After considering Djibouti as a new trip destination, mainly due to the purportedly great diving and the prospect of spotting whale sharks, I decided to google it and on the first result page three of the ten results were CIA, US Department of State, and IMF official websites. Still not discouraged by such lack of tourist appeal I clicked the omnipresent Wikipedia link and found out that Djibouti had a fascinating history. I felt particularly attracted by its Somali and Afar ethnic groups’ historical heredity and the close ties with Ancient Egypt, especially in the times of Queen Hatshepsut (1508-1458 BC). Finally, but with already enough grounds to pay a visit to the God’s Land, I searched on Lonely Planet’s recommended Sights, providing me, with its ‘three’ recommended locations, the ultimate rational motive to book a ticket and keep an imperishable grin, as it commonly occurs when I get ready for traveling.
My first impression while taxing on the airport tarmac was that I had landed on a military base, as it was my second and third impressions, while driving through the city and checking in at the Sheraton Djibouti.
Nevertheless, I resolved to dismiss any tedium that the first three impressions provoked and insisted in making the best out of my Djibouti trip. For that, I only had to find the ‘three’ highlights suggested by the Lonely Planet and book a dive around Mousha Island. I started from the end. After uncountable questions in my hotel reception, I figured out that the only operational diving centre during the season was located inside the Kempinski hotel, a massive luxury building block situated by the sea, between the port and the city, with sea views composed by vessels and warships. The interior of the hotel wasn’t that different. The majority of the people encountered were military, and while in Sheraton most of them spoke German, in Kempinski, the most heard languages were Italian and Spanish.
After booking my dive journey, I embarked towards Mousha Island, where crystalline light blue waters and a rustic lodging complex filled my scenes. The dive was pleasant and irrelevant, and the instructors at the diving centre were accommodating and kind, but firm.
My next highlight in Djibouti city was the Market. I roamed it at night, when temperatures slightly decreased and locals moved around frantically, particularly at the arrival instants of the Ethiopian khat. Djibouti’s population highly consume khat, and as suggested by a Canadian expatriate, it is a social use numerous times required to foreign officials in their meetings with locals provided that they want to achieve cooperation. The market was surrounded by charming colonial buildings, eroded by the adverse climate conditions and lack of human maintenance. The anarchic movement of blue and white minivans through it rendered additional motion to my image and a sense of bustling attraction.
The next day I boarded a desert equipped SUV to make my way out to Lake Assal, allegedly the lowest point in the African continent, at -155 metres below sea level, and the third lowest in the world after the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. It is located inside the Danakil Depression at the very North of the Great Rift Valley where the highest temperature could reach 52 degrees C. On my way to the lake, I spotted a baboon colony by the main road. They were grouped at that singular place to benefit from a truck accident spoils. As I was approaching the lake, the landscape prompted visual recalls from lunar images. The basalt rocks presented evidence of the terrain’s volcanic nature. They were often piled forming circular compounds where the Afar people still camped temporarily and kept their camels. When I finally arrived at Lake Assal, there was a vast extension of white and blue surface, harming clear, charming albescent. I walked on the dry salty ground sensing crisps at every step. As I moved closer to the water the terrain was softening but not enough to safely walk barefoot, as the salty crystal formations were sharp edged and capable of damaging my skin. I entered the water and literally laid down on it. The high saline concentration, of about one third per litre, kept me floating as if I leaned on a floating mattress. At that point, nothing mattered. I had found another timeless place on earth, where I would always want to return.