Boys and their toys
The gorgeous little boy was so shy, but still wheeled his car right past us.
Somaliland is still fighting an unsuccessful battle with the United Nations, in trying to achieve international recognition as an independent country. The people of this territory have taken a different path to the lawless, dangerous and chaotic goings on that dominate Somalia and Puntland, both of which are absolute no go zones for foreigners. The stark contrast in Hargeisa, however, sees the capital city of Somaliland on a peaceful path since 1991, where foreigners prepared to put in the effort to obtain a visa in advance receive a warm welcome. I scooped up a visa from Addis for forty bucks, and it was not a drama obtaining the necessary paperwork to visit one of the last frontiers in this wonderful world we share.
The journal left off in Lalibela, dear reader, at the conclusion of a visit to the spectacular rock-hewn churches. I returned to Addis with Ethiopian, and enjoyed a few days catching up with my favourite gang at the terrific Wutma Hotel in the heart of Piazza. From there I boarded another early morning Ethiopian flight to Dire Dawa, the second largest city in Ethiopia, and only fifty kilometres from the famous city of Harar. The taxi driver
Get the hyena off my back!
A hyena climbs on to get meat, while his mate ponders. Mmm, Australian beef is good...
had the market cornered at the airport, and despite my obvious frustration I was keen to get a wriggle on, so ended up paying an exorbitant fare to get to Harar. He turned out to be quite the good egg though, and doubled as a quasi tourist guide to help ease the pain of charging like a wounded bull for the ride. I often feel like a little baby on the road, as I've always drawn a strange comfort from the act of travelling. It soothes the soul of your happy travel correspondent, and helps keep me centred. As is always the case, the closer we got to our destination of Harar the happier I became.
It was still early in the morning when we arrived in Harar to check in to the recommended Tana hotel, and have a quick bite to eat. I was keen to see the sights, and the hotel guide arrived as I was polishing off the last of a decent pasta dish. Before long we were up and at 'em, during a wonderful walking tour of the Old Town of Harar. The walled town is similar to many Old Towns in Africa, but it's
far more enjoyable packing in the sights with a guide to ensure nothing of importance is missed. We visited a few excellent museums as part of the itinerary, and spent a great afternoon exploring. I was thrilled with the sights, the guide and the unique culture that permeate the enclosed walls of the Old Town. The first day in Harar was excellent but it wasn't over yet...
I went back to the hotel to refresh, and my guide picked me up again to visit the legendary hyena man of Harar. Just outside the walls of the Old Towns several hyena men feed meat to the wild animals every night after dark, an experience that is unique in the world. We arrived and I happily snapped photos, before my guide gave this somewhat reluctant tourist a push towards the animals and the hyena man. He was great with the animals, and I took a turn feeding them as they came right up to my face to snatch the strips of meat on offer. At one stage the guide stood behind me as I was mesmerised by the hyenas, and one jumped on my back to grab the meat. I didn't
know what on earth was going on, but it added to an other worldly experience I'll never forget.
I was up at the crack of dawn the next day for the overland trip to Somaliland, but back in bed less than an hour later in a funk of frustration. The bus guys told me travel wasn't possible, because the road was closed for security purposes during the national holiday. It meant I got to enjoy another day in Harar where I had an interesting experience with a young beggar. He ran up to me grabbing at my hand while repeating like a broken record "Father give me money, father give me money, father give me money." "P!ss off, son" is what I felt like saying, but decided to handle the situation in a more diplomatic manner. I have a general rule of not giving to beggars, as it leads to a vicious cycle of expectation and dependency. So the young fella had no luck with me despite his persistent remonstrations.
I had a few beers and a meal with friendly locals at the hotel that evening, and hit the hay early to try to get to Somaliland ...
Outside the capital Hargeisa
again! I burst out of bed at the crack of dawn, finished packing and headed down to the bus station by 5:30am. Our minivan was full by 5:40am and headed off towards Jijiga, where a quick bus change saw a different group of travellers tearing off to the border with Somaliland. The customs guy was having breakfast apparently, so I waited around like a shag on the rock. Before too long I got stamped out, and it was time to cross the border to flash my Somali visa purchased in Addis. The Ethiopian commute was efficient but the Somali guys, by contrast, seemed to stuff around forever. There were arguments flying, people getting in and out of the car, a change of cars, then all of us squished together after paying, when the driver decided to sit down again with his mates. I have the patience of a saint generally, but we all have our limits and I suddenly banged my hand on the roof and shouted "Let's go!" I don't think the driver appreciated my outburst, but we did finally get moving a few minutes later.
I thought I'd seen it all when travelling, but traversing the road
Catholic school built by French missionaries
from the border of Somaliland for the first hour was the worst I've ever experienced. We were trying to navigate craters in a sedan during an incredibly bumpy, frustrating and oh so slow commute. At one stage I glanced out the window as we engaged in a neck and neck drag race with a pair of donkeys drawing a cart. The checkpoints were eventful too, with lots of gesticulating and carrying on. The soldiers all seemed to like my passport, and sometimes used it to whack other passengers over the head during the seemingly endless arguments. I just waited calmly, as I knew my documentation was in order. To be honest I had no idea what was going on but hey, that's an integral part of being a traveller in a foreign speaking country. At the conclusion of an eventful commute we finally arrived in Hargeisa shortly after 1:00pm.
I checked into the excellent Oriental hotel and had lunch, then organised a tour of the city with a taxi driver at a competitive price. Hargeisa is quite an extraordinary place to explore, and my friendly English speaking driver provided a crash course on the history of the territory, the
reasons for breaking away from the rest of Somalia, and the desperate desire of the people to be recognised by the United Nations as an independent country. During my short stay I came to realise there is plenty of potential for the people of this land, in fact many Somalians come to Somaliland as immigrants to escape the violence and lawlessness across the border. We all share a basic human desire to live in peace and harmony, and the people of Somaliland are doing everything in their power to ensure a better future for their children. As a matter of fact, basically all of you should be here now!
When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?" John Maynard Keynes
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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