5 Years Later: Joey Goes Global on ABC News!

Somali Civil War Tank

Somali Civil War Tank

It’s been 5 years since my last big adventure. Before embarking on my teaching career in South East Asia I backpacked through the horn of Africa and explored the northern Somalian state of Somaliland. I learned a lot about a unique part of the world after studying about it during my degree work.

On February 22, 2011 that the story ran and it’s a reminder for me to start planning my next big trip. I’ve still got a little time left before I graduate but I have a feeling I’ll be heading back to the African continent within the next couple of years for an even bigger adventure!

Enjoy the article!

Revolution Chasers Redefine Adventure Travel

Happy Independence Day Somaliland! May 18

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

Somaliland 20th Annivewrsary 18 May 11

Independence Day

18 May 2011 - Independence Day

Just wanted to wish a Happy Independence Day to all of my readers in Somaliland. I was fortunate enough to spend a week and a half in your country in January and felt welcome every step of the way. I know recognition from the international community is important and getting the story of your struggle was one of my main focuses earlier this year. Hope everyone is well!

Joey Goes Global Makes the News!

In an exciting development a portion of my story has made it into the mainstream media in the United States. Student journalist, Alex Pena of ABCnews.com interviewed me about my travel to Somaliland. The story focuses on myself and fellow traveler Ali Caldicott who tend to travel to places not quite on the tourist map. I’m not quite a revolution chaser as the headline may suggest but my main points got through in the article and Alex did a good job showing that Somaliland, while tainted by it’s southern war-torn brother, is still a place where travelers can go that is safe and exciting.

Revolution Chasers Redefine Adventure Travel
Roaming the World’s Revolutionary Hot Spots Has Its Appeal but Fraught With Risks
Published 2/22/11 – Alex Pena

Tafuro, 30, had decided that after graduation he would head to one of Africa’s most dangerous countries; Somalia, an area of the world marked by piracy and a strident Islamic insurgency. But he couldn’t resist a part of the country that didn’t officially exist.

Revolution Chasers Redefine Adventure Travel

Scratched the Syria Plan for Today

Normally I wouldn’t update this briefly but after posting about going to Damascus and the plan changing, I figured I’d let my readers know that plan was cancelled. I may still try it but I’m going to hang out in Lebanon a little bit longer. Going to go north to Byblos tomorrow and then back in the evening to try the famous nightlife of Beirut.

In the mean time, check out this video of some kids tumbling off of a tire in Berbera, Somaliland.

Are you a Muslim or Christian?

Islam permeates through every aspect of life in Somaliland. It is the first Muslim country I’ve been to where I’ve felt a real sense that the people believe deeply and that their belief is embedded so deeply that it seems unfathomable to entertain the idea of not being Muslim. There is the normal prayer five times a day towards Mecca. The prayer just after sunset means that businesses close shop for about an hour so the men can head to the mosque to pray. All women are covered in Somaliland. I thought at some point I’d come across at least a few that were not but it seems the dress is getting more conservative with time. The Saudi Arabian style with full head cover and only the eyes showing is apparently a newer fad to Somaliland that didn’t exist years ago. The treatment of women in the Muslim world is often a very hot topic in the west. I have to remind myself however, this is Somaliland. It is a free democracy. Women are equal to men in every way, meaning they can vote, drive cars, own businesses and choose what they wear. Somaliland is not an example of oppression.

It didn’t take long for Somalilanders to start asking me about my beliefs and from what I hear this is a common occurrence with all travelers to the state. Some went as far as directly asking what religion I am and even more specific, “Are you a Muslim or a Christian?” I never got the sense this question was strictly out of curiosity. It almost seems like a moment of judgment, and depending on my answer I may no longer be welcomed in Somaliland by that individual. Should I reply, “There is but one God, his name is Allah, and Muhammed is his messenger,” and hope they buy it? Should I lie and say I’m a devout Christian or worse, hint at the possibility that I don’t even share the common belief In God at all? I try very hard not to misrepresent myself, so some of the time I would simply reply, “No religion.” Other times I would pretend I didn’t understand the question as to not indict myself. I can sit here and talk about how friendly Somalilanders are and how welcomed I felt throughout my stay in the country, and I would be telling the absolute truth. I’d be lying, however; if I said that I wasn’t uneasy at times facing the reality that I was severely out of my comfort and in a world that I could only observe and not truly understand.

