Djibouti: Somewhere between the Middle East and Africa

I reluctantly left Oman a few hours into my birthday, traveled overnight through Addis Ababa, and landed in Djibouti with an extra visitor, some birthday champagne, roses and cake. I couldn’t have imagined a better welcome or continuation to the day, but there it was. The next 2 days were spent indulgently at the Sheraton hotel, with French and South African wines and buffet breakfasts like nothing I had seen in the Middle East. It was hot, too hot, so doing nothing and laying pool or beachside in the shade were big-energy accomplishments.

the quietness of a hot afternoon in downtown Djibouti

the quietness of a hot afternoon in downtown Djibouti

After a few days of Gulf decompression, I swung into some East African vibes. Local delicacies were Ethiopian dishes and fatirah, a type of roti bread cooked up with tomato, onion, meat, and egg. Since Djibouti has a large French presence (military, air force and navy base), French delights were overflowing: real croissants and baguettes, crepe Nutella, and freshly toasted Paninis.

Tadjourah coast

Tadjourah coast

As far as traveling goes, the guide books seemed to discourage solo-backpacking, and the local ex-pat community have do-it-yourself kind of adventures only on the weekend, so taking public buses to any of the beautiful nature sights or renting a private 4×4 wasn’t possible. But there is Lake Abbe, a kind of African Dead Sea, the 3rd lowest in the world, and Lake Assal, also hyper-salted, and a bunch of pristine untouched coast to camp on. I ferried across the bay to Tadjourah, only to see a few sheep, fishing boats and a city of 7 mosques.

humble little mosques, but still just as loud

humble little mosques, but still just as loud

The ancestors of most Djiboutians are similar to those in surrounding Somalia, Somaliland and Somalian Ethiopia, and it’s hard to place your finger on these Africans who aren’t really Africans, not quite Arabs, but an ancient mix of the two, with only a small bit of sea separating this eastern horn of Africa from the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf of Aden is still traversed for trade and travel, since the supply of camels in the peninsula is heavily dependent on Somali export, as well as their funny looking, fat-tailed goats. At the moment there’s a bit less movement because of Yemen’s status, but 20 minute flights and passenger ferries also used to shuttle people around. It’s amazing that history can keep repeating itself, but hopefully everything will return back to normal once peace is restored, which is the way things usually turn out after turmoil in the arab world… Inshallah.

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