Monday, February 16, 2009

President's Day Weekend

I had a pretty good weekend.  At CJTF-HOA weekend and holiday mean 'work less' not 'no work'. Saturday was a half day, Sunday was a rare event of not stepping foot into the office at all, and today, President's Day, I only worked a few hours.  Its gotten pretty busy around here, the new core staff is smaller and they have lots of great ideas: so more work to do with less people.  Even so I still had some fun.  On Friday night there was a wine tasting at the camp cantina.  It drew a big crowd and was a good time, even got rowdy by 11 Degrees North standards (which is still fairly tame).  On Saturday night I played some poker, it had been a long time and I'm reminded that I'm not good at Texas Hold Em.  I missed out on the baby orphanage trip again, sold out, but I've been promised a spot for next week.  On Sunday I went out to 'French Beach'.  We did not have the local expert with us and had to find the place on our own based on memory of one trip and some trial and error.  There aren't any signs and most of it is a dirt road where 4WD is helpful.  On the way there we some some camel eating a very thorny bush, I don't know how they do it, check out the video.  The weather and water were very nice, relaxing.  Its a quiet spot behind a tall ridge.  When you arrive you can pick the little shack of your choice and some plastic chairs are brought out.  This cost us 1000 DJF (~$6) after negotiation down from 1500 DJF, as well as a couple of bottles of water from our cooler.  I drove on the way back and I'm now confident I can find the place again with ease.  Today I did some studying for JPME after a few hours at the office, hit the gym, got dinner, and now I'm writing this.  

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Change of Command

As of Thursday 5 February CJTF-HOA is now under the command of RDML Anthony Kurta.  Along with the new commander comes a new "core staff". This core staff is composed of Navy personnel that have been training together for the last four months, they all just conducted turn-over here. They are just a portion of the HOA staff but the biggest group that changes at once.  In the Admiral's first all-hands call he expressed a view of 'maintain course and speed'. More to come...

Pats Cheerleaders & Lowenbrau

Armed Forces Entertainment brought another show to Djibouti.  This time it was 5 cheerleaders from the New England Patriots and 5 NFL football players.  The show was decent but short, not up to the high bar set by the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders.  In between songs the football players were on stage asking trivia questions and giving away footballs.  At least I got to enjoy some Lowenbrau, the "good" stuff from Germany not the Americanized junk.  Who remembers the jingle from the TV commercials?  

Lake Assal, Djiboutian Grand Canyon, & Goubet

Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel to some local sights in Djibouti outside the city. Lake Assal was the highlight.  It is a salt lake and also the lowest point on the continent of Africa (515 feet below sea level).  The white in that picture is not sand, its crystal salt.  Lake Assal is also the saltiest body of water in the world with the exception of places in Antarctica.  Swimming in the lake was a good experience, great temperature (even in January!), and very peaceful - no one was around except my small group.  It is so salty you can float standing up.

On the way to the lake we stopped by at the so-called Djiboutian Grand Canyon. A great view, I didn't expect it of Djibouti.  We also visited the Bay of Goubet (pictured is Goubet island) as well as some beaches.  One beach featured black volcanic sand.  The landscape is lunar like, mountainous with volcanic rock scattered everywhere, very desolate, but beautiful in its own way (as long as you don't mind the lack of green).  We even passed a camel truck on the way back.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I previously posted about the Containerized Living Unit (CLU) that I lived in the first two weeks here while waiting to move into a better unit.  That was a dry CLU, here are some pictures of my current CLU that I moved to at the end of November.  All the amenities, like A/C, private bathroom, internet & cable connection.  That's good living!

My Audi is Gone

My wife took the kids and the dog to her mother's house in Florida for the week after Christmas.  I didn't want that many miles put on the car because it was getting very close to the scheduled maintenance for timing belt replacement. Unfortunately, she didn't know that.  On the way home the car overheated in Georgia.  They were stuck 700 miles from home.  After a lot of drama the car was towed to an Audi dealer in Charleston and the family rented a Uhaul truck to get home (because one-way car rentals required a trip to the airport and the Uhaul was cheaper).  The diagnosis was a water pump failure (which is driven by the timing but and also replaced during timing belt job) which stripped the teeth off the timing belt - now the cams and valves aren't moving so they collided with the pistons.  Result is a completely destroyed engine.  A new engine and labor would have cost several times the value of the car so I sold it, especially with me stuck here in Africa.  The car got posted on Craig's list and several Audi forums.  I was surprised at how much interest it received and it was sold at a reasonable price within 1 day.  In the end the mileage on the odometer was still 900 miles shy of the scheduled maintenance but I guess I should have done it early.  Pictured is the car when new in December 1999 and then its last day.  Big disasters have to happen when I'm on deployment of course.  Audi, I hope your new owner enjoys you as much as I did all those years.

Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders

Armed Forces Entertainment brought the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders to Djibouti.  They danced around for an hour then signed their photo and posed for pictures.  A good show.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kempinski Palace Hotel

Djibouti has one 5 star luxury hotel: the Kempinski.  It is such a stark contrast of over the top wealth located just a two minute drive from the shanty towns of the refugee areas.  It is a very nice facility, has all the amenities.  I haven't stayed, just walked around.  Its a popular destination for some in camp.  For about $20 you can use the pool for the day.  Kempinski hosted a big New Years Eve party that sold out.  Meh, not for me so much.

Whale Shark trip photos from the underwater camera

I finally got my pictures from the underwater camera back.  The whale shark trip was 7 December and I took along a submersible 35mm film camera.  I held onto the film for a few weeks looking for a local processor before giving up and mailing it home.  The film got developed, scanned and put on a CD, then mailed back to me.  The quality of these pics is not too good, but what can one expect from a $13 camera.  A few photos of the whale sharks, me, and the reef.

French Beach

Yesterday I went to a local beach in Djibouti.  We only stayed a few minutes, the weather was crappy: very cloudy, windy, and even a little bit of rain.  I've been here 10 weeks now and this was the coolest day yet and the only day that I didn't see the sun at all.  Getting to this beach is not easy, much of the journey is on very bumpy dirt roads which require a vehicle with some ground clearance to navigate.  We spent the remainder of the day cruising around Djibouti City.  I was with a local expert, he's been here four years and seems to know everyone.  We got to have lunch with a few other Americans that were not associated with the camp, the military, or the embassy; they worked for some local NGOs.  We checked out many spots in town, visiting restaurants and hotels.  We also went by the Khat distribution yard which was filled with people and taxis waiting for the daily shipment.  We were getting a lot of looks and unwanted attention (we clearly didn't belong) plus we grew tired of waiting so we left and missed the chaos.

Djibouti has many rough spots but if you know where to look you can find something interesting and maybe even appealing.  I'm glad I go out and experience it, even with the uncomfortable moments and prices that are too high.  The many people who just stay inside the wire of camp are missing out.

I'm going to Egypt!

Even better is that my wife will meet me in Cairo.  Special thanks to my mother who will be watching the girls.  One gets a 4 day pass for each 6 month period in theater,  the travel days don't count so I'll be in Cairo for 6 days / 5 nights. Travel is limited to a short list of countries in East Africa and Egypt.  We've got flights, hotel, and tour guide booked for late February - should be excellent weather.  I can't wait!  I'll take my 'rest and relaxation' leave (15 days nearly anywhere in the world) back home during Spring Break so I can spend time with the whole family.

Djibouti Cheetah Refuge

Last week I visited the Cheetah Refuge.  It was a short bus ride from the camp.  The place is an animal refuge, not a zoo.  They open to the public for just a few hours in the late afternoon, three days a week.  The refuge has 6 cheetahs, 2 caracals, ostriches, tortoises, gazelles, a falcon, and other local wildlife that have settled inside its boundaries (mostly birds). One of the cheetahs (pictured) was very much a ham, he seemed to enjoy having his photo taken.  A good way to spend a few hours. 

More Djibouti Baby Orphanage

These pictures are from a few weeks ago, me and then Erin.  There was no trip this past Saturday, but for a good reason, adoptions were taking place.  The previous Saturday I didn't sign up early enough, sold out.  If anyone out there wants to help out the orphanage is always in need of things like diapers, baby wipes, clothing, bibs, etc.  Comment or contact me if you want the address.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Years Eve at 'The Mask'

I went downtown with some friends for dinner on New Years Eve.  The restaurant we wanted to go to was closed for a private party so we wound up at The Mask - a pizza place.  The pizza was ok, I was not impressed that they only had one glass of draft beer in the whole place (hence the bottles).  Its "Djibouti good" as Ryan likes to say.  It was fun to get off camp.  We headed back early, back hours before midnight.  Clockwise from the left is Amy, Doug, myself, Ryan, Erin, Tom, and Scott.

Weather extremes in Djibouti during 2008

Happy New Year!  

Yesterday during a daily meeting the weather office reported some interesting facts that I want to share.  For all of calendar year 2008 in Djibouti the maximum temperature was 115 F (46 C), maximum heat index was 126 F (52 C), the minimum was 66 F (19 C).  Isn't that unbelievable? The absolute coldest moment during an entire year was 66 F.  You do not ever need a sweater or jacket in Djibouti.  I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but the daily high is above 90 F (32 C) roughly three-quarters of the year.  Rainfall for the year was 5.6 inches (14.2 cm); 5.3 inches (13.5 cm) of that came during a 6 day period in November (just before I arrived).  That rain flooded part of the camp and brought on the flies (which are now pretty much gone).  Try to comprehend only getting 0.3 inches (0.7 cm) of rain during 359 days.