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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Monday, November 26, 2001 02:52:04

Central Africa 2001: 7 - Somalia & Somaliland

Saturday, November 24, 2001 - Michael, our regular taxi driver, got us to the airport in lots of time for our flight on Daallo Airlines. At check in we were processed by the same pleasant woman who had sold us the tickets at their downtown office, and after a very easy run through the friendly customs and immigration service the same lady took our boarding passes before heading for the aircraft. We'd had a bit of a wait, as they were about an hour late in taking off, and were very apologetic for that.

The waiting area for the flight held a fascinating group of people - we were the only white faces in the crowd. About 75% of the passengers were women, all in traditional garb. Several had their faces exposed while other showed only eyeballs, but all were covered from their heads to the floor. Many had intricate tattoos on the fronts and backs of their hands, and on up their arms. Most had black painted fingernails. They were all speaking Somalian, which is entirely different from anything I've heard before. Not much worry about us eavesdropping!

In Nairobi the baggage checks were very careful, and the metal detecting machines worked. They have a full scale airport here, and it operates very efficiently. The airline used the same system we had encountered in all of Africa - scramble seating. No one seems to assign seats here except Ethiopian Airways.

The aircraft was a Russian Illushian 18, a plane with four enormous turbo-prop engines. It had all kinds of seating, and I settled into the exit row, where there was about 10 feet between seats. Soon, however, the area was piled high with baggage. The sign in the office had said limit 5 kg for carry on baggage, but these people showed up with everything from steamer trunks on down! The chief steward, who spoke English, came and got Tim and I and suggested we move to the back, where there was a separate section of 15 seats where the crew operated from. They suggested we would be more comfortable there - I think they were keeping us away from the mob, whose curious stares were a bit unnerving. The crew, except two stewards, was entirely Russian, including one blond stewardess. Only the pilot spoke any English.

There was no safety briefing before take off, no cards in the seat pocket about the plane, no fasten seat belt or no smoking lights, and no restrictions on where you could pile your luggage. Once everyone had more or less settled in we just unceremoniously took off! A tasty sandwich and soft drinks were served on route - there weren't many takers, as it is Ramadan, and Somalia is 100% Muslim. No eating from dawn to dusk is permitted!

After one hour and forty-five minutes we landed in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on a dirt strip. There was no sign of the city, which is supposedly only 4 miles from the airstrip, even though there are no trees - only stunted shrubs, grass and sandy soil. It must be a very low rise place. We had decided to confine our visit to the airport, as the city is apparently wilder than the Wild West. Armed rival gangs patrol the streets, killings and kidnappings are normal, and the whole place is chaotic. There has been no central government for ten years.

A small bus with Chinese characters all over the side of it pulled up to remove the disembarking passengers, while on the other side a truck pulled up and began to load camel carcasses into the cargo bay. When it had unloaded another truck pulled up, this one under the power of a dozen people who were pushing it. It too discharged a load of camel carcasses. There was no shortage to things to watch, as donkey and ox carts moved up and down the runway and mobs of ragged clothed, shoeless people assisted in unloading and pushing around vehicles, many of which didn't seem to run.

The tiny terminal building was extremely run down, and there was not a taxi to be seen. I take it that not much rolling stock has survived the ten years of armed conflict here. Loading was finally completed, so we bumped our way to the end of the dirt, turned and the throttles were hit to begin the takeoff run, which was unduly long due to the wet condition of the mud and sand runway. Herds of camels along the edge of the runway gave us only cursory glances - they had no idea of how many of their dead relatives we were transporting! Finally the plane broke free and we headed off on our next 1 ¾ hour flight.

The on board washroom was interesting - quite basic. It had a steel toilet which didn't flush, a steel sink bolted to the wall and a cardboard box for paper beside the toilet. The crew used it for smoking (no, there were no smoke detectors) as it was a non-smoking flight.

Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, was a pleasant surprise. The airport and tarmac were paved, the terminal in good repair, and a brand new terminal was nearing completion. There is a two way airport tax here - $20 in, and $20 out. In addition it was necessary to change $50 into local currency at the "official" rate, which the banks do not recognize. In reality, our $50 of local currency was worth about $18 on the street. A US dollar buys about 4,000 Somaliland Shillings at the real rate, and the largest bill in the country is 500 shillings, worth about 8 cents. As a result we each received a stack about 4 inches high of 500 shilling bills.

