After seeing all there is to see in Djibouti City, we meet with the tour group and guides arranged through Intrepid Tours. Introductions reveal nine tourists: two from Canada, three from Germany (one originally from South Africa), three from the USA (including us) and one from the UK. Although not sitting together, Marilynn and I have identified one chatterbox and one know-it-all. Our head guide, Erellah Odongo, comes from Kenya and presents as an approachable, professional coordinator. Our other guide, Omar TaTa, is Afar, and lives in Djibouti. He’s full of youthful energy and enthusiam.
This eleven-day excursion will utilize three separate Toyota Land Cruisers, with three tourists in each, and include primitive camping, nowhere to get alcohol, and treks around unique, amazing geological formations.
First, we engage in a walking city tour through markets, and a few photo sights of mosques and European architecture. Marilynn adds some entertainment when she takes on the local foosball champion. Despite being spotted four points, she loses the game that goes to five points. I pay the winner one hundred Djibouti Francs (fifty-six US cents).
After Ethiopian dinner with the group, Marilynn and I come back to the room with dread. How will we survive being with these people, especially one who insists upon constantly talking, often insulting, offending, and stereotyping “Americans” as if we’re all the same? What if that person ends up in our vehicle? We’ve made a huge mistake coming here. We’re independent travelers, not the tour group type! I chew a huge batch of khat looking for euphoria. Still, no effect.
I speak with Erellah about our issue. He grabs me by the hand. We walk together down the street. This marks the first time I’ve ever walked a city street hand-in-hand with another man. He’s sensitive to my concerns and eases my anxiety. (about the chatterbox, not the hand thing)
On the way to the 4×4 journey through the Grand Bara Desert, we make one last stop at a grocery store. “Load up on toilet paper, snacks, and whatever you like to drink,” Erellah says. “Won’t see alcohol or stores for at least four days.” Marilynn and I pass on the snacks for several bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka! The other tourist sitting in our truck has a horrible cough and cold. Great. We wonder if catching an illness is preferable to the alternative? Probably.
Let’s get it on! Bouncing over a dusty road around trucks in the heat, with an anemic air conditioner makes one oddly hungry. Time for lunch at the Auberge du Palmeraie, the best and only restaurant in the large village of Dikhil. Salad plate, chicken, rice, potato sauce, cabbage, green beans, corn, tuna, spaghetti and baguette shall define our meals pretty much from here on out.
We pass through the Grand Bara Desert where drivers create their own roads, before stopping at a few small villages.
Finally, it feels like we’re in the boonies, where caravans of camels carry supplies for nomadic families.
Our first glance of limestone chimneys puffing steam in the distance grabs our gaze and nothing else matters.
As we close in and eventually walk among them, I’m reminded of a Rorschach psychological test that reveals your deepest thoughts in what shapes you interpret. We’re no longer on planet earth.
After checking-in to a “permanent” nomad-style hut, Marilynn and I sip wine while watching the sunset over these monolithic monsters.
Up before dawn the next morning to catch sunrise over the chimneys, the different angle of light and shade and cooler temperatures allow a pleasant walk among springs. The water’s temperature melts plastic water bottles.
Feels good to finally walk for several hours, catching a glimpse of Lac Abbe looming in the distance. If I had Nescafe, I’d put a chaw of that between my cheek and gum.
Nomads graze camels and goats where the water cools a bit, as well as attempt some minimal gardening.
Back into the truck after breakfast of bread, jam, nutella and most important – coffee, which defines breaky from here on out. We’re thrilled to find a healthy, polite, and amusing German man as our new travel mate!
The bouncing and twisting in the Land Rover define the term, “Djibouti Massage.” We’re heading to Lac Assal, the sixth saltiest lake on planet earth, where we shall sleep under the stars tonight.
Thank you, Abundant Universe!