Waking up early after 3 days in Djibouti, we scrambled at 5am to board our Air Djibouti flight DJB204 at 7:00am. You’ll have to buy this ticket separately on Air Djibouti’s website approximately 2 months at the earliest before your travel date.
Despite the rundown appearance of its arrivals hall, Djibouti’s departures terminal looks like it’s undergoing a new look.
We landed less than an hour later at 7:40am in Hargeisa, the capital city of the breakaway region of Somalia and the world’s largest unrecognized country of Somaliland.
To set the record straight though, Somaliland was technically independent first for 5 days in June 1960 before its merger with greater Somalia to form the Somali Republic. This lasted only a year and a half before Mogadishu of Somalia began taking control of state institutions, which was rejected by Hargeisa of Somaliland and resulted in Somaliland boycotting the vote on the Somali constitution and thus declaring an end to their merger.
This separation is immediately apparent as Somaliland security staff immediately encouraged to take as many photos as we wanted before we enjoyed a robust and straightforward visas on arrivals process; a stark difference compared to the rest of East Africa.
And in addition to the friendliness of the Somalilanders encouraging us to take as many photos as we wanted, once we stepped outside and walked along the airfield to passports control, all of us immediately fell further in love; for starters with the wind at our back we remarked how the weather here at 77ºF/25ºC is so much more pleasant than the burning stagnant 105ºF/41ºC air that we had endured in Djibouti the past 3 days.
We then queued up at passport control and presented the following documents to obtain our visa on arrival stamps:
- Printed and filled out visa form they’ll have at the front (or you can bring your own pre-filled ones)
- A printed color 2in x 2in passport style photo of yourself in front of a white background
- Letter of Invitation
- $60 USD ready to pay at the Ministry of Finance kiosk after passport control
After getting our stamps we then paid the $60 USD in cash (bills must be crisp, new, and clean! No tears!) at the Ministry of Finance kiosk afterwards.
Once we got our stamps and our bags we were met by our guide and driver at the arrivals “garden,” which looks more like an outdoor café than something coming out of an airport.
We were then driven up to the centrally located Damal Hotel for a quick check-in where I was reunited with Vincent Yang who had signed up for this trip right after we joined on a ski trip together last December in Stratton, VT.
Within the hour we were again out the door, first stopping by at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There we were received as guests by the diplomats there as they gave us a in depth primer on Somaliland’s current struggles to gain UN recognition as an independent country.
After an hour there chatting and taking group photos with them, we then returned to our buses and drove to an area where we were able to exchange US Dollars, Euros, and British Pounds with money exchangers and their “chunk” of bills . . .
This is what 60 British Pounds and 20 USD converts to in Somaliland shillings:
Feeling wealthy enough to eat like royalty, lunch took place afterwards at a camel BBQ spot, which took nearly an hour to prepare for such a large group arriving all at once.
But the wait was worth it.
Getting some coffee afterwards to wash down our food, we then visited the Somaliland national museum and cultural center, which housed an impressive art gallery and education center . . .
The artwork here impressed me the most, especially the ones on climate change:
With more group photos and the staff there throwing an impromptu dance performance for us, we then drove onwards to visit the cemetery for British Soldiers who died here battling against the Italians during World War 2.
Finally to finish off our first day here we drove up the best view of Hargeisa, the Massala View. Here you can spot most of the important buildings of the city but also the twin hills called Naaso Hablood, also known as Hargeisa’s landmark.
We then returned back to our hotel which is located right next to the MiG Jet fighter War Memorial representing atrocities committed during the Civil War.
The War Memorial also happens to be in the middle of all the city’s buzz, and as of time of writing they have been partying here all night in preparation for their Independence Day the next morning.
For those of us who were able to sleep through the parties that were taking place all night, the next morning we got up early, skipped breakfast, and bounced at 6:30am at the behest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; they wanted us to join them for the best seats in the house in observing the military and civilian parades.
We walked through legions of various military and municipal armed forces before reaching a pleasantly windy spot where I felt bad we were getting better front row seats than the locals who were ironically being held back by officers such as the Somaliland Immigration and Border Control.
The parade began with the youth and students of Somaliland.
Everyone was dressed in the national colors on the street, and I realized this is one of the only places on earth to take part in an “Independence Day” celebration in an unrecognized country!
After about 20 minutes of spectating, we were then asked to join in on the parade ourselves!
After about 10 minutes of walking, we ended our portion at the assembly where we waved hi to the President of Somaliland, Muse Bihi Abdi.
He’s in the front row, third from the right in my photo below.
We then shifted off to the side to watch the rest of the parade which included performers, artists, various delegations of expats living in Somaliland, hospital staff, airline staff, transportation services, labor services, and a sadly caged in lion.
The military then followed, which took up the largest portion of the parade.
After nearly 2 hours during which I had to run across the street into a military barracks to bathroom over a dingy hole, the parade finally ended with their municipal services:
The grand finale seemed to be a display of their very own and probably only predator drone.
We then were held in place as the President gave a speech before we were allowed to walk back to our hotel. That’s when the locals were allowed to move about as well, after which they rushed the assembly stage as the President left. They largely ignored us, but it got a little dodgy when the military pushed them back causing the crowds to run back and forth en masse like strong ocean currents that almost took us with them. We kept walking in a single direction until we were in the clear.
Now we’re having breakfast and a free day for 4 hours before our next move!
At 4:30pm we drove back out to visit Sheikh Madar’s tomb, sitting with worshippers as they sang.
Then we took a walking tour of Hargeisa starting from the markets.
…a few municipal office buildings….
…a large mosque…
…before returning back to our hotel for one more freshening up. Now it’s off to dinner at the city’s fanciest hotel, Ali Jirde, to celebrate Independence Day!
- At time of posting in Hargeisa, it was 25 °C - Humidity: 57% | Wind Speed: 18km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy