In April/May 2014 I visited two countries in East Africa, Ethiopia and Djibouti on a private tour organized by Image Ethiopia. The organization was excellent, everything worked like clockwork. I was very pleased with this company and can wholeheartedly recommend them.
I arrived in Djibouti around 11:00. In the afternoon we drove around Djibouti city.
The next day we drove southwest through the Petit Barat and the Grand Barat, two dry lakes. We drove straight through over the lake bed of the Grand Barat. It was smooth driving, much better than on the road with potholes. Apparently, this was a lake some 15 years ago. It seems as if it occasionally becomes a lake again when it rains enough.
Apparently, the French army used to train in Djibouti. Part of the training was running over the Grand Barat, we saw the stone cairns that marked their track. It must be brutal to run over this dry lake bed in temperatures over 50°C (120°F).
From the Grand Barat we drove further southwest on a dirt road through the desert to Lac Abbé with its limestone chimneys. I stayed there in a tented camp. We watched sunset over the chimneys and sunrise the next day. The limestone chimneys are fantastic to see.
The next day we drove north to Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa at 150 m (490 ft) below sea level, and from there to Tadjoura, where I stayed the third night.
After visiting the volcano, we drove back to Djibouti for my afternoon flight back to Addis Ababa.
Djibouti was a French colony, it became independent in 1977. There are about 850,000 people living in Djibouti.
Djibouti lives mostly from its port. There is hardly any other industry or agriculture for export. There are currently three ports, the main port, which has some 70% of Ethiopian business, the oil terminal, and the container port. Djibouti and Ethiopia are in the process of building a new port which will be exclusively for Ethiopian use.
The connection to Ethiopia is mainly through the road. There is a never ending stream of big trucks flowing between Djibouti and Ethiopia. There is a railroad between Addis Ababa and Djibouti, but passenger traffic ceased years ago and the line is in desperate need of repair. Currently there are efforts under way to repair and improve the rail line and resume passenger and cargo traffic. This is done in connection with the construction of the new port that will exclusively handle Ethiopian cargo.
There is little agriculture, so most food is imported from Ethiopia. Drinking water is produced through desalination plants.
Besides Djibouti City, there are five villages, two villages of the Afar people, two of the Somali people, and one for VIPs.
Djibouti is quite dirty in many planes, quite different from Ethiopia, which was quite clean everywhere.
Many of the local people are still nomadic, they follow the rain. This makes it difficult to provide education and medical services.
The food in Djibouti is very good (as opposed to Ethiopia, where the food was pretty lousy), probably a legacy of Djibouti being a French colony. The beer was good, but quite expensive. It was all imported from Ethiopia.
The hotel in Djibouti was very good. The accommodations in the tented camp on Lac Abbé were OK. The food there was quite good. Toilet and washing facilities were somewhat primitive, but adequate for one night. The hotel in Tadjoura was adequate.
When people in Djibouti have a conversation, it always sounds angry, like they are ready to rip each others heads off. This took some getting used to. My guide specifically mentioned this, I assume all foreigners are concerned about that.
Djibouti is a country on drugs. Everybody chews khat, a plant brought from Ethiopia. Once the khat arrives in trucks from Ethiopia around noon, everything shuts down and people just hang out and chew khat. I arrived around 11:00, and the streets were jammed. When I started sight seeing around 13:00, the streets were empty. Businesses slowly open again after 16:00. My driver started chewing khat every day around 13:00. He kept adding one leave after another to the wad he was chewing. By 17:00 he had a tennis ball-sized wad of khat leaves in his mouth. Every household spends insane amounts of money on the drug. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Djibouti spends $170 million on khat, annually. There are less than 900,000 people living in this country. And this is not a rich country, with unemployment at over 50%.
Nature in Djibouti
Birds in Djibouti