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Fly like an eagle?


May 5, 2013 by csukach

Hawks dive because they can.

Oh sure, some may say the birds are chasing prey or engaged in a courtship ritual, but when it comes down to it, they’re hauling ass on the wind because it’s just plain fun.

It’s day number two of liberty for me from Camp Lemonnier and I’ve managed to snag a seat on a bus with some folks headed out to Grand Bara for a bit of Djibouti land sailing.

Grand Bara is an enormous dry lakebed.  The land is packed, parched and cracked.  The area is so big, it’s rumored to have been an emergency landing site for the shuttle when the spacecraft was still flying.

Omar, the land sailing instructor, ensures all riders are outfitted with helmets prior to heading out on a land sailing cart.

Omar, the land sailing instructor, ensures all riders are outfitted with helmets prior to heading out on a land sailing cart.

The wind whips across the hot and thirsty landscape, kicking up dust devils and promising gusts of adrenaline for those of us hurtling around it in tiny fiberglass shells.

Land sailing is basically what you’d expect—a large sail attached to a small three-or four-wheeled lightweight cart powered solely by the wind.  Well, that and the passenger’s ability to hang onto a rope “controlling” the sail.

The thing about trying to harness nature in general is that the practice typically sounds easier than reality proves it to be.  Managing the wind via a bit of cloth while skidding across the ground is no exception.

After a quick run-down of the mechanics of our crafts as well as a brief bit about safety, our instructor releases us to pop on our helmets and hop in our carts.

The ride’s exhilarating and the thrill of managing a desert squall is tremendous.  Tighten the rope, jimmy the feet and zip across the flats.  With the wind whipping about and the crush of it against your face—man, how awesome it would be to be a bird!  That is…

Until you mash yourself face-first into the cooked clay lakebed and come to patched and bandaged on the bus ride home.

“Did everyone have to leave early because of me?” I ask.

“That’s what they do when they have head trauma—they ask the same question over and over again,” says someone a couple of seats over.

“How long have I been asking this question?” I wonder.

By the time we make it back to Camp, my seatmates have filled me in, maybe for the fourth or fifth time—who knows, as I’m just returning to my senses.

Apparently I’ve been awake, walking around and talking to people for the past hour and a half.

Really?!  Bizarre, as I have absolutely no memory of any of it…

(What are we as human beings if not compilations of our memories?  I’d really like to contemplate this existential dilemma right now, but I’m feeling a bit woozy.)

Five stitches, a chipped tooth and half a dozen bruises later, I'm a survivor of Djibouti land sailing.

Five stitches, a chipped tooth and half a dozen bruises later, I’m a survivor of Djibouti land sailing.

To hear others’ tell it, my cart tipped over and I skidded three feet on my face prior to coming to a standstill.  I guess at that point I wasn’t moving.  However, by the time notification of my mishap had made it back (I was a mile away from main area) and the folks with the recovery truck arrived, they said I was sitting up and talking.

Thanks to quick reactions by my trip mates, the gash in my chin was bandaged up via first aid supplies someone had brought along on our outing.  I’m not much of a planner, so I’m forever grateful to the person who thought ahead in this particular instance.

We’re met at the Camp gate by a fully lit fire truck and ambulance, all for me.  I feel the reception’s overkill until I try to stand up and stagger to the bus door.  Luckily the first responder catches and escorts me to the ambulance gurney.  This is the first time I’ve ever been in an ambulance, so I’m glad my memory returned when it did.

The doctor on duty is great.  He talks to me about my injury, conducts a couple of tests and cleans and sutures my split chin with five small stiches.  He says I have a concussion and should take it easy for the next few days.  The busted tooth will get fixed in a couple of days and once the bruising subsides, the whole event will be nothing but a memory.

I now have an inkling as to why birds may run into windows over and over again…


  1. Harriet Englert says:

    Enjoyed it all. Being your mother, glad I did not have to witness the accident and post-trauma. Looks like fun!

  2. csukach says:

    It was! I wanna go again, but this time without the crash!

  3. Amanda says:

    Hi —

    Ive been dieing to do land sailing in Djibouti and stumbled upon your post while planning my trip. Oddly enough after reading your post, I am still up for it. Can you recommend a good company to go with?

    many thanks

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