Published: January 21st 2012January 14th 2012
Lake Assal - More like Lake O-Salt
The third lowest point on earth (according to everyone in Djibouti, but not in actuality) is nevertheless a wonder. I had to wade in with my flip-flops on because the lake bed is comprised of little salt-crystal stalagmites - sharp, but also beautiful - talk about a white sand beach!
Djibouti is extraordinary in several ways; it is a country that is virtually unheard of (so in that way it’s a perfect destination) and if people have heard of it, they remember it as a mnemonic for an ample backside. It is also remarkably dry compared to its western neighbor from which we arrived, so much so that I asked if the trees become any greener during the rainy season (which for Ethiopia runs from late spring to early autumn). Our guide looked at me matter-of-factly, but replied incredulously that this was
the rainy season. To describe Djibouti’s geography as scrubland would be as generous as the country is dry. Surely, it is a sun soaked and rain starved country. The third, and most extraordinary fact about Djibouti is that it is expensive in the extreme. Although I have traveled to more expensive countries (Norway and Switzerland come to mind), it is not possible to do much of anything in Djibouti without perspiring gobs of cash, which evaporate like ones sweat, wicked away by the dry desert air. The country’s high denomination bills (thousands) only compounds the reality with the impression that you are forking over the big bills.
Taking it Easy
Jenn rests in the hammock as we wait for the boat to come fetch us to return us to the mainland
Our arrival was marked first by a long wait in the customs line (this seems to be a consistent state in East Africa), where the immigration official first had everyone pass through the line, then had everyone purchase their visas (from the same person) after they had completed the first line. Two lines, one official – double the wait, double the fun. We left the airport and immediately began to haggle for a ride into town, which is always pure joyous theatre. They offer an outrageous price, I act disgusted and demand a lower price. The act continues. Our first cabby wanted double the fair price, and refused to budge, perhaps knowing there would be other less savvy consumers. We managed to work another down quite a few hundred franks, and headed into town.
Arriving in town, we stopped at a bank to actually get the money to pay the cabbie. As I got to the bank a young man showed me to the ATM, and then demanded payment for his help. He followed me and gave me his story (which I only caught part of because it was in French). These stories are always the
Our first afternoon on Moucha Island, we had this beautiful little cove all to ourselves.
same my –blank – is sick and I need the money or they will die and it will be your fault. I don’t mean to suggest that these situations don’t exist, but travelling you hear them more often than is plausible. He was tenacious, we drove off in the taxi to the travel office we had to check in at, and somehow this young man was even waiting for us outside of it when we left. It was not until we found a Gendarme that we were able to peel him from our side. In the end, we did not pay him. But this situation more than others really bothered me. It is a stark example of how people in the developing world see westerners as endless cash machines; to be fair, anyone from the developed world who can afford to travel internationally is, categorically, rich by global standards. It is also a shame that people her do not have the luxury to offer free advice or help, but the persistent badgering makes me feel less generous and more suspicious. If you even pull out your guide book for a second people descend on you as if you were the
This must be an octopus breeding ground because the tide pool rocks had scores of little octopi hiding beneath them just waiting for the tide to return. I tried to lure one out with a piece of glass (octopi like shiny things). It stirred briefly and then thought better of the misadventure.
only live person at a zombie convention.
Despite the hassles, Djibouti was a fine enough place. We had gone with the intention to snorkel with the Whale Sharks. Unfortunately we could not get a booking. So for the third time, on a third continent, I succeeded at missing a chance to see them. Boo. We did, however, spend a very relaxing day and night on Moucha Island, which is little more than a rock outcropping at the mouth of the Bay of Tadjoura. But it was relaxing and resembled a traditional honeymoon for about as long as either of us could appreciate. What was most interesting was our day trip out Lake Assal. It is stunningly beautiful and was well worth the dip into the lake, which is so salty that even I could float in it. Jenn was not eager to swim, but the only thing that kept me from charging into the lake were the perilously sharp salt spires that made up the bottom of the lake. So I waded out and took a good long, glorious float.
One last thing to add: We had fully intended to call some friends and
Djibouti is literally a divided country, or will be in the coming centuries. This confluence of the rift valley will tear the land apart and will, some think, fill with the sea within the next century or so.
family so we could tell them it was a Djibouti call, but we never quite found time for what would have been a fun, if expensive, joke.
There are more photos below