The problem with Djibouti is not that the temperature often reaches 45°C in the shade. The problem is that there is no shade.
First night next the Lake Abbe, which straddles the border between Djibouti and Ethiopia. It is surrounded with limestone chimneys and warm springs. Colonies of pink flamingos fly away when we are getting closer to the lake.
Our trek actually begins the next day, not far from Lake Assal. 155 meters below sea level, it is the lowest point of Africa. It used to be part of the Aden Gulf, from which it is now separated by Ardoukoba volcano. Its salinity is ten times higher than that of the sea, and one of its shores is a salt field.
Along with our guides Hussein, Hassan and Abou, and with dromedaries, we leave this lake during one day with no shade, walking northwards until dusk on burning hot and unwelcoming stones. I move forward listening to the album Master of Puppets; heat and Metallica’s agressive riffs make my mind wander to images of Mountains of Madness, which I am reading these days.
After a few days we should have reached the Alolls depression. unfortunately, the next day, djiboutians soldiers force us to turn back. No actual reason, the previous treks never had this problem and our guides tell us that the next part of the journey is perfectly safe. We might think that these soldiers have nothing better to do to keep themselves busy, and that it is just to bother us because this decision is not more than consequences of stupid ethnic conflicts. But it is worldwide nown that djiboutian soldiers perfectly know what they are doing, and that the very rational instructions they are given have the sole purpose to serve and protect people.
Anyway, back to Lake Assal, modified route and a new endless furnace day (comprising a part appropriately named the Dawn of Hell), which eventually ends with an improvised camp: we have to stop because of the night. Everyday we drink six to seven liters of water and pee only every other day. We drink lots of coca-cola, which usually tastes disgusting when we’re in Europe. All our thanks to the whole team of agency Safar, who organizes the trip: they had to make up another route and deal with all consequences, especially regarding logistics: vehicles, dromedaries, camel drivers, food and water supplies… At the same time, we are solely focussed on simply walking.
Then Assia, our cook, leaves us but we’ll have the memories of grouper skewers with mustard sauce. During the flowing days, the weather is a bit milder as we gain altitude and go through places with more plants: the Day forest, and wadis that bring us to the villages of Bankoualé and Ardo. One morning we visit a school and play with the children. In Bankoualé Hassan comes up with his guitar and sings a few songs… Then we finally reach the road to Tadjoura.
There we swim in the sea: warm and still water bring us bliss. Two days later we are back in the capital; after a couple of hours in the city center we meet the manager of the tourist office of Djibouti. He very kindly apologizes for the inconvenience we had, and offers us presents: small statues symbols of friendship, hospitality and peace. Then we go off to the airport to catch our plane back.
What will we remember? The kindness and hospitality of people we have met, the help of our guides and drivers who did so much for us.
But not only that.
Next to last day, at the end of the afternoon, we go for a small walk in the crater of Ardoukoba, between the sea and lake Assal. This crater marks the beginning of the African Rift, it is a beautiful place with magnificent landscapes, its edges are dark red cliffs and it mixes light sand with black volcanic stones.
As we are walking across the crater, my attention is caught by what looks like a pile of clothes at the bottom of a rock, partly covered by sand. But there are not only clothes. There is something else, and its shape looks familiar. I get closer and recognize it. I only see his left leg, which has a waxy complexion and has become scraggy. Strangely, I am not that shocked. The only thing I notice is that it looks similar to mountaineers who died on the Everest, of whom I have seen some pictures a few months ago. I hear Abou’s voice behind me: « Don’t look at him! These are illegal immigrants coming from Ethiopia through her to try to reach Djibouti. They’re here, they don’t know the place, they don’t have enough water… »
It has been difficult to realize that these men died after understanding they would neither reach Djibouti nor see again the family they had left to search a better life.
It has been sad to learn that nothing is done to bury them.
It has been painful to see, once we’re back in Europe, that their stories are completely unknown.
It will be impossible to forget.
Thank you Ahmed, Hussein, Hassan, Abou, Kamil, Assia, Abdallah, for welcoming us and everything you did for us.