Great Fish, Bribes, Souvenirs And Men With Guns, Part 2: Our Crazy 3 Hours In Djibouti

Ready for part 2?  Part 1 had an awesome dinner, “sightseeing” and souvenirs.  Oh, and men with guns.  The second part doesn’t have any guns.  Well, kind of doesn’t. But, we were still doing plenty of laughing and wondering.

In case you’re just joining us, here’s what I’ve covered so far on my trip to Djibouti for a UNICEF relief delivery:

Before we get too deep into part 2 of the story, I need to rewind.  Charles, one of the friends who was part of this crazy adventure, pointed out that I missed an important detail from the beginning of our adventure.

Remember our passport counting friend?  She got her “brother” to drive us around town, someone she really trusts?  Right.  She showed up at the restaurant a few minutes after we arrived to make sure we got there safely.  She must have a lot of faith in her “brother”. 😀

At any rate, she did get us the tour of the kitchen. So, she did have some magical powers.

After Yoenis dropped us off in the parking lot we made the very short trek to the terminal.  It was a bit after 9pm and our flight was due to take off around midnight.    I was genuinely tired at this point, especially after the adrenaline wore off after our bout with the guns.  I was ready for the night to be over, but we still had a few hours to kill.  At least we could sit down and relax in the terminal, maybe catch a bit of air conditioning?  Not quite yet.

We were addressed by a guard that the terminal wasn’t open yet.  Not terribly surprising given there were no other flights that evening.  The guard told us the airport would reopen in about an hour.

We all chose to take a few minutes to double-check the contents of our suitcases.  Yoenis seemed like a nice guy.  But, we were in a foreign country and our bags hadn’t been under our control the entire time.  Given the incident we just went through, we were trying to be somewhat inconspicuous about unpacking our bags.  There was a guard nearby and we didn’t really want to draw attention to the fact that there might be something amiss with our luggage.

Bags repacked, we waited a bit longer and the crowd of folks outside the terminal started to grow.  Finally, we were invited in to the terminal.  Security was pretty lax, though not completely porous as we found out later.

The ticket counters were all past security, which only took a few minutes to clear.  There were signs for the handful of airlines that fly to Djibouti as well as some very aspirational graphics.

I was amused by the Daallo Airlines signs that depicted a 747.  Surely this tiny airline didn’t operate a 747?  Conflicting reports show their fleet size as either 2 or 3 airplanes.  But, the folks at Plane Spotters do list a 747 in their historic fleet records.  If you’re a real nerd, it’s a 747SP, for Special Performance, or long-range flights.

There were a small handful of ticket counters and 3 employees checking folks in.  Well, 2 folks and a supervisor.  If my memory serves me correctly, Kelly went first and they wanted to check his bag.  It wasn’t particularly big, but they wouldn’t let him travel with it.  The supervisor pointed this out while he was working with one of the other employees.

When it was my turn at the counter, he tried to convince me to check my bag as well.  I’m generally one of those “pry it out of my cold, dead hands” sort of guy.  I smiled, cajoled, negotiated and finally won him over.  In the end, he seemed to think that I was nuts to want to haul my carry-on bag instead of checking it.  I may have been wrong about his motivation.

While we were waiting at the ticket counter there was a disturbance at the security checkpoint.  Turning around, I saw someone who looked and sounded American, and had the haircut and fitness of someone in the military.  He had a traveling companion who sounded like he might be British or Australian.  They were a decent distance away and there were a handful of people in the terminal, so it was tough to hear.

The security supervisor was discussing an item of concern in the man’s bag.  Turns out he was bringing through a number of magazines for various guns.  The security guard was adamant they couldn’t come through security.  The passenger was adamant he’d brought them through before.  The discussion escalated, though not to all-out screaming.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about someone bringing a gun magazine through security.  Let’s just assume it’s empty.  On its own, that doesn’t feel like a threat. But, if a bunch of folks are smuggling gun parts through security…..maybe I’m a bit paranoid?

Given that the security in Djibouti didn’t seem terribly detailed, I was happy they excluded them.  As an aside, the TSA doesn’t allow magazines to be brought through security checkpoints.  Admittedly, not an issue I’d given a lot of thought to until that instance.

Angelina was flying standby and so was asked to sit over in the corner of the ticketing area to wait a bit.  The rest of us decided that if she didn’t make it onto our flight, we would hang behind.  Now, this wasn’t a “the girl can’t protect herself sort of thing”.  I’ve known Angelina for a number of years.  I’m sure she can take care of herself in a wide variety of situations.  But, given the gun incident from 90 minutes prior, we all felt sticking together was the sensible approach right then.

So, we waited for Angelina to get her ticket worked out.  Our flight to Doha was fairly empty.  It just seemed to be a technical issue.  So, we waited some more.  And some more. And, for good measure, some more.  I walked over a few times to check on things.  At one point I saw the supervisor from earlier take some cash from a passenger and palm it in his hand.  It turned out to be US money.  By Angelina’s keen eye, $500 worth.

We all expected to see that passenger in business class with us on our flight, especially after watching the supervisor slide the money in his pocket a short while later.

Good News!  I Got Married In Djibouti

During one of my visits to the counter to check on Angeline, she turned around suppressing some laughter.  Turns out that our supervisor friend, now $500 richer, wanted her to know that there was a place upstairs where she and her husband (me!) could go that was “private and comfortable”.  In any other situation, I might have thought it was an innocent comment.  But, with the money, guns, security issues and other fun from the evening (along with my new bride) we all got a good laugh out of it.

