Car bombs. Kidnappings. Extortion. Pirates. These are the things that usually come to mind when people mention Somalia. But just a few hundred miles north of the most dangerous country on earth is a place just the opposite: the wonderful, peaceful (independent) Somaliland.
Once I got to the Ethiopian-Somaliland border, I was shocked to find it open and almost completely unregulated. You could easily walk between the two countries without getting anything stamped… not a great idea, but definitely doable.
Somaliland is similar to Ethiopia in the sense that the words “maximum occupancy” does not exist. The minibus from the border to the capital city was definitely an experience… I’m also really good at tying my backpack to the top of a bus now!
Hargeisa, to my surprise, was a vibrant little capital city. There weren’t any paved roads to speak of, but everything was orderly and peaceful – a stark contrast from chaotic Cairo or even Addis Ababa.
I exchanged $50 and received a whopping 340,000 Somaliland Shillings – at 6,800 shillings to the dollar! It’s not as great as it sounds though considering it costs 3,000 shillings for a bottle of water!
Carrying around a bag full of money is pretty fun though!
Just about everywhere I went, people greeted me, some offered me tea, and most wanted to strike up a friendly conversation with me. Nobody had any ulterior motives or wanted money from me. It was a very genuine friendliness.
Was I in Palestine once again?
I also just happened to be there during their presidential elections. Every day it was rallies, busloads of party members, and signs – all demonstrated peacefully, of course.
Like anywhere else in this part of the world, utensils are not so commonly used, so I ate spaghetti with my hands, just like the locals. When in Rome!
I met Ridwaan and Abdi, two restaurant cooks who introduced me to ‘shurro,’ a popular Somali breakfast dish consisting of corn, milk, and spices!
I also ran into two Italian guys on the beach, the only other tourists I would end up seeing!
Unfortunately, my time spent in Somaliland was cut short by a terrible bout of food poisoning that left me in bed for the better of the next three days.
Somaliland wasn’t too bad of a place to get sick, I realized. Strangers came to my aid and brought me ice for my fever and when I went to the hospital, they didn’t even charge me a penny to see a doctor and get rehydration salts! Does Somaliland have more affordable healthcare than back home? Sadly, I think yes.
When the fevers, chills, and diarrhea finally stopped, I made my way back to Hargeisa and spent my last day swapping stories over milk tea with Ridwaan and Abdi!
But somehow through the post-sickness haze, I survived the 30-hour bus ride.
On my final night in Africa, I met up with Feleg and Agata (the two Americans I met last month) again in the upscale neighborhood of Bole, and we went to the local ‘beer garden’ for some good old fashioned Austrian-German sized drinks!
So it’s technically not 105 days of backpacking anymore… but 126. Not as catchy, as I know.
Africa this past month has taught me a lot more than I thought it ever would. It’s taught me lessons in patience and has definitely increased my physical and hygienic tolerance. I now appreciate more than ever the things I used to take for granted: a toilet that flushes, a shower with running hot water, a clean bed, and a normal car ride.
Next up… Delhi!
PS: Happy birthday to my beautiful sister, Winny!!