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My trip to the tiny, former French colony,now federal state of Djibouti started well. I met Youssef, Djiboutis top referee. It was an accolade he seemed particularly proud of, though I was unimpressed given that his country was smaller than my home town. Meeting a countrys top referee was not, however, my idea of a good start to a trip. What was a good start though, was being introduced to the Djibouti National Football Team, flying back from a game against the Comoros Islands. Youssef managed to get all their autographs for me. It dawned on me that I was probably the only fan they had ever met when they insisted on taking numerous pictures of me. I had vivid images of meeting some of football's greats like Pele, Maradona or Steve Stone and them asking me for my autograph.
In spite of such a great start to my trip Djibouti left me frustrated. I happily left within 48 hours. My plane landed late in the evening and, due to lack of availability, I was forced to spend the night in a $70/35 quid hotel, which was crap. There wasnt even a hot water tap in my shower, but I was blessed with a TV that showed BBC News and, more importantly, shit French pop.
When I finally woke up the next day I hunted around for the only train out of the country (to Ethiopia), as well as a cheaper hotel. I gave up on both accounts due to:
a) no-one knowing when the train actually left for Ethiopia, and
b) there being no cheap hotels in the whole country.
But wait! There was one cheap hotel in the town of Tajoura, just across the Bay from Djibouti City! It only cost $20. I checked out of my stupidly expensive, no hot water hotel and caught the 1300 qat motorboat across the bay.
I had often seen people eating qat across the Middle East and Djibouti was no different. This mildly narcotic drug is actually a green leaf that is chewed by everyone for hours at a time, and basically chills people out. It has an immense impact on dictating the very slow pace of life here. The whole country literally stops when the daily shipment of qat comes in. Shops are closed, the streets empty and men huddle in the shade for qat-chewing parties.
And after a brilliant water spraying everywhere boat crossing (recommended to anyone) the jetti in Tajoura was crowded with people eager to receive the latest shipment. The crowds were going crazy, and it was only after 10 minutes when everything had been unloaded that I was finally able to get off myself.
Tajoura was a quaint town perched on the bay. As it turned out the $20 hotel had now closed down and the only option was an expensive place located out of town. Luckily some kids managed to help me out by first taking me to another kid who spoke English and then this kid taking me to a family that sometimes rented out a room. The family said I could stay for 1 night, which was good enough for me, given that I had no other choice.
So I chilled in Tajoura. I ate ice cream and dinner by the sea and no-one troubled me except the goats. And even they didnt trouble me for long because old men who were sitting nearby kept throwing stones at them to keep them away from my ice cream and my dinner.
At sunset I went and sat on the pier playing the harmonica and reading my book. I was soon surrounded by kids fishing for their dinner. It was a serene moment.
The next day my plan was to head to the salt lake, Lac Assal, but I couldnt, both because I couldnt be bothered and it was too expensive. I took the bus straight back to the capital, passing the lake on the way, as well as the Bay of Ghoubbet. I wish I had had the time and money to see both, especially since they looked amazing from my tiny minibus.
In Djibouti I found out that the bi-weekly train was leaving that night for Ethiopia. I decided to take it. I had had enough of people trying to rip me off on top of the expensive prices, as well as seeing tortoise in a variety of sauces in a restaurant and being absolutely disgusted.
I chilled on the beach in the day, and was on the rickety train at 8pm, joined by 2 French people. Since everyone in this country spoke French, they helped me get my ticket without being ripped off.
Djibouti seems like an amazing country and I wish I had more money and spoke some French to help me get by. The streets are a weird mix of French soldiers with their knee-high socks (personally I think they looked a bit gay), as well as the darker skinned locals. It was an interesting, if weird, mix of French and African cultures.
Personally I wouldnt recommend a tourist visit to this country. Too much hassle getting in, and too much hassle once I was in. 3 of the 4 French speaking tourists I met there disagreed with me.