops, some trade in khat (a supposedly mild narcotic plant that almost all Ethiopians in this region chew come mid-afternoon), and some make a living organising the surprising amount of incoming and outgoing traffic into the town; packing people and goods into public buses as they depart for larger destinations. 

Much of this traffic comes and goes from the closest larger town, Harar. And this is where I started my journey. 

Locals in Babile
Locals in Harar sit and wait for buses to Babile and elsewhere. Photo Credit: Katie Silcox

Getting to Babile, Ethiopia

Early one morning in Harar, I found my way to the local bus station and paid my 12birr (roughly £0.30) to claim a seat on the bus departing for Babile. I was heading to Babile to experience the Babile camel market that takes place every Monday and Thursday. After a slow start (whereby our bus didn’t move for close to an hour), I instead watched the commotion of the town outside the bus window. Young boys sold water, ice pops, books and street snacks to departing passengers. Others engaged in seemingly large arguments in either the Amharic or Harari language which, for once, I was glad I didn’t understand as it allowed me to remain blissfuly unaware of what the shouting around me was all about. Others still, squeezed themselves onto larger buses departing for Somalia, just a three hour drive from here. 

Bus journey to Babile
Babile journey: Mountain views from the bus window. Photo Credit: Katie Silcox

Harar to Babile

We edged our way out of the bus station towards road towards Somalia, that we too were following. The journey from Harar to Babile is about an hour, and the onward road to Somalia is roughly another two. The drive was pleasant. We wound our way through the mountain roads as I gazed over valleys and up at tall mountains, in awe of this beautiful part of the world. Every now and then I was abruptly startled from my awe as the bus stopped to drop off some passengers, and pick up some more. Every time we stopped children from the local villages ran, laughing, into our bus and attempted to hide behind the seats until a parent or friend noticed and came to drag them out. And so the journey went. 

Arriving in Babile, Ethiopia

I knew we’d arrived in Babile when everyone exited the bus. I jumped out too. 

Walking away from the main road and onto a dusty path, I laughed at how many people were incredibly interested in me – the foreigner (or ‘ferengi’ in the local languages as I quickly learned after it was shouted at me a few times). As I walked, children followed me and teenage girls, themselves wearing hijabs, reached out to touch my blonde hair. Grown men spoke to my guide, very obviously about me. When I asked what they were saying, I found out they were worried about me being here – not for my safety but that I shouldn’t eat any local food as my ‘ferengi’ stomach couldn’t take it. They were probably right. 

We walked for roughly five minutes along this dusty path, smiling and laughing with the locals. And then we arrived at Babile Camel Market. 

The camels are the prime stock and are sold at the back of the market. To get there we first walked through a goat market, then a cattle market, and then had to climb over a wall designed to separate these ‘lesser stock’ from the camels. 

Babile goat market
Babile goat market. Photo Credit: Katie Silcox

Babile camel market

Bablie Livestock Market is a bustling centre of trade. Owners bring livestock from hundreds of miles including from within Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia, to trade with potential buyers. The atmosphere is intense; people compete with the noise of each other as well as the noise of the animals, to make sure their goods and trade-offs are heard. 

At the back of Babile camel market, the market boundary drops sharply into an expansive valley, which my guide explained was the beginning of an area called Dakhata Valley, more colloquially known as The Valley of the Wonders. He wanted to take me there but insisted it wasn’t safe to do so due to its large expanse, multiple hiding places, and proximity to Somalia. As much as I would have liked to have visited, I had to take his word on this. 

Babile camel market
Babile Camel Market. Photo Credit: Katie Silcox

So, Babile Camel Market only, it was. And it didn’t disappoint. Though I’d add that the goat and cattle markets were in fact a more intense and equally impressive sight! 

– By Katie Silcox 

Read more about travelling in Ethiopia: A night with hyenas in Harar

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