When I crossed the frontier to Djibouti, I thought that I reached at the back of beyond. Only a couple of years ago, I didn’t have any idea that this country existed and much less that some day I would come to know it with my bicycle.
Djibouti is one of the tiniest countries of Africa and the world, with only 21.000 kilometres square and half a million of population; which with, it could be a simple country, but its big harbour located in the south of the Red Sea, where the three continents cross (Africa – Asia – Europe), so Djibouti becomes in a widely desired place.
I knew through people that these lands throughout history were desired by big empires as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. But at the end the area was claimed by French settlers, who frustrated the same ambitions that English troops.
Km 27,400 – Reaching the capital
From the frontier to the capital city there are only 200 km. Sometimes the route is good, but as the north of Ethiopia, the desert and its natural environment complicate my cycling. Crossing through these villages I remember the images of an old film of the far west. The houses are made of stones and metal, it is a windy area where few people live.
More than the half of Djibouti population stay in the capital city and the other 30% live in groups inland. In this dry area, there are not fruits, nor crops, nor cattle. The only animals that can survive to this climate are the goats and camels, which people get milk. I crossed the Dikhil village during the day and, in fact, it was better. If I had wanted to stay in its only hotel, I would have had to pay more than 20 U$S.
During my stay in Djibouti I checked that this country has the most expensive and simple hotels of Africa; in spite of its poverty. There are some places where hotels don’t exist, the people sleep in the street. For this reason, when I stopped going to the capital city, I was received by the Ethiopian truck drivers, who come from the capital city of their country to load salt that is taken out from different lakes of the region.
I arrived at the capital city at noon. It was very hot; I was thirsty and after two days without having a bath my appearance was really unpleasant. I was looking for a cheap hotel for about three hours, but the prices were over 20 U$S.
Djibouti is expensive and it has few options for traveller without pretensions. Nearly all the rooms have air-conditioning; it doesn’t matter if the room is small or untidy, at noon hot is oppressive. About 3.00 pm, I found a hotel which had a room with a fan, it was available for about 12 U$S. In spite of the room was in the terrace and it seemed like an oven, I settled down immediately without any doubt.
Afterwards I had a shower, I shaved and with clean clothes and all my documents I went to the Sheraton Hotel. It was Sunday, but as it is a country with Muslim culture, the people work as an ordinary day. The hands pointed to 7.00 pm, it was night and I knew that I didn’t have big chance to meet the general manager. As I didn’t have anything to lose, I left it to chance. I went to the reception and I talked to the receptionists. They were really curious and not very nice people. They told me to come back another day because it was not possible to meet him.
But when I was walking to the bicycle I talked to the porter who advised me to wait for a while in the parking area, due to that the general manager was playing golf and he would come back quickly. So I decided to wait for him, I thought it was the right moment to introduce myself.
After 20 minutes, a white four by four parked and the porter made a signal pointing to him. An African woman and a short and strong white man got off and I asked him: “Excuse me, are you Peter?” He was a Swiss man with moustaches, glasses and he was too serious. He answered: “yes and who are you?”
It was enough to say my name, my nationality and what I am doing to make Peter burst out laughing and he told me in a fluent Spanish: “take your things and come to the hotel straightaway” The Sheraton Djibouti will be your new sponsor. I couldn’t believe my eyes, only two minutes has passed and I didn’t show him anything about my trip. I was in a five stars again.
Looking for sponsors
Djibouti is an amazing capital city, it has a mixture of styles and people that make me feel that I am in different places at the same time. I walk along the street and I realize that most of the shops are Indian, the born and eternal traders. I also see tens of mosques where Muslim culture is taught, or an old architecture which shows the stampede of the European colonization who arrived to this part of Africa from the opening of the Suez Canal in the middle of the XIX century.
The African population of Djibouti Town are composed by two ethnic groups in the same way: the Afar people who come from the north and the east of the country and Somali people who come from the south or their neighbour country: Somalia.
