Published: January 23rd 2011December 26th 2010
“Don’t try and be a hero!” are the famous last words my dad said to me as we said our farewells for my 5th Journey. It’s the only thing that hurts about travelling sometimes. It’s letting down your family members in your selfish quest to discover new things about the world because you are too lazy to open up a book and read it for yourself. But these words that my dad said to me kept ringing in my head. But… even so it couldn’t shy me away from visiting a country that officially doesn’t exist, within a country that exists only by name. I apologise to all family members but once you read on you will realise this place is just too fascinating to miss out on.
I head off from Harar in east Ethiopia via mini bus and I am on the back seat. The smell of crusted up shit in the bus was palpable made even worse as no local had a window open. I was in a fortunate position in the back seat in between two women arguing with each other to the left and in front of me. Numerous times they’d ark up about I
don’t know what but money was involved. These same women wanted me to smuggle some qat - A local legal plant that acts as a drug. I refused and the women bitch again.
This smell of shit happened every time we hit a big bump and it lifted everyone off their seats. Although the guy sitting next to me’s breath suggested it could just be him. Landscape along the way was not that fetching. I had the sunny side most of the way so the heat made me hot and the smell intensified inside and still no window opened. Everyone on the bus preferred the smell of shit apparently. All this combined to create a heated atmosphere in between me. The ladies kept bickering with plenty of fingers spitting and outward hand gestures. Even when the bus stopped they fought for the last words. I wonder what it was about? (Two women bitching to each other I am told is a given when going overland to this country.)
As we arrived at Jijiga, Ethiopia I saw a development sign saying that a 5 star hotel is about to be built. It is in the middle of nowhere I
don’t know what brought that on. There is desert landscape with the occasional tree not much elevation to appreciate the landscape aerially.
Jijiga had an amazing amount of buses going to where, I don’t know. At the bus stop locals see a tourist and are straight onto me to help put my bag up onto the roof. Everyone wants a piece of a tip. A local guy who speaks English confirmed who to pay. 20birr for the bus 10 for the bag and I gave one to the guy who tied the bag. I spoke to the local guy in his black leather jacket whilst waiting for the bus to leave. I saw the main lady who seemed a real bitch on the last bus I say “Oh no not you.” She looked like she was joining the second bus but thankfully she didn’t. It would be my only respite as the whole day was just one big headache after another and that was mostly through these locals communicating with each another.
The houses between villages are like domed human birds nests. Instead of twigs to make their home they have taken UN food sacks, sheets and other
scraps around the place. It is incredible how inventive people are when they require a home. Another way to describe it could be a desert igloo.
The roads were pretty good and within the next 6 months the roads up to the border should be complete. The local said after I questioned “I heard that the Chinese are doing all these roads?” He said that “The road from Addis to Dire Dawa is constructed by the Chinese. Harar to Jijiga is also Chinese but the last 65km to the border is all Ethiopian” Apparently the government sent over some locals to China to learn the craft of constructing roads. Now they have given them 65km of an outpost of the country to prove their worth. At this stage the parts that they had finished seemed pretty good. Other times it was riding alongside the road.
A mini bus along the way was smashed up to the right side of the road. It was a straight bit of road, which didn’t make sense. Not too many people were around the crash site just about 4 people so I thought it was an old crash. I met these New Zealand
guys (who I heard about throughout the day) later on and they informed me that it was the mini bus that left before them and there were bodies lying on the ground, some bodies covered and a few people being carried off. That could be because the driver was on qat? (Ill explain that in next blog)
But most likely it was because of a goat or cow or camel. See if the driver hits one of these animals whilst they are crossing the road than he would have to pay the herder not only for that animal that he just killed but the future generations. I was told various prices for these animals $1K-3000. Then add the offspring. This is why the driving looks so terrible at times. Drivers swerve severely to avoid this. Human lives cost nothing but animals could cost the driver his lifesavings. An interesting discover of where humans are classed in the pecking order.
There was arguing on this second bus too but more subdued. The conductors teeth were green in between which suggests he was on qat. We arrive at Wajaale and this place was just amazingly full of rubbish. The fences
around the houses were made up of twigs and its wind block is the plastic bags and other discarded rubbish that happened to stop there when the wind picked up. When the wind does blow the whole town must sound like a delivery truck with loose packaging along a highway.
Wheelbarrows are popular here with local teens willing to carry your luggage to your next mode of transport. I would have done it but the first kid said $10 so I picked my bags up and left. The town is like most towns along the way. Either made up of tin, the domed birds nest or some concrete buildings, which make up this the border town with Somaliland, Somalia.
One of those concrete buildings is the M.A.O building, which is the immigration office. There the guy speaks really good English and stamps the passport okaying your exit. He said to me “Oh I forgot to see if you have a Somaliland VISA.” He than informed me that I was able to return here once I get a visa from the Ethiopian consulate. This was a relief as I was concerned (a bit sleepless a few nights earlier) as
how I was going to exit the country after not getting a Djibouti VISA and limited US dollars.
