Dusty Djibouti – Sunday 8th March
Djibouti is hot, dusty and seemingly expensive. Its a town of contrasts; shiny cars drive on dusty potholed roads, the new mall sits alongside crumbling buildings, well dressed people drive past homes made of tarpaulins over rough timber, huge modern container ships share the harbour with scruffy fishing skiffs and ancient dhows. There’s not a green thing in sight except the mangroves grey with dust.
Diesel is an eye watering 198DF (Djibouti Franc) but at 288.5DF to the pound sterling, is actually ok in European terms, it’s just we have been cruising in oil producing countries where fuel prices and fuel taxes are low. We’d been told too that groceries were also expensive, however the latter is from the perspective of food shopping in Malaysia or India. Compared to the UK or France groceries in the newly opened Géant we felt were on a par. And the supermarket was on a winner as they stock my favourite green Babybel, usually impossible to find outside of France, and crispbreads last found in Singapore! Plus finally after weeks of hunting we found tinned spinach which is great for boat stews or in a pie and of course keeps far longer than your average green veg. Our final ‘treat’ was a big tin of tartiflette, true cold weather food which will be kept until a rough day in the Atlantic when we need cheering up.
The shiny new mall scented with oud reminded us both of Bahrain especially as its stuck in a blank area of land reclamation with little else around rather like our apartment block there was. So new is the mall that Djibouti Telecom is coming soon, so no SIM, meaning no email, no news. Also no wifi or at least none we have been able to connect to. We asked at a coffee shop in the mall ‘no sir’; it was as if we had asked for the moon. We can see networks but no one could help us connect. Iridium and text emails it’ll have to be a little while longer, it’s a bit one way.
Temptress desperately needs a wash down to rid her of the salt and dust from the passage here but it’s pointless with the even grubbier air here even if there was fresh water to do it, which there isn’t. The immigration office is across the ‘coal yard’, a large open expanse in the port area where coal from South Africa is trans-shipped enroute to Ethiopia. Our feet, sandals and the bottoms of the skipper’s trousers were black after we had checked in, the only hiccup in a smooth and reasonably speedy process on Saturday.
We first had to wait for the port doctor to take our temperatures, ask a few questions about previous ports, how long we’d been at sea then check our yellow fever certificates. He was a pleasant guy of Kevin’s age (we know cos he commented he was born in the same year) who spoke good English. We were asked about how the UK is fairing with ‘that virus’, specifically how many cases. We had to say we have no idea, it’s been over two weeks since we last read the news or received any outside communication except a couple of brief calls from the UK. I’m not certain he believed us!
Then, given the all clear healthwise, the coastguard came to call. The young officer was friendly with very well spoken English, he took a cursory look around below decks asked a few questions then declared we were free to go ashore. We set off with Mustiq (Must) the so called agent we seem to have inadvertently engaged rather than launch Sheila. Whilst we sat waiting our turn at immigration filling in their form, Must disappeared to the HM with copies of our papers saving us a longer trek across the coal dust. Once the visas were issued and paid for, Must took us back to Temptress. We were glad it was his skiff that was covered in coal dust and not our Sheila.
Afterwards Must took Kevin and our diesel cans to the petrol station for the first round of filling up. Taxi to an ATM, taxi from there to the garage and another taxi back plus two guys to help lug full jerrycans down to Must’s skiff. He charged us quite a lot but for three guys, three taxis plus a trip to the officials in his skiff it wasn’t bad for a day’s work. Kevin will use him again for the next fuel run.
His brother runs a tiny cafe and sheesha place at the marina (a long two storey building with a series of glass fronted rooms that looks like it was once erected for a big regatta but is now mostly empty) at the end of the fishing harbour where there is a pontoon full of little motor boats. We had supper there, nothing fancy just steak or poisson and frites. My fish was beautifully cooked as was the skippers steak, the only veg a generous blanket of sautéed red onions over the dish, the frites were crisp but lukewarm. Including a fruit juice and a soft drink the bill came to around £7 per head, we are definitely not in Malaysia or India anymore. Eating out has become a luxury again.
One good thing – the anchorage, sandwiched between the commercial port with its dhows and bulk carriers and the fishing boat harbour, is well protected from any swell. During the day a pleasant breeze means our shaded cockpit is reasonably cool. Today three more boats arrived doubling our numbers. The fleet is multi-national; Spanish, German, Australian and British. Tomorrow Complexity (American) should arrive.
We’ve done a few jobs today around the boat, putting the first tranche of diesel in the tank, replacing the spinnaker pole downhaul and the second reef clew line both of which were badly chaffed. Happily we never throw old halyards out as they always can put to another use. And the dry stores have been inventoried again, this time by locker as I keep forgetting where I stowed things… the dried cranberries are in the main store, I think!
Tomorrow more diesel and a trip to the local market for vegetables. Must has promised to take us. This afternoon he was chewing qat with his friends on the quayside so whether he remembers in the morning only time will tell.