Around 50km or so North East along the road from Hargeisa to Berbera, the capital and port city of Somaliland respectively, there is a rocky outcrop that is home to a set of caves and shelters that feature what are considered to be some the best preserved cave paintings in Africa.
These paintings are estimated to be between 5,000 and 11,000 years old and despite being known to the local community for hundreds of years they were only discovered by the international community in 2002 when a French research team was lead to the outcrop by locals. A visit requires a permit that can issued in the capital and this, as well as a guide/driver/car/government security officer, can be arranged by any half decent hotel in Hargeisa. The aforementioned security officer (SPU) is mandatory for travelling east of the capital.
The site is also one of the easiest ways to get away from the countries main roads and towns providing a good opportunity to see some wildlife.
Spotting this tortoise was a very surreal moment, I had no idea they lived in the desert. I guess he wasn’t too happy about where he was living either, judging from his grumpy expression.
The main things depicted in these paintings are cattle with ceremonial dress around their necks, humans milking the cattle (or appearing to be praising them), a handful of what are believed to be domesticated dogs as well as a solitary Giraffe. It’s worth noting that the cattle do not have a hump like the modern cattle in Somaliland. Thee humps were a result of breeding the humpless domestic Taurine cattle with imported humped Zebu’s from Asia.
I was hoping to capture a picture of the rare Somali Pigeon when I saw this bird as I was unable to make it out by eye. Unfortunately when I enlarged the photo on my laptop it turns out to be very common Speckled Pigeon which is the bird pushing the Somali Pigeon into extinction.
Climbing about the rocky outcrop is not without a few risks. The lower caves have had steps built up to them but some of the other shelters require shuffling along a few ledges, navigating cactus patches and carefully bending your limbs around some particularly nasty 2 inch thorns.
The local scout showing us around the site had a good laugh showing us this particularly painting.
The paintings serve as yet another reminder to the tragedy of the political situation in Somaliland and Somalia as a whole. Since Somalia has barely had a functioning government for the past two decades the country has not signed the UNESCO World Heritage Treaty. If Somaliland received recognition of it’s independence it would sign the treaty in a heartbeat and promptly submit Lass Geel to the list (along with numerous other significant locations in Somaliland). Greater awareness of the sights within the country would potentially lead to much larger tourist trade helping to bring the country much needed foreign currency.
As it stands the international communities failure to recognise Somaliland seems senseless. The opinion seems to be that world powers want to see a united and stable Somalia, rather hypocritical with the eagerness to recently grant South Sudan independence. It seems a shame to penalise the lives of the four million citizens of Somaliland in the pursuit of a political situation that is not a true representation of the region.