I could have flown from Djibouti to Somaliland, but I had heard a rumor that the Somalian airline Jubba Airways uses old, refitted livestock transport planes to transport their current human passengers… and that they’re flights are notorious for being delayed or cancelled, so I decided because of the latter to go overland. It was a little over 400km, and all I knew was that the journey would take a whole night and the mode of public transport was (outdated) 4×4 Toyota Landcruisers. In the end it took nearly 19 hours and the road there was merely a sand track repeatedly followed by the same Landcruisers, but their tires had no traction and a little bit of rain had caused 3 to get stuck on the way.
The border sold Somaliland visas on arrival, but I had had mine from the embassy. The other 5 passengers in my vehicle were either Somali or Djiboutian, and they needed a visa too, which 4 refused to pay for. Instead of turning them back, we (I didn’t realize I was innocent and free to move) were held at gun point (one was foot-cuffed) to see how long it would take them to give in and pay. In the end we waited more than 3 hours and only 2 out of 4 paid, but somehow 3 out of 4 made it through and Im still wondering what happened to that last guy.
Arriving into Hargeisa was an anti-climactic relief. The roads hadn’t really improved, just hardened and gotten dustier, and getting local money meant bag fulls of notes worth between $0.07 and $0.70 (there weren’t larger bills or any atm’s – could you even imagine withdrawing $100 from one?). Besides breaking my back being jostled around for a whole night, the Somali music had kept my spirits up, and I was happy to see some live music and eat local food at a cultural village my first night. We ate goat and camel while sitting on goatskins, but I wondered what the fat-tailed sheep might taste like or how the hyde would look with their tails flattened.
At first sight, Hargeisa had taken me back to a super conservative, Islamic place, where some women covered even their hands in gloves and girls years younger than puberty had already started covering their hair (and it was around 40°c). Covering was a nuisance in such heat, but its camoflauging ability wasn’t worth abandoning. Instead of a Holy Bible in the drawer like a typical American motel, prayer mats were provided at all hotels. Alcohol and pork disappeared, though I hadn’t really noticed it in Djibouti even though I thought I missed them, and the calls to prayer got louder and closer no matter where I was. Courtships between men and women were very discreet, with walled VIP rooms, private tents, or separation partitions set up between tables at restaurants so that no one could see who’s dating who. At least the women here were allowed to go out alone with their romantic interests, and they seemed to enjoy more colourful clothing and henna tattooing than their gulf country counterparts. Still many men had multiple wives but not as many marriages were arranged as in Oman.
I managed to make it to Hargeisa and onwards to Berbera and back without hiring an armed guard. It didn’t seem to matter I you were covered and took a local bus, but I took a private car once and the guard in the next private car behind us had to pretend to take responsibility of me to get me through the regular checkpoints, turning a 1.5 hr drive into twice as long (even though the road was paved!). We often slowed for goats crossing or dodged a camel, and every village let their livestock roam free and only fenced in their trees to keep them alive.
It’s easy to get tired of this kind of travel: it’s slow, dirty, hot, and long, but the rewards become much simpler. The payoffs weren’t any major tourist attractions or natural wonders; they’re just simple luxuries like taking a normal shower (vs. bucket shower or cold water hose) or finding wifi and some cold water to drink. Someone explained that Somalilanders think cold liquids aren’t good for you, so they don’t refrigerate much or use ice. However, they go all out on telecommunications, with cell phone service and 4g available even in the littlest shacks and faraway places.
I left Somaliland with a tummy at war, disgustingly sick from an unboiled cup of coffee, but the memories of Berbera’s coast and endless beach still made it worth it (they happened on the same day). Las Geels ancient rock art on the road between Berbera and Hargeisa was also interesting, although it could be a lot better managed for the $25 entry the guard either pockets or you pay at the tourism office in Hargeisa. But that won’t happen until more people start traveling to Somaliland, so I encourage anyone with a different taste in tourism and a sense of overlanding adventure to try it soon. At the moment it’s the safest, most peaceful part of disjointed Somalia, but you never know how long that will last!