Imagine that?! I'm still in Djibouti :)

Djibouti is a fine country. But let's go already!
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This blog took 4 hours to write and 9 hours to finish. The iOS deleted the lower 3rd of the blog 4 times!!
 
I distinctly wrote in last weeks blog that I anticipated we would be back in Ethiopia by now. And in fact we have achieved the Ethiopian visa long ago in just 3 hours. Swift and efficiently thanks to the Ethiopian embassy (and a phone call from my friend Mohammed). I was feeling good about obtaining visas in Djibouti after this and found that it would be tactical to apply for the Sudanese visa as well, while still in town. 
 
It went well at the embassy once I finally found it. They appeared surprised to see me, but were kind and helpful. I filled out the paperwork and handed over my passport. This is pretty straightforward and somewhat of a routine by now as Sudan is the Sagas 125th country. At times I feel like I have more experience than immigration and embassies have. But of course I do not. My experience is merely more varied. If you remember back to last week I was getting sick and that only got worse. So it felt good to be waiting for a visa as that gave me a mental excuse to rest up for a few days. Besides...at the Sudanese embassy they said it would only take a few days and that they would call me.
 
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Chilling in Djibouti with shawarma and fresh juice.
 
But they didn't call me. And I ended up calling them to receive word that they had been trying to reach me for several days!! By mistake I had given them an incorrect telephone number - but they didn't go the extra mile to email me on the correct email address they had received. So who knows if they had even tried to reach me? Let's have faith in people and say they did. Now that I was on the phone the clerk told me that they required to receive the invitation letter by email from Maersk Line (www.maerskline.com) in Sudan. Maersk is helping me out as they often have done before. Come to think about it, so are 2 other transport companies: DSV (www.dsv.dk) and DB Schenker Denmark (www.dbschenker.dk). It feels good to be backed by shipping and transport companies as that is my own background, but also because it makes sense. Furthermore it makes good sense for Maersk since I'm expected to appear as a public speaker at their Khartoum office. And be warned: not too long ago I made an office employee cry at one of my talks! ;)
 
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The days went by as I got more and more familiar with the bathroom. I was kind of still in control. But getting quite weak, I was having headaches and had difficulties staying structured and efficient. I also had a sore throat and stumbled upon some data that stated chocolate could be good for it. And lo and behold, as soon as I bought some dark chocolate and ate it, the sore throat went away. If you're not learning anything else by reading through this then at least you now know that :)
 
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While I think it's fine to chew khat and everyone seems to do it, I have started to become annoyed by the smell.
 
Weekends here start on Thursday afternoon and then it's back to work Sunday. Maersk in Djibouti managed to send the invitation letter on behalf of their colleagues in Sudan and I believe the embassy accepted that. It wasn't exactly that simple as we first needed to get the correct email addresses which took an unnecessary long amount of time. Luckily Nasra came to my rescue. I met Nasra at the local Maersk office when I delivered my talk there. Have you noticed that Maersk has been mentioned a lot already? Just wait...there's more. So at this point the Sudanese embassy asked for a few more days, we ran into the weekend and things dragged out again. With the extra time on my hands, and as I was growing stronger again, I began to look into my options of reaching Lac Assal (Lake Assal). But that looked quite hopeless and expensive. Even finding transport to reach Ethiopia's border looked more complex than what it should be.

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Around this time I came up with the idea of suggesting several topics to those who follow on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Once-Upon-a-Saga/320287321444752). The topics were to start a series of videos, in which I explain whatever interests people. As it turned out the people wanted to hear about "loneliness". So I gave the people what they wanted: https://youtu.be/Y2oGRHNmqQA I could have added that loneliness probably comes with the territory, when you are the only one on the planet doing something? And while I do value the Sagas partners it isn't exactly those who contact me and motivate me the most. But alas... the same day I noticed a tweet from Al Jazeera about the Passport Index 2017 (www.passportindex.org/) which had just been released. In a bit of fun I retweeted a map of the Sagas progress and said that we were doing pretty okay with 124 countries down and 79 to go. I was surprised when Leah Harding, a AJ journalist, replied that she would like to hear more? Within long she requested a brief video from me and that afternoon it was included in their segment on the AJ News Grid: https://youtu.be/qD_IyfS5u80 The last 30 days are looking really strong for the Saga with appearances on VICE, the Daily Telegraph, Lonely Planet, BBC, RTE and now Al Jazeera. Wow?!? Who would ever have thought?

