Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Khor Ambado

Greetings, Gentle Readers,

I was “leafing” through my older posts last night (another great book related activity that the rise of the web, the Kindle and the tablet computer is going to force us to rename), and realized with dismay that it has been a while since my last. My internal Editor seems to have forgotten to insist on a deadline this last week – sorry if this has left any of you desperate for news of life here on the Horn. There have indeed been a couple of “blog worthy” happenings in the last week, so settle back, turn the heat in your room up - way up, and have someone set fire to trash in the room next door as I take you away on wings of imagination to Djibouti.

So, I'm walking CLUwards on Saturday night after the Wardroom movie - "Bottlerocket", an early Wes Anderson film that I can only recommend to his most enthusiastic fans - when a couple of my compadres mention that they are headed to the beach on the morrow. I offhandedly opined that, were they to run into any problems, having a doctor along could prove the difference between life and death. And that I had a new dive mask and snorkel I was dying to try out. And that I'm really quite compact. And sweet natured. Anyway, they spontaneously asked me if I wanted to come along.

So it was the next morning, about 1000ish, I set out with 3 stalwart companions, and copious amounts of ice, water and gatorade to "French Beach". The beach's real name is Khor Ambado, and it sits about 15 km from Djibouti town, heading roughly west. The first part of the drive, which connects the port road to the fuel pier and storage facilities at Dorale, is the nicest road in Djibouti - smooth seamless black top with clear lane markings. This reflects of course Djibouti's dependence on the port and the pier, and on the good will of Dubai Ports World for such affluence as the country may claim. Once you pass the fuel pier however the paved road soon runs out and one finds oneself on deeply rutted dirt roads . Initially you wind your way on flat country between desiccated acacia trees, but after a few hundred yards the route leads uphill and your 4X4 climbs onto the plateau just inland from the Gulf of Tadjura. Here the trees vanish and, save for the occasional brambles, the scene could be on Mars - red iron-rich earth, covered by tumbled black volcanic boulders.

The road which has been bad before now becomes spectacularly so - choked with rocks, pocked with holes, and altogether absent in places where some hard to imagine rain storm must have washed through. And there you'll be bumping along a sun-baked boulder field that looks less hospitable than the moon, A/C at full blast, nervously looking out the window to see if vultures are following, when strolling along will come a goatherd and his hooved charges, looking quite as comfortable as if they were walking through the mall on a lazy Sunday. In a second they are gone and you are back to contemplating your extraterrestrial surroundings, wondering how....? It may be that this stretch of the Horn has produced no lasting work of art, nor a monument of architectural significance, but I think you could argue that mere human survival on this parched shore is its own Coliseum, Great Wall, or Sistine Chapel.

Anyway, after about half an hour of this, and just when you think the road couldn't get worse, off the right side the land drops away and between two headlands appears a tawny crescent of beach. The rub is the steep, twisting downhill that leads to the bottom. That haltingly negotiated, there is a short stretch of soft dirt, and and a few green trees to pass before you are there. Khor Ambado is about as idyllic a place as one can find in Djibouti. It is a fairly clean arc of sand between two projecting rocky arms. There must be fresh water close to the surface as the highlands tumble down to the gulf here as there are about a dozen lush green trees which provide shade, sited about 50 meters from the water's edge. Out on the sand are scattered palapas with table and chairs. The beach is sandy and this soft sand shelves very gently away as one swims out. The water is so close to body temperature as to make wading in an almost imperceptible change. At about 50 more meters offshore corals, marine plants, and reef fish are to be found. Not with the spectacular visibility and variety of some of my earlier excursions, but enough to make for an entirely satisfactory day of paddling, floating and peering.

There are a couple of restaurants on the beach, whose attendants will politely but firmly collect a 1000 franc fee for the use of their beach front and tables. The food by report is quite good, but on Sunday we met up with a large contingent from Camp who had braved the road with grill and grub in the back of their trucks and SUVs. Thus instead of poisson yemenite, we lunched on hot-dogs, hamburgers and beans. We were a party of probably 15 all told, and our only company on the beach were some of the folks from the German base, who joined us for food, drink and a couple of games of beach volley ball. It was a grand day out, and we bumped our way back home over the rough roads weary, salty, sandy and happy.

Next day was notable for a visit to Camp Lemonnier by the Secretary of the Navy, the honorable Ray Mabus. He is the former governor of Mississippi, and joked that he was glad to finally be someplace that the weather reminded him of home. The clinic was scrubbed from top to bottom in case of a visit, but in the event our only chance to see him was an all-hands address and question and answer session. He seemed like a very nice chap, and did a superb job of passing on how important he felt the Africa mission to be while acknowledging the many financial, organizational and geopolitical challenges we and the Navy face in the years ahead. Like all successful politicians of my experience, he had a gift for seeming both wise and approachable. Can't say as how I envy him his job (learning all the acronyms would do me in), but it was thoughtful of him to make us his first overseas facility visit.

Since then a pretty standard week. Mornings are relatively pleasant when the wind blows, but the heat is brutal by midday. My CLU faces west, and by late afternoon my brave little AC just gives up and blows warm air for a couple of hours until the sun drops low enough. But that way I don't feel cheated of the full Djibouti experience.

Reckon I'll stop there. Nothing big on the horizon, but I'll try to get another post up a bit sooner next time. Take care, all.

Oh, pictures are of Khor Ambado from the plateau inland, and of the landscape en route. Sorry they can't really convey the feel. Hence the thousand words...


  1. Hi! I've just found your blog and spent an inappropriate amount of time reading today. Thank you for sharing life in Djibouti with us.

  2. THANK YOU for your very erudite blog! My wife and I are learning a whole lot more than our son will tell us while he is stationed there... but I think he's Mil Intel to the core (CMDR SL Horrell). So thank you very much.