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.


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!

Avoid the ‘Phoid

He ruins everything

He ruins everything

It’s the first question people usually ask when I tell them I’m heading overseas again. “Did you get all your shots?” It’s as if they think I’m just jumping into this carefree and irresponsibly. How dare people question my planning and research? How dare people ask me such a silly inane question? The nerve of family and friends to even consider for a moment that maybe I won’t take full precaution before I leave the country! As an experienced traveler you can never be too careful and you must make sure that you do not make mistakes when it comes to vaccinations and immunizations… apparently though, I am not an experienced traveler. Oops!

The sarcasm is off now. I messed up. In all my infinite travel wisdom I decided it would be fun to wait till the very last minute to update my typhoid fever vaccination. Luckily this is my 2nd shot and it only takes a week to become effective. Also, looking up for me is the fact that I plan to stay in Addis Ababa for a week where the water is generally pretty safe compared to rural towns and villages in the countryside. The good thing about typhoid is it is pretty easily avoidable if I stick to bottled water, even for brushing my teeth, as well as making sure I keep my mouth shut in the shower.

So, if you were to ask me yesterday if I got all my shots… I would have said no. Also, I got what I deserved. A nice heavy feverish reaction a few hours after the shot. I took some Advil and laid down for a nap and it went away.

2 more days…

Geography Lesson!

I understand not everyone has a passion for geography like I do, but I feel that a pretty basic understanding of the political and topographical lay out of our planet is important to have. Some of you may be fellow travelers and geography nuts who are are reading for inspiration or trip research purposes but I think a large number are casual friends and family who just want to see where I am and what I’m doing. So this geography lesson is more about the latter group.

The Horn

The Horn

So, where am I going?

I’m heading to the horn of Africa first. This is the region of East Africa that consists traditionally of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. It has long been considered one of the most volatile regions on the continent as well as the entire world. In recent years the overall situation has improved with the exception of certain border areas and of course the chaos that exists in the southern Somali states. I’m specifically flying into Ethiopia via the capital city of Addis Ababa and making an overland journey to the northern portion of Somalia (Somaliland) hopefully ending my journey in the coastal town of Berbera. “The Horn,” as it is commonly referred to, jets out into the Indian ocean and Gulf of Aden just below the Arabian peninsula. This region is diverse in landscape and climate. I’ll find myself cooler in the Bole Mountains of Ethiopia and warmer the more arid regions surrounding the Ogaden and Somali deserts. I wrote a little bit more detail about this a few months ago here and I’ll certainly be writing in more detail along the way about the people and the politics but I just wanted to show where I’m going first.

I implore anyone reading and enjoying this blog to take out a map and really get an understanding of where I am. Very few in western society know much about the Somali people outside of what the media shows. Along the way I hope to get a better understanding myself and to shed the concept that Somalia is just a land of chaos, savages and piracy. While these things certainly do exist, there is always a deeper story.

I leave in 4 days…

Getting things in order…

I didn’t just create this website as a place to share my experiences with friends and family. It is also supposed to be a resource for future travelers to come to get an idea of what it takes to pick up your life and sustain yourself abroad. One of the most daunting tasks is the tying up of loose ends prior to leaving and making sure you have everything in order for the future. Thankfully, I’ve had a few contacts who are a bit ahead of me in their journey that have offered some tips that I may not have otherwise figured until it was too late. That being said, I’m sure there will be a few surprises along the way!

After one week of being unemployed I’m surprised with how quickly things are moving along for me. I wasn’t sure how my mind and body would react to the sudden freedom. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a problem with procrastination and laziness and figured I could very easily fall into a rut of sleeping and playing video games. I fixed one of those temptations by selling my Play Station 3 immediately.

Don't leave home with out it

Don't leave home with out it

This first week off has been incredibly productive for me. I’ve started putting items up on craigslist to sell. Like I said, the Play Station 3 is gone and now I’m working on my electric piano. The car will be the last item to go since I’ll need that up until I leave. I’ve paid my deposit for my TEFL course in Ban Phe, Thailand for April of next year. I’ve obtained my proof of “no criminal record,” from the Sheriff’s office which will be useful for job interviews. I got myself an international driving permit from AAA as well, since I was pulled over twice in Thailand and Bali and had to pay fines for not having one. I made it effective March 1st since that is around when I should be landing in Asia. The international driver’s permit is not recognized in Ethiopia and I don’t really plan on driving in Africa anyway.

I only have health insurance till the end of November so I made my last doctor’s visit this week. I need a medical pack, specifically for my trip to Ethiopia and Somalia (Somaliland) in January. I have three different types of antibiotics: Doxycycline for malaria prevention, cipro for diarrhea and a general antibiotic for any other ailments. I’m not particularly happy taking doxycycline as I’ve used it before and I tend to get nauseous from it, but I’d rather feel a little stomach sickness than find myself hospitalized with malaria. I got my updated tetanus shot . My yellow fever vaccination is still good from 2006 but I need a booster for typhoid before I go that I can only get at the health department.

There is still a lot to be done but I’m pretty proud of my first week. Some other items I’ll need to take care of is getting notarized copies of some of my documents, prepare a TEFL resume/cv, and a bunch of travel related equipment and clothing. If i wasn’t going to be backpacking in the horn of Africa before heading to South East Asia this preparation would be far easier. I could easily show up in Bangkok with just my passport and some cash in my pocket and be perfectly fine to get myself together but of course I had to make this a little more adventurous!