Lost in Danakil Desert – Djibouti

The desert of Danakil has several areas that are more than one hundred meters under the sea level. It is considered one of hottest and most inhospitable places of the planet. Its temperature can rise to more than 50° C, although by then, according to people, the months of cold were beginning. The temperature hardly rises to more than 40°C, I thought they were joking. Cycle there was an estupid idea.

North of Djibouti

I wanted to know the Sables Blancs, many people told me that it was the most beautiful beach in the country, so I took a boat to cross to the other side of the gulf, close to Tadjoura. The trip took one hour, but if I would have gone by bike, it had been three days.

The beach is located between mountains, it is a dry area. The place was built with little infrastructure, enough to receive tourist or French people residents from the capital city especially at weekends. There, I could swim, do snorkel and rest the whole afternoon. It was nice, after my busy days in the city.

The bar was installed in the middle of the desert and the price for the excursion, which is not cheap to the Djiboutian; include a night in traditional beds made of rope on the beach. We were fifty or sixty people who spread on the seaside to sleep under a deep sky full of stars, I will never forget it.

The way from Tadjoura to the border was more difficult and dangerous, that I could imagine. I did the first 75 km on a route situated among mountains and a lot of stones that made me difficult to cycle. I remember a lot of advice who Thierry Massida told me, “take care, don’t leave the route, neither to be in the shade, there are still many mines of civil war, which was fought by the Afar and the Somalis, after the independence because of the taking of the Power. After a few days I knew that in 1999 more than fifty people lost a leg or died because of the mines.

At noon I found some people on the road. They were Afar and they invited me to have a rest in their house. They lived under tree, one of the few ones that there were in the region. It was too hot, I left my bike with them and I walk almost a kilometre up to the sea to refresh myself. When I came back, I was offered some rice which was prepared for me and they had also a place to lie to be in the shade.

They told me that fishing was the only way to get some income. They buy some water, some rice and some food with this activity. For this reason, sometimes they walk to the village with their camels to carry the goods, because according to the Afar traditions they don’t ride on camels.

I arrived at Obock, nearly at night, I ate some nice pasta and I looked for a place to sleep. Obock is a small village, the third biggest city in the country. Here, there is no hotel, his population is Muslim and they speak Afar, Arabic or French as the half of the country. Because of some advice, I went to the police station to sleep, but afterwards I regretted.

The policemen were haughty; they immediately sent back who were with me, they went through the bike, checked the passport and they asked me where I was from, where I had been too, where I was going to, and what I was doing there, they were very sullen.  We couldn’t understand. I made the mistake to introduce myself in English and they didn’t like it, because I didn’t speak French. I had to write my profile and my mother’s one. I thought they were going to ask the size of my shorts. Oh my God! I have only asked for a place to sleep.

The conversation was tense and I was feeling enraged. I answered them in Spanish and in a bad way. At the moment the sheriff appeared, introducing himself and I was allowed to stay. I wish I hadn’t been there but I stayed anyway. I slept in a room where there wasn’t any air and full of mosquitoes, so I asked them if I could sleep in an open area; they didn’t like it at all. I resigned and I went to sleep straightaway.

Lost in Danakil Desert

I left Obock as fast as I could, I woke up at dawn and I went to the north. There were a few people who I asked the location of Khor Angar, but some of them turned back and didn’t answer me.

I left the village through the main way, but I started to have some doubts because it began to subdivide. The most sensible thing to do was to choose the right way, as I imagined that going along the sea I would reach to my destination.

Half way through the morning I started to see on my left a dense vegetation and thinking that this was the side of the lake, I went on. After a long time I faced with a wide branch of the sea and I couldn’t crossed it. There, I met a fisherman that through gestures expressed me to come back. Without accepting that idea, I tried to insist to cross to the other side. But this man wasn’t so patient, he pointed with his hand the same way I was biking for a lot of hours and went.

