Vince in Seattle
It all started years ago when I traveled to east Africa, first to Tanzania and then to Madagascar. As I flew over, I knew somewhere down there was the Horn of Africa, the area that had been an integral part of trade routes for thousands of years. There, separating Yemen and Oman from Africa, was the Gulf of Aden, coming right in from the Indian Ocean. I knew most of the ships on earth, including massive oil tankers, passed through these straights back and forth to the Suez Canal. I knew about volatile Somalia, unpredictable Yemen. Like many, I knew of the Blackhawk Down incident in Mogadishu and crazy piracy on the coast of Somalia. My 10 year old daughter was once obsessed with pirates and Somalia. For the better part of a year, she asked me about what it would be like to travel there. I dissuaded her, told her it would be terrible. I was mistaken.
I live in the Seattle area. Peripherally, I knew we had quite a few Somalis living in our region. For some reason, you don’t see them that often. I think it because they are relatively private and mostly live in an area down close to Seatac airport. We are well accustomed to Ethiopians in our region but to me, the Somalis were a mystery. I often seek cultural experiences in my own town and made a promise to myself to go learn more. I had put it off, just not gotten around to it. One evening about 7 years ago, I met a Somali man at a pub, he was just fantastic, had a joyful spirit. We talked for about 4 hours, he made me promise to come down and experience Somali culture in Seattle. I lost touch with him but finally lived up to my promise, visiting the area about 2 years ago for the first time. What I found surprised me, a thriving community self contained in this region, nice people, delicious food.
Fast forward a few years. When my trip to Ethiopia became a reality this past year, I obsessively read about it as I made my plans. I of course looked at maps, aware that Ethiopia was bordered by Eritrea and Somalia. My perception was that Ethiopia was an island of peace and stability in a region in turmoil. I made plans to go to fairly remote places on my trip, always with sensitivity that straying too close to other borders would be dangerous. I knew that the US had a drone base in southern Ethiopia that they used to conduct raids on the radical Somali group Al-Shabaab
One night last fall, I was reading the blog of an intrepid traveler who had crossed overland from the eastern city of Harar in Ethiopia to the Somali region, up in the north of the country.
At first I thought he was a fool, describing an exciting trip overland, a somewhat surreal border crossing and then his adventure. Instead of a war torn, dangerous place, he described a region up in the north of the Somali territory called Somaliland. This was the first time I had even heard this term, no idea what it meant. I was intrigued, dug deeper and discovered a few more blogs from backpackers who had taken similar trips. They talked of delightful people, prehistoric cave paintings, stunning beaches on the Gulf of Aden, delicious seafood, camels everywhere, nomadic structures and a relatively safe region. Now they had my attention.
So, for a matter of weeks, I dug deeply to find out what I could. There wasn’t much information to be had from other travelers. I did learn that Somalia had been occupied by the British in the North, the land had been called “British Somaliland”. It was relatively resource poor, held mostly as a reliable source of meat (goat, camel, sheep) for British soldiers. The east and south of Somalia had been colonized by the Italians. In the nomadic clan culture that dominated Somalia, it seemed that the ones in the north had more civility and the ability to create peace through dialogue.
The south seemed to have a long history of unpredictable behavior, lawlessness and violence. Although hesitant, I began to have fantasies about going to this place, even though very few people seemed to know about it. Was it possible?
It is every real traveler’s dream to find a place that not many people have gone, some place mysterious, unique, authentic. There aren’t many of those places on earth. In a holy grail moment late last fall, I learned that Ethiopian Airlines flew to Hargeysa, the capitol of this “Somaliland” area. I learned farther that Somaliland had in the last year instituted visa on airport arrival, making it easier and faster for travelers to visit, even though few still did. I got a small guide book that had been written by my friend Philip Briggs, the author of the Ethiopia book. It was a far off dream that still seemed a bit scary but I dug deeper.
