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جيبوتي (Djibouti) - Strange Geology

Djibouti

Travel pictures from Djibouti

by Dr. Günther Eichhorn

Itinerary

Djibouti Map

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In April/May 2014 I visited Ethiopia and Djibouti on a private tour organized by Image Ethiopia. The organization was excellent, everything worked like clockwork. I was very pleased with this company and can wholeheartedly recommend them.

Itinerary

I arrived in Djibouti around 11:00. In the afternoon we drove around Djibouti city.

The next day we drove southwest through the Petit Barat and the Grand Barat, two dry lakes. We drove straight through over the lake bed of the Grand Barat. It was smooth driving, much better than on the road with potholes. Apparently, this was a lake some 15 years ago. It seems as if it occasionally becomes a lake again when it rains enough.

Apparently, the French army used to train in Djibouti. Part of the training was running over the Grand Barat, we saw the stone cairns that marked their track. It must be brutal to run over this dry lake bed in temperatures over 50°C (120°F).

From the Grand Barat we drove further southwest on a dirt road through the desert to Lac Abbé with its limestone chimneys. I stayed there in a tented camp. We watched sunset over the chimneys and sunrise the next day. The limestone chimneys are fantastic to see.

The next day we drove north to Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa at 150 m (490 ft) below sea level, and from there to Tadjoura, where I stayed the third night.

After visiting the volcano, we drove back to Djibouti for my afternoon flight back to Addis Ababa.

The country

Djibouti was a French colony, it became independent in 1977.

Djibouti lives mostly from its port. There is hardly any other industry or agriculture for export. There are currently three ports, the main port, which has some 70% of Ethiopian business, the oil terminal, and the container port. Djibouti and Ethiopia are in the process of building a new port which will be exclusively for Ethiopian use.

The connection to Ethiopia is mainly through the road. There is a never ending stream of big trucks flowing between Djibouti and Ethiopia. There is a railroad between Addis Ababa and Djibouti, but passenger traffic ceased years ago and the line is in desperate need of repair. Currently there are efforts under way to repair and improve the rail line and resume passenger and cargo traffic. This is done in connection with the construction of the new port that will exclusively handle Ethiopian cargo.

There is little agriculture, so most food is imported from Ethiopia. Drinking water is produced through desalination plants.

Besides Djibouti City, there are five villages, two villages of the Afar people, two of the Somali people, and one for VIPs.

Djibouti is quite dirty in many planes, quite different from Ethiopia, which was quite clean everywhere.

Many of the local people are still nomadic, they follow the rain. This makes it difficult to provide education and medical services.

Food, Drink, and Lodging

The food in Djibouti is very good (as opposed to Ethiopia, where the food was pretty lousy), probably a legacy of Djibouti being a French colony. The beer was good, but quite expensive. It was all imported from Ethiopia.

The hotel in Djibouti was very good. The accommodations in the tented camp on Lac Abbé were OK. The food there was quite good. Toilet and washing facilities were somewhat primitive, but adequate for one night. The hotel in Tadjoura was adequate.

Miscellaneous

When people in Djibouti have a conversation, it always sounds angry, like they are ready to rip each others heads off. This took some getting used to. My guide specifically mentioned this, I assume all foreigners are concerned about that.

Djibouti is a country on drugs. Everybody chews khat, a plant brought from Ethiopia. Once the khat arrives in trucks from Ethiopia around noon, everything shuts down and people just hang out and chew khat. I arrived around 11:00, and the streets were jammed. When I started sight seeing around 13:00, the streets were empty. Businesses slowly open again after 16:00. My driver started chewing khat every day around 13:00. He kept adding one leave after another to the wad he was chewing. By 17:00 he had a tennis ball-sized wad of khat leaves in his mouth. Every household spends insane amounts of money on the drug. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Djibouti spends $170 million on khat, annually. And this is not a rich country, with unemployment at over 50%.

