Entering Djibouti, Djibouti - at the Horn of Africa
Djibouti is one of the 3 Somalis
So, you have the former Italian Somalia which is the southern part of today's Somalia, then you have the former British Somalia which is now Somaliland and finally you have the French Somalia, which has been a Sovereign nation known as Djibouti since 1977.
With that in mind Djibouti shares quite a lot with its brothers and sisters to the south. But I was still stuck at the border trying to get in. There are times in life, when it doesn't matter how right you are. And I was very right at the border, but still couldn't cross. The Djibouti embassy in Ethiopia had told me that I could get my visa on arrival from Somaliland. This was emphasized when I was told the reason for it being that Djibouti doesn't have a diplomatic mission in Somaliland. That's however not quite true, but it's true that their office in Hargeisa doesn't issue visas. While being stuck at the border the Danish consulate in Djibouti confirmed that "I should be able to cross". I was also in touch with the Red Cross in Ethiopia, and the Red Crescent in Somaliland who tried contacting the Red Crescent in Djibouti. But this appeared fruitless. It was "Maersk to the rescue" once again. Steve who is the regional manager had long ago instructed his country managers to assist me and Mohammed in Djibouti was happy to do so. Mohammed originates from Tunisia and has a lot of work experience behind him. He knows the value of being well connected and that came in handy for me. And for Australian Luke as well since we were still together. Mohammed unfortunately had to tell us that the Djibouti-weekend had recently been expanded to cover both Friday and Saturday and no longer just Friday. And being that we had arrived at the border on a Thursday, and that any indications pointing towards that they weren't going to let us across only appeared in the late afternoon, we had to wait a few days where we were.
The exchange of money is always complicated, when you don't know how long you'll be in a country.
I think that's where I left you last week. Luke and I were at the border and had already explained everything to Yaya, who was the coordinator for the military and immigration on the Somali side. Luke and I had found a room and Dida had come and gone. Now we were waiting. My phone rang and it was Mohammed who introduced me to a high ranking official at the Djibouti government. A very high ranking member! He was interested in hearing my story and I was happy to explain it all to him. But we still had to wait. As the next few days passed Luke and I would go out and explore the coastline looking for a nice beach.
While Somalia as a country has spectacular beaches they weren't to be found near the border.
But the immediate beach was anything but nice with lots of waste and a great buffer of mud between the sand and the ocean. I figure we also managed to cover nearly every dinning opportunity in our humble border village. Spaghetti and "something" was a bestseller most places.
The amount of flies during the daylight hours was menacing!! You could barely stay sane long enough to finish a meal! Often we would eat our meals with our fingers (right hand) and wave flies away with our free left hand. But it was a battle which was hard to win. We would order a "Somali tea" with most meals, which is a sweet tea with milk. An empty cup would typically be complete covered in flies within seconds.
Would you expect to find a room with 2 beds, a fan and wifi here?
I'm positive that Luke must have been happy to share a room with me. Because I woke up with bite marks all over my face and arms. Luke didn't have a single bite!! We finally reached Sunday and it was time to cross. Maersk Line as well as the Danish consulate had been in touch with the Djibouti border and we were given the "go ahead". Crossing wasn't as straightforward as it could have been, but let's just skip the details and get this blog to Djibouti :)
Finally in Djibouti. And look at how happy this Aussie is to see a camel like back home ;)
Aaaaaaahhh: Djibouti at last! Country number 124 within the Saga. 6 countries left within the African continent and 79 countries left in the world. Progress feels good. A 4WD got Luke and I (and a lot of passengers) to Djibouti which is the capital of Djibouti. It's good to keep things simple like that. My friend Helle, whom I've known for ages, had given me a thoughtful gift of a hotel booking for a time and place of my choice. I chose Djibouti and she sent me the reservation. I cannot believe the costs!!! Djibouti borders Ethiopia on one side and Somalia on another. 2 countries where you can easily get a quality room for $15. But due to inflated costs for electricity and water the prices immediately triple in Djibouti. In fact the cheapest room she found for me was $67!! Since I was there with Luke we upgraded it to a room with 2 beds which came at $93!!! Crazy! Other than the raging prices of Djibouti my first impressions were of a much more modern country with good and paved roads. Many military bases passed by the window before we had reached the hotel. I was aware of the French foreign legion, but the first military base I saw was Italian?
We received an invite that night to join Valerian whom we had met in Hargeisa earlier. Did he fly to Djibouti? Nope! He came the same way as us and crossed the border just a few hours before us? Valerian is from Belgium and speaks French. The leading theory for why he got to cross lands on his ability to speak French along with that he had an (expired) visa for Djibouti in his passport. But immigration might not have noticed that it expired? Who knows? Valerian told us to come and meet 2 Romanians and 2 Australians at Association de la communauté Ethiopienne a Djibouti. He lured us in by saying that beer and food was cheap. We met up, had a nice evening and when everyone wanted to split up Valerian suggested that Luke, I and himself should hit the city. So we did.
Djibouti reminds of a combination of three things. First of all it has me think about Vietnam war movies and the kind of places the American soldiers always go to relax and party when they're not in the jungle. We went to play pool and middle-aged women with too much makeup attacked us as soon as we came through the door. "Do you want to party?" But Djibouti is far more than that! Because it was once a French colony, and because it still has strong ties to France, you cannot escape that French coolness which saturates the atmosphere. "C'est très cool". Finally there is also an Arabic feel to walking many of Djibouti's streets and I halfway expect to see Aladdin whizzing by on a flying carpet. Yup! That's how I see Djibouti.
Hotel Horseed anno 1976. A great place to explore Djibouti from!