Our supervisor friend (he really was our friend at this point, lots of smiles) told me that his friend upstairs in the lounge would take good care of us if we were nice to him.  Now, since Angelina didn’t technically have lounge access, I figured this was where I was supposed to hand over a tip.  Since we still hadn’t gotten through ticketing after an hour of trying, I decided to hold that cash just a bit longer.

Almost 90 minutes after clearing security into the ticketing area, they solved Angelina’s ticketing problem.  It wouldn’t have been so bad but there wasn’t any air conditioning in the terminal and it was pretty hot.  At any rate, we proceeded through passport control.  I got a few questions about the length of my trip (or lack thereof), then waved through.

I walked past the passport control booth and waited by the bottom of the stairs for the others before proceeding up to the waiting area (and that comfortable, private area for married folks).  Apparently, that was a no-go, as the customs official shouted at me to keep moving.  I didn’t need to be told twice!  I walked about halfway up the stairs and waited for the others.  This time, we all cleared without incident.

Up the stairs and down the hall we discovered the Dunya VIP Lounge.  Angelina didn’t technically have lounge access since she was traveling on a standby ticket.  But, our supervisor friend from downstairs seemed to think we could convince his friend upstairs.  I casually laid a $20 bill on the counter alongside my invitation to the club and explained my “wife’s” story about not having lounge access.  Would he mind allowing us both to access the club?

Maybe If I Just Leave The $20 On The Counter He’ll Let My “Wife” In?

He turned out to be a very friendly fellow.  There were some quick forms for him to fill out from my lounge invitation. After that, he handed us the Wifi code and asked if we wanted a drink.  Selections are pretty much soft drinks and water.  I told him the $20 bill was for him.  He was genuinely surprised (or a great actor).

We settled into the lounge to wait for our flight to board.  Maybe I was just getting used to the heat, but the meager bit of air conditioning felt pretty refreshing. Since Angelina and I were now “married”, Charles and Kelly started pretending to be our kids.  I’m guessing Charles is a bit younger than me, but Kelly is at least the same age, if not older.  So, yeah.  🙂

Additional Security And The Gate Area

As we came up the stairs after passport control, we could see that there was an additional security check at the gate.  We allowed ourselves plenty of time and left the lounge way early.  Most of the passengers on our flight had already proceeded through security.  After just a few minutes we were all cleared and waiting in the crowded gate area.

Off to the side of the lounge was a small enclosed area which turned out to be a lounge for Air France.  Like the Dunya VIP Lounge, it really wasn’t anything special. The point of a lounge in Djibouti airport is really to have a seat.  Our flight to Doha wasn’t completely full but the gate area was.

Saying Goodbye to Djibouti

I really wasn’t looking forward to our Doha flight.  It would normally be a relatively short flight.  But, with some political turmoil surrounding Qatar right now, Qatar Airways needs to skirt the airspace of a number of countries.  Based on that, our flight was more like 5 hours.

While I can sleep on just about any plane, I was skeptical about flying in a reclining style business class seat (similar to a domestic first class seat) and being able to catch 4 hours of meaningful sleep.  Adrenaline had fueled most of the last few hours.  But, there hadn’t been a lot of sleep since I left the US.  The best night of sleep was on my SAS flight to Copenhagen.  I was tired.

All four of us were ticketed in business class, so we were able to board early.  We presented our boarding passes, climbed down a flight of stairs and meandered across the tarmac to our waiting plane.  We climbed the flight of stairs to find…lie-flat business class seats!

Had I misread the seat map on Seat Guru?  Was there a change? I didn’t care.  A crazy couple of days would end with 4 hours of sleep.

Our 3-hour Djibouti adventure wound to a close as we took off after midnight.  None of the other 3 folks with me knew each other before our adventure started.  48 hours of craziness later, halfway across the world from where we all live, they parted as friends.  That’s one of the things I love about travel.  There are just enough people as crazy as me out there to make a trip like this an adventure amongst friends.

Our plane taxied past the Norwegian UNICEF 787.  The airport lights made the brand new plane shine at night.  It was a brief reminder of where we started our trip, and why.  What a day!  The plane lifted in the sky and I reclined my seat for a much-needed nap.

Stay tuned for my review of the awesome lounge situation at Doha Airport and my great experience on the flight from Doha to Dallas.

The post Great Fish, Bribes, Souvenirs And Men With Guns, Part 2: Our Crazy 3 Hours In Djibouti was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. Not to take away from your adventure, but as a pretty seasoned traveler in Africa, your experience in Djibouti seems fairly common. The money you saw changing hands was once described to me by an official in Kenya as a “Friendship Donation.” One of my first experiences as a novice in “Africa travel,” the Kenyan offical explained that I should provide him with a friendship donation – when I asked what it was – thinking it was something to go to a local charity – he said that for a small donation ($20 at the time, in ca 1991), he could be my friend and ensure everyone else in the airport could also be my friend. Ever after when going across borders in Africa, whether via truck or airplane, I used the Kenyan official’s terminology of a “Friendship Donation” and it served me well.

    Your adventures with guns being pointed are also fairly common place – in many instances, the pointer is also looking for a Friendship Donation… in others, as in yours, I believe, you may have stumbled upon an official’s home who has security and over zealous security guards; or in some cases, shall we say a “not so legal enterprise” who have also hired private security. And that private security takes many forms – it can run from on duty military and police to off duty military and police to former police/military; or someone who has been hired locally and given a minimum of training (point, warn, shout, shoot)…

    Glad you made it back but yet another great story to add to your travel experiences!

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