To Somalilanders, it seems, Islam is it. There is no choice. There is no other option. Not because they are forced to but because it is what they know. To be a Somalilander is to be a Muslim. The idea of Christianity makes sense in a historical context but I gather that any belief system outside of the two seems to put them at a loss for words. All of these things considered, I’m not an expert just after one week in the country. I welcome some of my Somaliland readers to correct me or enlighten me further. As an outside observer I can only experience so much and take my initial impressions and put them into words.

At the request of many Somalilanders, I’m just simply sharing my experience.

You’re always fine in Berbera

“Berbera, it is a tough town,” our driver said as we approached the city. Ed, the other American and I hired a driver and a soldier to escort us on the four hour journey north to the Gulf of Aden town of Berbera. Once the capital of Somaliland; Berbera is now an important port not only for the country, but for landlocked Ethiopia as well. A young immigration officer I met at the airport told me that 70% of the people in Berbera speak Arabic due to the number of ships coming and going from the Arabian Peninsula.

When our driver said it is a tough town, he didn’t mean that it was dangerous, but instead that people only come here to work. There are a lower number of women and children in Berbera as well. I found it dustier than Hargeisa and was crippled with a hacking cough for a good portion of my stay. Berbera is generally the second stop on the “tourist” route in Somaliland. Although, we still hadn’t seen another tourist in a week since arriving to the country. Berberans were curious as to why we were there, which also speaks to the low numbers of visitors they see. Generally speaking, when I travel to Africa, it is only in the far off rural areas that I really get the foreigner stare-down. In Berbera, and Somaliland in general, it happens everywhere. Why are you here? I have to tell them, tourism even though at times I find myself asking the same question.

Camel Beach!

I guess my main reason for coming to Berbera was to swim in the Gulf of Aden, which I did do. We headed to a sort of “resort” hotel a few kilometers outside of town where we had the entire beach to ourselves. It was as natural as it gets with both, black and white sands, breaking waves, mountains behind us and several camels grazing in the sun to add a final piece of authenticity to the experience. There were a few NGO workers at the resort that we never saw in town.

While in town, we spent most of the time drinking Somaliland tea, which I’ve grown to enjoy very much. A big glass costs only 500 shilling which means twelve cups for $1. It is made with regular tea mixed together with camel milk. It is quite satisfying, especially since coffee is impossible to find.

All visitors to Berbera are first confronted with ship wreckage in the harbor. These ships have been left in their places since the civil war between Somalia and Somaliland ended in the early 1990’s. I guess scrap metal doesn’t go for much in these parts.

Ships

Sunken Ships from the civil war

Another popular way to pass the time in Berbera is to chew a local plant grown in the horn of Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula, called, khat. It is spelled and pronounced many different ways but one thing for sure is that it is a sizeable part of the daily life of most Somalilanders. From about 9am on into the evening men, young and old and even some women can be seen with leaves and stems sticking out of their mouth while they lounge around and chew. Khat is classified as a narcotic throughout most of the world and is certainly illegal to grow and consume in the United States. It seems socially accepted in the horn, although I spoke with a few people who disapprove of the usage. Khat seems to be the replacement for beer in a country where all alcohol is illegal. There are certainly more khat shops than any other type of business.

After two nights in Berbera it was apparent our presence was beginning to be noticed. The local authorities had asked the hotel manager about us. They were curious about our visit and wanted to know when we were leaving and where we had just come from. I had left Ed this morning and took a taxi to the airport. When I arrived an immigration agent asked me about the other American that was in town. I told them that I had only met him in Hargeisa and we were not travelnig together. That seemed to be sufficient enough.

