Istanbul to Bombay by ship 2000: 4
After two days at sea we arrived at Djibouti, a country which
has only it's port going for it. Marilynn & Paul Jensen took the shuttle bus
to the Arab market, while Tim and I negotiated a taxi to the Somalia border. A
Somalian who spoke English was standing there, and appointed himself as our
guide. Prices negotiated, we headed off in a tiny taxi.
The city is old colonial style, and very dirty. Its claim to
fame is that it is the hottest inhabited place on the face of the earth, due
to the combination of heat and humidity. We were soon out of town and
travelling through the scenic Djibouti garbage dump, which is about five miles
long on each side of the road. The wind has expanded it to about 30 square
miles. The mounds of dead animal carcasses that were rotting in the heat gave
it a wonderful flavour that we could actually taste. Our driver spent then
next ten minutes spitting out the window trying to get the taste out of his
mouth! It provided a wonderful opportunity to study hundreds of vultures at
close range, although we chose not to stop for photos.
The area is desert, with scrub brush growing here and there and
lots of camels. To say it was trackless wilderness would be an error, it was
more a tracky wilderness - there was no road, but hundreds of tracks went all
directions as each traveller chose his own route. Our driver confessed to
never having been out of the city before, and became lost frequently. The
Somalian earned his keep by going into animated conversation with the nomads
we encountered, who gradually nudged us in the right general direction.
The rains had begun in the interior, so some of the wadis were
full of water. The little car made it through several, but was finally stopped
by a serious river. Much wading around failed to locate a shallow crossing,
but while we were looking a truck appeared on the other side. $20 cemented a
deal to get us to the Somalia border and back to our taxi, the driver having
agreed to wait.
Tim & I piled into the canvas covered back of the pickup, which
had benches on either side, and was filled with about a dozen of the local
tribesmen. We were a real novelty! Through our guide we were able to
establish that they were right up to date on the US election, and other world
events. They were a friendly lot, and there was lots of laughter during the
We arrived at the frontier at 2:45 PM and were informed that
the border was open only from 8-10 AM and 4-6 PM. No amount of negotiation or
offer of bribes could get us through, so we sat in a shaded area that was part
of a restaurant of sorts to wait. We couldn't buy anything as we had no local
currency, and nothing else was acceptable at this remote spot, however the
proprietor was quite happy to have the only two white people for miles around
sit in his place.
When the border opened, we were told we couldn't cross, as we
had no Djibouti exit visa. Once again we tried all the arguments, bribes, etc.
to no avail. We were told to talk with the commandant, as the Somalia frontier
is a military zone, and that he was at the Somalian border post at the moment
but would be back in five minutes. Fifteen minutes later we gave it up, as our
guide was panicking about getting back before dark. Probably the right
decision, as if we were perpetually lost in daylight there would be no hope in
the dark - and there would be no one to ask for directions.
The drive back went like clockwork, exploring entirely
different areas as once again we navigated by the position of the sun,
arriving back at the ship well before sailing time.
This is being written as we pass four days at sea on the way to
Mombassa, where we will go on safari, and where Tim and I plan to drive South
to explore some of Northern Tanzania.