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krisek Djibouti - A travel report by Krys
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Djibouti,  Djibouti - flag Djibouti -  Djibouti
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krisek's travel reports

Djibouti - state that wants to be Dubai of Africa.

  15 votes
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I went to Djibouti for the New Year's Eve (2007-2008), and I realised how poor value for money it was. It was very interesting to see the mix of French and Moorish cultures in this part of the continent, though and I had a jolly good time welcoming 2008.

Many of my friends, acquaintances and work colleagues were not aware of Djibouti’s existence. They were unfamiliar with this word. Those, who knew it was a country, had only limited knowledge about it. I did not know much it either, even after reading a bit about it in guidebooks and on the net, before landing in the capital city.

Djibouti City was not as tidy as I expected. And not as well preserved, or kept renovated, as the wealth of the state would suggest. It was however, a great place to relax. Compared to Ethiopia and Somaliland, it was well developed, and civilised. Its cafes and organised social life stood out.

There are a few very interesting places to see in Djibouti, Lac Abbe, Lac Assal, the mountains and a few islands in the Red Sea offering, reportedly, great diving. However, due to a limited budget I did not see any of them. There was no public transport that went there and to rent a car was extremely expensive, much more expensive than in Europe, America or elsewhere in Africa. I spent all of my time in Djibouti City, exploring the European and Africa Quarters, visited the beaches, talked to the locals, chilled in the cafes and bars. Did nothing, actually. Really unlike me.

Favourite spots:
Place Menelik
Place Menelik
The European Quarter of Djibouti City was charming. I really felt happy that I managed to make it there for the last night of the year. The main square was lined up with Franco-Moorish arcaded buildings. Some housed banks, some hotels, restaurants, bars, cafe, clubs, and some - shops. One end of the square was taken by the townhall and the National Tourism Office. Djibouti City looked really civilised! I did not want to care about the prices. I just wanted to relax. So, I was particularly thankful for the French style cafes with their patios and reed furnishing. Life was great again. And it was really hot.

I took to the beach. I could not remember when it had been the last time that I had been at the beach on a hot, the very last day of the year. Perhaps it was my first time in Djibouti, actually. No! I just remembered that on 31 December 2005 I was on Aruba. But I landed already at night, so I am not sure it counted.

What's really great:
Old Mosque
Old Mosque
So, what did the Djiboutians did on the first afternoon of the year? They sat down in little cafes, drank excruciatingly sweet teas or coffees, chewed qat like goats, and watched weird TV series on the ancient and very small tv sets elevated in the arched passages with cables hanging out of them. And until the sun set that day! Every now and again they disappeared from the venues to respond to the calling from the mosques and to go for one of the mandatory five prayers. During this time, the volume from the TVs and radios was reduced to the minimum. In fact, the television stopped all programmes briefly and displayed a few slides showing various mosques in the country.

European Quarter
European Quarter
Djibouti City offers limited sights. Apart from interesting mix of European, African and Asian architecture and, I guess, the markets, there is nothing else to it. The beach in the city was not particularly clean, and when I visited it was almost entirely empty. There were few local kids taking a dip in the water, but there were no facilities, no places to have a drink, etc.

The African Quarter was also a bit interesting. The Moorish and rustic African architecture dominated, but the area was more chaotic and untidy, but colourful and odouriferous. The African Quarter was the place to buy qat for chewing. Qat was imported from Ethiopia, as it was illegal to grow it in Djibouti. The rush for the fresh 'stock' was really funny and it was crystal clear that the stuff was addictive.

European Quarter
European Quarter
I stayed at Hotel de France. It was just three minutes from the European Quarter, and safe. I cost 8650 francs (USD 60). It was potentially worth for its location but the quality of the room I got was awful. The room I had two levels. Downstairs had a kitchen (filthy and actually inoperable), living room with a TV (did not work, I had to call for a guy, who was actually polite and in no time fixed it) and a couple of sofas, and, what I figure out, a place where a bathroom might have been one day. The upstairs had a bedroom with a small balcony, and a bathroom. The bathroom was terrible. It must have never been cleaned. The shower had a broken basin. I was afraid to step on it, just in case I would fall downstairs through a whole in the floor. There was no hot water and the filthy wash basin was leaking. If, at the other hand, the hotel was renovated it would a superb place.

Place Menelik and a few streets around, particularly Ethiopia Road, house numerous nightclubs and discos. All of them are rather sleazy and seedy. The atmosphere is sticky and it seems that people only go there to pick up some meat for sex. One of the places, Marco's, resembled a 1970's nightclub with faux leather padded sofas, shiny or blinky tabletops and a central dancefloor.

Another choice was to hang around the cafes, like the L'Historie, which closed late and played some decent music. It attracted mainly colonialists and was way overpriced, but it was clean, safe and in a perfect spot for people watching. Its patio offered great breeze as well, which Bjibouti's climate was a bliss.

L'Historie Bar, Restaurant & Club
L'Historie Bar, Restaurant & Club
The Place Menelik, also known as Place 27 Juin 1977, offered a good selection of cafes. There were five upscale places owned by the French colonisers, two local ones owned and run by Arabic families, a few restaurants and two local eateries, all of which had tables outside offering great spots for people watching. The beach did not have any facilities, but if one brings a keg or a six pack, it could be a great place for a party.

I walked around the European and the fringe of the African Quarters for an hour and found that all local eateries were closed. I had three options:
- go to Restaurant Saba (where I had a great and cheap lunch the day before);
- find Le Paradis (Chez Darar) restaurant that reportedly did great fish and was owned by a Djiboutian; and
- eat at one of the upscale cafes (L'Historie, Ali Sabieh) in the centre and break my New Year resolution just few hours of making it.

I found an unsuspecting looking pizzeria - La Pizzaiolo. From the outside it looked uninviting and ... closed. Inside, however, it was really pleasant. It was decorated in a mix of an Irish pub (beer was served), English bar, French auberge, Italian dining room, and American stable  or farm club. Its bar was fully licensed. The venue played surprisingly good music, a combination of blues, black jazz and soul. Fans in the ceiling and the air-con were efficient. Waiters were professionally polite but did not smile much.

Other recommendations:
Local cafe on the corner
Local cafe on the corner
Many restaurants and cafes run by the colonialists charged up to ten times more for soft drinks than the local spots sporting a little less glamourous decor. The latter were cheap and cheerful and although sitting was just basic plastic armchairs, they offered a better chance to talk to the local crowd. I found that at the 'expensive' cafes, hardly anyone talked to you. At the local places, almost everyone wanted to chat you up, find out where you came from, what you came to do and see, how long you would be staying, etc. And all that leaving much lesser dent in your budget.

Published on Sunday February 10th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:36 PM rating by alfonsovasco

i am learning too much reading your reports. thank you with all my heart

Mon, Feb 11 2008 - 10:42 AM rating by rangutan

Well done! You deserve extra points and praise for your exotic deep African stories. Some members don't dream of going there but you describe these places very well for them; smooth, intelligent and easy to read reports.

Mon, Feb 11 2008 - 10:38 AM rating by adampl

Another superb report. I think Report of the Month award is very likely to go to your hands.

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 08:06 PM rating by mistybleu

Another really interesting report. A city that I don't really know anything about. Thanks for sharing

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 07:26 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Thanks for showing us so rare destinations.

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