Djibouti, December 19-27 2019

I'm trying a new style that's slightly more modern and phone-friendly -- let me know what you think!

The photos in this travelogue are a mix of Jennifer's and Tim's -- full collections in due time

Our international family adventures continue apace every winter and summer, but they've seen us traveling in a variety of 3's and 5's recently -- it's been four years since we took a trip as Alex, Jennifer, Tim, and Emily. Tim & Clara have decided to settle down in Zurich for the foreseeable future, and Clara was constrained by limited vacation days and a Christmas visit from her parents, so our first decision was to spend part of the holiday skiing nearby in the Swiss Alps. Then, since Tim is between jobs with more flexibility, we decided the remaining four of us would first tack on a week of scuba diving somewhere within reasonable striking distance of Switzerland. After a bit of research, we chose Djibouti, a tiny and safe country on the Horn of Africa, nearby to several countries one might not choose to visit:

It took quite a while for the whole family to assemble in Djibouti. Emily is in a PhD program at UC Berkeley now, so she, Alex, and Jennifer traveled together. As a former French colony, Air France still runs a few nonstop Paris-Djibouti flights each week, with a long daytime layover in Paris where we saw friends and enjoyed the usual tourist sites and delicious food.
Tim's first order of business before departing was to get married (!), on a short trip to Denmark, apparently the "Las Vegas of Europe" as far as quickie marriages go. Working visas in Switzerland aren't easy to come by, and for complicated reasons the best solution for Tim & Clara was to be married; they'll have a real wedding in the States sometime in the future. With that out of the way, Zurich-Djibouti is undertaken on Turkish Airlines, and we knew there was a chance Tim would miss his tight connection in Istanbul -- we planned for the possibility by adding a buffer day in Djibouti before boarding our liveaboard dive boat.

So Day 1 in Djibouti found Tim visiting the sites of Istanbul (photo 1 below) while Alex, Jennifer, and Emily visited Lac Assal (photo 2 below), a salt lake similar to the Dead Sea and the lowest point in Africa, along with a few other sights outside the city. Truthfully, neither Djibouti city (photo 3 below) nor the rest of the country hold great interest for tourists, though it's always nice to check out a new nation. After Tim arrived on the next day's flight, we boarded the MSY Elegante for six days of diving.

Our trusty dive travel agent Ksenia from Dive and Cruise, who has become familiar with our tastes, has long cautioned us about going on a dive boat catering primarily to Italians: Their preference is to dive occasionally and relax a lot, while ours runs exactly the opposite. We rationalized that the slower pace would allow plenty of family time, which it did indeed, but it still took some getting used to that we wouldn't be diving 4+ times a day. Not that our Italian companions were inexperienced -- they were all seasoned divers, and all of us were in Djibouti for the same reason: the annual winter visitation of whale sharks. Swimming with these gentle giants is a treat of a lifetime, and we weren't disappointed. When not tracking down whale sharks, the conventional reef diving ranged from a bit dull to lively and colorful.

The MSY Elegante (photo 1 below) doesn't have the web presence or traveler reviews that the more mainstream dive boats tend to have, so we weren't entirely sure what we were getting into. As an old wooden schooner it's high on character but lower on layout and function. The Italian dive guides and Sudanese crew were almost as relaxed as the clientele, but other than some food poisoning that hit a few customers, the crew generally got the job done. We did become quite fond of our charismatic dinghy driver Mamoun (photo 2 below), who was surprisingly facile with both English and Italian, and a constant source of lighthearted fun.

Was Djibouti one of our better dive trips overall? Probably not. Was it worth it to swim with the whale sharks? Absolutely!

And now for a completely different part two of the vacation: skiing in Switzerland