I am thinking to stay in the city no more than two weeks, I want to connect with people and learn their customs. I also wish to get some sponsors, but I must adapt to their timetable. To live in this climate is not as living somewhere else. For the Djiboutian the expression “what a nice day” express the opposite of its meaning.
In this place people work half a day and sometimes a couple of hours in the afternoon, from 4.00 to 6.00 pm. Some offices open at 7.00 or 6.30 am and all of them close at noon, when the heat starts to be unbearable. Some people told me: “you are lucky; you have arrived in winter when the temperature doesn’t rise 40 or 42 degrees centigrade, in summer it reaches 50º, 55ºC.
Because of this, my days begin early in the morning, I got up with the first light at 5.30 or 6.00 am, and I have a shower with hot water. Here the amazing thing is that cold water is hot during the shower. After breakfast I go to the street to look for lucky days.
I am sure you ask yourself how it is to move in the African capital cities looking for economical support. I really couldn’t imagine that I could do this someday. When I arrive in a city the first day, I feel that I am not able to get it. I see myself tiny in an enormous place where I don’t know anything or anybody, like a lost ant without any direction.
Sometimes I have only enough money to survive some days and I feel afraid of this. But I really believe that in the exact moment, when I am in needs, somebody appears to help me. Is it luck, destiny, providence?
I don’t know, but in Djibouti I visited, in fact, 23 companies. Some of them didn’t meet me, as the French man that, at that moment, throw me out. I suppose he would have slept badly or he was nervous. Nevertheless I was told that he was one of the richest men in the city, nearly with a dozen of companies and he sponsors every event there.
There are also people who listen to me but never answer me; the ones who deny themselves, in spite of some of them that in the end of the conversation they promise to help me with something. Or directly the ones who tell me “guy, have a good luck, but I don’t have any budget”. The last ones are the most practical; at least, I don’t have to come back.
But among the people I visit, I always find some nice people, that are important for me to go on, who say: “ok guy, how much do you need?” That’s my job, go around the city, visit companies, shops, people and sometimes to insist up to getting the money I need to cover and project certain stages.
I am not the only one
On my third day, it happened something amazing. I visited one of the most important supermarkets and I asked to talk to the owner, who received me quickly. He was called Fratacci, an elder man too serious and who worked in an office full of ornaments and statues of all kind. During the meeting he started feeling more comfortable but he told me immediately that he didn’t have any money and he couldn’t sponsor me. After this he offered me a drink and he proudly showed me that behind his desk he had more than tens of Virgins that he collected.
There was one of them in the front that it was known and I stayed thinking for a moment and he said to me that “It is from your country, it is the Virgin of Lujan. Seven or eight years ago other Argentinean came here but I don’t remember his name now. He was travelling by motorcycle around the world and he asked me to sponsor him too.
After doing this, his mother sent this present to me”.
I asked to Fratacci if he was speaking about Emilio Scotto and he said “yes”. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I inspired on him to start my trip. I also admired him when I read about his article in Clarin newspaper, in my country.
He travelled during ten years; he did two rides around the world, in which he covered the same distance that exist from the earth to the moon round trip, only which local sponsors.
Looking for sponsors in a foreign country is more difficult than the trip. I go by bike and I believe that for this reason the companies support me, but to travel by motorcycle such a long time and got sponsors, it is admirable.
I said goodbye to Fratacci after a long conversation and in spite of not getting what I wanted, I went as happy as, if I would get a new sponsor.
I went cycling the entire city for ten days and it wasn’t easy to find managers or owners of the companies. They don’t have fixed timetables, and generally they don’t work in the afternoon. But it was enough to get the support of “Coca Cola Djibouti”, which didn’t have any doubt to help me. “Massida”, a shipping general cargo company was my second sponsor and the third one was “Dolphin Excursion”, a diving agency whose owners were a French man and a Spanish one, who work doing what they love doing: diving.
To all of you, I want to say thank you lo let me go on and being allowed to keep this capital city as one of my best memories.