Lac Abbe and Lac Assal: An Epic Road Trip in Djibouti
LAC ABBE AND LAC ASSAL: AN EPIC ROAD TRIP IN DJIBOUTI
BY LOGAN NOLIN · DEC 2018 · TRAVEL
“IT’S FRIDAY NIGHT, LET’S LOSE OUR MINDS”
I stepped out of my hotel and was greeted with a nice gentlemen asking me if I needed a taxi. I politely declined and walked a bit further when another man popped up and asked if I needed a taxi. Again, I declined and before I knew it, a small crowd of people appeared before me, asking if I needed a taxi. After declining several additional times, I heard my name being called from the street. I darted through the crowd, threw my bags into the SUV, and was off.
Hassan (the driver) and Jirat (the guide) lead my tour, which I booked through Rushing Water Adventures. I really lucked out because there was only one other person on the tour; Hans Petter, a dude from Norway. We left Djibouti City and drove through countless winding roads until we reached Dikhil, where we stopped for lunch.
Shortly after devouring a sandwich, we were back in the SUV. The road disappeared as we began driving on desert sand. Every 30 minutes or so we would pass a herd of camels. If you blinked, you would miss them. Aside from the landscape, our only other entertainment came in the form of a 4-song CD that Hassan had in his car. We listened to the same four pop punk songs on repeat for the entire trip. I had to laugh. I had a lot of ideas about how this trip would be, and none of the scenarios had me rocking out to Blink-182’s Kings of the Weekend in the middle of the Djiboutian desert.
About halfway into our trip, we passed a small village where a group of kids ran up to the car. “Monsieur! Monsieur! Photo!” they cried. We shook their hands and took some photos with them. They were all so happy; laughing and practicing their English with us. It’s fascinating to me that people can live in such extreme conditions. The sun made the temperature scalding and seeing nothing but sand made me feel so far removed from modern society.
We arrived at Lac Abbe just before sunset and were surprised to learn that we were the only people camping for the evening. Normal tour groups have between 50 and 60 people at one time. Jirat told us to pick a hut to sleep in for the night and to offload our belongings. After picking the most beautiful hut that I could find, we made our way to dinner.
The dinner was SO MUCH FOOD. We started with a salad, then moved on to spaghetti, then chicken, then bread, then dessert. It was never ending. The highlight of the meal was the tea. It was served piping hot and was very sweet and full of spices. It reminded me of mulled wine. I asked about the spices and sweetness and was told that this was a standard way to serve tea in Djibouti. After dinner, Hans and I talked a bit — staring up at the perfectly clear night sky. Living in Chicago, it’s easy to forget what the sky truly looks like without light pollution. In that moment I felt so small, yet so grateful.
We went to bed and woke up in what felt like five minutes later. Exhausted, I sat and stared at the sky and saw countless shooting stars streaking across the milky way. I began to hear camels groaning and the sky began to turn brilliant shades of purple and pink. We loaded into the SUV and were off to see the chimneys up close. Lac Abbe is a mostly dried up salt lake on the Djibouti and Ethiopia border. Giant limestone chimneys stick out from the ground, periodically exhuming enormous puffs of steam.
The landscape looks apocalyptic — almost like you’re on the moon. Combine this otherworldly scenery with a sunrise and you get a pretty breathtaking morning. We stood there for a solid hour, watching the sun rise over the chimneys.
After the sun was in the sky, we started walking towards the part of the “lake” with actual water. We ended up having to turn around because the ground became less and less solid — my feet sinking into the ground and water pooling in the footprints left behind. We turned around and ended up back at camp where we had the best breakfast I was served while in Djibouti. We were served the hot sweet tea and these pita-shaped flatbread discs that tasted like a cake donut. I asked what these were called and was told they were “hameel,” a traditional Djiboutian / Somalian dish.
After breakfast, we loaded back into the SUV and were off for Lac Assal.
On the way to Lac Assal, we stopped at a small village where we were able to meet the chief. He took us inside his hut and we were able to see where his family slept and cooked. It was surprisingly cool inside the hut, which was unexpected in the extreme heat.
Before we left, the chief said he wanted to give us a gift. He gave me two stones — one black and one white. I am a huge fan of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. In the novel, an old king gifts Santiago (a shepherd boy) with two rocks, Urium and Thummim. These black and white colored stones are used to answer “yes” and “no” questions. I’m not sure if this chief had ever even heard of The Alchemist, but this small gift became one of my favorite souvenirs.
Once we left the village, it was only a short drive until we reached Lac Assal. Lac Assal is the lowest point in Africa at 509 feet (155 meters) below sea level. It is also the world’s largest salt reserve.
As we got out of the car and started walking toward the lake, you could actually taste the salt in the air. The vibrant blues and teals were striking and walking on top of the dried salt crystals on the ground was pretty cool.
After snapping a million photos, it was time to head back to Djibouti City.
HI, I’M LOGAN
I’m a designer and traveler, currently based in the Windy City. In 2013, I graduated from the University of Westminster, London. I met so many lifelong friends while living abroad, and it happens to be where I developed an unquenchable thirst for travel.
When I’m not collecting stamps in my passport, I like brewing cold brew, writing music, and eating copious amounts of sour candy.
FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM: @LOGANNOLIN