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn

Djibouti City

street scene djiboutiStreet scene in Djibouti. (548k) street scene djiboutiStreet scene in Djibouti. (496k) street scene djiboutiStreet scene in Djibouti. (466k) local busLocal bus. (431k) areas very cleanMany areas where not very clean. In general, Djibouti was much dirtier than Ethiopia. (451k)
mosque djiboutiMosque in Djibouti. (439k) old train stationOld train station on the line from Djibouti to Ethiopia. (470k) statue liberator djiboutiStatue of the liberator of Djibouti. (491k) city center lookedThe city center looked very nice. (726k) traffic lights seemedSome traffic lights seemed to be solar powered. (579k)
quite few goatsThere were quite a few goats on the streets in Djibouti, at least outside the city center. (480k) dogs mostly sleepingDogs were mostly sleeping in the heat of the day. Dogs were more frequent in Djibouti than in Ethiopia. (470k) abandoned car skeletonsAbandoned car skeletons were everywhere. (419k) beach djibouti mostlyBeach in Djibouti. There were mostly local people on the beach. (381k) port djiboutiPort of Djibouti. (429k)
market djiboutiMarket in Djibouti. (514k) market djiboutiMarket in Djibouti. (630k) khat soldkhat sold here. (503k) local womenLocal women. (598k)


Lac Abbé

Lake Abbé is a salt lake on the border between Djibouti and Ethiopia. It is the ultimate destination of the waters of the Awash River. The lake used to be much higher, and had hot mineral springs on the floor. These underwater hot springs built up limestone chimneys on the bottom of the lake. Subsequently, the water level of the lake dropped, leaving the chimneys on dry ground. It is a bizarre looking landscape, which was used as scenery for the film "Planet of the Apes".

view limestone chimneysView of the limestone chimneys at Lac Abbé from a distance. (377k) view limestone chimneysView of the limestone chimneys at Lac Abbé. (564k) view limestone chimneysView of limestone chimneys at Lac Abbé. (692k) view limestone chimneysView of limestone chimneys at Lac Abbé. (383k) view limestone chimneysView of limestone chimneys at Lac Abbé. (436k)
view limestone chimneysView of limestone chimneys at Lac Abbé. (465k) view limestone chimneysView of limestone chimneys with hot spring at Lac Abbé. (515k) largest limestone chimneyThe largest limestone chimney formation, about 50 m (160 ft) high. (540k) limestone chimneyLimestone chimney. (577k) limestone chimneyLimestone chimney. (374k)
limestone chimneyLimestone chimney. (564k) closeup limestone crustCloseup of the limestone. The crust was formed by bacteria while the chimney was still under water. It stabilized the chimney, without it they crumble immediately. (888k) sunset over limestoneSunset over the limestone chimneys. (352k) hot springHot spring. (510k) hot spring localHot spring. Local people use them for cooking food. (707k)
demonstration hot hotDemonstration of how hot the hot springs are. (815k) demonstration hot hotDemonstration of how hot the hot springs are. (808k) demonstration hot hotDemonstration of how hot the hot springs are. (819k) camp lac abbéCamp at Lac Abbé. (543k) house local peopleHouse of local people on Lac Abbé. (438k)


Lac Assal

Lac Assal is a salt lake in northern Djibouti. It is the lowest point in Africa at 155 m (509 ft) below sea level, making it the third lowest point on earth, after the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. It is the world's largest salt reserve, which is exploited at the southeast end of the lake. Recently, a new concession was awarded to a US company.

view lac assalView of Lac Assal. (440k) river flowing intoRiver flowing into Lac Assal. It is swollen due to recent heavy rains. (683k) lac assal differentLac Assal with different colors, due to different salt deposits. (560k) salt formations lacSalt formations on Lac Assal. (489k) salt formations lacSalt formations on Lac Assal. (575k)
close-up salt formationClose-up of salt formation on Lac Assal. (433k)


Tadjoura

tadjouraTadjoura. (554k) downtown tadjouraDowntown Tadjoura. (551k) beach tadjouraBeach in Tadjoura. (529k) resort tadjouraResort near Tadjoura. (506k)


