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SEA GEM LOG
March 3 through March 13, 2000

Djibouti

 Arrival in Djibouti was smoothed considerably by being part of the Millennium Odyssey Rally.  Jamaica Tom was already on the scene.  The  Djibouti Yacht Club welcomed us into their facilities. The yacht club secretary, Christine, is an asset.   She is one of those incredibly efficient, pleasant "can do" women which many executives covet.  She is fluent in English, as well as her native French, and kept the necessary business of the fleet flowing smoothly through the structurally basic yacht club facilities.  Upstairs the club contained the ever present yacht club bar, but they also have a restaurant with excellent quality food and service.  Where ever the French have influence, the food is usually very good, and the baguettes are fresh.

 Our first night in Djibouti we went with a group to a Yemeni fish restaurant.  It was delicious.

The fish and the very unusual bread were cooked in what appeared to be a concrete culvert fired by local wood.  The entire fish is split in half, scales intact, seasoned and laid open.  The fish is propped in the bottom of the "oven."  The bread is worked like pizza dough and each thin round piece is slapped against the side of the hot concrete and cooks stuck to the wall of the oven.  The whole process is tended carefully, for when the bread is done it loosens from the wall and would fall if the cook was not there to catch it.  Each person is served a whole fish and the kind of fish is the only choice you have for the menu is "set."  With the bread  and fish there are various sauces served, and also a loaf of mashed banana, dates and nuts.  Honey is also available for dipping.  The entire meal is eaten with the right hand.  In many countries we have visited, eating with the left hand is a gross breech of etiquette.

 Because of the intense threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and in this part of the world, we owe a lot of our peace of mind to the presence of the French Navy.  A memorable evening thanking them was celebrated, Sunday, March 5, at the yacht club.  Quite a group of officers of the French Navy joined us for a presentation ceremony.  The group included the French Naval Commandant, assorted officers and  the captain of the ship that actually escorted us for the last forty eight hours into Djibouti.  We had a chance to personally visit with both the commandant and the captain.  They were gracious, charming and Charlie and I were able to personally thank them with the gift of a small leatherman for the captain, a Mickey Mouse pen and pencil set for the commandant.  The presence of the French Navy gave our Millennium Odyssey fleet a sense of confidence in this troubled area.  The captain told me he was watching the radar on one of the nights and saw a ship approach one of our boats.  He moved his ship towards us and the ship faded away.  We will never know what difference their presence made but on a comfort level it made a great difference. We may have received an extra measure of concern since Teva and Hinano aboard Prince Karl are French. 

 Djibouti is not a garden spot.  It is a port city with all attendant problems.  When things crank up in ongoing border disputes with Eritrea the goods coming and going from Ethiopia go through Djibouti. Wars ebb and flow in this area, with stable peace non-existent.  Somalia to the south is in anarchy.   The lawlessness in Somalia feeds a steady flow of refugees into Djibouti, a country not equipped to handle the pressure.  The presence of the French Navy is important to keep a lid on the conflicts and protect the shipping lanes. 

 We found using credit cards was difficult unlike most of the world.  Getting money changed was a project but in many instances they will accept US dollars.  We were able to access hot mail on a couple of occasions but the telephone system leaves much to be desired.  I still think Hot Mail is the best thing since sliced bread, but it is difficult to find a cyber cafe, and sometimes you have to wait for hours to have your turn on a computer that may or may not work, connected to an overloaded telephone system that may intermittently disconnect.

 We were warned repeatedly you have to have an agreement with any taxi driver before you hire a cab.  This is not such a big problem except that being "ripped off" leaves a bad feeling and certainly discourages enthusiastic recommendations for touring.  We had a major rip off when it came to laundry.  Even the highest priced hotel could not charge $5.00 US to wash a pair of jockey under-shorts.  With their prices for laundry, you could buy clothes and throw them away rather than wash them.  Water was available in Djibouti so that was not the problem.  Just short sight by the government and locals.

 Tom Williams contacted Bruno Pardigon, our tour organizer. Bruno was able to get us a miraculously quick visa to visit Ethiopia. Charlie went by dingy with Bruno to the immigration office and picked up our visas for Ethiopia at eleven-thirty at night.  We left at 0700 the next morning.   Bruno was able to accomplish this because of his good relationship with the local officials.  We took a four day tour that was an experience that changes the way I see the world.  Until later and a tour of Ethiopia . . .