Air France unloaded C-GOEB from the belly of its 747 in Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden. I had previously flown this machine on an Ontario Hydro job in Wawa, and like all of the new 500s purchased in 1974, it too was a nice little aircraft to fly.
Some out-of-the-box assembly was required, and once that was completed on February 13th, it was discovered that a new fuel control was needed. That took some time to arrive, and a good thing too, because I had been attempting to get the aircraft through customs. While I have never proclaimed myself to be bilingual, I had to make use of a lot of franglais that I had learned back in Canada.
In frustration, I finally turned to the French national who was the overseer of the Djibouti airport. He willingly provided me with a list of local airport officials who would require baksheesh before the aircraft could be released. Heeding his advice, I greased the wheels, thus allowing forms to get stamped, signed and delivered, and the aircraft was finally allowed into the country.
I had a lot of time to get around and see the sights of Djibouti, and I enjoyed that time tremendously. It was a walking-around kind of town back then, although I had rented a Citroën 2CV (a deux chevaux) with the umbrella-like shifter hanging out of the dash. That was a great little car, and it took me all over the city in my pursuit of things to see and do. First thing in the morning it was a trip to the market for cheese, and then on to a stop by the bakery for hot bread fresh out of the oven. Once the makings were acquired, it was down to the shoreline to see what had washed up overnight.
We could never be guaranteed two nights in a row at the superior Hotel Siesta, so the downtown Hotel Djibouti became our second home when the Siesta filled up with reservations. A flight crew from Lufthansa complete with stews ended up staying at the Siesta when the airline went on strike. That was entertaining solely for the fact the the captain was an older, arrogant German (tutti fruiti) who appeared a tad depressed still that the war had been lost. I didn’t envy the rest of his crew in the slightest when I saw that they all made an effort to laugh over-exuberantly at his jokes.
Eventually the fuel control arrived, got installed, and the aircraft was flown to the Conoco camp by the mystery pilot. It was obvious that the mystery pilot actually thought that all three of the pilots paid to be there were incapable of doing their jobs. Go figure.
Sammy Pollock saved my ass again when I got tangled up with a couple of love-you-good-time girls at a bar in Djibouti. After imbibing with a bunch of miscreants off of a Panamanian-flagged ship, some of us let the girls lead us down a rather lengthy garden path to their lovely home in a back alley. When I finally came to on the darkest street I’ve ever seen in a strange city, my pockets were being rifled by a couple of lovely young things. Being incapable of seeing the whites of their eyes, I looked for their teeth, and yes, there were definitely two sets, gleaming white in the surrounding darkness. I was able to invoke Sammy’s phrase, inshallah, and lo, the women led me out of the alley to a street that I was somewhat familiar with. It was either that, or they gave up trying to find my stash that I had hidden in my socks.
By the time we hit Djibouti, we all were so starved for any kind of North American culture that we went to see Sugarland Express with Goldie Hawn. It was playing in a primitive open-air theatre, dubbed in French, but we didn’t care. It was enjoyable all the same.
French Somaliland was established in 1894, and from 1967 to 1977 was known as the French Territory of Afars and Issas, so named for the two dominant populations in the region. Independence from France was granted after a 1977 referendum.
The 13th Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade (13e Demi-Brigade de Légion Étrangère, 13e DBLE) has been based in Djibouti since 1962. Every day on multiple drives to and from the airport, I would pass by the Foreign Legion sandstone façade on the edge of the city. I’ve looked for the building in today’s satellite images of Djibouti, but I can’t find it. Perhaps it has been replaced by a more modern structure.