Along the road

adding second spareAdding a second spare tire and water for the drive through the desert. (481k) we needed sparesWe needed spares. (623k) truck stop djiboutiTruck stop near Djibouti city. (437k) view petit baratView of the Petit Barat, a dry lake. (514k) goat herd petitGoat herd in the Petit Barat. (433k)
heat mirage grandHeat mirage in the Grand Barat, a large dry lake. (401k) dust track grandDust track in the Grand Barat from car moving in the opposite direction. (492k) dust devil grandDust devil in the Grand Barat. (396k) local people petitLocal people in the Petit Barat. They may be on the way from Ethiopia to Yemen. (419k) local people wayLocal people on the way from Ethiopia to Djibouti. They drive their cattle five days across the desert to sell them in Djibouti. (380k)
oasis dikhilOasis in Dikhil. (793k) road lac abbéThe road to Lac Abbé. (555k) road lac abbéThe road to Lac Abbé. (560k) local settlement lacLocal settlement near Lac Abbé. (636k) local settlement lacLocal settlement near Lac Abbé. (454k)
nomad camp lacNomad camp near Lac Assal. (671k) nomadic local peopleNomadic local people follow the rain. This settlement was recently vacated. When the rains return, so will the people. (986k) settlement lac assalSettlement near Lac Assal. The blue tons are put next to the road for water delivery by the government. (603k) dromedaries camelus dromedariusDromedaries (Camelus dromedarius) with baby. (767k) dromedary lac abbéDromedary near Lac Abbé. (687k)
dromedary lac abbéDromedary near Lac Abbé. (551k) transport camels mayTransport camels. They may be on the way from Djibouti to Ethiopia with salt. (501k) selling khat directlySelling khat directly from the truck. (499k) chewing khat khatChewing khat. When the khat arrives from Ethiopia around noon, everything shuts down and people just hang out and chew khat. Every household spends insane amounts of money on the drug. (608k) garbage settlementsGarbage near settlements. (480k)


Djibouti Nature

I saw quite a few birds. The Thomson's Gazelles were a bit of a surprise in the desert.

Interesting features were the limestone chimneys on Lac Abbé, and the salt formations on Lac Assal.

For me the most interesting thing to see was the rift between the African plate and the Asian plate. The two plates move apart at about 2 cm (0.8 ") pro year. You can see the rift clearly in several places, the most obvious was in a road, that needs to be constantly patched because of the increasing rift.

landscape lac abbéLandscape near Lac Abbé after recent rains. (517k) landscape lac abbéLandscape near Lac Abbé. (697k) landscape lac assalLandscape near Lac Assal, with a helicopter flying through the valley. (485k) landscape lac assalLandscape near Lac Assal. (719k) devils island gulfDevil's Island in the Gulf of Tadjoura. (371k)
volcanic formation lacVolcanic formation near Lac Assal. (502k) lava tube lacLava tube near Lac Assal. (783k) lava tube lacLava tube near Lac Assal. (626k) rift between asiaThe rift between Asia and Africa. (613k) part rift betweenAnother part of the rift between Asia and Africa. (736k)
rift between asiaThe rift between Asia and Africa is widening by a couple of centimeters per year. You can see the rift on the road. (687k) valley lac assalValley near Lac Assal. It is formed by the rifts between African plate, the Asian plate, and the Arabian plate. (617k) acacias desertAcacias in the desert. (457k) dragon tree overDragon tree. It is over 500 years old, according to my guide. (899k) grasshopperGrasshopper. (678k)
geckoGecko. (529k) tree weaver birdTree with weaver bird nests. (793k) tree weaver birdTree with weaver bird nests, one new nest and two older ones. (916k) female lesser maskedFemale Lesser Masked Weaver (Ploceus intermedius) with new nest material. (465k) weaver bird weavingWeaver bird weaving the nest. (373k)
male lesser maskedMale Lesser Masked Weaver (Ploceus intermedius) attending to the nest. (599k) long-billed pipit anthusLong-billed Pipit (Anthus similis). (643k) black-crowned sparrow-lark eremopterixBlack-crowned sparrow-lark (Eremopterix nigriceps). (746k) namaqua dove oenaNamaqua Dove (Oena capensis). (612k) spur-winged lapwing vanellusSpur-winged Lapwing (Vanellus spinosus). (857k)
house crow corvusHouse Crow (Corvus splendens). (684k) egyptian goose alopochenEgyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca). (746k) egyptian vultures neophronEgyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus). (659k) tortoiseTortoise. (628k) feeding ostrichFeeding the ostrich. (959k)
ostrich struthio camelusOstrich (Struthio camelus). (430k) black-backed jackal canisBlack-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas). (363k) black-backed jackal familyBlack-backed Jackal family. (624k) black-backed jackal cubBlack-backed Jackal cub enthusiastically greeting the returning parent. (612k) thomsons gazelles gazellaThomson's Gazelles (Gazella thomsonii) and Egyptian Geese. (439k)
thomsons gazellesThomson's Gazelles. (470k) male thomsons gazelleMale Thomson's Gazelle. (665k)


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All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn


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© Dr. Günther Eichhorn
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