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Then something happened. Nasra got lucky with a contact she had and "Safar", which is a tour agent, invited me to go and see Lac Assal?! :) So that is pretty great! Safar does not have a webpage, but you can contact them here: safar.djibouti@gmail.com +253 77814115
 
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The next morning a 4WD pulled up in front of Hotel Horseed. Inside I could see Nasra and her colleague Araleh on the backseat. Our driver was behind the wheel and next to him our guide Omar was smiling and ready to go. We took off and followed the railway for a while which was recently "inaugurated". It connects Djibouti with Addis Ababa, but around here "inauguration" doesn't mean that cargo and passengers can now board the train. Both will need to wait a few more months for that. So the road was heavily traveled by trucks carrying containers to and from Ethiopia and the majority of those containers were Maersk containers.
 
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On the left it's the Arabic tectonic plate. On the right East Africa. And in the middle you have the "Djibouti Ocean" :) 
 
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Just around the bend to the left 70 degree celsius water pours out of a hot spring.
 
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"Doctor fish" nibble on your feet and essentially clean them.
 
Omar was a great and enthusiastic guide. He knew a lot of interesting stuff and would over the course of the day tell us about factories, terminals, landmarks, historical construction, landscape, lakes, spirits, souvenirs, hot springs, "doctor fish", Lac Assal, tectonic plates, the "Djibouti Ocean" and a lot of other stuff.
 
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The lovely Nasra in front, Araleh in the middle and Omar to the right :)
 
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Omar is obviously more fun than me :)
 
The next day I gave the Sudanese embassy a call to see if I could come and pick up my passport. But to my regret I was informed that the consul had denied me my visa for reasons that nobody seems to understand. The bureaucratic treadmill now demanded that Maersk in Sudan would contact the foreign affairs in Khartoum so that the foreign affairs could green light the embassy in Djibouti? But unfortunately we were now running into a new weekend so nothing would happen the next few days! I'm absolutely fed up with visas and bureaucratic nonsense. I'm writing this from the 124th country I have dragged my tired body into. And this is far from the first bureaucratic hiccups we've been facing. FAR FROM! And yet we always find a way to get me inside the respective countries. So what's the point? Especially this unbelievably large continent has provided me with some solid headaches. I'm in no way in favor of Pan-Africanism in the sense that Africa is all the same. Because it's not. Some countries are flat and some have mountains. Some are warm and some are not. Some are costal and others are landlocked. And naturally all of that and more speaks to the diversity of people, cultures, development and more. But if we are to look at this continent as a single "place" then this is where I have been stuck more than anywhere else!!! 
 
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Lac Assal is the 2nd saltiest lake in the world and at the 3rd lowest location (-155m).
 
Come on Africa!!! What is wrong with you?!? Don't you want visitors?!? And at this point I should point out that I'm currently not shouting at the following African countries: Morocco, Senegal, Cap Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Chad, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. Those were all really reasonable.
 
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Nomedic Djiboutian still collect salt for trade and haul it away with camels. 
 
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Lac du Goubet which is connected to the sea is connected to Lac Assal beneath the ground.
 
Fortunately Mohammed from Maersk here in Djibouti is well connected. He got me in touch with the dean of the ambassadors here in Djibouti. The dean himself is an ambassador of Palestine: His Excellency Kamel Qazzaz. Kamel took me into his office at the embassy with really short notice and offered me a cup of tea. We talked about what had happened and then we talked about a million other things. He's certainly a great guy and now I'm looking forward to reaching Palestine some day. The ambassador told me that there was little he could do during the weekend, but on Sunday he will call the ambassador of Sudan to see if we can solve this. A great man he is as I'm sure you have already understood. And naturally this adds to the proof that a stranger is a friend you've never met before.
 
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I've been looking at the map lately and we've still got a lot of distance to cover within Africa. At least 2 of our last 6 countries are going to demand a great deal of finesse. And here I am in Djibouti loosing more and more time, which I will eventually need to take from somewhere else. There were several sights I wanted to see in Ethiopia which are absolutely unique to our world. But I need to remind myself that I'm not a tourist. I'm a man inside a tunnel of countries, searching for the light at the end. I will need to reach Khartoum in Sudan in order to apply for my Eritrean visa. To reach Sudan I must transit through Ethiopia and on route I will need to go through Gondar. I guess that's a good place to take a rest and see the castle before heading north to the Sudanese border. Now, I'm looking forward to enjoying the famed Sudanese hospitality, but I will get some of that just by reaching Khartoum. Also I will need to travel overland to Eritrea's border (south) which is in the opposite direction of Egypt (in the north). So how cool would it be to join a ship in Eritrea or Port Sudan and venture up through the Suez Canal to Port Said in the north of Egypt?! Sure I would loose a lot of overland travel, but I would also get a unique experience while resting up a bit. And I need to rest!
 