I learned more historic context. In the 60s, the two regions of Somalia tossed aside their colonial masters and joined as one, called Somalia. Born from joint shared hope and the juicy promises of a seemingly populist government based in Mogadishu. there was initial excitement. From the beginning, it was a disaster. The regime of Mohamed Siyad Barre became increasingly repressive, something that wasn’t well received in the north part of the country, an area that had always had relative autonomy under the British.
As the disagreements heightened, eventually Siyad Barre focused his wrath on the north, killing 300 to 500 thousand people in a genocidal rampage. A resistance force was formed, operating in Ethiopia. As Barres moral authority eroded to almost nothing, his hold on power slipped. In the year 1991, the people of the north fought to victory, establishing their own area and achieving independence this year.
That was 24 years ago, this region has all the mechanisms of a country: government, military, banking, police, trade relationships with other countries. So, why isn’t it a country and why on earth have almost none of us heard about it? The answer lies in the fact that the EU and USA have never pressed the issue of statehood, deferring to the AU (African Union) to make that decision. The AU has hesitated, thinking that granting statehood would encourage other regions of African countries to secede. It is odd though. In that time, South Sudan and a couple other place have been granted country status. I think there are a number of countries, including Ethiopia, who benefit from the undefined status of Somaliland.
In the absence of international recognition, “Somaliland” has had to be incredibly resilient. They have no access to the international banking system, making it very difficult to attract development money. There are international aid organizations active there, but not even close to the degree they are in other countries. It is primarily a cash economy, propped up by money sent home by Somalilanders who left during the war and live in the western world. The port of Berbera on the Gulf of Aden is the main place of commerce, moving millions of camels, sheep, goats to the middle east. It is also Ethiopia’s (being landlocked) access to the sea
So, even with this knowledge, there was a huge air of mystery to this idea. The few people I floated the idea to, including seasoned travelers, seemed very apprehensive. It was amazing to me that this place existed and hardly anyone knew about it. I decided that people’s worry was born mostly from lack of information. I studied more, visited the Somali parts of Seattle, hung out and drank tea with them, gathered more information and stored the idea as a definite possibility during my trip to Ethiopia. At some point as I got close to my trip, something scared me, not sure what, my own self doubts probably. I went so far as to throw my Somaliland guide away to not be tempted by the thoughts, a Pandora’s box perhaps.
So, when I made that decision to not go deeper into tribal land in southern Ethiopia, it was with sadness but being replaced with the idea of making the Somaliland trip a reality. I had talked to a few people on my trip in Ethiopia, I of course was feeling pretty empowered after being on the road for more than 2 weeks. Almost like a trip within a trip, an adventure that now became a burning desire. I had to go to see it, get to the sea. When on earth would I have this chance again? I had the ability, the information, the money, the time. Let’s go. Still, there were those in Ethiopia who questioned my sanity. I heard words like “they are so uncivilized there”. “Do you know what you are doing?”. “Somalis can’t be trusted”. Each time, it seemed to be someone who didn’t know much about the distinction between the north and south.
Still a bit nervous, the morning of Jan 10th, 2015, I walked up to my gate at Addis Ababa airport. I was put at ease by the kind looking people at the gate, a combination of Somali people coming back from the west to visit, Somali and Ethiopian businessmen, a few aid workers. Everyone seemed friendly, low key. They were surprised when I told them I wasn’t an aid worker or businessman, that I was just going to see it. This of course made the Somalilanders on my flight smile. I met a distinguished looking Somali man on plane, he was over in Ethiopia for a meeting. He was a general during the war of 1991. He told me that many of his relatives have left to go to the west for opportunity but that he has chose to stay here and help build the nation he fought to help create.
I also had an interesting chat with a large Dutch man with a strong presence. He is the president of a press freedom organization that works all over the world in countries that are attempting to build democracies from tattered situations. They had been in Somaliland for years, training journalists who rotate in from Mogadishu to get training and then go back. Interesting, he said that there is even more press freedom in Somalia proper than Somaliland. His organization’s goal is to eventually let local people run the efforts, he was coming on this trip to see if it was time to pull his people out of Somaliland, now that the program was running well. There were more acute areas of need right now, in particular South Sudan.
