Babile, Ethiopia: exploring the camel market
In a remote part of eastern Ethiopia, on the road to Somalia, sits the town of Babile. 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 indeed, is where I started my journey.
Back in Harar, I’d arrived at the local bus station and, with the help of a local guide and friend, had paid my 12birr (roughly £0.30) to find my way onto the bus departing for Babille. I was heading to Babile to experience the camel market that takes place every Monday and Thursday. After a slow start (whereby our bus didn't move), I instead watched the commotion outside as young boys sold water, ice pops, books and street snacks to departing passengers. Other people 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 actually all about. Others still, squeezed themselves onto larger buses departing for Somalia, just a three hour drive from here.
Once we edged our way out of the bus station, it was the road towards Somalia that we too were following. From Harar to our final destination of Babille is about an hour's drive, and the onward road to Somalia is roughly another two. The drive was pleasant. As we wound our way through the mountain roads, 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. Everytime we stopped, children from the local villages would run, laughing and jumping into our bus, attempting to hide behind the seats until a parent or friend noticed and came to drag them out. And so the journey went.
As we arrived in Babile and everyone exited the bus, I knew it was my turn to jump out too.
We took a walk off the main road and onto a dusty path and, as a foreigner (or 'ferengi' in the local languages as I quickly learnt), I laughed at just how many people were incredibly interested in me. Children followed as we walked, teenage girls themselves wearing hijabs came up to touch my blonde hair, and grown men spoke to my guide, very obviously about me. When I asked my guide what they were saying, he replied to tell me 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.
After roughly five minutes of walking along this dusty path, smiling and laughing with the locals, we arrived at Babile Camel Market.
The camels were the prime stock 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.
The market is a bustling centre of trade, with owners bringing livestock from hundreds of miles including from within Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia, to trade with potential buyers. The atmosphere within was intense; people competing with the noise of each other as well as with the noise of the animals, to make sure their goods and trade-offs were heard.
As we reached the back of the camel market, the market boundary dropped sharply down 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 said he wished he could 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.
So, Babille 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: Luxury in Ethiopia’s remote Simien Mountains
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