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On that note I'm hoping to see my fiancée around the end of February. And that is certainly something to look forward to :)


Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - 6 countries from leaving Africa!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before" 
 
Once Upon A Saga 
 
 
 
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Entering Djibouti, Djibouti - at the Horn of Africa

Djibouti is one of the 3 Somalis
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So, you have the former Italian Somalia which is the southern part of today's Somalia, then you have the former British Somalia which is now Somaliland and finally you have the French Somalia, which has been a Sovereign nation known as Djibouti since 1977.
 
With that in mind Djibouti shares quite a lot with its brothers and sisters to the south. But I was still stuck at the border trying to get in. There are times in life, when it doesn't matter how right you are. And I was very right at the border, but still couldn't cross. The Djibouti embassy in Ethiopia had told me that I could get my visa on arrival from Somaliland. This was emphasized when I was told the reason for it being that Djibouti doesn't have a diplomatic mission in Somaliland. That's however not quite true, but it's true that their office in Hargeisa doesn't issue visas. While being stuck at the border the Danish consulate in Djibouti confirmed that "I should be able to cross". I was also in touch with the Red Cross in Ethiopia, and the Red Crescent in Somaliland who tried contacting the Red Crescent in Djibouti. But this appeared fruitless. It was "Maersk to the rescue" once again. Steve who is the regional manager had long ago instructed his country managers to assist me and Mohammed in Djibouti was happy to do so. Mohammed originates from Tunisia and has a lot of work experience behind him. He knows the value of being well connected and that came in handy for me. And for Australian Luke as well since we were still together. Mohammed unfortunately had to tell us that the Djibouti-weekend had recently been expanded to cover both Friday and Saturday and no longer just Friday. And being that we had arrived at the border on a Thursday, and that any indications pointing towards that they weren't going to let us across only appeared in the late afternoon, we had to wait a few days where we were.
 
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The exchange of money is always complicated, when you don't know how long you'll be in a country.
 
I think that's where I left you last week. Luke and I were at the border and had already explained everything to Yaya, who was the coordinator for the military and immigration on the Somali side. Luke and I had found a room and Dida had come and gone. Now we were waiting. My phone rang and it was Mohammed who introduced me to a high ranking official at the Djibouti government. A very high ranking member! He was interested in hearing my story and I was happy to explain it all to him. But we still had to wait. As the next few days passed Luke and I would go out and explore the coastline looking for a nice beach.
 
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While Somalia as a country has spectacular beaches they weren't to be found near the border.
 
But the immediate beach was anything but nice with lots of waste and a great buffer of mud between the sand and the ocean. I figure we also managed to cover nearly every dinning opportunity in our humble border village. Spaghetti and "something" was a bestseller most places.
 
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The amount of flies during the daylight hours was menacing!! You could barely stay sane long enough to finish a meal! Often we would eat our meals with our fingers (right hand) and wave flies away with our free left hand. But it was a battle which was hard to win. We would order a "Somali tea" with most meals, which is a sweet tea with milk. An empty cup would typically be complete covered in flies within seconds.
 
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Would you expect to find a room with 2 beds, a fan and wifi here?
 
I'm positive that Luke must have been happy to share a room with me. Because I woke up with bite marks all over my face and arms. Luke didn't have a single bite!! We finally reached Sunday and it was time to cross. Maersk Line as well as the Danish consulate had been in touch with the Djibouti border and we were given the "go ahead". Crossing wasn't as straightforward as it could have been, but let's just skip the details and get this blog to Djibouti :)
 
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Finally in Djibouti. And look at how happy this Aussie is to see a camel like back home ;)
 
Aaaaaaahhh: Djibouti at last! Country number 124 within the Saga. 6 countries left within the African continent and 79 countries left in the world. Progress feels good. A 4WD got Luke and I (and a lot of passengers) to Djibouti which is the capital of Djibouti. It's good to keep things simple like that. My friend Helle, whom I've known for ages, had given me a thoughtful gift of a hotel booking for a time and place of my choice. I chose Djibouti and she sent me the reservation. I cannot believe the costs!!! Djibouti borders Ethiopia on one side and Somalia on another. 2 countries where you can easily get a quality room for $15. But due to inflated costs for electricity and water the prices immediately triple in Djibouti. In fact the cheapest room she found for me was $67!! Since I was there with Luke we upgraded it to a room with 2 beds which came at $93!!! Crazy! Other than the raging prices of Djibouti my first impressions were of a much more modern country with good and paved roads. Many military bases passed by the window before we had reached the hotel. I was aware of the French foreign legion, but the first military base I saw was Italian? 
 
