No trip to Africa would be complete without at least one missed or cancelled flight. Most of our regional flights here have been on Ethiopian airlines, bringing us between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Somaliland, and Sudan. One exception was the hop from Somaliland to Djibouti. Months ago, planning our itinerary, I knew that two local carriers, Jubba Airways and Air Djibouti, both had weekly flights every Friday between Hargeisa and Djibouti. These are cheap, direct, 45-minute flights. The distance between the two places is only a 3-4 hour drive, albeit one requiring permits and logistics that we weren’t really going to look into. We framed our trip around leaving Hargeisa on a Friday and were able to book four tickets on Air Djibouti. Of course, we know the track record of these local carriers. If they aren’t happy with the number of seats sold, they just cancel the flight. And they’re not going to inform you of this.
We got a dose of this in Turkmenistan, but the African carriers are even worse. That’s why we made sure to have a solid backup plan. Not as great, but doable. Ethiopian Airlines flies daily Hargeisa to Addis and you can connect to Djibouti from there. However, instead of a cheap, 45-minute flight, you’re looking at two connections and a 6-hour journey for a few hundred bucks. Not ideal, but that is exactly what we had to do to get out of Hargeisa on Friday. On arrival at the airport, we found out the Air Djibouti flight was cancelled and were told to come back tomorrow. Nope. Already knew about the Addis flight and had them bring a rep past security to book it for us with cash. It was the only flight out of town, a fully booked double engine prop plane. It cut into our resort time in Djibouti, but it was the only option. If you’re stringing together flights in Africa, make sure you know your backup options in detail.
As for our visit to Djibouti… well, sometimes I think it’s good to do the typical, expected thing, and sometimes, the exact opposite. We’ve met a few people that have been to or are familiar with, Djibouti. Most of the time, those people are military personnel that have been stationed there. Pretty much without exception, everyone familiar with the place referred to it as a “shithole”. Now, I’m certain that it is not a choice deployment location, and if I was stationed there for a long period of time without a say in the matter, maybe I would feel similarly. Even still, it seemed unfair for a country, even a small one, to be branded in such a way. So for our stay here, we went full luxury and stayed at the nicest hotel in the country. The Djibouti Palace Kempinski is the place that heads of state would stay. Of course, it’s also a place that military from all over get some rest and relaxation. It’s a very mixed crowd there, but the place is undeniably nice. There’s really nowhere else in the country that’s even close. Our stays so far have not been lacking in comforts, but this stop is a real highlight as far as relaxing. As such, not a lot of clickbait to be had once we got settled in here. Welcome bottles of champagne, couples massages, fine dining reservations, relaxing by the pool… that’s basically our stay in Djibouti.
Additionally though, I’m not sure if the descriptions I’ve heard are even fair in the first place. Driving through town, the infrastructure in place in Djibouti far exceeds many places in the region, including the economic powerhouse, Addis Ababa. The streets are in great condition with nice, well-lit sidewalks and functioning streetlights and crosswalks. We passed a number of well-known shops and restaurants. The beaches leave a bit to be desired, but the quality of life in the city seems better than many of their neighbors. The really weird thing about this stop was the military presence. I knew that there was a US Navy base here, but didn’t realize that it was a hub for military for a number of other countries. We saw French, German, and Italian troops, for example. The Kempinski Palace sometimes felt like a luxury military base, which was definitely weird. It still felt like a foreign country, but it didn’t really feel like Africa. After the blur of the past few stops, it was a nice break though. We really did just relax at the pool and spa to rest and recoup.
The next and final stop for this trip is Sudan. We’re starting in Khartoum and moving north to see the pyramids. There is a bit of civil unrest there at the moment, so we’ll play it by ear. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to post from there.