Friday, 4 May 2012

Djibouti Fini

What to do with my last night in Djibouti-ville?
A band called Danakil were playing at the Salines Theatre, so I went to see what that was about. Half an hour before show time the only people there were riot police. Scratch that idea! I wandered around the market area, which felt safe even after dark. A few touts want to show you stuff, but if you look at a few things and say “Non, merci” they leave you alone.

What to do for dinner? The boring thing would be to go back to the pizza place I went the first night, the more adventurous thing would be to search out some “poisson Yemenite”, the local baked fish specialty. I found a place on the Rue d’Ethiopie which had a name similar to the one which Lonely Planet recommended, but which has gone out of business. They had no menu but seemed to be doing good business, so I asked if they served poisson Yemenite and they were pleased to be asked, and insisted I go back into the kitchen to pick my fish out of the fridge. They all seemed rather large, but the deal was they cost “deux milles” – about $ 12 – with all the fixings. The waiter was arranging a chair and table for me, so I seemed to be committed. He quickly bought a bottle of water and a glass, which was welcome as the place was hot even at 8 pm. This was followed with some limes, a pink frothy dish which turned out to be made of tomatoes, cream cheese and milk, a galette (which was a huge naan-like bread but with a big central cavity) and the piece de resistance, a whole fish, cut up the middle, with a splash of hot red sauce in the centre, and baked till dry and crisp on the outside.  My medical colleagues would say I was well into the “Cipro chaser” category here. (Ciprofloxacin is an antibiotic used to treat severe cases of traveller’s diarrhoea.)

The galette was delicious, the tomato cheese dip pretty good, (but I felt that was the most dubious item to eat) and the fish was tasty but had lots of bones. I managed about half of everything. I was not very hungry and I was aware that the more I ate the more likely I was to get any bug that was going around. The waiter was very friendly and apologised that this day’s catch had not included any smaller fish. So far, no ill-effects!

Today I packed up slowly and reluctantly, enjoying the facilities of the hotel right up to check out time of noon. Wandered to the almost abandoned station of the decrepit Djibouti-Ethiopia railway, then decided it was time to make like a real tourist and head to the Kempinski Hotel to use their beautiful infinity pool. It was full of American soldiers, making it just about the only place in Djibouti where you hear English.

I got the worst taxi driver back to my Hotel. He kept on calling me “my friend” and wanting to arrange to take me other places, while driving too fast and playing explicit English-language rap loudly on his iPhone. He then claimed not to have any change so I just sat in his cab till he found some.

Got a Fanta at the kiosk at the airport. After the shopkeeper had opened the bottle, I found out she did not have change for a 5,000 DjF (about $30) note. I drank the drink slowly, then returned to try to pay again, but she just waved me off, saying it was a gift!

That would have been such a cool last encounter in Djibouti, but I still had to change my residual money into dollars. The airport is pretty basic (no A/c, no WiFi) so I was doubtful there would be an official bank after going through security. This lleft me changing money with the rather shady guys at the convenience store, who stiffed me out of about $8! But I had guessed right, if I had not changed it then I would have been stuck with the money in Djibouti Francs, which are not exchangeable outside the country.

No ill-effects from the fish so far…

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