The airport was real simple. There was a woman checking bags at the front and a small room to wait in until the plane arrived. I flew African Express Airways which, like most East African air carriers, just uses old Russian fleets. The flight I took originated in Nairobi then through Mogadishu and then on to Berbera where I got on and flew to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates where I write this. The runway in Berbera at one time was one of the longest in the world. The Soviet Union built this airstrip that was later used by NASA as an emergency landing strip for the Space Shuttle. After boarding I peaked out the window and noticed a broken down airplane just off the runway. This was going to be an exciting take off!

Photos are being posted to my “Joey Goes Global” Facebook page

If you’re reading my website and looking for my photographs, look no further! They’re all being posted to my Facebook page at Joey Goes Global. If you have a Facebook account and want to join just click “like” on the left-side of the page and you’ll have access. It is just easier to do it this way than to upload them all directly to the website. Hope you enjoy!

I’ve put up photos from Ethiopia, including Addis Ababa and Harar and now Hargeisa in Somaliland as well.

Somaliland

Somaliland Monument

Today Was Camel Day

I am not a foodie when I travel. I have long since given up the idea that I might be. I’d much rather seek out the local variation on pizza than to continue eating something that I just don’t find pleasant to my taste buds. This doesn’t mean that I won’t try things at least once. Today was camel day.

The Camel Market

My first order of business was to find the local camel market so I could see the Somaliland tradition of the silent trade of camels and goats. Instead of shouting and bargaining, buyers and sellers tap each other’s hands in order to communicate back and forth about the price. It apparently costs about $600 for a camel and $35 for a goat. Each seller has their animals tied up and labeled. The goats are bundled together as well. I tried to take some photographs but had to be careful of where I aimed my camera. Somalilanders are very conservative and don’t very often approve of their photograph being taken. I asked one woman with a bundle of goats and she quickly pointed her finger in disapproval. Another man welcomed my curiosity and allowed me to take a picture. Also, the camels are apparently not too keen on having their video taken, as you can see in the video below.

Standing in the camel market as a foreign observer means attention is unavoidable. Many people ask me how I’m doing and where I’m from. If I stand in one spot too long the crowd thickens. After a few minutes of camel watching I decide that it is time to head back to the center of town. 10:30am is when the fresh camel meat comes so I moved quickly!

Camel Meat
I returned to the hotel after a 30 minute walk back from the camel market. Abdi, the owner, asked me if I wanted traditional camel meat or a meal put together with spices and prepared with sides. I told him I want it traditional and how the locals do it. He had just the place in mind. Abdi arranged for someone to walk me down to a restaurant called, Boodale. Good thing I had someone with me because it was pretty nondescript when I got there.

Boodale

Boodale Restaurant

I sat down inside on a wooden bench. I was the first arrival but soon the restaurant would be packed with Somalilanders looking for their morning fresh camel meat. First up on the menu was camel soup and anjero. The camel soup was salty and delicious and I drank most of the bowl that was put in front of me. Anjero is just a variation of the Ethopian injera and I have never really found it to be all that appealing. They brought out some sort of sauce next. More locals starting pouring in and were served rather quickly. I was novelty to many of them. As with most Somalilanders, they wanted to know where I was from and why I was there. I’m American, and I’m a tourist.

Eventually, the boy running the food back and forth from where they cook it brought a dish full of meat to me and began cutting it up. Another helped me identify which parts were what. The white fatty pieces were the camels hump and the darker meat was other various camel parts. The hump was definitely chewy but when mixed together with the darker meat and dipped in the sauce it wasn’t so bad. One of the guys went and grabbed me a cold coca cola and some napkins.

At the end of the meal I walked up to the counter and handed the owner a fresh $5 bill. Quite a lot of food for the money and I only had a half order. From the looks of it, men gather here in groups every morning. I definitely enjoyed the meal. The soup was the best part and the dark camel meat would have been great with some seasoning. I highly recommend anyone in the area to check it out. Ask Abdi, the owner of Hotel Oriental, and he’ll make sure you get there.

Camel meat

Do you like my hump?

Where are all the tourists?

