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Round one: Meeting the lizard


April 24, 2013 by csukach

Sosa and I had planned on going to the beach.

Busting out on our own, we’d live the adventure of navigating a new country with the help of neither guides nor controlled tours.

Our grand scheme—two ex-pats in floppy wide-brimmed hats lounging on the shoulders of the Djiboutian Riviera.  We would snorkel crystalline waters and shoot close-up selfies with exotic sea life.

Chris in front of Camp Lemonnier sign

Leaving the camp.  Destination: beach.

We would forget, if only for a moment, that we were deployed.

In a deployed location, you don’t have regular weekends like most workers everyplace else do.  If you’re lucky, you might get a half-day off to do some laundry and then it’s back to work.  So when liberty i.e. time off comes along, folks flee the base as if Godzilla was tromping Tokyo.

Also access to cars and trucks are limited when deployed.  You don’t have your own and you’re certainly not using it to drive to and from work nor anywhere else your might want to go.

We decided we’d cab it to the beach.  The giant lizard would be placated.

Because nothing is easy in a bureaucracy, one doesn’t simply leave the base when Lizard Liberty arrives.  Processes must be accomplished for reasons of security and documentation.  Paperwork must be verified.

Chris and Sosa in a cab

Sosa and I melting in the heat on the way to our beach excursion.

Only once complete, were we allowed to make our way out to the dirt patch just outside the base where the green and white striped taxis waited.

Stepping over meticulously placed stones outlining various parking spaces, we were funneled by drivers to the center of the field to a station wagon I’m fairly certain was in each of the Giant Lizard movies…as the car that got stomped.  The entire driver’s side was crushed to the point the doors were unusable.

That didn’t stop the driver from pitching us a ride.

Through our broken Frenglish, we told the driver our beach plan.  We negotiated a price for the ride and hopped in the passenger-side doors.  He cranked up the tunes and away we went.

Rules of the road are merely suggestions here.  If you’ve ever played Frogger and wanted to be the car instead, a Djiboutian cab ride is your chance.

Roughly 10 minutes into the trip, the driver turned to us and asked us which beach we wanted to go to.

Which beach?!  We’d only heard of one expat beach.  Clearly our intel gathering needed refinement…

We guessed and said the southern one.  Our cabbie flipped a uey and took us to a port.

People wanting to give us rides in boats or on jet-skis swarmed the car.  Promises to take us snorkeling and to go see dolphins were everywhere—all for a price.

Because our plan had been just to take a cab to the beach, we’d not converted enough dollars to Djiboutian Francs to cover all the options laid before us.  And while the dolphins and the jet-skis sounded cool, we wanted the keyword *free* expat beach.

After a failed Frenglish attempt to say we wanted to go to the beach via taxi, the folks at the port brought out a guy who could translate our sad failings into communication.  The translator worked it all out with our cabbie and we were once again on our way.  We stopped to get gas and were delivered…

right back to the gate of the base.


Our driver demanded payment.  We weren’t paying because we didn’t go to the beach.  Clearly we’d hit communication fail number 537 for the day.

Djiboutian Francs

We’ve almost gathered enough for another adventure!

The taxi team’s English translator came over to the car and explained the situation.  The original price we’d agreed upon with our cabbie (or at least what our cabbie had understood) was to deliver us to a port so we could take a boat to a beach.  Apparently the beach we’d heard of was about an hour away and required four-wheel drive to get there.   We ended up paying $22 to wind up back where we started.

Which when you think about it, that’s basically what you’re doing when you go to see an epic flick like Godzilla anyway.


  1. Harriet Englert says:

    What fun! Reminds me of how the communication barrier made for some interesting results for Dad and I in Costa Rica. We felt lucky to be alive after a couple of unplanned excursions. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to reading and viewing your next adventure.

    Love, Mom

  2. Radha Rajan says:

    Oh no! Hope you get your lizard-like fix soon! If you have a bit longer to spare for base-fleeing and can leave country head over to Dire Dawa in Ethiopia…the hyena man is not to be missed! Plus it’s where you can get some delicious fatira to start the day and enough sugary orange fried food to keep you buzzed for a week. Happy travels & hope you get another break soon from your crazy deployment hours!

  3. Jim Greeley says:

    Awesome. Reminds me of many very similar adventures in Africa, but I didn’t even have rudimentary French. Enjoy. Stay safe. Loved the video.

  4. csukach says:

    Thanks much for the recommendations Radha! If I make it over there, I’ll definitely let you know!

  5. csukach says:

    Thanks Jim! We’ll definitely have to swap stories sometime!

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