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  • Writer's pictureShaun Yeo

Djibouti - An Adventure Through East Africa!

Following my adventures down the East Coast of Africa, I had already dived in Egypt many times, and in Sudan last year. Eritrea was next on my list, following the coastal counties in order, but after much research, although I found diving did take place there, it was very hard to arrange a dive trip as such, and would have to visit on the off chance of arranging everything once there! Because of this, I went on to research Djibouti, and found there to be an established liveaboard which run one season a year.

I booked my trip for the last week of November, arriving a few days earlier than the liveaboard departure date, so that I could do some sightseeing. Unfortunately the weather was not great, heavy torrential rains and thunderstorms held out throughout my early arrival. In Djibouti it hardly rains and the locals are not prepared for this type of weather. I found my hotel room flooded every morning, with rain coming in through the closed windows, and the streets outside were flooded to half a metre of water in most places. No drainage system is in place in Djibouti, as they do not require this due to the small rain fall found per year.

Nevertheless, I found someone willing to take me out sightseeing. I was aware that by travelling away from the centre and up north, the weather would improve. The bad weather tends to be from the monsoons and tropical cyclones that form in the Arabian Sea, usually during this time of year, and makes it way to the horn of Africa, were usually, by the time it has reached Djibouti, most of it would have lost strength and faded away.

I asked to be taken to the Danakil Desert to visit Lac ’Assal, a beautiful salt lake, and the lowest point in Africa, at 155M below Sea Level.

Day 1

After visiting the local mall and having a walk around the centre, I eagerly waited for my transfer from the hotel to the liveaboard. I was informed by the diving travel agency I booked the trip with, that I would be picked up at 16:30, but an hour past and still no sign of anyone. I asked the reception staff, and no one had a clue about the liveaboard, they had never heard of it before or that safari trips took place from Djibouti! All the local numbers I was given, were all tried and to no surprise no one picked up on any of them! The receptionist offered to take me on their hotel transport but I did not have an address to where the boat was moored! Anyways I waited for another hour and eventually, after a long two hours wait … someone turned up looking for me! No stress … he was only two hours late, it’s the Djibouti way of living!

A huge bus arrived … just for me. It must have been a 50 seat coach! It’s a good thing I did not take up the offer from the hotel, as the boat was in fact moored in the harbour and not to a port or marina by land! I was taken to a small mole, were a zodiac picked me and my luggage up, and then was taken aboard the yacht. There I was welcomed aboard, given a boat safety briefing, my cabin and I then quickly unpacked, setup my camera and settled for the evening, ready to dive the next morning.

Day 2

The next morning, we are woken up by the dive guides for breakfast. It was still raining outside and a mechanic had been aboard all night trying to repair, what I believe is one of the generators that got damaged during the past week’s trip. The top two cabins had flooded overnight too and the clients had to sleep in the living room the rest of the night whilst the crew tried to repair the leaks. Drilling and banging was heard above my cabin last night during these works!

After breakfast, we were told that the coast guard did not give us clearance to leave the harbour in these weather conditions. The Djibouti Government had declared a National Disaster, 4 people had died overnight during the floods and collapsing of local houses.

Eventually, after a few hours, the rain stopped for a while and winds dropped slightly, we were then given permission to leave the harbour area. The captain navigated between all the tankers in the bay, towards Moucha Island, a small Island a few kilometres out of mainland Djibouti. Here we all conducted our check dive, making sure we were properly weighted and also carried out an SMB deployment. Everything went well, the visibility was not too bad, considering the bad weather stirring up the sea. I managed to get a few nice photos on the coral reef.

When we were all back aboard form the check dive, we then had lunch and continued our navigation to Obock, a small town on the coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura. Because we were delayed in arriving, we did a night dive instead. I must say I was very impressed with the amount of marine life I found on Obock’s Coral Reef, all in just one dive! And the visibility was much better here. We then proceeded with dinner and started our very long overnight navigation to the Seven Brothers Islands.

Day 3

We arrive at around 4:30AM to “The Big Island”, the crew moored the boat and proceed by waking up all the divers at 5:30AM, ready for our first briefing and dive at Seven Brothers.

