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Bēhance

  • Somaliland 2013
    Wajaale, Dhagax Khoure, Hargeisa, Berbera and Ga'an Libah - half way to Mogadishu
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    April 2013 - the second leg of our journey from Ethiopia to Mogadishu took us to Somaliland, perched on top of the Horn of Africa.
     
    We travelled on local buses from Harar east to the border at Wajaale, where we met Mohamed, our guide, Mohamed, our driver, and Ibrahim our bodyguard. In Somaliland, when travelling outside cities the police insist you are accompanied by an armed escort for protection – while at the same time insisting that there is absolutely no danger and nothing to be protected from. We never quite got to the bottom of that contradiction. 
     
    To say that Somaliland is not set up for tourism is something of an understatement. This is a country where people seem amazed to see westerners, and are more amazed still if they hear you're a tourist rather than a journalist. Infrastructure is limited, and so is your freedom of movement.
     
    This place has been forgotten or ignored by most of the rest of the world, and despite being peaceful and having a functioning, democratic government, police force and army for the last 20 years, it is still not officially recognised as a country in its own right.
     
    It's not always the easiest place to travel – it can involve a lot of bureaucracy and confusion: tourists are such a rarity that on our visit police and officials didn't seem to know what to do with us and the rules around what we were and weren't allowed to do changed with every new person we spoke to. 
     
    It's also a challenging place to take photographs. As a strict Muslim society, most people we encountered didn't want to have their picture taken – patience and politeness got me what portraits I was able to capture. But photography aside, the vast majority of the Somalilanders we met were exceptionally friendly and welcoming, and in the cities we were stopped every five minutes by people who wanted to exchange greetings and find out where we were from, with no ulterior motive.
  • The border at Wajaale, arriving from Ethiopia. Like most small border towns I've passed through in Africa, it's a chaotic, slightly edgy place. 
  • Ten minutes across the border and we had our first breakdown. Fortunately Mohamed, our driver, had a boot full of spare parts. 
  • Ibrahim, our SPU officer, at Dhagax Khoure, the first ancient rock art site we visited. It's pot luck whether you get a hepful or obstructive bodyguard, but Ibrahim was great - very helpful, very professional and unlike some of the others we encountered, he didn't spend the whole trip chewing khat. 
  • Giant tortoise, near Dhagax Khoure. These tortoises are remarkably common in Somaliland – we counted a dozen in an hour on one stretch of road.
     
  • Farmer, near Dhagax Khoure.
  • Shop boy, Hargeisa.
  • War memorial, Hargeisa. Unfortunately, I missed this man's name, but – originally from Somaliland – he was visiting from Saudi Arabia, where he now lives. 
  • Dusk, Hargeisa.
  • Khat stall, Hargeisa. Khat is a national obsession, and the streets and markets of Hargeisa are packed with vendors. This mild narcotic, chewed when fresh, is imported from neighbouring Ethiopia. 
  • My sister at the "passport office", Hargeisa. This was just a money changing stall in the market, but it's also where you can buy a valid Somali passport - as we did. To get a Somaliland passport you'd have to go through the usual official processes – but the absence of a truly functioning government in Mogadishu means that, for Somalis, the market is still where you go for your travel documents.
  • I picked up passports for my whole family - the Hopkirks now have dual citizenship (until 2016, anyway).
  • Khat negotiations, Hargeisa.
  • Most women in Somaliland don't want to have their photo taken, understandably. But this friendly market trader was insistent, much to the surprise of her neighbours...
  • ...who were't so keen. 
  • Ahmed, dusk, on the Old Bridge, Hargeisa.
  • Dusk from the Old Bridge, Hargeisa.
  • Night market, Hargeisa.
  • Hargeisa is the capital of Somaliland, but even here none of the roads are paved - so when it rains, the city turns into a mud bath.
  • Money changers, Hargeisa.
  • The star attractions arrive at the camel market, Hargeisa. Camels are worth up to $2,000 each – a man with many camels is a rich man indeed.
  • Camel trading negotiations in Somaliland involve a complex series of handshakes, which take place beneath a cloth, so that no one else knows what price was agreed.
  • My sister Elizabeth, interviewing the Minister for Tourism.
  • One of our SPU guards at Las Geel, Somaliland's most impressive ancient rock art site, where the cave paintings are estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old.
  • Pit stop on the Hargeisa to Berbera road.
  • Ibrahim on the beach at Berbera, looking out into the Gulf of Aden towards Yemen. This is pirate country.
  • The Old Town in Berbera is an otherworldly place – it resembles a ghost town, and yet people still live among the ruins. At first the atmosphere can feel a little intimidating, but the people here turned out to be the most friendly we encountered anywhere in Somaliland - and the most open to being photographed. At first I assumed the collapsed (and collapsing) buildings were a result of war damage, but there are none of the bullet holes or shrapnel scars that we found in Mogadishu. Our guide said it was just down to decades of neglect.
  • Abdi Hamman, Old Town, Berbera.
  • The beach at dawn, Berbera. The excavations are courtesy of thousands of resident crabs.
  • Camels on the beach, Berbera.
  • Camel herder, Berbera.
  • From Berbera, we drove for a day to reach Ga'an Libah, a wildlife reserve and escarpment offering views as far as the coast over the desert plains below. When we arrrived at dusk, however, the peak was shrouded in cloud and we could only see a few metres in front of us.
  • For just a few seconds as the sun went down, the clouds turned a magnificent shade of pink. I got one shot - then it all went grey again.
  • This is what we'd come to see – the epic view from Ga'an Libah towards Berbera and the Gulf of Aden, that the night before had seemed improbable.
  • The road back to Berbera.
  • Old Town, Berbera.
  • Luul (far left), with her mother and sisters, Berbera Old Town.
  • Berbera International Airport – currently Somaliland's only international airport – from where we flew on to Mogadishu for the final leg of our journey.