Wait, you’re going to Djibouti…for vacation?

That was the follow-up question the US Embassy Officer asked us after we told him we were going to Djibouti for a few days. I’m a Peace Corps Ethiopia Volunteer. Volunteers go to Djibouti all the time. In fact, in the last three months I can think of at least six people I know who have gone to Djibouti – all for vacation.

So I guess I forgot that Djibouti is not a normal tourist destination. But on the flight over I couldn’t imagine why not. I had done my research, obviously I already knew that Djibouti was on the ocean (a major reason for going), but I had also looked into a number of delicious sounding restaurants, as well as a number of scuba/snorkeling companies. Djibouti sounded great.

And then we arrived…

There is nothing in Djibouti. I’m not kidding and I’m not exaggerating. There’s nothing there…except military outposts. But at this point of the trip I only vaguely knew that.

We stepped out of the airport just after 11 am, arriving a little late, thanks to a sick passenger who made us taxi back to the gate before we could finally take off. We hopped into a taxi, thrilled that all of the prices were predetermined and posted on a sign (in Ethiopia, taxi drivers are constantly trying to rip you off, there’s no set price or meter). We told the driver Kempinski Palace, not because we could afford to stay at the nicest resort in Djibouti, but because the company we were using for our whale shark adventure had their office there.

The smallest bill we had gotten from the ATM was 5,000 Djiboutian Francs, so I handed it to the driver expecting 3,000 in change – because the sign had clearly read 2,000 to Kempinski. Instead he handed me 2,000. Chandler was already out of the taxi, but I sat there and refused to move, demanding my change. 1,000 DJF may only amount to $5.56, but I wasn’t about to be ripped off. First, the driver claimed that the sign had really said 3,000. Then he claimed that he had to pay a 1,000 fee to park at the airport (it’s really 200 and clearly, it’s already been calculated in). I simply stared him down and eventually he threw another 1,000 DJF bill in the backseat. Classy.

Chandler and I laughed about how some things (like being ripped off by taxi drivers) must simply be universal. We wandered around and found the diving office only to be told that while they had booked us for a night on Moucha Island for that night, they couldn’t take us to see whale sharks on Friday. They had rented out all of their boats and had lost our reservation. Neat. But they promised to contact another diving agency and get us signed up. So we paid up and waited at Kempinski for about an hour before the boat arrived to take us to the island.

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We made the trip over with two others, both going to the island to scuba dive – there are plenty of beautiful reefs and fish by the island, but no whale sharks, so we didn’t join them. We soon discovered we were the only people on the island. At around 5 pm, the divers left and Chandler and I were alone with the manager, dive instructor, and chef. Awesome.

We spent the evening on the private beach just down the way from our cabin and then came up for dinner at 7 pm. We had told the cook we were vegetarians, but in this part of the world that means you eat fish. He made a delicious soup (I couldn’t even begin to tell you what was in it) for our starter, and then we had fresh fish, green beans, and french fries for our main course. Dessert consisted of pineapple in pear sauce and all of it was devoured in the soft light of the bar just meters away from the ocean.

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