Itinerary since Blog1: Harar-Jijiga (Ethiopia)-Hargeisa (Somaliland)-Berbera (Somaliland)-Burao (Somaliland)-Hargeisa
First and foremost, let me introduce Saheed to you. Saheed is standing next to me. Saheed is my escort boy since I left Hargeisa for Berbera (Somaliland) on the 29th of January. Don't be confused - Saheed is technically and literally my escort boy - he is an armed soldier whose mission is to accompany and protect me during my trip outside Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. 'For safety issues you need an escort if you want to go outside the capital', I was told at the reception of my hotel in Hargeisa. The safety of Westerners is apparently taken very seriously here since 'terrorists' from Mogadishu shot dead four whites in Somaliland in 2003 - which explains why the local authorities tend to be completely paranoid and over-protective with foreigners once they leave Hargeisa. To be honest, I doubt whether Saheed would be of any help should I fall in an ambush led by highly motivated terrorists on the road to Berbera. By 2pm, my guardian angel starts chewing qat and was completely stoned until at least 7pm, when he starts to resurrect again, only to ask for dinner. So I decided not to take Saheed's presence too seriously. After all, I'm the only traveller in this country now and I've never experienced such a special treatment - and at US$15.00 a day, this bodyguard is a bargain! In a few months, if everything goes right in Somaliland, this measure will probably be no longer enforced.
As far as safety is concerned, I must say that Hargeisa is one of the safest cities in Africa. I roamed the streets on my own, day and night, and felt more than welcome. Somali people were so baffled at seeing a foreigner, but I felt at ease. I visited the camel and gold markets - the city's only highlights. Hargeisa was destroyed in 1991 during the civil war and has few notable buildings left. But I was extremely surprised to see that it has all the conveniences a traveller could hope for: good-value hotels with English-speaking staff (Somaliland was a former British protectorate), a couple of tasty restaurants, innumerable Internet cafes, bureaus de change, bus stations, taxis... but no alcohol. At all. But wait! Outside Hargeisa, I happened to visit a phenomenal archeological site that was only discovered in 2003. Picture this: hundreds of magnificent rock art paintings in a perfect shape, representing humans and animals, adorning the walls of several interconnected caves and shelters. I'm the second journalist to have seen the site - the first one came with a team of archeologists in 2003. It was the thrill of my trip. Then I made it to Berbera, on the coast. This derelict city reminded me of Massawa in Eritrea. Most buildings are in very bad shape but the ambiance is poignant and there are totally unspoiled beaches.
From the 29th of January 2006, Somalia (sorry: Somaliland) is no longer a lost territory for LP and for travellers.