Djibouti- a helter-skelter of highs and lows, decision and indecision, a mixture of excitement and boredom ….waiting for another continent.
We entered Djibouti with high expectations of relaxing on white deserted beaches and swimming with whale sharks around the coral reefs, but although this is probably possible…it was not to be.
We arrived here on a hot sticky afternoon, hobbling through the little but congested border crossing with …yet another flat tire. We stopped for the night 100m further on in a black stony amphitheatre surrounded by hot hills. One of our rims was leaking and we patiently set about repairing it, sweating profusely but with the promise of a cool night (desert….hot day/ cold night …wrong) the night was just as hot humid and sticky as the day, so much so that after half an hour of trying to convince the kids it was cooling down, we all climbed onto the roof of the truck clad in nothing but the darkness surrounding us. A column of trucks heading to Ethiopia from the port of Djibouti was already half a kilometer long and growing, but the stars were bright and the air vaguely cooler. Lusira s’ sensitive little tentacles were exhilarated by this unexpected adventure and she was soon rewarded by the sight of two shooting stars. Giulio on the other hand continued sweating and unable to sleep could be heard playing Lego, alone, in the darkness deep into the night.
The road for Djibouti town is a long winding streak of asphalt amongst arid black boulders with destroyed trucks strewn left and right of the road as drivers’ attention span wanes. When reaching Djibouti, after so much nothingness the town is at first disorientating. I t has a distinctly French feel to it, but with the slow pace of Africa. After a two hour search for an inexpensive but nice nonexistent hotel with a swimming pool, we headed for the Sheraton, where we had been told many months and kilometers ago by fellow travelers in Jordan that one could stay. One of the few places where overlanders are allowed to park and permitted to sleep in their own vehicles. We presented ourselves in a very unpresentable way, sweat soaking through our clothes and stress sparking from our eyes, the kids were covered in dust and ice- cream, looking like true little street urchins and completing the picture.
We were kindly shown to the parking lot on the sea front where we threw our unpresentable selves into the back of the truck. The heat was making us all neurotic and in five minutes we were all screaming for one reason or another, I showered everyone down in an attempt to cool our tempers….. but realized that it would be impossible to stay for any length of time in these conditions…..we really needed a guardian angel or a good plan. Just one hour after this thought as if by magic a clean shaven Indian looking man appeared looking curiously at our truck…..Yes our guardian angel had come in the guise of Pradeep and his wife Kumudu, a Sri Lankan family full of Sri Lankan hospitality, working as project manager at the Sheraton and living in one of the bungalows reserved for the expat employees. After a short introduction, he invited us to his house (lovely and cool air conditioning!!) and his wife pampered us with drinks and the delicious tangy taste of her eastern cooking. The children as relieved as us, without hesitation started exploring the toys chest and getting to know their new little friend David….we would survive.
Our second streak of luck came the next morning whist passing by the entrance of the Sheraton. After another impossibly hot night, by chance we bumped into Yanik, the general manager of the Sheraton, a friendly, open Swiss man, who on seeing the children (and probably our harassed faces) invited us to use the pool to cool off. By the end of the day we had come to an arrangement with him to rent at an extremely reasonable price , one of the empty bungalows next to Pradeeps’……we will survive Djibouti!!.
Lusira and Giulio after 10 months in the truck were overjoyed with the prospect of playing ‘house’ in the little cheerful bungalow assigned to us. They ran around like neurotic house wives, making their beds, sweeping floors and even trying their hand at a little washing up. Their two little Sri lankan friends, Avindu and David, have made the prolonged stay here truly memorable. Lusira has learnt to ride a ‘proper’ bike in the improvised playground with her new friends and having constant access to the swimming pool has also meant that she has finally learnt to swim……but how have the grown children faired during this period?
Well after more than a month of staying put, and after the novelty of having a little more space (and privacy!!) had worn off, our travelling feet have quickly become exasperated!! The shipping of our truck has really characterised the whole stay here. It has been a series of negotiations, mad rushes (for nothing) hope, frustration ,despair, and again hope….we missed THREE ships each at the last minute for strange and wonderful reasons, but have finally loaded our truck (and our friends truck ‘Wobble’) on to a ship bound for Mumbai…no photos of our truck loading, Luca was too busy driving and coordinating operations, but in compensation a beautiful drawing by Lusira of our trucks on the Indian Ocean with whale sharks in the water and flamingoes in the sky .
At one of the peaks of our negativism I was also unlucky enough to get dengue fever and had to spend a long painful ten days in bed, and doing blood tests….but then as if by magic the fog cleared along with the fever and aches and pains and all looked bright and sharp again…..the ship has arrived, I have my appetite back, the kids are serene, and to celebrate the occasion we had a lovely evening in the Sheraton guests of Yanik. An evening of flowing wine, good company and very excited children (who after lashings of chocolate mousse were even invited up on stage to dance with the Columbian band playing live that evening…..”.c’era una bella lady” said Giulio, who is now asking me every evening if he can go dancing)
It is always a strange mixed feeling to leave ones truck and nomadism in the middle of a trip, but now that I can feel things moving again I know I will look back with fond memories at the time spent here, for the people we met and got to know better, and who hopefully we will see again one day.
Thank you to those who helped and welcomed us in this strange small country that is Djibouti.