Sunday, 17 March 2013

Djibouti & the Danakil Depression

Djibouti was to the French what Aden was to the British.  A key port at the southern end of the Red Sea when steamers could refuel to or from Suez .

My first visit to Djibouti was to open a bank account for an NGO programme in Somalia at the height of the fighting well before the arrival of American forces..

The government ministries had been comprehensively trashed in Mog and the  new owners of the national stock of passports were doing a roaring trade in authentic Somali passports with all the right stamps for ten dollars. Diplomatic passports were slightly more expensive.

Arriving at Djibouti Airport there was a huge barrel  filled to the brim with Somali passports, many fresh off the press. Their dismayed owners sat in a long line on a bench awaiting a long conversation with immigration officials.  My western passport went into the same barrel and I was in.

Djibouti town was  a magical  haven of plenty after months in the Somali bush.  Shops with fresh cakes, air con and cold drinks and of course operational banks. Djibouti also provided access to one place I had always been determined to visit, Lake Abbe on the  border with Ethiopia. It is the final destination of the Awash River that Wilfred Thesiger explored all those years ago and recorded in his Danakil Diary.

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Lake Abbe

Lake Abbe is within the Danakil Depression, the lowest place on earth and one of the hottest. The landscape is wild and volcanic and the Afar who live here are perfectly adapted to their harsh environment. If you want to know what they use their curved knife for 'the jile', you really need to read  The Danakil Diary.

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Volcanic activity in the depression