Tourist in Somalia
Who would go on vacation into the Somalia? The
most will think, that only crazy person will go there. I guess,
I will be that crazy person, but I hope that my reader will
give me the chance to explain my intention and introduce the country
which can offer more than chaos, anarchy, violence and bomb attacks.
If you will pass this test, you will dive in into the beautiful and
untouched places, where you will see paradise on the Earth and
breathe the cleanest air. I wish you exploring reading.
"Tell me my friend and be honest. What do you really miss here in Somalia?" asks me my guide Abdi. "Should I be really honest?" I am answering. "Yes, definitely tell me what is on your mind." "I miss beer." My answer transforms into the laugh of all participants. Cool, they have a sense of humor, I am in the right place.
First impression - Mogadishu
I am landing in Mogadishu. I have been in the plane all night, but I am not tired yet. I am helping a Turkish guy to fill in immigration documents - he does not understand anything, but the documents are in English. I am not realizing where am I yet and I am feeling kind of like at home, like I was there before.
After few moments I am meeting my guides and driver and we are moving on to the hotel where at least half of the Somalian parliament is accommodated. What a surprise, when you had good talk with a guest and later you found out that he is advisor for environment in Somalia and former minister of education.
"Hotel is protected with around 50 soldiers. 25 during the day and 25 during the night - so you do not need to worry about anything. We also have soldiers on the roof" explains the new hotel manager. Later, I am asking to the manager what happened to the previous one. "He was shot." he answers. This did not help my mood, but I said to myself: So many countries, so many customs.
On that day we are moving to old city near the beach. From the distance and from the photos it made pretty good impression, but when you came closer, you saw destroyed buildings. 26 years of civil war made almost irreversible changes to this country. Beacon - we are arriving into the biggest attraction of the city in the end. Exterior of the building looks preserved, but the interior is different. I am welcomed by 15 members of family living in the beacon and one of the members shows his face on the Somalian bill that was used before a war. After a guide that took around one our I had a strange feeling. People can`t live like this!
Complicated transport to the beach
We are visiting a fish market on another day. We stayed there for about 15 minutes. Everything is subjects to the strict security rules. 4 soldiers got out of the car which guides us, and they split up. I can happily chat with local people. I feel sorry that I cannot buy a fish because it could not fit into my hand luggage.
It was almost dark when we arrived at the memorial to the victims of Somalian-Ethiopian war. I am showing the pictures of monument of Slavín (memory of fallen soldiers during Second World War in Slovakia) to the guides to ensure them that Slovakia had similar issues as Somalia, even it happened a longer time ago.
If you ask Somalian what the best way is to spend time in the city, he will definitely recommend you a Jazeera beach - a beach where a lot of locals spend their free days. The road to this beach is complicated - 30 minutes lasting transport on destroyed road with 4x4 vehicle was subduable, but you are shaking due to the shock another 30 minutes. Before you enter the beach, you are checked by a 15 year old boys with rifles. After this, you can enter the beach. You are even able to take a ride on the boat and buy some souvenirs.
After this amazing experience, our driver (I thought about him that he is the best on the world) stuck into the sand with a car and we suddenly could not move. The guys from the beach helped us to remove the sand from the wheels. Still nothing. Soldiers took off the weapons and they helped too. In the end we managed to push the car from the sand and we could finally travel back on the devastated road.
Second stop - Puntland
Most of the tourists (since 2012, when country became pretty much stable - the amount of these tourist was about 100) stays near the capital city. This is a big mistake. The capital city is devastated, but other destinations in Somalia are more beautiful, safer and freer. This is the case of the city Garowe, where I moved. I just wanted to see more and make an opinion about the country not just by visiting Mogadishu. Area Puntland is autonomous, and it has its own government, president and army. I am meeting local soldier which guides me. His name is Aya and he is nice guy. Thanks to the fact that he knows the basics of English we understand each other, and we share a lot of funny stories. He will never forget to ask me for cigarette.
To be honest, city and suburbs are not interesting. We drive around, sometimes we visit local hills. We are also visiting camel market, when they try to make Muslim from me again, immigration camp, we relax with coffee or tea. I encouraged myself to start conversation about religion. We are not always agreeing with each other, but we never argue. The toleration and understanding are present in this part of the world too.
