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Published: April 8th 2012
It was another early start today, as we wanted to visit the rock paintings in Laas Geel and get to Berbera by the afternoon. We took a bus down to the city centre and found where the cars were going to Berbera. For some reason, they have buses that provide local transport around Hargeisa, but to travel outside the city there are only shared taxis. A crowd of nearly 50 people gathered to see how the 3 white guys would get on, with everyone seeming to want to have their contribution. Half of them looked like they had been chewing chat since the night before. Chat is mildly narcotic leaf, that is chewed over the course of the day. It is fairly popular here in Somaliland and in parts of Ethiopia.
We negotiated places in one shared taxi, even though we had to pay the full fare to Berbera. Laas Geel was about an hour's drive away and we got dropped at this small village, about 7km away from the site of the rock paintings. We had to negotiate with the only car in the village to take us to the site. At first he wanted $100, but we got
him down to $20. The site was down a bumpy dirt track that should only be covered in a 4x4, but we got to go in a battered Toyota, which nearly bottomed out on several occasions.
We arrived at the site and our permit, which had been paid for in Hargeisa, was checked and we were taken up to where the paintings were by a guide. The paintings are supposed to date back to 9,000 B.C., so must be some of the oldest historical sites in the world. Given their age, the paintings are extremely clear. They mostly depicted cows and their farmers. The guide was fairly entertaining and worked hard for a tip. The view from the mountain you have to climb up to see the paintings, was pretty incredible.
We got back to the town, having been harrassed by some police on the way enquiring why we didn't have armed guards. They also claimed that our travel permit was a forgery. They thought we could forge a travel permit into Somali and you do lose sight of the fact that you are in the middle of a Somali desert confronting a couple of armed policemen, when
trying to argue your point. Eventually, they relented when they realised that we weren't going to give them any money to let us pass.
It didn't take longer than 10 minutes for a cattle truck to pass and agree to take us to Berbera. The three of us piled into the cab and got to Berbera about 2 hours later, paying the driver 50,000 Somali Shillings. We checked into the Shiida hotel, which was fairly reasonable for 60,000 SIS for a triple room, with a bathroom. We then went to find the beach. We had been told the beach beside the Mansoor Hotel was the nicest and started off in that direction. A Somali guy who spoke great English pulled up beside us and offered to take us there. We didn't realise how far away it was, but it was well worth it when we got there.
The water was incredibly warm as it was nearly 5 in the evening and there was very few people on the beach, despite it being a Friday. We spent about an hour in the water jumping the waves and going for a swim. A couple of Somali lads that were there
offered to give us a lift back into town, which worked out nicely for us, even though they asked us for some petrol money when we got there.
The next day, we had planned to go to a town called Sheikh about an hour south-east of Berbera. By the time we found where the vehicles were leaving from, we were too late and the only car that would take us wanted to charge us too much. We went for a walk around Berbera, which is a much more pleasant and laid back town than Hargeisa. It is a typical coastal town in many ways, but has so much unfulfilled potential. We were greeted by many people and there were loads of school children about, who got very excited. One insisted on asking if we were Chirstian (or Christmas as they sometimes asked) or Muslim and who created us? His teacher absolutely scolded him for it and told him we were human beings and not to ask those sorts of questions. It was great to see such an enlightened woman in Somaliland, particularly as we had been consistently asked this question since arriving by the male adults, who would go
on to tell us that Islam was the 'better' religion as it was 'cleaner'.
It was so hot that we took shelter in the shade for a couple of juices and later on went to a different beach closer to the town. The water again was beautiful and the beach this time was completely deserted except for two Somali guys who followed us down or were maybe going for a romantic walk themselves. The beach was beautiful, but the surrounding area was badly polluted. We had the pleasure of passing the carcass of dead camel, which had been picked bare by various animals.
That night, we went back to Al Hayaza seafood restaurant, where I got a plate of amazing scallops. It was one of the nicest places I had been in Africa set right on the sea, with a very attentive owner. As is the way in Somaliland, there was nothing really to do after dinner, so we went back to the hotel early enough.
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