I was quite sleep deprived and it only added to the surreal quality of what I was doing. We flew over the mostly arid east of Ethiopia and an hour later touched down at the small airport of Hargeysa. I had done it, no turning back now. At the airport, there were soldiers with big machine guns, security was taken seriously. I guess there is constant worry that the radical elements of the south will try to infiltrate the north, there was an attack about 5 years ago that was quickly repelled. I quickly got my visa from a broadly smiling woman at the desk. A sweet man from my plane helped me through the little airport, sorted my backpack and directed me to one his friends outside, who told me he would give me a ride into the town center. I had no plans but leads on a couple rooms for the night. I had heard that English was spoken here but had begun to learn just a few words in Somali in case I needed them.
And then, just like that, I dropped off at a busy market area in the capitol of Hargeysa. I was looking for a small hotel called the Deero Hotel. I had wanted to change into longer pants to be respectful of the culture but wasn’t able to, was still wearing my shorts. My hope was that I could duck into my hotel and take care of that. I asked directions from a few people, was walking where I wanted to go. One man I asked directions from asked me if I wanted to go to Berbera on the sea, that they had a shared ride of people about to leave and they would only charge me $5. It was a small not so nice car. I was a bit apprehensive, an older gentleman put his hand on my shoulder, looked in my eyes and said it was fine. I thought “what the heck”. I was going to try to get there the next day, why not now?
The driver was somewhat apprehensive to take me as there were checkpoints along the way and I guess as a foreigner I needed a special permit to travel at night. It was early evening, we still had a little light so he decided we would be okay. My first impressions of this country are that the people are amazingly sweet. It seems very orderly here, my fellow passengers bought me a tea before we left. Hargeysa is at a bit of altitude. It is also the cooler time of the year so the omnipresent heat of this area is not as bad.
I had heard that Berbera on the sea could be sweltering, although manageable this time of year.
So, I hopped in. I was told by the older gentleman in my car that when we passed the checkpoint, to tell the officers that I was exempt from the night driving requirement, as I had talked to the bureau in Hargeysa and was a traveler and a writer here to say good things about Somaliland. We had some pretty bad traffic getting out of Hargeysa, I think there had been an accident in front of us. We finally reached the Berbera road, we were all getting a bit nervous as it was darker than we had hoped and there would be more potential for problems at the checkpoint. Along the way, I peppered my fellow passengers to learn more Somali words, there were amused, somehow I felt I might need them sooner than later. I was right.
We got to the checkpoint, which was about 30 minutes outside of Hargeysa. Sadly, the head policeman turned me back for lack of permit, even with my story. He told me that he was doing it for my own good, to stay in the capitol tonight and come to Berbera tomorrow. My fellow passengers, rather than being upset, kindly offered to take me back to town. They said “you have come around the world to visit our country, it is the least we can do”. I told them I was sorry and thanked them for their kindness. I didn’t know but they started hatching a plan.
We rolled back to town, exactly the opposite direction all these people were headed. I guess one of the people in my car knew one of the head policemen in the whole country, we dropped by a main precinct station on the outskirts of Hargeysa. My fellow passengers had me get out, I had changed into long pants by now. I walked down these narrow hallways of an old building. In an office way in the back, I met the head police chief. He greeted me with a huge smile and delicious cardamom tea and cookies. He heard my story, laughed out loud, said he would take care of it. He radioed ahead and told the people at the checkpoint to let me through. He gave me a hearty slap on the back, told me to come back and see him when I returned.
There was a feeling of levity and excitement as I got back in the car. My fellow passengers were elated that this idea worked, we were in a celebratory mood, made promises that we would all stop for dinner along the way. We rolled out of town again, I can remember it vividly. We got back to the checkpoint, passed right through with no problems and then rolled on along the open road. The night air was a touch cool. I saw camels walking by, nomadic ramshackle huts as we sped across the countryside, looming rocky outcrops in the distance. They played Arabic oud music on the radio, I truly felt like this was an amazing experience. We stopped for a pee break on the side of the road, there were a million stars in the sky. In the distance, there were about 100 people and cars, my passengers explained to me that it was funeral. The person probably died this very day, there is no cold storage in Somaliland so funerals happen the same day as death.
