If you’re looking for a quiet, ragged, end-of-the-earth place – then I highly recommend Berbera. Guaranteed no backpacker hostels or cafes. And probably zero foreigners. Bliss for some travelers; hell for others.

rusting ships landscape berbera somaliland

Hazy afternoon of sunken rusting ships and a lone bird in the harbor of the old city of Berbera.

Getting there is half the mission. Not that’s it’s difficult, just taxing …

women shack shop berbera somaliland

Woman sitting in shade – scorching heat in mid-day summer.

Getting there I continued on-wards from Las Geel pre-historic rock art site with my hired taxi and armed escort. But half-way towards Berbera my escort got out at a checkpoint and turned back for the capital Hargeisa.

(So much for the mandatory – paid – armed protection insisted on by Government officials to travel anywhere outside the capital; not that I cared except for the additional expense). However getting back to Hagesia 2 days later a little edgy convincing a driver to take me with him in his shared taxi van. Luckily, I was hidden in the very back behind numerous heads and rearside tinted windows, ducking my white-face deep into my lap, avoiding soldiers ever-so brief glances in at the driver thru his open front window as we passed half-a-dozen posts on route to Hargeisa.

berbera somaliland

Various scenes of Berbera … BOTTOM RIGHT: Woman’s arm and hand decorated with henna.

Berbera was mentioned 2000 years ago by a Greek trader and much later by 9th century Chinese scholar as a port dominated by the trade of slaves and ivory.

girls in berbera somaliland

Beyond these footnotes, little is known about Berbera – a sparse story much like the surrounding desert. Further mentions occur during the Portuguese exploration of Africa’s Swahili coast – when they sacked the town in 1518. And later in 1546, the Turkish Ottoman Empire occupied the northwestern regions of Somalia, including Berbera.

girl berbera somaliland

Young girl in street. RIGHT: People were surprised to see me – a foreigner – and these men stopped and asked for their photo.

From the 19th century the story picks up, with the British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton visiting twice. During his second visit, hundreds of Somalis attacked his camp on the night of April 19th 1855. They killed one of his companions but Burton managed to escape to Aden (Yemen).

shop berbera somaliland

Brightly painted store advertising its goods and services.

After signing treaties with Somali sultans in 1888, the British established a protectorate known as British Somaliland. But this zone was really only a supply source of meat for their outpost in Aden (on route between Britain and India) and was nicknamed by Brits as “Aden’s Butcher Shop”.

mosque berbera somaliland

A mosque’s minaret amid the few colonial structures that remain in fair condition; today’s view still seems like 100 years ago.

In 1940 during the East Africa campaign of World War Two, the Italians briefly occupied British Somaliland. Later independence in 1960 was followed by unification with the other two regions of Somalia, only to dissolve again with the past decades of civil war across Somalia.

man watching ship landscape berbera somaliland

Ship going towards the modern port of Berbera – as seen from the old city limits. I hung out with this local crazy guy and some fishermen as the wind really blew a refreshing gale across the summer heat.

Today, Berbera remains an end of the earth place of crumbling colonial and Islamic architecture. Quiet streets. Slight infrastructure. But a nearby modern terminal still serves as an important Red Sea port. Mostly exporting “sheep, arabic gum, frankincense, and myrrh to Aden in Yemen, 240 km to the north. Goods from Ethiopia are also exported through the facility.”

ship landscape camel berbera somaliland

A true: “Ship of the Desert” …

“The climate in Berbera is extraordinarily dry, averaging a little more than 50 mm of precipitation annually. On average only six days of measurable rainfall per year. Berbera is also very hot. Average high temperatures in the summer routinely exceed 40°C and can easily crack the 50°C mark. Most of the city residents are forced to seasonally migrate to the cooler inland cities during these hot times” [ SOURCE: Wikipedia ]

… Well that explains the appalling heat (I paid extra for AC). And also the reason for the quietness of the town (I found only one simple restaurant open, where I ate fried fish and rice w/ carrot + onion). But being a conservative Islamic state – alas: zero chance of an ice cold beer … or two.

ocean red sea landscape berbera somaliland

Looking at the Red Sea towards sunset from the peninsula beyond town; I had to sneak around an army checkpoint to reach this isolated place.

Travels in Somaliland – 2013

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