The first dive was very challenging, I thought nothing could beat the strong currents of my home; the Straits of Gibraltar, but this was immense … much, much worse! My group was taken to one of the Islands by a Feluca, the other two groups in zodiacs. The Dive Site is called “La Marche” (“The March” in French), and is of the most extreme currents I have ever experienced! Holding onto a rock did little use and the force quickly weakened your arm’s strength, and letting go, swept you off the reef. The current pulling downwards, quickly takes you to a 40M plateau. Getting back up is a bit of a struggle, drifting with the current and almost fully inflating your BCD, you slowly start to make a move towards the surface, but reaching 15M, you have to be very careful of dumping all that excess air in your BCD, to avoid an uncontrolled ascent to the surface! When we eventually surfaced, we had been swept to opposite another Island! The highlight for me on this quick moving dive, was the large shoal of batfish and giant jacks circling us at the start of the dive, and ending the dive with a cloud of beautiful egg yolk like jellyfish, a species I had never come across before.

The following two dives that day were much easier. Gentle drift dives; one on East Island, the other at Big Island. With these two slower moving dives, I managed to get a lot of nice macro shots of the marine life which habitat these reefs on Seven Brothers.

No night dive was done on Day 3, due to the direction of the current and weather conditions, making it slightly unsafe to do so.

Day 4

This morning I woke up with a bad stomach… the East African bacteria had caught me! Never mind, I still got out of bed at 5AM for my first morning dive.

The first dive is on the back side to the “Big Island” we are moored on. A stunting coral reef found here is named “The Japanese Garden”, it is absolutely beautiful. The marine life and corals are out of this world, nothing like I have ever seen before. The corals are somewhat different to that of the Red Sea. Although I was diving at the entrance to it, I was at the sort of mid-point of the entrance to the Red Sea and the opening into the Indian Ocean. I have seen the corals of the Indian Ocean before, in last year’s trip to the Maldives, but these were in much healthier and better state. As we were finishing the dive I saw a large turtle in the distance, and then out of nowhere … a white tip reef shark! Unfortunately both the turtle and shark were too far for my camera lens to catch a clear shot of. On our safety stop in the blue, I see two curious dolphins stop and have a peak at us divers!

On the second morning dive, we headed back to East Island, but this time to the other side to which we dive the day before. This reef is home to a small family of dolphins. As we jumped in, we heard the sounds of the dolphins under the water, and made our way out from the reef to a sandy bottom. As we waited eagerly, they came to visit us, but kept their distance, again too far for my camera to capture. I’ve only see dolphins come right up close once, and that was in Egypt a few years ago.

Continuing our dive, I see the dive guide crazily catching everyone’s attention, he spots two huge mantas, again a distance away. But I spotted something else at the same time, much closer … a turtle. Knowing the mantas were going to be a waste of time trying to capture on photograph, I let everyone go look at the Mantas and I slowly swam right up to the turtle, this time able to capture some beautiful shots. The turtle actual curiously circled me and stayed around me for a few minutes whilst I took some shots and videos.

This time on our safety stop, we saw an eagle ray!

The third dive of the day, after lunch, was back to the Japanese Gardens. Because the Island is quite big, we only covered about a third of the reef in the first morning dive. Again I enjoyed the coral reef immensely. This time I saw a lot of blue spotted sting rays in the sand, but these were very shy and they wouldn’t allow me to get up close. I spotted another turtle today, again it stayed around to be photographed. As the sun started dropping behind the small mountain on the Big Island, we started to loose light. Towards the end of the dive, I came upon a huge white moray eel, I’ve only ever seen one of these before in the Maldives before, and I was quite surprised to come across it here. We ended the dive just as the sun was setting over the mountains of Djibouti in the distance.

Today was a full packed day. We did a fourth dive … a night dive!

The night dive was conducted in the reef just in front of our moored boat. I struggled to make a move and jump in the water. The spot lights that were lighting up the water around the boat had attracted hundreds of jellyfish! And I had no long sleeved wetsuit on! The sea temperature was at 29’c so I was not using my full wetsuit on this trip. Eventually I found a clear gap and made the plunge.

My camera strobe started playing up, I was taking photos but the photos seemed under exposed, even though my strobe was firing. I opted to go for my backup system, switched my two focus lights on full power and changed the manual settings on the camera to capture more light, keeping the shutter speed high to avoid any blurring. This sort of did the trick, but I like using the strobe, it gives more depth, giving shadows and high contrasts depending on the position I place it in.

