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  • Writer's pictureAlly Landes


Now here is a little country that we had known very little about, let alone where exactly it was located on a map. For those of you who may not know its location either, Djibouti lies in the horn of Africa, bordered by Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast. The remainder of the border is formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and on the other side of the Red Sea, on the Arabian Peninsula, only 20km from the coast of Djibouti, is Yemen. The capital of Djibouti is, quite simply, the city of Djibouti.

EDA had received an official letter of invitation to do a FAM trip in Djibouti back in May 2008 by the Djibouti Palace Kempinski Hotel and the team was flown over from Dubai by Daallo Airlines to promote diving in this wonderful region.

26 May 2008

06:00 Arrival at Djibouti Airport

Our arrival into Djibouti was a nice and early one to make the most of our first day. On stepping off the plane, it didn’t feel any different to the UAE’s temperatures, thus we had no adjustments to make to the climate.

We were greeted by two gentlemen from the Kempinski who led us to wait in the airport’s VIP lounge while our passports were being stamped at customs with our Djiboutian visas. Our luggage had already been collected and so we were led to the Kempinski bus to make the short journey through the outskirts of the city and taken into the centre to where the Djibouti Palace Kempinski Hotel is located, on the edge of the water with a view of the Sea Port on the left.

07:00-14:00 Free Time

The hotel is a very large, grand and modern piece of architecture which was undergoing construction work at the time of our visit to expand to the growing demands of Djibouti’s tourism market. Those of us living in Dubai are only too familiar with the sights and sounds of a construction site, that this particular one bared no difference to us. We never seem to escape the continuous development of change to modernizing urban life.

The short bus journey to the hotel gave us a very small glimpse of Djibouti, but we would have a chance to later experience some sites and get to know more about the country later on. In the meantime, we had a lovely breakfast and time to freshen up and relax before the following few days’ busy schedule was to start.

15:30 - 18:00 Hotel and City Tour

We received a grand tour of the hotel, including a sneak peek at the rooms in the new extension. The bathrooms were lovely and we’ve not slept in a bed as comfortable as those from the Kempinski since! Quite simply, their beds and pillows were amazing.

The city tour was great. This is where you really feel Djibouti. The colours, the smells, the people, the small shops and the poverty. There is a lot of poverty, but the people do not make it feel despairing. The children will come to you asking for money as well as the adults, but more so the women. You must be careful when taking photographs and make sure to ask first. Not everyone likes a camera pointed in their direction and you don’t want to offend anyone. Some people did ask for money to have their photos taken. I strongly recommend taking a polaroid camera along on trips like this, so you have a copy for them.

19:30 - 23:00 Cocktails, Dinner, Shisha

Once back at the hotel and changed, we met with the rest of the Kempinski group and were introduced to Luc Poirier from Le Lagon Bleu Diving Centre whom we would dive with the following day. We were able to ask our questions beforehand regarding all our camera and recording equipment and schedule interviews for the day ahead for City 7 TV, Dubai Eye 103.8, The National Newspaper, Kempinski Lifestyle Magazine and EDA’s magazine, Divers for the Environment.

27th MAY 2008

08:00 - 18:00 Departure to Moucha Island, Le Lagon Bleu Diving Centre

We departed from the hotel toward the Sea Port to catch the dive boat to take us to Moucha Island where the Lagon Bleu Village and the Blue Lagoon Centre are. It’s a 20 min boat journey and the island is fully equipped with traditional bungalows, each with air-conditioning and bathrooms. If you want the island life for a few nights, this is the place to stay. The island was lovely and relaxing and the food was superb. We were served typical Djiboutian cuisine and the fish melted in your mouth, it was that good.

You can swim in calm water off the front of the island and it’s recommended to take your snorkeling stuff in with you as there are some large eels nestled in the rocks just along the edges.

Our morning dive on North Reef was not the most exciting dive I’ve ever done, but if you can appreciate the different varieties of corals that we saw there, it is well worth it. Everything underwater here is so juvenile, but this shows how healthy life below the surface is. Rita Bento ­– then EDA’s Marine Biologist, covered all the species we saw on all our dives in more thorough detail.

Our second dive on The Fawn, was a wreck dive. The amount of healthy black coral growing on the wreck was amazing. It’s so rare to see it. We got to see our first and only Djiboutian turtle as well as some much larger fish circling around the wreck. Visibility was about 12 meters and it was a nice way to end the days diving.

Some interviews were done while the rest of us packed away and we made our way back to the Kempinski to freshen up for a meal out not far from the hotel.

19:30 - 22:30 La Paillote Restaurant

La Paillote Restaurant when we were there, was a very modern looking cafe and funnily enough was decorated with IKEA furniture and tableware. It had some very funky paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn with added bling to add some spice to the decor. There were also metallic sculptures of marine animals scattered around and the ambience in the restaurant was awesome. Definitely worth a visit for a meal out if it’s still there.

28th MAY 2008

08:00 - 18:00 Departure to Moucha Island, Le Lagon Bleu Diving Centre

We returned to Moucha Island to do our other two dives of the day and they were great. Again the visibility varied between 7 - 12 metres (regular visibility for us), but completely different from diving in the UAE and that’s what it’s all about. The first dive was at Les Patates Air France and the second dive was at La Bouée Coulée inhabited with Titan Trigger Fish (Balistoides Viridescens). They are very feisty fish and a lot bigger than what we are used to in the UAE, which led to a very exciting dive.

