Another deviation from the cycling posts for those of you following along with that. I’ve currently got some down time in Hong Kong, whilst my passport is in the Chinese embassy hopefully getting a new visa stamped in it, and figured I’d catch up on some of the posts that have been sitting in my “To Do” folder on my laptop. We now jump back to my winter trip in January 2014 to the breakaway state Somaliland, a centre of stability in the otherwise crumbling nation of Somalia.
My travel partner Dylan and I arrived in Berbera after a long on bumpy road from the capital Hargesia after stopping halfway to see the cave paintings of Las Geel. Berbera has served several key purposes throughout it’s recent history leading to some rather interesting features.
Dotted around the city are a few British colonial buildings from it’s past as a protectorate although these have sadly fallen into disrepair. Due to few resources in Somaliland the protectorate was used as a grazing ground for large amounts of cattle needed to feed British forces in both the Gulf of Aden and the colonies in British India. This meat was then shipped out through the port of Berbera leading the region to gain the nickname of “Aden’s Butcher Shop”.
1972 saw an agreement between Somalia’s dictator Siad Barre and the Soviet Union allowing the Soviets to take control of the port leading to a small cluster of Soviet apartment blogs still existing in the city today in an area dubbed “Little Moscow”. The Soviets also built an airport by the city equipped with one of the largest runways on earth at over 4km in length. Heavy cargo planes loaded up with Soviet goods from the port would take off from here taking their contents to the U.S.S.R’s various allies in Africa.
Later Somalia begun to lean towards the U.S. and the port was in turn handed over to them. The airport was re-purposed to serve as one of the worlds emergency landing strips for the Space shuttle incase an unexpected return to Earth was ever required.
On the edge of the city center is the cities giant camel market…
Shattered from the long day we headed off to our hotel for the night. We decided to splash out and check into a “beach resort” east of the city so that we could try and fulfil our goal of taking a swim in the Gulf of Aden, a.k.a. the most pirated stretch of water on earth.
After an evening eating grilled fresh fish and non-alcoholic beer we donned our swimming trunks and beach towels at sunrise and headed passed the security hut on the way down to the beach, garnering more than a few looks from the armed guards charged with protecting the occupants of the resort.
The beaches were deserted and we dove on in. Despite knowing that it’s safe that little paranoid voice in your head leads you to keep an eye on the little fishing boats skimming along the water a mile out, the same ones that are used by pirates to board ships in the area.
Promptly the sun became more powerful and the novelty of swimming in the Gulf of Aden soon wore off. We met up with our driver and our armed government body guard before heading off to the nearby riverbed which I’ll cover in the next post on Somalia.
For those following along with the blog I also share a lot of content from my trips over Facebook which you can subscribe to over on my Facebook page. As it stands these currently revolve around the bicycle trip from London-Shanghai but will still be updated in the future with any of the more interesting trips I had off on, which I promise there will be plenty of!
If you fancy visiting Somaliland after reading these posts then you may be happy to know this trip resulted in my aforementioned travel partner, Dylan, adding the region to the list of tours he runs through his travel agency Lupine Travel. You can get some info on the trip here.