This gave me plenty of time to bird the city environs, especially the harbour, which I reached at low tide, so all the mud-flats were exposed. This area comprises six huge areas of mud-flats with good road access, before the area used by the freighters is reached. I spent around 3 hours birding the area, finding many more species, including White-eyed Gull, White-cheeked, Saunder's and Little Terns, European Oystercatcher (surprisingly nowhere near rocks), Crab Plover, Redshank and a flock of Buff-breasted Sandpipers.
From here I took the road to Dorale, north-west of the city, which provided the only bush south of the Gulf of Tadjoura. Although I was hoping to find the Arabian Golden Sparrow, this eluded me. However, I did find European Turtle Dove, Black-tailed Rock-Chat, Graceful Prinia, Pale Rock Sparrow and many Great Grey Shrikes. There were also considerable numbers of Rock Doves, but it was not possible to determine if these were the genuine wild birds settling just south of their range, or feral birds. Yellow Mongoose were seen occasionally in the area.
After lunch at the Hotel Plein Ciel - which served probably the best pizza I have ever eaten - I went to the extreme eastern side of Djibouti city and to the coast. It was very hard to reach the sea-shore, since a variety of what can only be described as palaces had been built along there, with plenty of armed guards patrolling the vicinity. However, I managed to see more European Oystercatchers, Greater Sandplover and various other waders.
From there I returned to the Menelik Hotel to stay the night in comfort - air-conditioning is not a luxury in Djibouti. In fact I was surprised how apparently dead the whole town was, until after sunset. Then all the shops opened, and people came out onto the streets - really quite a practical arrangement in such a climate. I again decided to eat at the Hotel Plein Ciel, which was just one block away from the Menelik Hotel, and the food was, again, up to the very best French standards - and prices.
Monday 20th December 1999
Having waited for the Ethiopian Embassy to open at 09:00, I was only able to leave Djibouti city at about 10:00. Without further delay I headed straight back to Ethiopia. The gravel road from Dikhil to the border was no better in daylight - and the large wide potholes may have been easy for the petrol tankers to negotiate, but the Landrover just wallowed in them, swaying 20° from side to side as one went from one to the next. It was this that caused the final collapse of the roof. However, before I was distracted by this problems, I was able to see plenty of flocks of Spotted (not Burchell's) and Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse.
Although not quite that dramatic as a total collapse, the two left hand side windows of the canopy came loose as the sides of the canopy loosened. Luckily both fell inwards, so were not damaged. I tried to fit them back, but the roof was just too loose, and they wouldn’t stay in. This weakened the structure even more, so I had to slow down still further. Even so I was able to reach the border by about 15:00, and passed back into Ethiopia without problems. Once back up the escarpment, the tarred road made travelling much easier.
My next problem was petrol. Given the price of petrol (three times the price in Ethiopia), I had not filled up in Djibouti, so was planning on filling up at one of the 4 or five petrol-stations I had seen driving from Mille on my way eastwards. The first was a Serdo, but they had no petrol, only diesel. The next was at Logia, but they had the same story. So the next target was the Total petrol station where I was planning to stay the night. However, this was leaving it as late as possible, as I was literally out of fuel. I made it to the station as sunset to find the same story - they normally had petrol, but had run out recently. The only help they could offer was that they knew black-market petrol was available in Logia - 8 km back to the east.
So, back I went - and after just 2 km I ran out of fuel. With a total fuel capacity of nearly 200 litres, that was slightly embarrassing. Anyway, now I had a real problem, as I couldn’t really afford to leave the Landrover unattended while two side windows were missing. But I was convinced petrol would be easy to get hold of, as there were so many tankers driving past. I waved down the first to pass travelling eastwards, and luckily the driver spoke good English. However, he said that to the best of his knowledge, no petrol was being imported at the moment, which was why none was available - so I wouldn’t get any from the passing tankers. Very kindly, he said they would look after the vehicle, while he flagged down the next tanker, and arranged for me to get a lift to Logia. 10 minutes later I was dropped off in Logia at the place where petrol could be had. It took another five minutes to fill the 25 litre (ex-water) container (the petrol costing Birr 4.00 rather than the normal 3.00), and I flagged down the next tanker. Again, the first one stopped and gave me a lift back. The driver laughed when he saw who was looking after my vehicle - he knew the driver well.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000