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We received an invite that night to join Valerian whom we had met in Hargeisa earlier. Did he fly to Djibouti? Nope! He came the same way as us and crossed the border just a few hours before us? Valerian is from Belgium and speaks French. The leading theory for why he got to cross lands on his ability to speak French along with that he had an (expired) visa for Djibouti in his passport. But immigration might not have noticed that it expired? Who knows? Valerian told us to come and meet 2 Romanians and 2 Australians at Association de la communauté Ethiopienne a Djibouti. He lured us in by saying that beer and food was cheap. We met up, had a nice evening and when everyone wanted to split up Valerian suggested that Luke, I and himself should hit the city. So we did.
 
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Djibouti reminds of a combination of three things. First of all it has me think about Vietnam war movies and the kind of places the American soldiers always go to relax and party when they're not in the jungle. We went to play pool and middle-aged women with too much makeup attacked us as soon as we came through the door. "Do you want to party?" But Djibouti is far more than that! Because it was once a French colony, and because it still has strong ties to France, you cannot escape that French coolness which saturates the atmosphere. "C'est très cool". Finally there is also an Arabic feel to walking many of Djibouti's streets and I halfway expect to see Aladdin whizzing by on a flying carpet. Yup! That's how I see Djibouti.
 
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Hotel Horseed anno 1976. A great place to explore Djibouti from!
 
The next morning Luke and I checked out and headed to "Horseed" where Valerian was staying. Horseed is probably the best place in town for a budget traveler. You can have a room with 2 beds for $40 - shower and toilet in the hall. A great café upstairs and a superb restaurant (Zak's) next door serving local food. It's owned by Kadar who is already a 3rd generation proprietor! I had a chance to sit and speak with Kadar who told me that Horseed was founded in 1976 by his grandfather, when Kadar was only 2 years old. But by the age of 6 he was already all over the place working whichever small jobs he could. I love it when a place has history like that. Kadar is 42 now and hopes that his firstborn will be a boy so he can name him like the restaurant (Zak). On top of being a great place with good wifi it's also downtown. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately this was around when I started getting sick. It felt like having the flu. Tired and heavy headed.
 
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Luke left to go and see the country for a few days before he had to fly back to Addis Ababa. Valerian flew out that evening to go back to Belgium. I went to the Ethiopian embassy to try my luck with a new visa - something which proved unbelievably easy and I had it in my passport only 3 hours later. No "you must be a resident in Djibouti" nonsense. I simply delivered my passport, filled the form, handed over 2 passport photos, a copy of my passport and payed. Dine deal: collect this afternoon. Little did I know that Mohammed (Maersk) had called in advance which might have smoothened the transition. But I have hear from several other sources that the Ethiopian visa comes easy in Djibouti. Ethiopia is a landlocked country and Djibouti acts as the most important port for them. So there are many Ethiopians in Djibouti. Something else I have been pondering about is that Djibouti probably also acts as a safe heaven and strategical hub for foreign interest in the region. Apart from having strategic access to Eastern African countries there is also direct access to the Middle East. Apparently Djibouti is good for all sorts of things.
 
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Mohammed was already a friend long before I met him.
 
The next day I met with Maersk Line in Djibouti. What a great team!! I was finally face to face with Mohammed who more than likely is responsible for my border crossing. And as I mentioned earlier he is very well connected. Earlier that day he had attended the inauguration of the new railway connecting Addis Ababa with Djibouti. I had been hoping to be in this train on my way back to Addis. But around here inauguration doesn't mean opening. It apparently means: 3 more months of testing? How great would it have been to be on that train?!? For sure this line will stay active for at least 100 years and I'm only 3 months early in becoming one of its first passengers. Close but no cigar. The Chinese are responsible for the construction (of course) and I believe it should have been open and operational by now. But as it is with all large construction projects delays can occur. Better luck next time Thor. 
 
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In reality they might as well have been there for the food ;)
 
I was coughing a little during my presentation at Maersk where I spoke  about inspiration, education, entertainment and long term planing. I think it went okay. After all it was my 21st presentation since the first one took place in Greenland back in 2014. I've got a bit of a routine now which I'm quite happy with. Such talks can go from 20 to 120 minutes depending on questions. I rarely have a short answer for anything these days. I have learned so much about our world and the people who live within it. And the more I learn the more stupid and insecure I feel. I'm not sure about many things anymore. And can most often argue in both directions no matter the topic. But I'm fairly sure that media as well as social social media is misrepresenting people all around the world and that most opinions about the state of humanity are rated well below actual reality. That includes your perception too.
 
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There are a million things that can make you sick. Touching money can be one.
 