Ali Matan Mosque

Alone in Hargeisa

I was aware before arriving in Somaliland that I was going to a place that was not entirely on the backpacker’s map yet. There are no official guidebooks for the region however the Lonely Planet for Ethiopia has a small section for travelers adventurous enough to make the journey. The fact that this country doesn’t formally exist probably has something to do with the lack of other travelers. I arrived at my hotel here in Hargeisa on Monday night and so far only two people have come since. One Swiss just left and the other is a retired American making his way around the world much like myself. According to another traveler I met in Ethiopia the minister of tourism says only about 800-1000 tourists make it through Somaliland per year.

As wonderful as it is to get a sense of distance from the crowds of most tourist destinations, travel through Somaliland outside of the capital city can get pricy for the individual traveler. You are required by the government to be accompanied by an armed soldier and must only travel via 4WD. Local transport is off limits to most travelers; however, some have been able to obtain a pass from the police minister to avoid this compulsory requirement. Somaliland officials take the security of westerners very serious. Two years ago a Danish backpacker was pulled off a local bus and shot by an Islamic terrorist organization from Somalia. Somaliland feels as though it cannot afford any further incidences that may tarnish its peaceful image, so it over-protects the few visitors it gets.

According to the owner of the hotel, five suspected terrorists from the infamous Al-Shabab offshoot of Al-Qaeda were captured in a raid in the town of Burcao east of Hargeisa just last Friday. I imagine with this news it would be next to impossible to obtain clearance from the police to travel alone. Whether or not this extra protection is entirely necessary, it seems as though it is here to stay.

The Waiting Game

Myself and the other American are giving it one more day to see if any other travelers arrive in order to cut the cost of the escort. The hotel is very comfortable here and we are being taken care of quite nicely. The free Wi-Fi doesn’t hurt either. I’ve taken an opportunity to contact home more often and upload photos and videos. There isn’t much to do in Hargeisa aside from talking to locals so I have taken as many opportunities to stop and converse with Somalilanders as possible. Before leaving the country I will write in great detail about my experiences with the people.

For now I have been researching the next leg of my trip and trying to figure out where I’m going to go. I have no ticket out of Somaliland yet and have spent time with the local airlines to find the best deal. The problem is there are very few flights each week so I’m likely to be in Hargeisa even longer than expected. This is OK because it gives me more chances to really understand the situation here and to be able to explain in more depth. Somalilanders care a lot about what the world thinks of them and it is only fair to give them a chance to show me so I in turn can write about it, and at their request, tell the world.

From Harar to Hargeisa: The Border Crossing

Border crossings are often the most exciting parts of travel. Flying into a new country takes away the transitional phase of leaving one place behind and being welcomed by another. Border crossings are generally where one must be at their most vigilant and aware. Since very few major cities lie on the borders between African nations you tend to find yourself in seedier “wild west” type towns where law doesn’t quite hold up the same as it does in the interior. Border skirmishes and banditry are common as political lines often overlap tribal and clan territory.

The U.S. State Department and British Commonwealth both offer significant warnings of making the overland journey from Ethiopia to Somalia or Somaliland. The plan was to do it as quickly as possible and to aviod any overnight stays until I reached my final destination in Hargeisa, where I write this.

Harar to Jijiga

I went to the bus station in Harar with my bag over my shoulder and just asked around for my next destination. “Jijiga?!” I would say as I approached a kid who looked like he knew what he was doing. “Yes! Jijiga Jijiga Jijiga!” and pointed me in the right direction. I got on a bus and was told 13birr (less than $1) for the 2.5 hour ride. The bus was empty so I figured it might be awhile before we leave. In Africa, there is no real time table for bus departures as they leave when they are full. I was told 11am but that really meant nothing. An Ethiopian who spoke a little English started talking to me and told me the mini buses might be better if I’m looking to get somewhere faster. So for twice the birr I left the normal bus and hopped into a minibus. We were off within minutes. The gentleman that helped me out also decided to get on the minibus. I got the front seat in between the driver and the front passenger. I had to put my bag on my lap and keep myself from bumping the stick shift. The driver was fast and we made it in very good time. There was no seat belt and a lot of oncoming traffic. I just had to hope for the best and maybe my pack would act as an air bag.

Inshallah, I made it to Jijiga in one piece.