We had a time limit of 45minutes on night dives, and just 10 minutes before ending the dive something came to my head… did I accidently turn down the strobe exposure dial jumping in the water and haven’t noticed because it’s dark and can’t see the numbers?! Yes that was the problem! Problem solved and I was back to taking photos using my strobe. Just before I knew it, time was up, out we came and back to the boat we headed.

Day 5

On Day five we only did two morning dives, and that was because we then had to spend the rest of the afternoon and night navigating back towards the Gulf of Tadoura.

An option is given to choose between two dives sites for the first morning dive. A minority agree to go to “La Marche” and the rest back to East Island. I choose not to go back to the ripping currents. At East Island, we tried looking for dolphins again, but this time we had no luck. Again I see a turtle, and I do manage to photograph it. Later I checked on my laptop if both the one from yesterday and today were the same one, identifying patches on the turtles shell, but I come to the conclusion that it was in fact a different one. Other than the turtle, I came upon a large porcupine fish. I didn’t take many photos here as I already had a good selection of the marine species from earlier dives, captured on this reef.

The final dive for today, just before lunch, was again on the Japanese Gardens. Those who opted for La Marche in the first dive, went to East Island for their second dive instead.

I could hear the dolphins at the sandy slopes of the Japanese Gardens, but unfortunately didn’t get to see them this time round. Going back onto the coral reef, I had now changed my macro lens to wide angle. Now I could capture the amazing landscapes of the coral garden.

After the dive we had lunch and made our way to the Gulf of Tadoura, arriving at around midnight.

Day 6

It’s almost the end of our diving safari, and today we were offered three dives at the Gulf of Tadoura.

The first morning dive takes places a few metres from where our boat was moored, the reef is called Ras Korali. The visibility here was very poor, I would say between 3 to 6 metres and a bit greenish, nothing I haven’t experienced before. This is due to the plankton bloom season and also, the recent floods that took place in Djibouti that week has washed away all the mud and terrain into the sea. I didn’t see much. We were told we had the possibility of seeing a whale shark pass by, but we didn’t.

After breakfast we went off in search of whale sharks. The area we were in is famous for them in Djibouti, and the plankton bloom season makes it the perfect conditions for them to be around. Unfortunately, after one hour of searching, we didn’t find any.

For the second dive, which took place after lunch, we jumped off the back of the boat and did the reef directly in front of us, part of the Ras Korali reef we did earlier in the morning. This time I found a turtle which I managed to take a photo of, and also some clown fish. Despite the bad visibility, the photos were not too bad.

The captain very kindly offered to take us to the nearby deserted beach opposite our moored boat. We all took the offer. The beach was beautiful, you don’t realise how hot the air really is until you are actually on land and not aboard a boat being hit by the constant sea breeze. Small hermit crabs and larger crabs raced across the sand as they saw us approaching. The captain and dive guides organised a small picnic for us on the beach which was lovely. We were offered fruit juices and water with water melon, homemade cheese pastries and semolina cake. I then saw the sunset over the mountains, as the rest of the team made their way back aboard the yacht.

For the final dive of the day, a night dive, I decided to skip it, and instead enjoyed a nice evening relaxing on the yacht.

Day 7

The last day of diving. Today a morning dive is offered before breakfast followed by either snorkelling with the whale sharks, or moving to another reef if there are no sightings. I decide to skip the morning dive, the visibility is not enjoyable and I rather stay aboard to rest.

After breakfast, the crew advice that no whalesharks have been found so the dive guides decided to leave the area and make a second dive on another reef, closer to Djibouti. By now it was almost reaching midday, and as my flight was at that time the next day, I also skipped this dive. I had to observe a 24 hour non dive limit before flying.

Later that afternoon we arrived back at the Port of Djibouti, where I stayed for one more night. The next morning after our last breakfast aboard, I was transferred to the airport, ready for my flight back to Istanbul. An overnight stay at Istanbul then proceeded by a morning flight to Malaga, and then a drive back to Gibraltar after lunch.

Djibouti has been a good experience. I hope to see whale sharks one day somewhere else! The more I travel, the more I realise how much scare mongering there is about these countries I visit been “dangerous”. I had been warned multiple times about supposed piracy out at sea where I was diving at, yet I am still to see any pirates! I recon Djibouti’s waters is one of the safest in the India Ocean/Red Sea to be in. The military presence I found in the area was outstanding: Japanese, French and American personnel to name a few! I always meet likeminded people on these safaris. I look forward to my next adventures next year!

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