We drove on, pulled over in a small town, appeared to be a large outside eating area catering to people who drove this main road in the country. My fellow passengers and I walked inside the compound, I was ushered to a comfortable seat in the place and served a big plate of spaghetti, delicious cardamom tea and tasty plate of liver with onions, tomatoes and spices. I wasn’t sure, but I think it was camel liver. I was starving. I’m not a liver guy but it tasted good. We hopped back in the car, rolled out toward the seaside and port town of Berbera.
One of my fellow passengers told me about a nice affordable place to stay near the sea called Nayrush. They came in with me to make sure there was a room and that I wasn’t being overcharged. They waved a hearty goodbye, we made plans to meet for tea while I was here. My room was just perfect, clean, spacious, tile floors, 2 blocks from the sea. I had a view down over the gritty port and fishing boats, could hear the voices of commerce and life down below. There was a super clean shared shower just outside my room. It had been one hell of a day, I was home now, cozy room for $8 night. I flopped down exhausted and slept hard.
Up the next morning very excited about 6:30AM. I had changed a bit of money with my fellow passengers last night, enough to get me started. They told me that there were money changers everywhere on the street and I would have no problem, American dollars were coveted. The exchange rate was 7000 Somaliland shillings to $1USD. The largest bill was a 1000 shilling not, many times the only bills available were 100 and 500 shilling notes. I would be carrying wads of cash, which I was told was perfectly safe as there is no crime here.
I walked outside, down to the corner. There wasn’t much coffee here, I would have to search hard for that. Delicious tea was everywhere though. I found a tiny place on the corner, hole in the wall with local men hanging about. I think I shocked them when I walked up, quickly about 15 guys surrounded me and they all greeted me, slapped me on the back and thanked me for visiting. I had heard people were kind here, this was my first overt example. To a man, they competed to buy me tea. They brought me over a tasty crepelike thing with drizzled honey all over it. They sat next to me and just watched me when I ate. Some spoke a little English and asked me questions about my journey.
After an hour or so, I waved goodbye to my new friends and walked out to the street. I was walking around aimlessly, a guy drove by, pulled over, got out of his car and said hello. His name was Abdirasaq, he works as an accountant at the large Berbera port. Just my luck, he told me he was free this day and would love to show me around. He told me that 3 million head of livestock are moved through the port each year, as well as oil and all kinds of goods for Somaliland and Ethiopia. He told me that his father was killed during the genocide of the late 80s, he like many I met had a visceral disdain for the southern part of Somalia. The refrain I would hear again and again was “we are peaceful and loving, they are crazy”.
Abdirisaq asked me what I would like to do. I just needed to get to the sea, had been told that there was a nice beach a few miles away. He took me there, out across a somewhat desolate area near a resort hotel called the Mansoor that believe it or not runs scuba tours. I saw large groups of camels being walked on the road, walked the lonely beach with my new friend. It was very beautiful and clean, pretty shells. I dipped my toes in the water, something about it was great, connected to the ocean vastness and things beyond. After an hour or so, we left, drove back to town. We picked up a fisherman buddy of his, who he told me had been a war hero, got to tour the fishing docks with him and learn a bit about fishing commerce. I had been told the seafood and fish here was delicious, soon I would taste it.
It was hot but not too hot. My friend was just fantastic, introduced me to people all over town, told me about clean water windmill project he is developing on some land he owns in the mountains. It sounds like an ambitious effort, financed in part with World Bank funds. He took me over to his part of town, visited an area where there were many graves from the genocide. He explained in detail the history of Berbera and Somaliland to me: the war, their attempts to be recognized as a country by the international community. He took me into his home, a lovely little place made of stone, which kept things pretty cool inside. I met his sweet wife, she brought us delicious tea and burned incense (I think frankincense) that is commonly used here.