Jijiga to Wajaale

Jijiga is the last outpost before the Ethio-Somali border. If I was going to need to stay overnight before making my way to Hargeisa this would have had to be it. I was early enough to Jijiga that I wasn’t too concerned. As I was getting off the minibus two young Somali girls had asked where I was going. When I said, Hargeisa they both replied that they too were on their way. Two men had translated for me and were asking me which one I thought was prettier. This would be my third marriage proposal since arriving to the continent. They asked if they could go with me and I said yes but had lost them in the crowd of people at the bus station. I wasn’t exactly sure what the name of the border town was but several people asked me if I was going to Hargeisa or Harar. As soon as I said Hargeisa I was told what to do. Make my way by another minibus to the border town of Wajaale and from there go through customs into Somaliland.

I got myself on the next minibus to Wajaale and before heading off the two Somali girls from the prior leg joined me. The road started out rough and unpaved and went back and forth between paved and unpaved for the next 1.5 hours. 15 minutes into the trip they collected 20 birr from each passenger. As we’re approaching the border I hear “ferenjo! ferenjo!” from behind me. One of the two Somali girls had her cell phone out and said, “number!?, number?” I signaled to her that I did not have a cell phone.

We arrived at Wajaale-Tog on the Ethiopian side at around 2pm. This would be the last time I would see my new friends.

The Border

Before we could enter the town we were taken off the buses and everyone was searched except me. I only had my passport looked at and was let back on the bus and brought across the big dirt lot to the immigration area. A local helped me directly to the Ethiopian office where I was quickly stamped out and told to walk about a quarter mile down to the Somaliland immigration office. I actually missed the office but heard a “hey, hello! you!” coming from a small room that said “immigration” above the doorway. The officer was just a young guy with no shoes on washing his feet in the middle of the floor. He told me to have a seat and reviewed my passport. As usual, the question of my occupation comes up. I typically say, student. His reply was, “I do not think you are a student, I think you are FBI.” He had quite the sense of humor and I chuckled along with him.

Wajaale-Tog to Hargeisa

Then he asked me how I wanted to get to Hargeisa. I had two options: either a contracted car by myself for $80 or a shared station wagon for $5. I asked him for whatever the cheapest is and he replied, “Cheap!? but you have Obama!!” and laughed once again. I opted for the $5 shared taxi even though I understood I was probably in for a difficult leg.

I was the last to be loaded into the station wagon and was stuffed in the back with 4 Somalis. The vehicle itself had a total of 14 people in it (including a baby). We were forced to cramp in with our limbs folded against our chest. The driver took off with a mouth full of khat (a plant that is chewed in order to get high, popular in the horn of Africa.)

We took off and spent a good hour on complete dirt roads crossing the Ogaden Desert. There are about 6 police check points. I was only asked to show my passport once. At several check points I was welcomed with thumbs up and “Thank You!” for coming to Somaliland. They must wonder what the hell an American guy is doing stuffed 14 deep into the back of a station wagon crossing the desert to get into their country. The driver refused to roll down the back window so after awhile it turned into a sauna The entire ride I thought to myself, this has to be some sort of travel badge. It wasn’t until I arrived and found out the 20 hour Djibouti crossing is far more adventurous.

I arrived in Hargeisa just before 5pm. The shared taxi wouldn’t drop me off at my hotel so I had to hop on a local bus not exactly knowing what I was doing. I didn’t have any local currency so the taxi driver handed me 1500 Somaliland shilling. A couple of Somalilanders on the bus helped me to know what stop I should get off for the Oriental Hotel, where I was staying. Once off the bus more people offered to help. One Somalilander actually walked with me until I saw my hotel. He did not ask for money and that was incredibly refreshing.

I’m now comfortable in my hotel where I write this figuring out my next move! I apologize for the lack of photos from this crossing. I never really felt comfortable pulling my camera out to draw attention to myself. If you’re reading this and wondering if the journey is safe to do yourself, I wouldn’t be too concerned. The only problems you’re likely to encounter is a bit of butt numbing and a sore back when it’s all finished. Just enjoy ourself and have a sense a humor about it all. Of course as with any border area, things can change quickly so make sure you find up to date info. But you knew that already!