In-between the two dives, the locals on Moucha Island prepared a surprise for us before lunch. We were given a show of traditional Djiboutian Dances. It was fantastic and we got a real feel for their culture. We had been unaware of the special event until we heard singing coming from behind the bar area where we were sat waiting to be called for lunch. It was great fun and a fantastic photo and film opportunity. They put so much feeling into their dancing and singing you couldn’t help but tap your feet to the beat. This was a lovely highlight to the trip.

20:00 - 22:30 Dinner at Lac Assal Restaurant and a Look into Djibouti’s Nightlife

Everyone recounted the events of the day over dinner and you could sense everyone had begun to relax and completely become a part of Djibouti’s laid back life. Going back to the fast pace of Dubai life was going to be hard after having been treated to so many new experiences.

After dinner, it was suggested to go into town and check out one of the nightclubs to compare it with Dubai’s nightlife. They are two very different worlds, making it impossible to make a comparison. Djibouti had American Marines and the French Legion all around at the time, but it was an overall safe place to be and there were no threats taking a taxi as long as you asked the hotel reception how much you should pay for your destination beforehand. Like any other foreign place without metered taxis, you were ripped off and you wouldn’t know any better.

29th MAY 2008

08:00 - 18:30 Excursion to Lac Assal – Lowest Point of Africa

We were all very much looking forward to this day trip. We took off in convoy in 4x4’s and reached our first stop at a 750m deep fault that widens by 2cm per year. Little vendors sell hand made gifts on site made from the natural resources from the land all along the route that continued on to our next stop at the hot springs of Lac Assal. The hot springs are a true phenomenon of nature. The heat in this area was so high, it made a few people very uncomfortable and one of our team members became unwell and faint. You cannot make this trip without lots of drinking water. Both connected to each other, the spring on the left was about 60ºC and the one on the right, 80ºC! Not a pool you want to fall into.

We then saw Lac Assal itself and the landscape surrounding it was surreal. Local families live by this very humid and salty mass of water, selling souvenirs of crystals and sheep skulls they have immersed in the water’s salt, creating very unique skull ornaments. Lac Assal is said to be saltier than the Dead Sea and we were supposed to have had a go at getting in, but our tour guide seemed to have forgotten and when we realized that had been the only place to do it from, it was too late and we had already moved on. Make sure you tell the guide you want a swim. They have fresh water for you to have a rinse when you get out.

Our last stop brought us to Djibouti’s youngest volcano that had been the most recent to have erupted. The land is so barren and we were told it had not rained for 2 years. With that in mind, you can imagine how fertile the soil must be around the volcano and what a difference a little rain would make.

We stopped for lunch and en route back to the Kempinski, the 4x4’s made a stop by the side of a road. We all looked out the side of the car and realized the ground had begun to move. On looking more closely we realized they were baboons. So many baboons! They were so hard to see at first as they were camouflaged by the rocks and dirt. Our tour guide was throwing out bread for them so I got out of the car to film them, but hastily got told to get back in by our group leader in the fear I would get attacked by one. I hadn’t given any thought that these wild animals were incredibly strong and unpredictable. The baboons roamed the land right next door to a small family’s home territory. We wondered how man and ape got along in such close proximity.

17:30 - 22:30 Dinner at the Ethiopian Restaurant

Yet another treat to definitely go and try. This Ethiopian restaurant is a gem. We were sat on low stools in front of high table baskets. We were each served 5 different portions of traditional Ethiopian dishes which were so good, we couldn’t stop eating them even though we’d reached our stomachs’ limits. The great thing in that restaurant is you get to tuck in using your hands, in true Ethiopian style. You accompany the food with two very light and fluffy pancakes. For those revolted by the idea of eating from your hands, they were washed beforehand over a basin that was brought around to each of us with freshly poured water. Hygiene is part of the etiquette.

While you enjoy your dinner, a live dancing show is performed by an Ethiopian couple in traditional dress. They change into each of the different tribal outfits worn to all the special events in Ethiopia. If you’re not one for the limelight, you’re a little out of luck since they do come and get you up to dance with them. It was an excellent evening.

23:00 Visit to Pasha Casino and Kempinski Safari Club

One last stop was organized for us in the Kempinski to end our last night in Djibouti. Believe it or not, Djibouti are renowned for their casino’s and the newest and most recent one was inside the Kempinski Hotel attached to the Safari Nightclub, and the place was packed.

Rita and I left our chances with the slot machines while some of the other members got lucky on roulette. We ended the night with a bit of a boogie in the Safari Club and then all made our way back to our amazing beds calling us for one last sleep!

30th MAY 2008

Thank you to the Djibouti Palace Kempinski Hotel, Daallo Airlines and The Blue Lagoon Centre for a memorable trip and for the amazing service put in to looking after us. We’re still looking at going back to Djibouti to catch the migrating whale sharks from mid-September until the end of November. There is a 99.9% chance of seeing these large pelagic creatures over there so this is one opportunity not to miss!

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