I was getting more and more sick and tried to fuel up on water, food and c vitamins. Eventually I crashed and slept for about 15 hours. I got up just in time to apply for a visa at the Sudanese embassy. It took a while to find it, but once I did I was greeted with a lot of hospitality! I was offered a cup of tea while I filled in the application. I wonder if Mohammed has made another call? Once the "Agent de réception" was happy I left. This was last Wednesday and I was told to collect my visa Sunday. So let's see :) My flu had at this point attacked my stomach and I was getting really friendly with the toilet. I was still in control...sort off...but it was better to stay near the toilet and my bed. Nasra (who also works at Maersk Djibouti) had been in touch with me several times on various subject. Among other things she had arranged for a simcard for me and a driver to bring me to their office. She had now been in touch with the national television channel who wanted to interview me. I was delighted to have the opportunity and thankfully they were happy to come to Horseed so that I could pretend like I wasn't dependent on having a toilet nearby. The same day I had a VIP interview with Ahmed in Denmark who is doing a school project about the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. As a part of his assignment he had to speak to someone who had been there and as such he spoke to me. Which I think is pretty cool!! ;)
 
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Now, due to the great wifi connection I have mostly been watching YouTube videos or sleeping lately. I'm behind on writing 3 Red Cross stories and I'm still to visit Djibouti Red Crescent. But having this gap until Sunday, when I can pick up the visa, is helpful in my conscience. It's okay to be a little sick and rest my body. Unfortunately I might have missed my opportunity to swim with whale sharks. It's whale shark season and Djibouti is a great place to go and see them. It's a pretty expensive attraction though! But that might not matter. Because while I'm getting my stomach under control I wrote Sonja at http://www.dolphinservices.com/ today who informed that I cannot join tomorrow as they have a private tour. She suggested that I could sign up for next week but by then I'll be back in Ethiopia. Fortunately Kevin Pauletti commented on Facebook that he had a great experience with whale sharks in the Philippines which we still have ahead of us. So it might just all work out the way it's supposed to.
 
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There's one thing everyone says I should do here in Djibouti. Everyone says to go and visit Lac Assal (Lake Assal) which is apparently so wonderful that it's a crime to miss it. This region of our planet does have some abnormal geographical features such as the lowest surface on earth. And apparently the area around Lac Assal is completely white which makes for a spectacular experience. We'll see...it is on my way back to Ethiopia...sort of... ;)
 
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Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - rising like the phenix ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
ONCE UPON A SAGA 
 
 
 
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Somaliland/Somalia - land of the Somalis

What is a country?

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A week ago I read somewhere that Somaliland is an interesting place to visit. It stated: "Where else can you visit a country which doesn't exist?"
 
It was at the border between Ethiopia and the Somali state Somaliland, that I met Rodrigo from Brazil. Rodrigo calls himself "Dida" and is 55 years old. He's visited 140 countries and has some loose plans to reach them all. But it's no life goal. He simply likes to travel and see the world. He travels exceptionally light and hardly carries anything. He doesn't have a phone and he speaks multiple languages. I felt it was a good decision to team up with him for my entry to this notorious country.
 
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We quickly found ourselves on the backseat of a tired Toyota Corolla. While we waited for it to fill up with other passengers, we observed several people taking physical beatings. A man was being beaten in what looked like a harsh engagement, but then he jumped inside a truck while laughing? A few other people got too beatings without laughing. But to be fair most people were just people going about with life, selling goods, trading, talking, listening to music... Then we finally started moving forward towards Hargeisa. It was a relatively short drive and there was no need for any armed escort. I had chosen a hotel in advance (Oriental Hotel) which the driver dropped us off at. It ran for $15/night which included wifi and breakfast.
 
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Hargeisa is a happening place which mostly consists of broken down roads and worn out buildings. In most cases the roads were simply dirt or gravel. But there was a lot of business going on with many colorful stands selling shoes, clothes, fruit, trading money and much more. People were friendly and curious: "Where are you from? What is your name? What are you here for?" I never felt like most people really spoke English, but the little they knew, they were happy to use. While friendly, it was also at times quite intense and slightly intimidating at times. It quickly became normal to observe a vehicle slow down and come to a complete stop next to us so that the driver could ask us where we were from. This would naturally block all traffic behind him and fire up an orchestra of horns beeping aggressively. But then life would go on.
 
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Hargeisa.
 
Internet is great in Somalia and very fast. This was a welcome change from the limited Internet in Ethiopia, which is now coming to its end of the 'state of emergency'. The rooms at Oriental Hotel were quite fair and the food was great! Somalia is divided into 6 regional states: Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug, Jubbaland, South West State and Central Regions State. But there has been no central governance for more than 25 years which complicates things. Somaliland used to be a colony under the British and it had its independence for 5 days before it became a formal part of Somalia in 1960. Much later Somaliland fought for independence and declared itself independent in 1991. This was however never recognized internationally and raises the question: What is a country?
 
