Why Visit Djibouti?
By Phil Marks
Djibouti is a sovereign nation on the Horn of Africa, at the strategically important Gate of Tears (Babe el Mandeb), which guards the entrance to the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Twenty miles to the east, across the entrance to the Red Sea, lies the Yemen.
This small country has many unique features which make a visit very worthwhile. Formerly a French colony, it retains many French connections and cultural perspectives.
The size of the US State of Massachusetts, it has a coastal plain backed by stony desert (where the French Foreign Legion trains), and behind that scattered plateaux and highlands - especially the Goda Massif in the north.
It is bordered on the north by Eritrea, the west by Ethiopia and on the south by Somalia, and embraces the Gulf of Tadjoura. This Gulf leads by way of the Ghoubbet Pass into Lake Ghoubbet (the Devil's Cauldron).
One of the hottest places on earth, Lake Assal is a flooded volcanic crater ringed by dormant volcanoes and black lava fields. It is located in the Afar Depression, part of the Great African Rift Valley, 153 meters below sea level - the lowest point on the African continent. Lake Assal's waters are the most saline in the world, containing over 34 percent salt. It is a semi-presidential republic, and its territory is, divided into five regions and eleven districts. The capital city is itself called Djibouti.
The rare Djibouti Francolin - a partridge - lives in the Juniper forests in the Goda Massif - a highland area in the north of the country. There is a wide range of raptors, and in the month of August there are notable migratory congregations. Mammals include wild dogs, warthogs and, notably even leopards. Velvet monkeys are found in the Day Forest National Park, where over fifty percent of the wildlife in Djibouti lives. There are camels aplenty, and herds of donkeys.
Lake Ghoubbet, about eight miles across, is not deep and has no fresh water flowing into it. It is plankton rich and a major breeding area for the plankton-eating whale shark. In addition, there are at least two hundred species of coral, manta rays, barracuda, sailfish and marine life galore.
For the artist, Djibouti offers little, unless a painter, though considerable efforts are being undertaken to develop its cultural life. Without a university, there is little academic life to mention. Of course, for authors writing about Djibouti and the region in general, there is plenty of material.
Dairy products and meat from the herds are the traditional foods, supplemented by grain-based dishes. An Ethiopian bread recipe, injera, is very popular.
One interesting feature of the diet is the chewing of the light narcotic leaf, qat, which is imported fresh from Ethiopia. Qat is consumed recreationally by nearly all men and has a mild amphetamine effect.
Places to Stay
Most tourists stay in Djibouti City. There are several international hotels up to five star standard, and smaller local hotels. There is a beach holiday village on Moucha Island, twenty minutes by boat from Djibouti. There are smaller hotels in other towns (for example Tadjoura), but quality is variable.
Djibouti City has a French naval presence, and also a US military base at Camp Lemonnier. So, a lot of the lively nocturnal activity has developed to meet their needs. There are numerous bars, cafes, clubs and restaurants. Activities are rather more restrained at Plage des Sables Blancs.
Many flights require a change at Sana'a (Yemen), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) or Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, although a new airline has recently started direct flights from London and Paris.
In summary, Djibouti is a land of compromise, politically stable in a region of uncertainty, with many unique natural features to offer the adventurous traveller, from exquisite white beaches to desert safaris. Find out more about the history importance of the Gate of Tears, [http://www.gateoftears.com where modern man first emerged, Djibouti, the amazing Red Sea and the Yemen in a stunning novel set there. An intriguing blend of piracy, terrorism, gold fever, geopolitics and naval confrontation, and lots more to discover at www.jamesmarinero.com.
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