Hargeisa is a city of over 1.2 million people. It's in Woqooyi Galbeed province, it's the second largest city in Somalia and is the capital of Somaliland and it used to be the capital of the former British Somaliland. Hargeisa has an international airport that flies to several regional countries. For the traveler, Hargeisa isn't the most exciting of cities. The sites for the most part are lackluster but it's still fun to wander around. The central market is a place where I wandered for a bit and when people stopped me, it was to have a real conversation and not just to try to sell me stuff. The good thing though is that most of the sites/services for travelers are fairly centrally located so you won't have to many long walks. Also this is an Islamic country so alcohol isn't served here which means night life options are limited. There is also a good choice of hotels here so you really shouldn't have a problem getting a room. What Hargeisa is for most travelers is their first real stop in Somalia. A real (and safe) place to visit in a country that most people view as off limits for travelers for over 20 years.
The Laas Gaal (or Laas Geel) rock art paintings are some extremely well preserved ancient rock art paintings. I've been told the paintings are between 5,000 - 9,000 years old. They were "discovered" in 2002 by French archeologists but have been known to locals. There are several hundred paintings in several cave shelters. And you can get right up to these rock art paintings. Please be careful around them as they are fragile. There is also a small museum located at the entrance with a few pictures and a timeline. I found the area around the site to be quite beautiful but I like that type of landscape. There isn't public transportation that goes here but there are many tour companies or hotels in Hargeisa that can arrange this trip for you for around US$120 which includes vehicle, driver and permit. I didn't come from Hargeisa so I had to arrange things differently.
The first time I remember reading about Berbera was in a Lonely Planet guidebook many years ago and it said one traveler said Berbera was hot, humid and hell - and that's in the cool season. Fast forward 13 years and I can say it was hot and humid. How popular I was on the beach was annoying but I didn't find anything hellish about the place and enjoyed my brief time here. Berbera is a city of over 230,000 people. It's a port city along the Gulf of Aden that brings in some income for Somaliland. For me there was 3 reasons to visit Berbera. The first was the beach hotel on the edge of the city where I was hoping to have a little beach vacation. The second was the old colonial architecture. Though pretty much all the colonial buildings I saw are in horrible disrepair. The third is the name. Berbera sounds like one of those end of the world exotic places. Though I didn't see it, Berbera has a long runway of over 4km. The USA used to give money to the Berbera Airport to maintain this runway in case the space shuttle needed an alternate landing location. Berbera is about 150km northeastish of Hargeisa.
Sheekh or Sheikh is a town on a plateau between Berbera and Burao. It has a population or 33,000 people and is a place with a few schools. Because of it's on a plateau, the temperature is cooler than Berbera which is about 30 mins away. There a few things to look at here though nothing overly exciting. There are some free standing chimneys from the old colonial British houses that used to be here. Also there is a sign for an archeological site called Ferdusa but none of the local residents seem to know anything about it. I walked around the bushes in the area where it's supposed to be a didn't find anything. The only thing that I found that can be old is in the second picture for this tip.
Burao is a city of over 120,000 inhabitants near the center of Somaliland. It also is the capital of Togdheer province. It's not a city of great interest (at least for me) and it's a place I didn't spend too much time in. It is a city that is easier to get to since it's on a paved road and is the last major city that a western tourist can visit with relative safety along this road heading eastward. It's shortly after here where if you are heading to Erigavo, you leave the paved road and head through the plains. I found the restaurant at the ABCO hotel to be quite good if you are looking for a meal in Burao.
Due to the relative security of Somaliland and that the Somaliland Schilling isn't worth very much, you'll see money changers with bundles of cash. When I was there, US$1 equals 6,500 Somaliland Schillings. The largest note that I saw was 5,000 schillings but most were 500 and 1,000 notes. Especially in Hargeisa, you'll see a few money exchangers next to each other and they'll take shifts working so they'll be out for a good portion of the day. This is done without security guards around.
I would like to share with you a Somali Media site in Columbus Ohio : http://www.somalilink.com for stories about Somali, Somali culture and community events. The newspaper is a free publication in Columbus OH. This is your link to the Somali and African Communities.
The Independence Monument is actually just a little bit out from the centre of Hargeisa. It is a large hand holding a detailed map of Somaliland. At the base on the right hand side is the date – 18 May. Somaliland declared independence from war-torn Somalia on 18 May 1991 after finally chasing any remnants of the old Somalia Army out of its territory. Locals are very proud of their achievement and 18 May is a national holiday.
The Central Mosque dominates the centre of Hargeisa. It’s a fairly new building and the pride and joy of the town. Having said that you need to be very careful about getting close to and/or taking pictures of it. Like their neighbours across the water, Yemen, they do get defensive about it. The friendly smiles you get all the time can evaporate in a few seconds. Make sure you are with someone who is a local if you do want to see closer. You will see a lot of visitors from the Middle East coming to pray here.
