Djibouti & Somalia
I left my inner city hotel on the Chinese constructed road, past the Italian Army Base and the French Foreign Legion base, adjacent to the new $4 billion Chinese built railway, which is opposite the American Base, which is next-door to the new Chinese military base, just down the road from the new Chinese container terminal.
After all that, I eventually left Djibouti City on a new Chinese constructed highway to Ethiopia. Several miles down the road we turned right and headed into one of the world’s greatest geological sites.
Djibouti is the place where Africa’s Great Rift Valley meets the ocean and the area is known as the Afar Depression, with the far northern section known as the Danakil Depression.
The Afar Depression is one of two places on Earth where a mid-ocean ridge can be studied on land, the other being Iceland.
The area contains the hottest places (year-round average temperatures) of anywhere on Earth and is a barron, scorched and in-hospitable landscape of horizon to horizon black lava fields and precipitous weathered lava flows, many over hundreds of meters deep.
I stayed the night in a hut at a tourist camp in the mountains and spent the afternoon watching Djbouti’s only endemic bird Djibouti Francolin, as well as other species such as Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse and Hemprich’s Hornbill.
I continued on past several Afar villages, eventfully descending into a huge culdara reaching the lowest point in Africa, Lake Asal, at 155 m (or 509 ft) below sea level.
The Rift Valley runs north from Mozambique for 6000km creating some of Africa’s most spectacular scenery and continues to widen about 2cm a year.
Some time in the next million or so years, as the rift continues to open and the depression continues to sink, the Red Sea will flood the valley in a prelude to when Africa eventually splits in two along the entire 6000km rift forming a new Ocean basin.
On my forth day in Djibouti I jumped in a taxi. “where to sir? ”
“Take me to Somalia.” and so he did.
I crossed into Somalia through typical corrupt African unorganized incompetence and eventually made my way to the customs official with my entry stamp. He took a bit of finding but I was eventually taken down to the beach where we found him relaxing on a daybed under a tree in the shade in his orange Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses.
It took a while to get him to move from his main office and walk to his secondary office in the immigration building where he kept his stamps. With a stamp in my passport I walked towards the road and happened to notice he’d given me an exit stamp instead of an entry stamp. By then, of course he was back under his tree in the shade, so we went through the process all over again.
From there we drove to the nearest service Station where it took forty minutes and eight people to fill our landcruiser with diesel.
I now had a my guide and a local Somali driver, what could possibly go wrong! Off into the desert we drove and after half an hour my local driver got us bogged. Some digging, moving sand mats around and we were off again. Ten minutes later, bogged again, more digging and then for something different, he got us lost. Somewhere along the way he took the wrong track and I spent my first night camped under the stars in the Somali desert being serenaded to sleep by the local pack of Golden Jackels.
We found a village, asked directions, drove across country for a while and found the right track and got bogged again.
The next day we drove twenty two kilometers down a picturesque dry river bed as we began to climb out of the flat coastal plain.
After a couple of river crossings and a stop for lunch I arrived in Hargeisa just after dark on day two.
After a night in Hargeisa we headed east to the coastal town of Berbera, where I had a great meal of local fish and freshly squeezed lemon juice drink, before climbing the escarpment during a thunderstorm.
Before venturing to Somalia I thought the entire country was flat uninspiring desert but was surprised to find Somaliland a state of rugged mountains and steep spectacular escarpments.
The temperature dropped rapidly as we approached the town of Sheikh where the British previously had a hill station and guest house to escape the coastal heat.
We continued east across vast dry open plains scattered with some of Africa’s scarcest wildlife such as Desert Warthog, Hamadryas Baboon, Klipspringer, Speke’s Pectinator, Salt’s Dikdik as well as Dorcas, Spekes and Soemmering’s Gazelle.
After a few days of camping on the plains I arrived in Eregavo and was promptly stopped by the local authorities and detained for four hours while we went through the Somali shake down from corrupt officials, which is the norm once you leave the tourist trail in Africa.
The immigration official started first.
“That’s not the correct visa.” “That’s not the correct stamp.” “If you get your visa in Addis, you have to fly in, you’ve entered illegally.” blah, blah, blah. Funniest thing was when he demanded to photograph my visa stamp. He took a photo of my Chad visa!
After four hours the local Police Commander told us we couldn’t travel any further east, so we went to plan B. We found the local clan cheif and explained where we wanted to go. He told the police it was OK with him for us to continue and off we went.
We drove higher eventually entering the Daallo Mountains where at over 2000m, the temperature plummeted and I found myself in an incredible moss covered forest of thousand year old Juniper and Cedar trees with spectacular views from the escarpment to Gulf of Aden. With alpine meadows and cool, crisp mountain air it was hard to believe I was in Somalia.
I spent two days exploring the forest and could have easily spent a week there but it was soon time to head back to Hargesia and my flight to Egypt.
For my ten days in the two countries I used Abdi Jama who owns Nature Somaliland, as my guide. He’s a local from Somaliland who has lived in the USA for twenty years, has a graduate degree from Colarodo State University and has returned home to run his guiding/tour business. When it comes to this part of the world, he’s the go-to guy.
Above: flying over the Sinai Mountains.
I’m now in Sharm el Sheikh on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsular where I’m diving for a week and hopefully will have mostly underwater photos in my next blog.
Bye for now.