Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Whilst staying in a cosy little hotel in Yemen I was flicking through their guestbook when I came across the following aphorism:

A tourist forgets what he did yesterday but knows what he will do tomorrow.
A traveller remembers what he did yesterday but has no idea what he will do tomorrow.

A bit smug and self-important I admit, but not without a grain of truth. After writing my last post (at around 6pm) I had dinner, returned to my hotel to pick up my backpack, and then set off for the train station to catch the 8pm departure. As I was walking along the road to the station I noticed a tour company that was still open and I decided to pop in out of curiosity for the tours that are on offer in Djibouti and on the off chance that I might be able to fill up my bottles with water (I believe that drinking water is a basic right and since Bangladesh I've been able to go without buying any bottled water by filling up at public water fountains, from taps and from restaurants; plus the production, and discarding of, plastic bottles is harmful to the environment). It turned out they had a group going to lake Asal the next day and they even invited me in or dinner and offered me a place to stay. I quickly hurried over to the station to change my ticket.

The tour turned out to be a bit of a fiasco as the road (which also happens to be the only road to Ethiopia) was closed due to a shed load. So we had to turn back. However the next day I got together with a Canadian traveller and we managed to organise some transport out to the lake. The landscape out there is truly Martian, with lava flows, fields of reddish-black stones and barely any vegetation. The lake itself is surrounded by a large expanse of salt, the surface of which is sculpted into ridges by the wind. And it is in this inhospitable environment that some Afar tribes manage to make a living harvesting the salt and transporting it by camel caravan to Ethiopia (we were even lucky enough to see a couple of laden camels start heading off). It was also on this little excursion that I also got to see the slums along the outskirts of town in which most Djiboutians live. A real shame to see because with the money coming in from the transit of Ethiopian goods and the three foreign military bases (there's also a German one apparently), and the small population, the country ought to be quite well off, but it's the same old problem of corruption (not that large Western countries mind about that because the country is politically stable and they have their military bases there).

1 comment:

Ex-Shammickite said...

Hi Erik: Nice guestbook quote, I think I have been both a tourist and a traveller, but perhaps not to quite such an extent as you! Interesting that there is salt harvested around Lake Asal, does that mean that it's a salt water lake? And if so, where does the salt come from? Sorry if that's a dumb question.