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Let's start from the bottom. What is a room? Well, I guess if you have 4 walls then you have a simple room. Put together 4-5 rooms and you have a house. If you have 5-10 houses then you have a village. More houses add up to a town and eventually a city. When does it become a country? Having been involved with the Saga on an every day basis for more than 3 years now, I get to debate this a lot. The Saga is a list of 203 countries, but http://mosttraveledpeople.com/ defines the world as 875 places. To go to all those places would be to go everywhere they say. By that they include states, territories, dependencies and much more. The United Nations has 193 member states and 2 observer states. It's basically a country club with memberships. But it's by no means a complete list. The United Nations does not recognize Somaliland as a country. It states that Somaliland is an autonomous region within Somalia. The African Union also does not recognize an independent Somaliland and continues to lobby for a united Somalia. So can you be a country if no one else says you are?
 
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There is a mall in Hargeisa which surprised me a bit.
 
Ironically Somalis are seen as some of the most homogeneous people in all of Africa, so drawing borders and sectioning out countries seems fruitless. But Somaliland is by far the safest region in all of Somalia and also the best governed. It has its own currency, own passport, own government, own police force and own military. Citizens of Somaliland can however only travel to a handful countries which recognize their passport. So if Somalilanders wish to travel they must require a passport from Somalia and are you a country of your own, if you need to get permission to leave? There is no checklist for what makes a country and what doesn't. Generally, it can be said that you are a country when you have the backing and support from other countries. But how many? I could most definitely travel to other regions of Somalia, but it would require a lot of effort, money and time on my part. And to prove what? I can defend a thousand times over that Somaliland is not a country and that it is a part of Somalia. But can I defend it to myself?
 
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People thousands of years ago knew a thing or two about reproduction ;)
 
The next day after arriving to Hargeisa Dida and I arranged for a driver and an armed escort to bring us to the exquisite cave paintings at Laas Geel. It's a relatively short drive into the desert outside of Hargeisa. The armed escort seemed unnecessary, but it was demanded upon us. A general theory is that the Somalilanders will go to great lengths to protect visitors as the unfortunate event of any harmful incidents could place Somaliland in a terrible position. Therefore tourist are generally over protected and ultra safe.
 
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The rock art at Laas Geel could easily be 10,000 years old.
 
Laas Geel is wonderful! A team of Frenchmen were invited to come and explore it and that's how it first became famous to the international world. The tranquility which surrounds it is magnificent, and Dida and I both agreed that it could be an excellent camp sight for letting the world go for a few days or weeks.
 
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You probably mostly know Somalia for piracy, which I'm sure you would agree is very ignorant? The reason why you don't hear much about it today is because it's mostly over. Unfortunately it may be coming back though! Somalia is a mountainous country with peaks that reach up to 2,460m (8,070ft) and Somalia has Africas longest coastline and some of the most pristine beaches. Just try searching the Internet for "Somali beaches" ;) Camels play an enormous role for business, status and livelihood. Along the coast fishing has naturally become a part of life. Unfortunately, the Somali coast has been overfished by outsiders - illegally naturally. As a result of the overfishing from foreign nations the Somalis retorted by seizing fishing boats in regular piracy. That evolved and much larger ships became targeted. The shipping industry couldn't tolerate the risk in the long run and the cooperate interests dictated joint military actions to neutralize the threat. Over the years piracy has become more rare and the fish have also returned. Because the illegal fishing was chased off with the fear of piracy. But now that the Somalis are once again returning to fishery, so are the foreign illegal fishing. And the circle begins all over again. At least this is the story some people believe in. And I've even heard it told by foreign experts. It's something to think about.
 
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That's it for this camel! The markings signal that it will be slaughtered the next day.
 