After stuffing our pockets with the bills, we proceeded to immigration where a 24 hour visa was issued without problem or charge. We then took a taxi around to look at the town, and we dropped at the Hotel Maan-soor. The roads leading to and from the city of 300,000 were not in bad shape, but there was little pavement in town - largely sand streets. It was a busier and more prosperous looking place than I had imagined, but there were few buildings over one story, and most were of mud or stone block construction.

The best hotel in town was a one story place on the outskirts on the far side of town, but the rooms were large and spotlessly clean. No bars - this place is 100% Muslim, strictly no booze. The dinner menu included camel, which I would have had except it required three hours notice to prepare it. We settled for tough but tasty T-bone steaks with mashed potatoes and gravy. Typical desert fare, right?

We had a chance to talk to some of the local people, who made it clear that Somaliland has nothing to do with Somalia, and that it has been a totally separate country for ten years. It is the former British Somalia, so English is widely spoken. They have had no fighting here, but have had a bad time of it as few people know the difference between the two countries and figure they are all in a shoot-em-up area - not true. There is little crime in Somaliland, and the people with whom we spoke were very confident in the future of their country of 3 million people, 55% of whom are nomads. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

The weather was a pleasant surprise. It was refreshingly cool - down to 17 or 18 degrees at night. When we returned to the airport in the morning we saw a sign that said we were at 4,400 feet above sea level, which explained it. The area is very flat, semi arid countryside, but the height keeps the temperatures moderate.

Tim & I had been worrying about the flight out, as if something happened to it there was no way out for at least two days - which would mean missing several flights we had paid for. It turned out our fears were unfounded. We were sped through customs with courtesy and efficiency, no requests for tips or bribes, and sat in a pleasant outdoor waiting area with tables and chairs. We boarded the flight 15 minutes before the scheduled time.

Our transportation this time was a twin engined Russian Antonov, with a crew of 7, all but one of whom were Russian. There was only one other passenger besides Tim and I. Leg room wasn't a factor, as two thirds of the cabin consisted of seats fixed to the wood floor, and the other two thirds was cargo area. I sat in the front seat with my legs stretched straight out - the total cargo was three suitcases - two belonging to the crew and one to the third passenger. Tim and I had very small carry on bags with us - we had been warned so much about Somalia that we had taken only the barest of essentials with us. It turned out to be a totally unnecessary precaution.

The crew fired up the engines, the plane did a little lurch ahead, and then stopped. Two crew members lifted an overhead door in the side of the plane, and one hopped out while the other lowered a ladder so he could get back in. A few seconds later, the chocks from under the wheels sailed in the door - they had forgotten to remove them. Once the crew was aboard, the engines revved again, but the right one quit. Tim and I, sitting several seats apart, exchanged "Oh Boy!" glances - we had only 1 hour and 20 minutes to make our connection for Nairobi in Addis Ababa. All the crew rushed forward into the cockpit area, and the starters on the right engine whirred as it was once again cranked up. This time it kept going, so without further ceremony we taxied rapidly to the runway and full throttles were hit - I suspect in case the errant engine might have any ideas about quitting again! At any rate, the rest of the flight was without mishap. I can't help but wonder how all the people who are afraid to fly in North American would feel about flying here!

The airport at Addis Ababa was very up to date, and a new section which will more than double it's size was nearing completion. Compared to what we had seen, excepting Nairobi, it was huge, with dozens of aircraft coming and going. We were bussed to a transit area, where we were given boarding passes on the Air Ethiopia flight to Nairobi. We had flown Air Ethiopia before, and knew it to be an excellent airline. No worry about cancelled flights here!

In Addis there was no fooling around about security. Bags were checked thoroughly, the metal detection equipment and x-ray machines were all up to date and fully functional There had been no economy seats available when we bought the tickets, and business class was only about another $40 so we were able to use the business class lounge where I quickly found the free beer. Once on board we were treated to a royal meal with more beer, drinks, wine, champagne and brandy. We considered it a fitting way to end our little jaunt into what had been billed as the most dangerous territory of our trip.

Nairobi customs and immigration were once again friendly and efficient, and we were soon back at the hotel where we were greeted as old friends. We removed what we needed from the large safety deposit box at the desk (including the computer) and settled into our rooms. Dinner was liquid, as we both were still full from the meal served on the plane, followed by an early night.

Monday (today) we rearranged our schedule again for the third time, found our driver and had our tickets changed. I tried to upgrade my Addis Ababa to Rome flight to business class, but it could not be done due to the class of ticket - however the very helpful Air Ethiopia employee assigned me the bulkhead window, so that will do the trick for my legs. Tomorrow morning we are off to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, via Khartoum Sudan. We will be back here on Thursday night.