Hargeisa, one of the friendliest capitals in the world?
Having arrived at the capital Hargeisa, with a sense of excitement and wonder at what the place would be like, I can say right away that after having spent one week in the capital, it is one of the friendliest places I have ever been, after many years of travel.
You can always have a sense of anticipation when entering somewhere different, but entering somewhere where almost no tourists visit, and is not even recognized as a country by the international community, is very exciting! I met a total of only 2 other travellers in one week. Going out into the city in the first few days all by myself, I slowly lapped up the atmosphere on the street.
Entering into the big central market on my second day there, I sat down with a fruit seller who spoke good english and chatted away for a good 30 minutes. I soon drew a bit of a crowd around us, as people were curious to know where I was from and why I was visiting Somaliland. They also wanted very much to express how much I was welcome in their country. Laughs and smiles we’re had by all. I like it here.
On another day I ran into a traveller and we visited Las Geel for a while, and spent the rest of the time hanging out in Hargeisa and eating food. I loved coming back into the city.
The next day we wandered down to the livestock market to see camels. It took one hour to walk there, and on arrival I didn’t care about seeing any animals, as the people we’re so friendly. Surrounded at times by curious locals, asking the same questions that always get asked to foreigners in many places. Where are you from? What is your name? What are you doing here? As well as others. The difference here in Hargeisa was that they are genuine questions.
In many touristy places you get asked the same type of questions, and unfortunately most of the time it leads up to them trying to sell you something. They aren’t really genuine in their interest to you. But in Hargeisa it is all genuine. They don’t want to sell you anything, they are really curious to know you, and make you feel very welcome in their country.
Walking back from the camel market, it took longer to get back to the centre, simply because we stopped to speak to so many people. I couldn’t believe how friendly this place was. I was trying to think of other capital cities where I have had this kind of reception. Some places in Iran sprang to mind, again because it is not heavily touristed. Naturally you will get the occasional asshole trying to cause a bit of trouble, but it is very rare compared to other countries.
I originally only intended to spend a few days in Hargeisa, but fell in love with the atmosphere and the friendly people. If anyone was to ask me what there is to see in Hargeisa, I would tell them not much. It isn’t a place you come to see, it is a place you come to feel. The days were passed walking around, relaxing at cafes drinking coffee and watching life go by, and talking to people.
The dusty streets of downtown Hargeisa are lined in parts by small cafes under trees, nondescript little places that you would not give a second glance. But having met some local people and hanging out a bit with them, you can sit in these cafes and meet many people of consequence. From local businessmen to Somaliland reporters, all hanging out chewing Qat and discussing matters. Going for dinner in restaurants and meeting the chief of the electric company etc. It makes Somaliland seem very available to the ordinary man.
After a trip to the port of Berbera for the night with the third traveller I met there, I came back for my last night in Hargeisa. Staying at the oldest hotel in the capital, the Oriental hotel, you can feel the heartbeat of the city outside your room on the dusty streets. Full of market traders, money changers, workers, shoppers and so on, all going about their business. The big mosque calling out for prayers adding to the scene. The feeling that you are somewhere true and unique. Watching the money changers do their business is interesting, with the Somaliland currency not being strong, it takes blocks of money for just a few US dollars.
Leaving Hargeisa and Somaliland.
Leaving Somaliland and coming back to Ethiopia, part of me did not want to leave. I was excited about the new adventures to come, but also a little sad at leaving behind some of the friendliest people I have met. Go visit Somaliland and experience the hospitality and atmosphere, it could be one of the best things you do on your travels.