There are so few tourists at this border post and the officers have really good memories. The New Zealand guy I met up with said when he had arrived 1 hour earlier the border guys went “Hey I remember you! You had a bike last time!” It was his 3rd trip to Somaliland.
It was around midday so I thought I might be able to eat here and save on the US Dollars. I had failed to take a photo up until this point so I thought I need to at least capture the Wild West look of this one street town. I took a photo both ways and on one side was the border and Somaliland. Ethiopian officials weren’t happy and as I looked for a place to eat they approach me. Fortunately a Somali man helped translate that I wasn’t aware it was a border post. I was taking a photo of the street and with that I was on my way out of Ethiopia.
Immediately the greetings were more friendly not all truly friendly but it
was different to the overly bullshit friendliness of Ethiopia. The immigration was quick and I went next door for pretty good food at lunch. Before you eat you go to the sink and dab your hand on the plate of white dish detergent or laundry powder and wash your hands. They didn’t rip me off either, paying just $1.20 for a drink and a large meal. I looked for the knife and fork to eat the pasta and multiple people in the restaurant yell out and indicate “Hands!”
I then walk with my two ‘friends’ (well one was a nice guy the other was looking for a small amount for his useless help) to the shared taxis, which are 20m back from the immigration towards Ethiopia. You can tell they are a taxi rank by the sight of multiple cars with cracked windscreens. I had a chance to leave early with a car nearly full (well full but not African Full, Africa like to try and fill up the container until its bulging and Somaliland is no different.) They were charging 100birr than 30 birr for my bag.
Now this is the beauty of travelling you have information
like there is a mini bus and it costs 20-30 birr but that info in the guidebook is wrong (most likely.) So I use this as a measure to not get ripped off (too much.) Maybe it was hearing so much yelling from the day but I raise my voice and act in true local fashion. A bit of hand movements and dramatically get my bag out of the trunk of the car. I walk off go to immigration who doesn’t help too much. He said that yes 100. I go back and agree 100 for the bag and me. The New Zealand guys had to pay 130 one hour earlier. That’s about $2 more. We are pioneers here for the next generation of tourists if we make it difficult now than maybe the next generation don’t have to get bullshitted as much. I doubt it but we have to try. I ended up waiting around for a further 45 minutes because of my stubbornness.
In that time I get my first headache of all my travels through people purely talking between one another. This incredible way of communicating was like no other. I looked at a fly cleaning
itself on my small backpack sitting on my lap. I looked at it and thought I am like you at the moment its as if I am not here but here observing a place and truly one of the first few people in this living world to witness it.
The borderline was interesting the rubbish was so intense that decomposing started fires. I bought a ‘NEWSWEEK’ magazine the previous week and I couldn’t help but read the medical article for a bit of light relief. I don’t normally read that section but sometimes when for an hour people are yelling to each other over money or which car someone is going to sit in and who knows what? You need to drift away.
It was an interesting article on how medical companies aren’t putting too much effort in finding new antibiotics instead concentrating on the more profitable drugs for serious diseases.
After a long time waiting in the front seat I was joined by a lady in a long black dress who jumped at the chance to sit next to yours truly. Her face is burkard up and apart from her eyes. She had blue and brown
coloured fingernails as the only characteristics I could tell.
When we eventually leave we drive onto the main road to Hargeisa the capital. Within the first 100m we are onto the off road as it is a less bumpy than the main road – Possibly the only country in Africa to get no help from China with roads. The only signs of foreign help are the Swiss and UK help with demining the land, which would have been years ago now. The off road is a mix of safari like smooth dirt roads to 4wd track. It took about 2 hours to get to the capital passing eucalyptus trees and the odd grouped cactus. Farming is limited in a dry desert landscape.
Three checkpoints we went through with each one smooth once they saw the Visa. The first checkpoint though, the soldier turned his back and flicked through the pages and looked like he was ripping my passport pages. I get out of the car and with my first footstep on the land of Somalia I am told, “Okay, okay!” My passport was fine.
From the dry yellow desert to white buildings in the distance. Hargeisa is
much larger than I expected. Despite the dirt roads it is cleaner than Ethiopia. The buildings are cleaner and it seems a normal town.
We stop in the centre of town just past the large and modern building that is the gaol. This is a place with only minimal support and part of a lost state. First impressions were that this doesn’t seem right. There seemed to be structure to this place. But even so my first walk with all my belongings for only 2 minutes to my accommodation started with moments of concern. I didn’t want to be cocky and think everything is all right. Than a different “Hello how are you” to other places in Africa like Addis Ababa. This was sincere
There is something really hard to explain about going through a tough days travel and then realising the reward that you knew was going to be rewarding but didn’t know what that reward was going to be.
That reward is to find a special group of people, a truthful group of people that is so rare now travelling. Backpacking doesn’t get this feeling. This is a travellers feeling.
Okay this first part
probably doesn’t make this place sound appetising but give it time it’ll grow on you. The next blog will reveal it all!!
There are more photos below