Djibouti: big fish and not much else.

I am not sure how to start this post. In every country I have traveled to over the years, I encountered things I didn’t like; sometimes many, sometimes very few. However, I always try to convey my positive experiences to others, perhaps to convince myself it was worth going, perhaps to make my memories better than the experiences themselves, or perhaps because I like to give people the desire to travel. It will be hard to do this time. 

Djibouti is a little bit of Somalia which, for various colonial reasons, became a minuscule independent country with all sort of soldiers from other countries’ militaries living there. Think of it as a Third World version of Gibraltar. If memory serves, it was the 47th country I visited in my life and I have never felt such profound dislike for a place. Nothing particularly bad happened to me, but from the Soviet-style bureaucracy to the Third World efficiency at First World prices, I just hated everything about it. The immigration agent didn’t seem to believe I was a tourist who just wanted to visit the country even though I knew nobody there. Now I understand why. Unfortunately, after waiting for an hour and a half and much questioning, his boss, the officer in charge of airport immigration, granted me a visa. I was doomed to visit Djibouti. 

When you don’t have anything else nice to say, better to shut up, so that’s all I have to say about Djibouti, and I didn’t take a single picture of anything except in the water.

Two good things happened though; my Saturday flight out was cancelled and I was re-booked on a Thursday flight, cutting my visit down to 4 days, and I went on an expensive and poorly organized snorkelling tour with whale sharks. Since I got there early, I was probably the only participant to notice the main problem. The French-owned company picked us up at a dock which they essentially squatted from another competing company. Very awkward when the lawful renters happen to show up at the same time. Since they also miscalculated the number of people, we were short a pair of fins and the boat driver went without lunch (we would have been short a diving mask if I didn’t travel with my own). Nevertheless, whale sharks were awesome! They are the largest fish in the world and you can swim right up to them, while they feed on minuscule animals near the surface. There is no real danger; they are filter feeders. Seeing them was the main reason I had come to Djibouti and I was not disappointed. 


I used this device to take pictures while snorkeling. It’s called a DICAPAC (for Digital Camera Pack), and retails for about $75 in the U.S. (probably $499 in Canada). It’s not very easy to use the camera’s controls, but it’s simple, effective and it seals the camera well. I used it a little over a month ago in Namibia to take pictures of the ghost town of Kolmanskop during a sand storm. The main limitation is that it doesn’t protect against pressure, so it can be used for snorkeling, but not diving. Not ideal for sure, but a diving case retails for $2,000, so compromise was needed, since I don’t dive that often.


After about an hour and a half boat ride, we got to the spot where whale sharks usually feed at that time of the year. They were everywhere! Unfortunately, we were not as lucky with the weather. After a couple of days of bright sunshine, we got a fairly dark overcast sky. This is not a big issue for the eyes while snorkeling, but it does affect underwater photography quite a bit. I should rather say, since I am totally clueless about underwater photography, it affected MY photography a lot!


Whale shark! They live over 70 years, have been around for 60 million years, can reach over 10 meters in length and weight more than 20 tons! They are absolutely harmless (as far as I know), but they are a little intimidating in the water.


Next to a snorkeler, for some perspective. By the way, that’s a small one!


Since they are not dangerous, most people are not scared of them.


But sometimes, instinct takes over!


While I kept my cool, I must say sometimes they got a little too close for comfort. The key is to stay behind them, but the shots are so much better from the front!

And that was that. Two more days spent trying to find an ATM that works and I had seen Djibouti. I went to get the airport shuttle I had booked and confirmed twice with the hotel, and after being told it wouldn’t show up, took a taxi to the airport. I might go back to Djibouti, if I get deported there on an Interpol warrant, but I’m going to bet I won’t. A piece of advice: if you want to visit Djibouti, join the US Navy. It won’t be anymore interesting, but at least you’ll get paid to be there.


One thought on “Djibouti: big fish and not much else.

  1. Pingback: A week of chilling on the coast in remote Mozambique | Colin's Notes

Leave a Reply