Back at the hotel Dida and I met Eco and Luke from Australia. The 4 of us decided to join forces and head to the coast at Berbera. Rumors had it that we either needed an armed escort or a letter of exemption from the police or tourism authority to pass the checkpoints. But the man who owned the hotel said it would be no issue as the road was safe. So we partially agreed to get into a bus without further preparation. 20 minutes later we reached the first checkpoint which hauled us out of the bus and sent us back to Hargeisa in a taxi to arrange for an armed escort. This was a bit of a setback, but we were all seasoned travelers and could deal with it. Back in Hargeisa we went straight for the police station, where we were warmly greeted. After a while we sat in with the man in charge: Lt. Colonel Abdi of East Efficient, Hargeisa. He said we didn't need any escort as the road was safe. He wouldn't give us a letter, but I got his phone number and we were told to call him if we had any trouble. We thanked him and got on the next bus to Berbera. 20 minutes later at the same checkpoint we ran into a furious man who was unwilling to speak with us, because we had come back without an armed escort. I tried to reason with him, but had no luck with it. Meanwhile I did my best to call Lt. Colonel Abdi who of course didn't answer his phone. This time we were forced back into the bus and the entire bus was told to return to Hargeisa with all of its passengers!! The mood from the Somalis inside wasn't favorable and I kept trying to call the Colonel!! After having tried to reach him 21 times I gave up. The mood inside the bus had settled. The bus went straight for the police station which now appeared closed. The 4 of us were told to follow a man from the bus and after 10 minutes of sitting on the steps in front of the station, we were then told to get back into the bus which had been waiting for us the entire time with all of its passengers?! Then 20 minutes later we reached the checkpoint and the bus driver spoke with the guards through the window at his seat. A few minutes later we passed the checkpoint without any problems? 
 
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Luke is enjoying the fresh dusty air in our bus to Berbera.
 
I think this is a good story to explain Somalia. What is possible now can be impossible just 5 minutes later. And what isn't possible today can be possible tomorrow. Generally I have found it to be very hard to come by any solid information regarding Somalia. I have received plenty of information, but it has been very difficult to confirm any of it. Life in Somalia is not easy. But as you remember I mentioned earlier that the Internet is good, so you must conclude that a great many are well informed and connected to the rest of the world. It is complex as usual.
 
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Berbera is not the most interesting village I've ever been too. The beaches there are fair, but not amazing. The water was however amazing! Pure and the perfect temperature! I suspected that just a few kilometers down the coast the beach might be spectacular, but I couldn't be bothered. The 4 of us were even more of an attraction in Berbera than we had been in Hargeisa. It was a bit intense, but at the same time overwhelmingly friendly. The fish in Berbera is good and we found a decent place to stay. Dida and I shared a room and so did the Australians. Our first night was New Year's Eve and with alcohol being banned Luke and I decided to go out and buy some khat. After chewing that stuff for a while I felt the right side of my mouth going a little numb. But that was the only effect I got out of it. It tasted horrible. Luke said he felt relaxed in his body, but refreshed in his brain. Generally people resemble the chewing of khat to be like chewing coca leaves. It's a stimulant and needs to be chewed within 24 hours of being harvested to have the effect. They don't grow it in Somalia so it comes from Ethiopia. After an hour of chewing leaves I decided I wasn't a giraffe and stopped. I guess khat is not for me. We spotted 1 and a half rocket explode into fireworks which took all of 2 seconds. 5 minutes past midnight I went to bed. Happy New Year.
 
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In Berbera we met a traveling teacher from Luxembourg. Pit was his name and he now joined our group. Pit has also been to well over 100 countries. You can imagine the rainbow of country names we had to present every time someone shouted: "Hello!! Where are you from?" After a few nights we decided it was time to return to Hargeisa. Pit was staying behind as he had arranged to go diving. Eco, Luke, Dida and I got onboard a bus and left. We had no issues reaching Hargeisa and checked back into Oriental Hotel. The day after that Pit rejoiced with us and had quite a story!! He had been out for a run when armed soldiers picked him up at gunpoint! While he sat in the vehicle with 2 Kalasnikov rifles pointing towards his temple he was wandering what was going on?!? After a while of driving about he was suddenly released?? He never found out what it was about and returned to running. Strange?
 
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Most buildings in Berbera weren't as nice as this one. Somalia looks as if it has been through many years of conflict. Which it has and still is having.
 
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I had dinner in Hargeisa with Danish Michael from Danida. Great an knowledgeable guy!
 
Eco boarded a flight to Addis Ababa. Pit flew to Djibouti and Dida, Luke and I arranged for a 4WD to take us to the Djibouti border. When the moment came to leave Oriental Hotel Dida suddenly backed out and proclaimed that he would rather stay? This surprised Luke and I, but there wasn't anything to do about it. The driver was unhappy that he had lost a passenger and instead of paying $40 each we settled on $50. That quite an interesting ride through the desert!! I had checked google maps prior to our departure and there appeared to be a road? But we went straight into the desert which could be for various reasons? Perhaps the road was in poor condition after decades of neglect? Perhaps there was fuel to save by going in an almost straight line? Who knows? It was a bumpy ride for sure and we weren't alone. About 5 4WD's set out from Hargeisa at the same time and the entire way it seemed as we were in a race to be the lead vehicle, which kept the speeds at a maximum.
 