It was 11 am, and the heat was oppressive, so I felt angry stiff and without wasting time I started to cycle back. I had drunk most of the three litres of water that I have loaded. I went back many kilometres, bordering the vegetation which I saw at the beginning and I continued through another way.

Suddenly I saw two trucks that stopped far away. I hurried towards them in order to have the opportunity to get some water and good information. They were French militaries, who gave me some water, but they didn’t have any idea where I was going to. They took me a picture, as they couldn’t believe I was cycling there.

Danakil desert - Djibouti

Djibouti is a perfect place for international military forces because of its strategic location and because of being a huge desert. Some of them have a campsite as a base in the most isolated places in the country where soldiers live and train for extreme situations. For that reason, I was not surprised when cycling in the desert I found the rest of two missiles. But what paid my attention and was really funny, for me, it was when I found german militaries that were staying at the Sheraton hotel because they didn’t have a campsite.

A little more

The last part up to Khor Angar was desperate, the heat was incredible, the bike buried permanently and with great effort, over and over again, I had to push the 60 kilos of my bike. The way was divided tens of times and there were parts of sand every 200 mt.

I didn’t have strength, I need to stop and rest under a shade but there wasn’t any tree nearby. The speedometer showed me that I have cycled 20 km more, but in the morning, I took the wrong way and according to my calculation I would have to reach.

I wasn’t very sure about this; I had left another junction which went to the sea between the mountains. Sometimes I believed to see another branch of the sea on my way, but they didn’t exist. I wished to dive, but the beach was two km far, may be more, and there was much sand in the distance that separate us.

Afterwards I stopped, I needed to eat something. I used the shadow of my bike and I ate some dry fruits and peanuts which I carried with me and I also drunk the last portion of water I had.

On the road again I faced with another Afar´s house and I stopped there. I thought there was nobody there, but three women and a man left it telling me to come in. From far I asked them about Khor Angar, and one of the women pointed the direction. I felt happy; I was on the right way. Kilometres, kilometres, I shouted again, and the same woman who didn’t speak French fluently, told me “dix”. I guessed it meant “ten”. After this she insisted again to come into her house, but didn’t want to delay more, I only wanted to get Khor Angar.

Finally I arrived to Khor Angar after 2.00 pm; my speedometer showed me more than seven hours and 75 km, though there were only 45 km on my map.

I was tired and exhausted, I couldn’t talk. I stayed under the roof of the only school made of cement which was built, there. Then a thirteen/fourteen-year-old-girl came to me with a jar which was full of hot water, so it was really impossible to drink. I am sure that it was taken from drums that were left in the sun. There was a little boy with her so I asked him “please, bring me some water from your house”

Khor Anghar - Djibouti

Khor Angar is a ghost village located in the middle of the desert. There are no more than 30 families living here that subsist because of the Somali Military help, who often go there with big trucks that supply them with some water.

The people of the village were friendly; they offered me to stay there at night if I wanted to. It was really good because I had a temperature and I was not thinking to cycle for the rest of the day.

I rested for a long time with wet cloth on my head and afterwards I felt better with two plates of food that I was offered by the people of this place.

In the afternoon I checked the bike but hard luck, it had its back carrier broken again. The same one I had changed in Nairobi, thanks to my brother Alejandro which had sent from Argentina. As in Mozambique, I had put a couple of washer and I fixed it with inner-tube, I hope it resist.

At night people brought me food again, and a mattress that I put in the school gallery. I also used my sleeping bag to cover me, because at night the desert is not the same, as the heat of the day.

I left Khor Angar at dawn, there were only 30 km missing to the border and I wanted to reach early, I didn’t want to have more problems.

Finally, cycling to Moulhoule I thought about my distance covered. Now, I understand why people travelling through Africa cross from Ethiopia to Sudan, they prefer to leave apart this part of the continent. I was advised before coming here, but I wanted to know Djibouti and also Eritrea, but I realized that coming by bike to these places and cycle alone, it is a crazy thing to do.

Because of this, if I have to summarize in a few words this part of the trip; there is only one and in capital letters: DESERT!!

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