Djibouti: A taste of Somalia

Finally, Anne was able to convince me not to go to Somaliland (an unrecognized factually independent part of Somalia) but to French Somaliland, nowadays called Djibouti. We arrived there at three o’clock in the morning. Surprisingly, the immigration office was open and we were able to get our visa in less than an hour. Since no shops or cafes were open at this time, we had to spend some hours reading at the mosquito infested airport.

The tiny country of Djibouti does not offer too many classic sights except for two outstanding places: Lac Abbé and Lac Assal. Lac Abbé is a swampy lake in the middle of the desert and gathering point for flamingos. However, the lake is surrounded by some of the strangest, most surreal but beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. The vulcanic plain contains many chimneys which look like frozen lava sprung from the depths and hot water is still pouring from the ground. Some might remember this moonlike landscape from the setting of the old “Planet of the Apes” movie. We stayed overnight in the very basic accomodation in midst of the chimneys and enjoyed an awesome sunset, (full) moonrise and sunrise which seemed to be from another world. Only the camels, mules and cattle wandering back from the lake shore reminded us that this place actually is on earth.

Driving back through the volcanic rocks and the fully plain desert of Grand Barra, we were astonished by the people living a nomadic life in one of this most unhospitable parts of the world. With temperatures close to 40°C (it is winter now) and scarce water and firewood, these Afar and Somali nomads are really challenging the most extreme environement. We crossed a huge canyon which was almost as impressive as the Grand Canyon and arrived at the shores of Lac Assal. As its name indicates, this large salt lake contains incredible 300 g of salt per liter. The lake lies at an altitude of 155 m below sea level which makes it the lowest point of the whole continent of Africa and one of the hottest as well. From far away, the shoreline of the lake looks like a perfect white south sea beach. Getting closer, its appearance is more like a sugar icing spread over all rocks along the coast. We cannot resist and try a swim. As hard as we tried, it is really impossible to dive in this water. The experience reminded me of my childhood when I learned swimming with swimmies (water wings) around my arms. But here it felt like having them on the arms, belly and legs. After this nice inland trip we were happy to treat ourselves with the great French cuisine of Djibouti City.

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