The Hotel Ambassador
by Jorge Sanchez - 4 years, 7 months ago
In the year 2003 You could not get into Somalia overland.
In those times there were only five main places from where you could fly to Hargeysa, in the north of Somalia, region that presently is known as Somaliland: Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Djibouti, Jeddah and Dubai.
I flew in from Nairobi in an airline company called DAALLO, which made a stop in an airport called Kilometer 50, not far from Mogadishu. You are not allowed to visit Somalia without an organization taking care of you, what they call Sponsor.
First I had to make all arrangements in Nairobi with a four stars hotel called AMBASSADOR, which charged me 30 US Dollars a night in a single room, breakfast included. Then this hotel advised to the Hargeysa authorities of my arrival in order to allow me the entry in the country.
There is no visa service. The hotel acts as your Sponsor. The only thing is that they force you to change 50 US Dollars for local shillings at the official rate, while in the black market they pay you several times more.
You cannot say that Hargeysa is a beautiful town. It was overpopulated and I saw no tourist attractions. The mosques were ordinary and the enclave of the city was not special. But the people made the difference. I saw men barefoot, with turbans, most of them used sticks, and it was common the transport in burros. Everybody is Muslim, without exception (well, in fact there are some Christians but they hide their religion for fear to be killed), and you do not find women walking alone.
The staff in the hotel put a car with driver at my disposition, for free, but I preferred to walk alone to enter the bazaars or to drink chai (tea) in the small cafeterias to mix with the locals.
One day, tired of Hargeysa, I went furtively to Berbera, in the coast, at about 150 kilometers distance. I just got into a shared taxi, paid and closed my eyes. During the way there were several controls. A soldier looked inside the car, then received some baksheesh from the driver and authorized us to go further, until the next control. I had beard of two weeks and made myself like sleeping in the car, because I was afraid of having troubles. Furthermore I was travelling without documents; my passport had been confiscated by the hotel Ambassador, and it would be given me back the day of my departure.
Berbera was much nicer than Hargeysa and the people were even more curious about me. I had lunch in a fishing restaurant and returned back to Hargeysa in the evening without inconveniences.
The central market during the night was the best of Hargeysa. It was strange to walk alone in the streets of Hargeysa. I was the only foreigner there, or at least the only European, and the people were amazed to see me.
During the night hundreds of kiosks sell plants of CHAT, a kind of euphoric narcotic that they chew all the time. It is the main business in Hargeysa. They bring the leaves from the mountains of Yemen and Ethiopia. This chat is forbidden in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia or Jordan, but not in Somalia.