We went around and met a few more of his friends. I was given little gifts everywhere I went, It was literally impossible to pay for anything. We sat down, had tasty coffee and orange juice in an outdoor cafe that seemed to be frequented by the commanders of the local police force. The head captain called me over to his table and asked us to join him. I told him the story of the roadblock, meeting the head police guy in Hargeysa, the checkpoint and how I got here. He loved it, told me that if I needed anything in Berbera, to come directly to him. I have to tell you, having the ear of the head of police is a comforting thing.
Things are evolving all over the place, I got offers from a few people to do things. I just me a sweet 60 something Somali couple who had lived in London for many years and were back here now helping in their own way to rebuild this country. They had a small fleet of successful fishing boats and a number of other business ventures, were interested to hear about my buddy’s windmill project. We were all sitting together and were joined by the cousin of my accountant buddy, who is studying at the local marine academy to be a captain.
Was I dreaming? I was being treated like a rock star everywhere I went. People kept buying me things. When I asked to contribute, the answer every time was “We are so honored that you came to our country. Please just tell the world about us”. That’s what I’m doing now, I guess. After coffee, all my friends and I had a massive lunch of huge grilled whole fish, chapati bread similar to Indian Naan bread. There were also veggies, pasta, soup. They literally made me gorge on food, insisted that I eat all of it and then of course wouldn’t let me pay a cent.
My accountant guy had to go run some errands, left me in the care of his marine captain cousin. I wanted a haircut, went to a little place next door. The owner of the barber shop wouldn’t let me pay, could not stop massaging my head after he cut my hair and gave me a straight edge shave. This one guy in the barber shop told me that his grandfather had been British, I could see it in his face, he seemed very proud of his ancestry. The British had been here for many years, there was evidence architecturally with government buildings still standing.
To a man, the people were precious here. I had learned about 25 words in Somali and continued to amuse people with my attempts to use it. I was being hugged and called “walal” (brother) everywhere I went. After my haircut, the cousin drove me back to my hotel. People seemed to rest during the heat of the middle part of the afternoon and it was expected that I would want to too. They could also tell I was a bit loopy and needed rest. I was supposed to connect with the fishing boat owners later in the day to ride on their boat but was doubtful I could find the energy. I was stuffed from food, hot, exhausted and just wanted to sleep.
Never made it out in the late afternoon to meet the boat owners. I passed a message on to them that I was just too tired and would see them tomorrow. It was just great to chill in my room that afternoon, lying on my bed with the warm air blowing in from outside, noises of the street below. There was quality to this place that seemed taken right from a novel. Heat, tea, cawing crows around, seaside port, crumbling old architecture, colonial history. I fell asleep for a few hours, late that night about 10PM, I wandered downstairs to an open air place and had fried chicken, sauteed onions, rice, tea and more tea. There were quite a few cats roaming around the cafe, they seem to have a special place in this culture and are fed at the table. I let them know quickly that I wouldn’t be feeding them at my table, they were persistent. I wandered the quiet streets and port area after dinner, strolled back to my room and slept.
I had made arrangements to meet my fishing boat friends the next morning for tea. I wandered down to my corner place, a few of the regulars who I had met the day before came over and said hello, free tea and crepes were brought to me quickly. I didn’t see my friends. When I was done, I walked out on the street again, wanting to get back to the beach but having no real plans and wondering what the day would bring. I was keen to see some of the old crumbling architecture in town, have a look around. Somali peculiarities: large stacks of money being openly traded on the street, cats fed at the table, bad coffee but great tea, no ATMS, incredibly sweet people, pasta served everywhere, camel milk in tea.
As I wandered about, I was stopped by another guy driving by, a young local physician named Ahmed Suleiman Mohamoud. He greeted me warmly, told me he was free for a few hours and asked what I was up to. This was pretty amazing that this kept happening. I hopped in his car, he told me that he had gotten a special grant a number of years ago and went to medical school in Taiwan. He said it was so beautiful, talked about that opportunity as being life changing. Rather than fleeing his country, he was committed to staying here and working toward it’s betterment. He told me that their equipment and facilities are limited here at the local hospital, they do basic surgeries but that more advanced things have to be done in Hargeysa, Addis Ababa or abroad if the people can afford it.
We talked about his surgeries here, mostly orthopedic large bone procedures. His lack of equipment and supplies was slowly being helped by NGOs. We talked about FGM, something I had heard had been common in past years. he answered passionately, told me that it was an old tradition that dies hard, how there are many health complications that present after procedures. He told me that this is thankfully fading away and more common in the countryside. We spoke about general safety and he made his point by asking me how much cash I thought he had in his pocket. I answered $80. He pulled out a wad and told me $2000 USD, completely and totally safe, crime is nonexistent.
We spent a couple hours driving and walking down little alleys. He toured me around old British architecture, even older Turkish architecture and even the remnants of a Jewish synagogue. We went back to the beach at my request, had delicious lunch at the classy Mansoor Hotel of roasted goat, salad, rice, mango juice and surprisingly good coffee. While we were there, my London fishing boat friends came up, surprised to have missed me this morning. I guess they had come to the cafe a few minutes after I had left. My doctor friend had to go run errands so it was perfect timing.
I walked down to the beach with my other friends, hunted and found many pretty seashells. The water was so clean and inviting, I jumped in with my long pants and went for a swim. There were pretty corals just off shore and lots of little fish darting about. On this hot day, the water was refreshing. A number of people were at the beach, frolicking in the surf. I met a fun Somali couple who had lived in Melbourne Australia for 20 years and had spot on Aussie accents. They, like many I met, were back on holiday to their motherland. They told me that they had come down from Hargeysa. They told me they thought it was gorgeous here but could only take the conservative nature of the town for a couple days. I was kind of feeling the same, felt that it was time to head back to the bigger city of Hargeysa the next day.
I enjoyed the beach and a number of people I met. My fishing friends showed me their boats, we shared another tea and then they dropped me at my room. It was another fun day, just was going with the flow of this welcoming place. I chilled in my room, surprised that I had decent wifi. I came down late again, had a tasty fish dinner, ready in advance to deal with the cats. With a full belly and a pocket full of memories, I went to sleep happily, up at 5:30AM the next morning to try to catch an early bus.
I walked out, for the third morning in a row treated to tea and crepes. I got over to an area where there are minibuses, got a seat and hoped we would leave soon. After sitting for a really long time, I realized that I was the only passenger and we wouldn’t leave until the bus filled up. There were 9 other minibuses here, the drivers all seemed perplexed at where the riders were. I got tired of waiting, told my driver I would be at my hotel and to pass by and grab me when the bus filled up. I grabbed my bag and headed away.
As I walked down the street, a guy name Mohamed Ishmael stopped me and honked, told me he was heading to Hargeysa and would let me share the 3 hour ride with him for $8. It seemed reasonable and there were no other rides. I hopped in and we zoomed away. I soon learned that he was a driver and that his strategy was to just grab whoever was around and pick up more people along the way, even for short hops. After witnessing the drivers in the minibuses hanging around for hours, it seemed like a prudent idea. We sped across the vast savannah, I could see now clearly the nomadic structures and beautiful but challenging landscape.
The way back was fun, I really enjoyed the landscape, giant termite mounds everywhere, some as high as 20 feet. He played modern Somali music, I dare say I liked it much better than Ethiopian music, sorry Ethiopian friends. Mohamed pointed out many places along the way, the houses were often patched together with metal and scraps and had an end of the world feeling to them. We passed by the turn off to the ancient, pagan cave paintings of Las Geel, I would try to come back the next day to see them but now wasn’t the time. We whizzed past the checkpoint, the head officer recognized me from a few days earlier and waved us through. Before I knew it, we came into bustling Hargeysa and I was dropped in the same market area I had seen briefly three days earlier. It seemed like the 3 days had been a lifetime, I was completely comfortable and relaxed now, it had seemed so mysterious before, funny.
