Let’s go to Somaliland!

Why to go?

If you want to see your family spit up their coffee mid gulp, tell them you’re heading to Somaliland.  First thought – Mogadishu and Somalia – bombs, terrorists, maybe a beheading or two… just standard travel stuff. 

What you will get

An oasis of safety in an area that has been blighted by violence.  A people who are delightful to meet and become fast friends for life.  An oral culture that is filled with amazing stories, depth of purpose and a commitment to achieving their independence.

The culture in Somaliland runs deep, as does the pride of what they have achieved in a 25 year battle to have their independence acknowledged.  Clan culture still rules the day, but there is a deep desire to grow while holding onto traditions that have led to their success.

If I were to recommend going south to Mogadishu, I could tell you about a few great security firms to be in touch with.  In recommending Hargeisa, I can tell you about lovely drives in the scrub land around the city, walks after dark in the downtown core on my own or with a few local friends, and a feeling of peace and security that contributed to the sense that you are in a truly special place.

Where to stay

I’ve stayed in three hotels in the city.  Ambassador, Maan Soor and Damal.  Overall, I like Ambassador the best.  They are a bit rough around the edges, but the staff and service are just great.  The food at Maan Soor is local and delicious and the rooms at Damal are nicely appointed.  Maan Soor seems unorganized and Damal while new, is still having some issues with organizing themselves.  Also, Damal left me feeling “nickled and dimed” about everything under the sun.  The one benefit of Damal is it is right downtown, you can walk to the local shops and get a keen sense of the vibe of the city.  Ambassador is an opportunity for quiet after a busy day!

What to see

Las Geel – so incredible and well worth it. Pay for the guide, pay for the security and try to hit it just before sundown like I did. 

Do not do what I did. Instead of the guide and security I was convinced by my local guide (whom I had just met) to head out with a group of “state security officials”, none of whom spoke English, most of whom I wasn’t sure of their names as I just met them.  I was a bit nervous as we drove for hours into the countryside, pulled off the road and drove away from any other people.  When the mobile signal died and sunset was coming I was starting to think that I would be the topic of an upcoming kidnap and ransom seminar entitled “things stupid white guys do in conflict zones”.  Alas, not so.  Instead, I made a half a dozen new friends for life, saw one of the most stunning series of cave paintings up close and witnessed a sunset over Africa that will be burned in my mind until the day I die.  It was truly magical and I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity.

The markets downtown – always a treat.  Barter, check out the fabrics, the merchants, it is a fun place, safe and with good value for some local purchases to remember your trip. 

Currency Exchange – on any corner basically.  Just look for the chicken wire cube filled with thousands of dollars of local currency.  The guy doing the exchange doesn’t have a weapon, and will probably wander away and leave a flimsy lock on the box.  It’s because he knows no one will steal the money from him – it was bizarre and awesome all at once.

If you have time – take a drive to Berbera.  It’s a sleepy fishing town that over the next five years will transform itself into a logistics hub for east Africa.  Witness it while it still has the charm of a rundown seaside town.  The local residents of Berbera are a tough lot.  They work hard and the live in a damn hot climate on the coast.  Take in the beach and have a swim in the ocean. If you can stay the night, do some diving off the coast, it is amazing.  I spent a couple of weeks in Berbera and found the people wonderful, the town charming, and the surrounding hills amazing.  Take a drive up the mountain to witness incredible citrus operations and a twenty degree temperature drop.

Ambassador Hotel http://ambassadorhotelhargeisa.com/

Maan-Soor http://www.maan-soor.com/

Damal Hotel http://www.damalhotelhargeisa.com/

Laas Geel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laas_Geel

Berbera https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berbera

Ryan is an avid traveller for work who over the last decade has had the opportunity to travel East Africa, China, India, the Middle East and Central America.  Generally acknowledged as probably insane, Ryan loves to get in with the locals, develop new business opportunities when the bullets have barely stopped flying in conflict zones, and to dive deep into local culture.  In his off time, Ryan can be found drinking camel milk, sitting with a blank face in the middle of a conversation among friends, none of whom speak English, or wondering why the vest issued by the local security company has a hole in it.