The next morning Luke and I checked out and headed to "Horseed" where Valerian was staying. Horseed is probably the best place in town for a budget traveler. You can have a room with 2 beds for $40 - shower and toilet in the hall. A great café upstairs and a superb restaurant (Zak's) next door serving local food. It's owned by Kadar who is already a 3rd generation proprietor! I had a chance to sit and speak with Kadar who told me that Horseed was founded in 1976 by his grandfather, when Kadar was only 2 years old. But by the age of 6 he was already all over the place working whichever small jobs he could. I love it when a place has history like that. Kadar is 42 now and hopes that his firstborn will be a boy so he can name him like the restaurant (Zak). On top of being a great place with good wifi it's also downtown. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately this was around when I started getting sick. It felt like having the flu. Tired and heavy headed.
Luke left to go and see the country for a few days before he had to fly back to Addis Ababa. Valerian flew out that evening to go back to Belgium. I went to the Ethiopian embassy to try my luck with a new visa - something which proved unbelievably easy and I had it in my passport only 3 hours later. No "you must be a resident in Djibouti" nonsense. I simply delivered my passport, filled the form, handed over 2 passport photos, a copy of my passport and payed. Dine deal: collect this afternoon. Little did I know that Mohammed (Maersk) had called in advance which might have smoothened the transition. But I have hear from several other sources that the Ethiopian visa comes easy in Djibouti. Ethiopia is a landlocked country and Djibouti acts as the most important port for them. So there are many Ethiopians in Djibouti. Something else I have been pondering about is that Djibouti probably also acts as a safe heaven and strategical hub for foreign interest in the region. Apart from having strategic access to Eastern African countries there is also direct access to the Middle East. Apparently Djibouti is good for all sorts of things.
Mohammed was already a friend long before I met him.
The next day I met with Maersk Line in Djibouti. What a great team!! I was finally face to face with Mohammed who more than likely is responsible for my border crossing. And as I mentioned earlier he is very well connected. Earlier that day he had attended the inauguration of the new railway connecting Addis Ababa with Djibouti. I had been hoping to be in this train on my way back to Addis. But around here inauguration doesn't mean opening. It apparently means: 3 more months of testing? How great would it have been to be on that train?!? For sure this line will stay active for at least 100 years and I'm only 3 months early in becoming one of its first passengers. Close but no cigar. The Chinese are responsible for the construction (of course) and I believe it should have been open and operational by now. But as it is with all large construction projects delays can occur. Better luck next time Thor.
In reality they might as well have been there for the food ;)
I was coughing a little during my presentation at Maersk where I spoke about inspiration, education, entertainment and long term planing. I think it went okay. After all it was my 21st presentation since the first one took place in Greenland back in 2014. I've got a bit of a routine now which I'm quite happy with. Such talks can go from 20 to 120 minutes depending on questions. I rarely have a short answer for anything these days. I have learned so much about our world and the people who live within it. And the more I learn the more stupid and insecure I feel. I'm not sure about many things anymore. And can most often argue in both directions no matter the topic. But I'm fairly sure that media as well as social social media is misrepresenting people all around the world and that most opinions about the state of humanity are rated well below actual reality. That includes your perception too.
There are a million things that can make you sick. Touching money can be one.
I was getting more and more sick and tried to fuel up on water, food and c vitamins. Eventually I crashed and slept for about 15 hours. I got up just in time to apply for a visa at the Sudanese embassy. It took a while to find it, but once I did I was greeted with a lot of hospitality! I was offered a cup of tea while I filled in the application. I wonder if Mohammed has made another call? Once the "Agent de réception" was happy I left. This was last Wednesday and I was told to collect my visa Sunday. So let's see :) My flu had at this point attacked my stomach and I was getting really friendly with the toilet. I was still in control...sort off...but it was better to stay near the toilet and my bed. Nasra (who also works at Maersk Djibouti) had been in touch with me several times on various subject. Among other things she had arranged for a simcard for me and a driver to bring me to their office. She had now been in touch with the national television channel who wanted to interview me. I was delighted to have the opportunity and thankfully they were happy to come to Horseed so that I could pretend like I wasn't dependent on having a toilet nearby. The same day I had a VIP interview with Ahmed in Denmark who is doing a school project about the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. As a part of his assignment he had to speak to someone who had been there and as such he spoke to me. Which I think is pretty cool!! ;)
Now, due to the great wifi connection I have mostly been watching YouTube videos or sleeping lately. I'm behind on writing 3 Red Cross stories and I'm still to visit Djibouti Red Crescent. But having this gap until Sunday, when I can pick up the visa, is helpful in my conscience. It's okay to be a little sick and rest my body. Unfortunately I might have missed my opportunity to swim with whale sharks. It's whale shark season and Djibouti is a great place to go and see them. It's a pretty expensive attraction though! But that might not matter. Because while I'm getting my stomach under control I wrote Sonja at http://www.dolphinservices.com/ today who informed that I cannot join tomorrow as they have a private tour. She suggested that I could sign up for next week but by then I'll be back in Ethiopia. Fortunately Kevin Pauletti commented on Facebook that he had a great experience with whale sharks in the Philippines which we still have ahead of us. So it might just all work out the way it's supposed to.
There's one thing everyone says I should do here in Djibouti. Everyone says to go and visit Lac Assal (Lake Assal) which is apparently so wonderful that it's a crime to miss it. This region of our planet does have some abnormal geographical features such as the lowest surface on earth. And apparently the area around Lac Assal is completely white which makes for a spectacular experience. We'll see...it is on my way back to Ethiopia...sort of... ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - rising like the phenix ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
ONCE UPON A SAGA