Want to go to Somalia? SOMALILAND is the peaceful and Independent part of Somalia and an excellent place to go for a visit. Before you go you must have a visa PRIOR to arrival by airplane or on a land border. There are only 5 ‘Embassies’ for Somaliland in the world: USA, UK, Italy, Ethiopia and Djibouti. This tip is about my very easy and friendly experience with their office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Embassy in Addis Ababa has a few security concerns so they do not advertise their address or have any markings on their building. Do not worry! My Taxi driver knew the general directions off Bole Rd. and we stopped and asked the neighbours until we found it. It is in a very rich neighbourhood. They are open Monday – Friday 8:30am-12:30pm and 2:00pm-3:30pm. I arrived without contacting them beforehand, but I took my passport, 2 passport photos and $40. They finished it in about 10 minutes. That’s it. If you want better directions, just telephone their office ahead of time. They speak English.
If you live in a country that does not have a representative, either get it in Addis Ababa or contact the closest Embassy by telephone or email and arrange to do it by post. They even have the Visa Form you can download here:
All Passport holders need a visa and they seem to accept everyone without question.
Due to space limitations on VT I have listed their 5 Embassies on the tip below this one!
Somaliland only has one currency note in circulation – the 500 Shilling note. You get about 6000 to the $(USA). So that’s 60 notes for $5! Just to show you how safe Somaliland is and the state of the currency, just look at the pictures of the Moneychanger’s tables. Notes are stacked up in their thousands! Out in the middle of the market. These guys will give you a better rate than the Airport or hotels. There is no need to carry more than $5 except on Fridays. Fridays are prayer days and they are harder to find. There are banks, but they just seem to do business bankings. Do not be afraid to carry loads and loads of these notes in your bag. No real crime and it does not actually add up to much. In the markets and shops you can safely hand over a handful of notes and they will count out the correct amount for you and hand any extra back. What a great place!
SOMALILAND EMBASSIES ABROAD:
Osman Ahmed Hassan
102 Cavel Street
London E1 2JA
Tel: +44 0207 961 9098
Fax: +44 0207 247 6335
Mobile: 07960 287 130
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF ETHIOPIA
MR. YUSUF JAMA BURRALE
TEL: 25111 635921 / 635922
FAX: 25111 627847
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
DR. SA'AD SHIEK OSMAN NOOR
THE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOMALILAND
Cell Phone: 703 224 3449
Voice Mail: 202 467 0602
Home Telephone: 703 820 1982
REPUBLIC OF DJIBOUTI
MR. MOHAMED RASHID HAJI YASSIN
MOBILE: 253 851817
MR. MUHIYADIN AHMED ABDI GABOSE
CORSO UNIONE SOVIETICA 475
Abdirahman is the Head of a school that has 4818 students (1890 are girls), 22 teaching staff (12 are graduates) and runs a new location in Berbera with another 400 students. They teach several subjects, mainly English. English will help them in the future with internet commerce, tourism and international trade. They desperately need training materials, preferably from the USA.
Textbooks, cassette tapes and workbooks are all needed. I have listed the address below. Please send any worthwhile donation or email any school, university or charity you think can help. Because Somaliland is not recognised or have a Postal system, it often is overlooked. DHL will deliver and the school checks for packages several times a week.
YOU could help with the successful future of a new generation of African children trying to build a peaceful and prosperous future in a Democratic society.
GO FOR A VISIT!
If you plan to go to Hargeisa, please contact Abdirahman by email and or telephone. The students would really appreciate a visit! His email is:
Telephone is 252 1 302 767
The mailing address is:
DHL Somaliland C/O Sunmail & Cargo
Mr. Abdirahman Ibrahim Jama
Whether you spell it Chat, Qat or Kat, it is very popular to chew in this region. Supposedly it is mildly narcotic. I find that it tastes like grass, but does settle your tummy and wakes you up like a couple of cups of coffee. Kat is small leaves from a tree and all across large markets you will find stalls selling this every day. The stalls all have numbers and or names and fiercely proclaim they have the best Kat in town. Behind the front of the stall is a large wooden container and they wrap the Kat in cloth sacks and or fresh hay. Water is applied to make sure you receive the freshest and most moist Kat.
Kat is also chewed on social occasions, but is slightly frowned upon here by older people. They believe, and not without good reason, that young people should be engaged in education and work during the day, not sitting around chewing.
Try a little bit, it is seen as a sign of respect for their culture if you have a little bit in your mouth.
Mahamed found me rather than I finding him. I am really glad he did! Mahamed works with the Ministry of Youth and Sport and acted as my Tour Guide for several days in Hargeisa. He works primarily with Boys Basketball, Girls Basketball and Soccer. These sports do not require a lot of equipment and are very popular with the children here. Because Somaliland is not recognised, they do not get any support to fund proper facilities and really need your help! There is one very good basketball facility for boys, and one for girls. The city of Hargeisa has 700,000 people! I toured several basketball facilities where they did not even have a metal hoop to play and certainly no nets.
Football is played in the dust and they have very few soccer balls, uniforms or goals. Again, no nets either. They are also desperate for ANY coaching materials, in any format, in English. Any donations from new equipment to old soccer outfits in good condition would be well used and appreciated! I watched a team that had to trade shirts every time someone came onto the field because there were not enough tops to go around.
Mahamed is a friend of Mr. Abdirahman Ibrahim Jama and he can be contacted through Abdirahman. If you would like to meet Mahamed and see Hargeisa and/or sports sites, please contact him ahead of time.
ADDRESS FOR DONATIONS:
MINISTRY FOR YOUTH AND SPORT
MR. MAHAMED AHMED WARSAME
Jirdeh Aw Ali Building
26 June Avenue