I strapped on my pack, walked three blocks to the venerable Oriental Hotel. It was built in 1953 during the last few years of British occupation. I absolutely loved the place, gracious interior with many original features. Although it was bombed during the war, it wasn’t ruined. It was from another time and in the best way. It almost seemed British in nature, I can imagine officers staying here in years gone by. I was greeted at the front desk by a guy named Ahmed. He was of Somali descent but had a perfect London accent. He was raised there since he was very young boy, he had come back for 6 months to help his relatives run the hotel. It was actually his first time he had been to Somalia.
Besides the classic charm, the place had an elegance and sophistication to it. The lobby and inner atrium were filled with expats coming back to visit, local businessmen. Toward the end of the inner courtyard, a gorgeous espresso machine pumped out drinks, people were happily milling about, sitting under canopies and visiting. I was, as usual, beckoned over to table and am waiting now for my macchiato and “shuka-shuka”, eggs with a garlicky, tomato meat sauce. I was taken to my gracious $15 room, overlooking the town center. The room was very nice, spacious, cable TV, wifi, dark wood accents with a reading desk and lounge chair.
I had a rest and a shower and then stepped out into the vibrant town. Everyone was friendly, there was a “can do” attitude around town, that they were all working together, despite their challenges, to create something stable and lasting. Over the next couple days, I walked a lot, going nowhere in particular. I met Brits, Aussies, Canadians, Americans, all of Somali descent. Some of them were back to contribute and start businesses, the vast majority were just here to see relatives, many of them misty-eyed, coming back to their homeland for the first time ever. Am I really only 3 weeks into my journey? It seems incredible, like I have had so many trips within this trip. I am relaxed, immersed. I wandered the streets, ate pretty much any food I could get my hands on, payed for it later but oh so tasty and fun.
My bowels had a rough night back in my room after dinner. The steak that I had was excellent, I think it was some fresh fruit that I ate on the street that got to me. As a traveler, you know what you should do and shouldn’t do with food but sometimes get caught up in the moment. I wouldn’t trade all the tasty street food I have had around the world and incredible experiences that have come with it for the occasional discomfort.
There were just a few Westerners around town. I had met a guy named Dirk from Germany, he works half the year in Turkey as a dive instructor and then travels the other half. He and I made plans earlier in the day to share a driver and guide to the Las Geel cave painting site the next day. Late in the evening, I left him a note under his door telling him that I was feeling too sick too make it. Thankfully, he didn’t get the note, I must have put it under the wrong door. I slept somewhat fitfully, dosed on Cipro antibiotic and drank lots of water.
I woke the next morning, actually was awakened by the hotel manager telling me Dirk was ready to go. I felt just a touch better and willed myself to get up and go. After a bit of dry bread and egg and lots of water, we set off with our driver back out the coastal road. After an hour or so, we turned off and headed for a rocky area, looked similar to Arizona or Utah. We parked, paid our permit fee and walked up to these huge rocks.
What came next was just staggering. For the next two hours, we wandered around beautiful, weather sculpted rocks. The pagan cave painting depicted cows, dogs, human, giraffes, elephants (interesting, as they are long extinct here). Really amazing natural location, the vivid paintings are believed to be 7000 years old, preserved by the caves and dry climate. They would be world famous if anywhere else on earth. After a most excellent visit, we headed back to Hargeysa, Dirk caught a ride back toward Berbera, where I had just come from.
It had been a great day, I got back to my hotel, feeling a bit better. I rested, went out to brave the cuisine world again. I ducked into a little local place, for dinner had fish cutlets in green tomato sauce, spaghetti with meat soup and lots of tea. I was sitting there, sipping my tea and eating, thinking about what a great time this had been. Although I was scheduled to stay another couple days here, I suddenly thought “I have time for one more adventure before my trip is over if I get back to Ethiopia tomorrow”. I went back to my room, packed my bags, headed to sleep. I would try to get on standby at the Somaliland airport tomorrow. This country had been full of nothing but good so far, it had to work out. Thank you Somaliland, for showing me something so authentic, so pure. This is the reason I travel.