Thu 21st Jan, Horseed Hotel, Djibouti City
The best laid plans come to nought sometimes. We started off the day with the intention of taking a dhow across the bay to Tadjoura. As im writing this, we are still in Djibouti City. For the purpose of this entry, the conversion of DJF to SGD is around 125 DJF to 1 SGD.
In the morning, we first got breakfast (fuul and bread and honey for 700 DJF) at a street restaurant before making our way down to the banks and Ethiopian embassy. I didn’t need the latter since I have multiple entries, but Chris figured he’d better sort out his reentry asap.
Waited for a bit, till i got bored and went off to get some Internet time. (300 DJF/ hour). Then we got back to the hotel, and rushed down to the L’escale, which is the set off point for boats carrying Qat across the bay north. Chris wanted to get aboard the slower dhows (which take 3 hours) but there were only the fast speedboats (45 minutes, 2000 DJF) which were pricey. I was ok with just sitting around in the city, to be honest, so in the end we foregoed the idea. The rushing down to the harbour though, left us completely drenched in sweat. The afternoon sun here is brutal.
We had lunch next, at one of the many streetside restaurants. These were considerably cheaper than what lonely planet gives. The author who wrote this section must have really lived well here, for he recommends only the posher eateries where the expat and loaded tourist community who goes on package tours would hang out. Lunch then was by other countries’ standards, very pricey, but affordable (1000 DJF for a meal of what seems like Briyani Rice with chicken and acar and a fruit cocktail for dessert). Entirely worth it if you ask me. The other thing to note is that from lunch to around 3, the qat trucks arrive from Ethiopia, and all the shops close for a couple of hours. And everywhere on the street, the qat eaters get stoned.
I am not well. I must have caught something along the way. Right after the late lunch, we made our way back to the room. My runny nose that i’ve been carrying over the past couple days is getting worse. And now this is compounded by a phlegmy cough. I do hope it is nothing serious. In the late afternoon i decided to sleep it off.
Woke up for dinner feeling considerably better, though i have no voice now. Sigh. We went out nearby to another streetside restaurant. I do not think everyone here speaks fluent French, the restaurant owners do Arabic better. In Djibouti, there would be a host of immigrant workers coming into the city to make a living. Then you have the expats who come in and work here. And when we say expats, it is not only the westerners. We did see the French foreign legion rumbling around town in their jeeps, as well as the occasional American GIs. And we also saw plump western women in tank tops walking huge dogs in the hot afternoon sun. But there were also the the Indian money changers, Africans from elsewhere and Arabs from across the sea. Case in point, there was a group of 5 or 6 expat Arab kids aged around 5 to 12 at the next table. They knew they were the bosses, eating dinner and frequently calling out to the restaurant staff by name and asking for this and that. It was pretty difficult to tell where each one was from though. Elsewhere, facial features would tell from which tribe or people they belong. Here it is a smogasboard (sp?) of people.
Then you have the poorer folk, a stark contrast to the rest of the city. They are everywhere, begging for change (where change is this case can be coins of up to 4SGD value!). Opposite from us, hunched beside a parked pickup, is a father and son duo squatting down and eating from the floor. They beg, not only from the tourists, but also from the locals.
Tomorrow morning, we decided we will leave with one of the many battered 4WDs going to Hargeisa, Somaliland. That trip will take all of 20 hours, and i hope i’m well enough to be up to it
Wed 20th Jan, Horseed Hotel, Djibouti City
We got up early in the morning and went out to the main drag. We will need to approach the many truck drivers by the road and try to flag one down. One who would be willing to take us down to Djibouti not at cutthroat prices. It would be difficult, since we didn’t arrange something the night before.
Fortunately, at our 5th or 6th try, a friendly Ethiopian trucker who spoke decent English stopped for us. He was willing to take us to the border and no more. Better than nothing, we thought and took up his offer.
The terrain on either side of the road into Djibouti was described on the maps as plains. I stared out my window. A plain of rocks. Flanked by more rocks. More Afar houses and yet more rocks. After the border crossing though, i begin to see sparse patches of green here and there. It was pretty boring watching these go on for hours and hours. I wonder how truckers break the monotony of driving down the road for 8 hours straight. And our driver will drive for 4 days in total, to and fro. It was easy to fall asleep at the wheel, even in the day. And this was evident from the many carcasses of trucks we see littering the roadside. Little remained of these trucks, anything that was useful from them would have be removed.
The border crossing at both sides was pretty painless. Our driver worried that Ethiopian vehicles were not supposed to carry passengers through to Djibouti. But the customs officer waved off a tout who was trying to get us to go aboard their 4WD. So, we stayed aboard our truck and carried on. At another checkpoint along the way, a Djibouti officer made us open up our baggage and rummaged through everything, going on and on about Al-Qaeda suspects, just because he can. According to our driver, all the guy wanted was a bribe “some Qat money” to let us go through, but no. I was not going to give him the satisfaction. It was a hassle, and yes, he had that smug look on his face, but in the end he let us go. On hindsight, he was probably just doing his job.
We reached the outskirts of Djibouti City which is as far as the truck went and paid our driver (200 birr each). This was an Ethiopian shanty village located outside the city. A minivan took us into the city proper and charged us 50 birr each (the locals we saw paid less than 10 birr). The driver came out and created such a scene until we backed down and just paid him his 100 birr. For a 10 minute ride into the city.
In Djibouti City. Finally, after three solid weeks in Ethiopia, i was exploring a new place. Everything here is in French. The signs, the french foreign legion, the french speaking locals. It was a place to explore, albeit an expensive one where we would not stay more than a few days. But first, we would have to look for our budget hotel. The Horseed Hotel is a budget hotel located at the edge of the city area. It has shared bathrooms and is pretty much what a similar hotel in Ethiopia would look like. The cost of the Ethiopian hotel – 7 SGD, benchmarking the Dessie twin-bed one. The cost of the Horseed Hotel (one of the cheapest, if not THE cheapest, in Djibouti) – 48 SGD.
I went out by myself in the evening to look for the ATM (we had no Djibouti francs with us). The Islamic Saaba bank was the only one that accepted VISA and Mastercard. Walked around a bit more, a foreigner here is a common sight, though in the European quarter, there was the same extraordinary amount of hassle from people wanting to help you with something you don’t need, and then demanding payment. I bought some water and baguettes, getting the change in coins. I noticed that i have to be careful with my coins here. Back in Ethiopia, i give out my spare change once in a while to those beggars who are unable to make a living themselves, due to some disability for example. That would set me back 2 cents SGD. Here a coin could have a value of up to almost 4 SGD!