First white tourist since 1990
The Somalian guides used to ask me what I have expected from Somalia. The truth is, I do not really expect anything. Because it always ends up different. At least, the experience is more intensive. But I was really worried about city Kismayo. White tourist has not been there since 1990 and some areas near the city are still under control of local terrorist organization Ash - Shabab which was removed from the key areas in 2012.
For my surprise, after landing I was taken by one civil soldier and we moved freely around city, like everything was OK. I was amazed by the nature, her unusual color for my eyes and by very nice people who did not look scared like in Mogadishu. We went to see camels again and we also tasted their milk - it tasted like cheese and it is very healthy. One of the locals did not forget to mention that this is their local whiskey.
Have you heard about the place called Goobweyn? I bet you haven't. It is located 14 kilometers from city Kismayo, where the river flows into the ocean. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. And one of the hottest. March 2018, when I have visited Somalia is the hottest month in the country. If I knew this before...
I am adapting quickly, rolling up my pants and going into the river. My accompaniment asked me if I was afraid of crocodiles. Why would I? Soldiers have weapons - I guess they would be able to help me. We became good friends and they let me to shoot from the gun once. "Now I am Somalian too." I said loudly. Soldiers could only agree with me.
The end of the adrenaline experience, we stopped in the village, freshened up with watermelon and I enjoyed giving away stickers with sign "love Slovakia" to the kids. I have not seen such gratefulness for a long time. The one of the kids would rather keep me and when we were leaving it sent me goodbye kiss. I almost cried.
When we arrived at the city Ali asked me: "Would you like to take a look at the port?" I answered quickly: "Yes!" But we got negative answer in the entrance. Because of military training the access was denied for us. That's a pity, I said to myself. At least I will swim. After 10 minutes, when I was getting out of water the local stopped me and touched my skin - he could not believe that I can be that white. Later, while I was buying some basic stuff the women asked me what is wrong with me, why am I so white. They thought that I was a black man with skin disorder. Maybe you will not believe me, but it really happened. Even nowadays exist these kind of places, however, it is not many of them left.
Back in Mogadishu
After another two days in another area we return into the capital city and the rest day is waiting for us. Because I can't go out due to security reasons, I spend a lot of time on the roof of the hotel, smoking and imagining how it will be amazing to be home with my friends and family. I am asking myself, why I went here to Somalia and after some time of unsuccessful answers I am giving up. I believe that I am on the right place at the right time and I have an opportunity to get to know real people and do not believe the pictures from the media. During the whole journey I am meeting nice people, willing to help, with faith in the better future and gratefulness, that I came to visit this country like a tourist and not like somebody who tries to destroy very fragile stability of this country.
If somebody asks me: "Do you regret coming here and spending so much money "I answer: "Never!"
SAFETY: except of capital city and places, where the government army and army of military group Ash - Shabab, very satisfying. Since 2012 government controls almost all territory of the country. The checks are common, and you need to be polite. It is not surprise when you are checked by armed soldier with covered face. But if you have visas and pass you do not need to worry. Free movement is possible only in Somaliland (not recognized country on the north of Somalia). In other areas you need armed escort. You always get tourist visas after landing and invitation letter from travel agency, which will always be near you. Your safety and secure return to home are their priority.
PLACES WORTH FOR VISIT: Mogadishu - Bakaara market (biggest market in Eastern Africa, in time of our visit closed because of day of peace), Fish market, old city - Beacon, Jazeera beach, Peace Park, Memorial for fallen soldiers, Garowe - camel market, Kismayo - Goobweyn (meeting of river with ocean)
TRANSPORT: Between big cities only by airplane. Local aero lines offer basic, but sufficient services. The transport in city is possible only by private car with dark windows and armed escort. It is said that white man without armed escort can survive in Mogadishu just few hours.
ACCOMMODATION: As a tourist just in hotels of higher category with security. Most of the hotels fulfill European standard, but do not expect warm water in the shower.
FOOD: Camel meat is the best. Who ate it knows what I am saying. Delicious and soft. Somalians are the nations who likes meat. They know how to prepare fish perfectly - the best one is grilled. Cooked goat is common. As a side dish they are using rice or chapati - the kind of bread popular in India or ugali - corn mash. And also, fresh and tasty vegetables.
Date of trip: march 2018
Author: Peter Gregor