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Lawyacado is a tiny village at the coast of the Gulf of Aden. It borders Djibouti which is set to be country number 124. To exit Somalia we had to pay $31 each unless we could produce a receipt for our Somaliland visa? We couldn't, because they never handed us one at the diplomatic mission in Addis Ababa. But there was no arguing. We both paid and then walked across the border land.
 
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In Djibouti the kind immigration officers greeted us and asked us to sit and wait for their boss. After about an hour a man in a decorated uniform appeared to sit and speak with us. He looked at our paperwork and we were told that a visa would cost $90 which we excepted. Then we were told to wait again. A young immigration officer handed us each a bottle of water. We were optimistic. 2 hours later a uniformed man came to tell us that he had bad news: We were being deported?!? He actually used that word: "Deported". For a second I feared being escorted to the airport, but all we had to do was walk back to Somalia. We were however given some time to make a few calls and get it sorted. There's a Danish consulate in Djibouti, Maersk Line is expecting me there and I'm planing to visit the Djibouti Red Cross as a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross. So I had plenty of people to contact. But after only a few minutes we were told to leave as they were closing between noon and 4pm.
 
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At 4pm we returned only to be told to wait. After 30-40 minutes of waiting and upset un-uniformed man came to ask if we had a visa? As we began to reply he said: "Go back to Addis Ababa and get your visa!" I did my best to explain that I had been at the Djibouti embassy which explained to me that visas for Djibouti are issued at the border for those coming from Somaliland. They explained this at the embassy by adding that it was because there is no diplomatic mission in Somaliland. The man wasn't interested in listening at all. He was involved in a monolog and not a conversation. The man went on to preach how normal it is to get a visa at an embassy and not at border crossings!! He emphasized how he would need to visit an embassy, before receiving a visa for our respective countries. This was bonkers and highly problematic! But we had to leave the building in order not to upset him further. Outside of the immigration building we proceeded to reach the Danish consulate which confirmed that as a Danish citizen I could obtain my visa at the border. After about 10 minutes of standing outside the upset un-uniformed man came to see "What our problem was?!? Why we were still there??" We tried to reason with him, but had no chance. He wouldn't offer us his name, his rank, his position and he wouldn't take my phone to speak with the Country Manager of Maersk Line in Djibouti who was at the other end of the line. So eventually we had to retrieve to Somalia.
 
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It's really great to have some travel companionship for a change. Even when it's an Aussie ;)
 
Back in Somalia we explained the situation to Yaya who is head coordination of the Somali border post. He was very cool about everything and let us enter Somalia although our visas had already been stamped with our exit. We then received help to find a place for the night. Funny story actually! Because neither Luke nor I believed in finding a proper place for the night in this small village? I figured I'd be using my hammock or I might have some sort of bed to sleep in out in the open? Luke and I made a bet in which he would pay if we found a room and I would pay if it was some much rougher setup. But we found a quite decent room with two beds and wifi for only $10/night. You just never know :)
 
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$1 lunch which you eat with your fingers while the other hand keeps the flies away.
 
The next day a man showed up with a phone and said: "Do you have a friend that might be looking for you?" Luke and I had no idea and replied no. But the man insisted that the man on the phone was looking for 2 men; one tall and one short, one with a beard and from Denmark...I grabbed the phone and it was Dida! He had reached Lawyacado the day after us with another 4WD. But to save money he had been sitting on the roof the entire way with risk of falling off and loosing his life!! At times the 4WD went 100 kph! I guess I forgot to tell you that Dida negotiates on EVERYTHING! And I mean everything. In this case he got away with paying only $10 for sitting on the roof :) We all went to see Yaya at the Somali border post. The night before Luke and I had been on the phone with a high ranking government official in Djibouti who sits close to the president. He was interested in our story and wanted to help us. But now the weekend was upon us (Friday-Saturday) and Dida felt chance less to get his visa in the current situation. More so I think he was unhappy to gamble with $31 dollars exit fee in case he couldn't cross. So Dida was INSIDE a 4WD heading the 15 hours back to Hargeisa across the desert. Luke and I are still here. And tomorrow we'll know more about our possibilities of being able to cross.
 
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Somalia is a country for seasoned travelers and of course I didn't venture into such territory without some sense of backup. You can safely visit the northern part (Somaliland) but you know: just in case!

So here's a SHOUTOUT to Secured inc. who generously had my back the entire time! :)

You can learn much more by following this link:

http://www.secured-inc.com/

 
The great irony is now, that only 15km (9mi) from the Djibouti border you'll find the airport in which you are issued visa on arrival. Bureaucracy is at times the mother of stupidity ;)
 
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Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - patient 
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
 
Once Upon A Saga
 
 
 
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Once Upon a Saga
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